So, if you weren't already aware, it's awards season. And while we're hearing about the GRAMMYs, the K-LOVE Fan Awards and even the Oscars, there's another high-profile awards taking place this winter that has impact on Christian music.
Of course, I'm talking about the WE LOVE CHRISTIAN MUSIC AWARDS. Of course it's a big deal when more than 24,000 votes cast (and counting) for the best artists and projects of the 2014 calendar year, but it's an equally big deal when hundreds of thousands will experience this awards show live on the Rock & Worship Roadshow Tour starting next month.
I've been biting my tongue long enough about my own choices as to who should win the 2014 WE LOVE AWARDS, but now that we're just over a week out until voting closes, I thought I'd make my last-minute push in a few categories where you might not know how to vote. (If you agree with me, go vote now... as often as you want, until Jan. 30. And if you disagree with me, go vote to counter any of my opinions.)
This category is about the best music that comes out of churches, and it's a strong list. Fellowship Creative (out of Ed Young's Fellowship Church) gets the edge here because they're trying things musically that no one else is. Crazy sounds, rhythms and even genre choices make them stand out sonically, and I'm rewarding their pushing my concepts of what worship can sound like.
ALBUM OF THE YEAR
Nominees: for KING & COUNTRY - Run Wild Live Free Love Strong, Lecrae - Anomaly, Lincoln Brewster - Oxygen, Remedy Drive - Commodity, Switchfoot - Fading West
My Pick: for KING & COUNTRY - Run Wild Live Free Love Strong
I knew the moment I first listened through for KING & COUNTRY's sophomore effort that it was Album of the Year material. Every track is strong, well produced, and strikes a perfect balance of spiritual content, musical excellence and cultural relevance. The band incorporated some electronic elements into their sound this go-around, but never remotely at the expense of their instrumental prowess. They capture the full realm of the human (Christian) experience with worship, worry, romance and triumph fueling this powerful record. All of these choices are tremendously strong, and it's basically the difference between A+ and A++.
VIDEO OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Bellarive - "Lazarus", Colton Dixon - "More of You", Family Force 5 - "BZRK", for KING & COUNTRY - "Without You", Shonlock - "We Walk on Water"
My Pick: Bellarive - "Lazarus"
Look, while everyone loves Colton, and Luke Smallbone's very real chronicling of his very public illness is heart wrenching, I have to go with the video that has done the most as far as moving music videos forward. The creepy manipulation of film speed, coupled with the monochromatic color scheme and the haunting sounds of "Lazarus" make it the best video I've seen in a long time in Christian music. It goes with the whole theme of our being dead until Jesus breathes us back to life. Bellarive probably didn't get the play it deserved on this, one, and it's clearly one of the best Christian music videos--period. This one's not even close for me.
BEST INDIE ARTIST/GROUP
Nominees: Beckah Shae, Cadence, Charmaine, Judah & The Lion, Young Oceans
My Pick: Judah & The Lion
For me, this was probably the most difficult category to choose. All of these bands bring tremendous game to the table, and give their signed contemporaries more than a run for their money. I chose Judah & The Lion because they're making some incredible hip-hop meets folk music, and put on a tremendous live show that goes from singing Eminem's "Lose Yourself" to a passionate worship song with hundreds of people singing "Hallelujah," arms stretched high. A band that can toe the line of creativity while still holding to their incredible message gets my vote. That said, any one of these artists fit that vibe, and so at this point, it's probably the fact that Judah & The Lion is doing something a little different, genre-wise.
THE NEXT BIG THING
Nominees: Anthony Mossburg, For A Season, Lights of Day, Spencer Kane, TJ Prodigy
My Pick: Spencer Kane
I personally adore this category because it's all about music discovery. Unless you're part of these artists' small but mighty fanbases, you've probably never heard of these guys. And you really should check all of them out. I believe Spencer deserves the nod because he has a polish and maturity about his R&B/pop sound that is much needed in Christian music. He brings a swagger and skill that people who don't even like Christian music will appreciate. If we're talking about who the Next Big Thing is, he fits the bill. Check out his song, "Runway."
MOVIE OF THE YEAR
Nominees: Fading West, God's Not Dead, Heaven is for Real, Mom's Night Out, The Song
My Pick: The Song
It's pretty clear that God's Not Dead is a huge phenomenon, and barring a general memory lapse by the voting public, it should win a comfortable victory. But in my opinion, The Song set a new standard in Christian filmmaking in 2014. Strong acting performances (in a Christian movie, no less!) by Anthem Lights' Alan Powell and his supporting cast made the movie enjoyable, but even moreso was the clever writing and interweaving of Solomon's story in the made-it-big musician storyline. It's super inspiring and a great date movie, and it's probably the most underrated movie period of 2014--not just Christian movie.
OK, go vote now! And stay tuned to NRT and the WE LOVE AWARDS for winner announcements next month!
Eight months ago, one of my best friends in the world followed God's call to be a missionary and church planter in Poland. My Seattle-born friend packed up his family and some minimal keepsakes and made the 5,300-mile trek to a new life. (It was something God had been working in them for years, no overnight decision by any means.)
A couple of months after their arrival in Poland, I was excited to learn that there actually would be a Christian music concert held in their country. Of all people, CCM great Michael W. Smith would be a few hours away at a festival in Warsaw.
It didn't work out schedule-wise for my friend, which probably made it all the more devastating to me. "Next time," we both said, but the truth of the matter is, there aren't that many "next times" for him to be encouraged and energized with an appearance from an anointed, acclaimed Christian artist.
It drives home a sobering point: Christian musicians don't minister to the nations as much as maybe they should.
Now, don't get me wrong... not every musician has that call. Just like some musicians are called to minister to the Church and not the mainstream, other musicians are called to serve English-speaking North America and not the world.
Think of the numbers out there. Even if all of the U.S.'s 300 million people were impacted by a band's music, that's still only about 4.3 percent of the world's population! There are nations out there hungry for a massive corporate worship experience. There are entire countries with hundreds of thousands of Christians who desperately would love the unifying and refreshing effect of a special evangelistic event.
You see the kinds of numbers people like Smitty and Hillsong bring in when they travel the globe. These corners of the world know that a Christian concert is something that's exceedingly rare, and they don't miss the opportunity. Meanwhile, we have trouble selling tickets to some pretty incredible tours here in the States.
Why more artists don't travel is fairly mystifying. Even Michael W. says so.
"I don't know why it is, but there are very few artists from our genre that do that. I don't know why," he said in a 2014 interview with NRT. "It's unfortunate. It's a sacrifice a little bit, and this is not a guilt thing on anybody, but I would just encourage everyone to just challenge themselves with going are you supposed to sing someplace besides America? We're just a small little field in terms of if you think how big this world is. Everybody says how small it is. I think it's big and you see all the places that there's great possibilities for the music to--that you can go and sew something into a country."
Maybe international ministry is inconvenient. Maybe it's not financially feasible or worse, financially lucrative. Maybe it's just not in their consciousness. Whatever it is, Christian music as a whole should take a hard look at possibly changing things. Artists should be in deep prayer about courageously walking into a new depth of influence and impact. Managers and labels should be supportive (not saying they aren't; it's just a crucial piece of the puzzle).
Calling is everything. Just ask Smitty.
"I'm just called to the nations," he continued. "I've known it for a long, long time. Some of those first trips overseas, especially after the worship album came out in 2001, sort of solidified that calling and I just knew that I had favor, and it was just a God thing. Whether it was Zambia or Zimbabwe or Nairobi or whatever, you just found people that were responding to the music and to the songs and I would come back and I would just look at my wife, Debbie, and she'd almost say it before I would. I would say you're just not going to believe what happened and she would look at me and say, 'You're called to the nations. You've got to go.' That's what I'm doing. I'm still doing it and I'm going to do it for a long time, by the grace of God."
Have you ever wondered what to get that Christian music fan on your list who already owns every album ever released? Have you ever wondered what would be a good gift that has absolutely nothing to do with their recorded music?
Rest assured, I'm here to tell you this: Plenty of artists have side gigs to keep stimulated creatively, or just to make ends meet (because believe it or not, you probably make a higher salary than most of them), and thus, here's my year-end shopping guide of non-music gifts for the Christian music fan.
(By the way, I'm going to get my jolly on this month, and thus, will be taking a bit of a break from the column. We'll see you at full force again in January, although I may sneak another blog in before then.)
THE YEAR-END SHOPPING GUIDE OF NON-MUSIC GIFTS FOR THE CHRISTIAN MUSIC FAN
NG in this case stands for 'Need Gift'
Natalie Grant earlier this year unveiled her "NG by Natalie Grant" product line, which includes inspirational shirts (some featuring her song lyrics) and jewelry. In the jewelry section, Natalie has necklaces with inspirational messages on them ("be still", "baby burn bright", "worth more than diamonds"), as well as cross hoop earrings and various bracelets. (ngbynataliegrant.com)
An Artist's Art
Kathy Troccoli also just announced her own jewelry line, and she's been selling what she calls "life-giving art" for years on her site. These prints she sells feature photos and decorative fonts to present an inspirational message, such as: "Play the music, live the music", "Love you to the moon and back", "I celebrate you", and "Walk a different road," among others. (store.kathytroccoli.com)
Ariel from Icon For Hire is not only a dynamic frontwoman, but I'm pretty sure she stays up 24 hours a day because her creativity never will rest. Besides her DIY show, Ariel has a thriving Etsy store called Custom Catastrophes, where she sells rocker-ready corsets, hoods, gloves, wrist cuffs, tank tops and more. I'm partial to the zipper wrist cuff. (www.customcatastrophes.com)
Whatever You Want, Basically
Well, sort of. This busy pop-rock outfit has come up with custom merch in a site called Emphasis. You go on there, pick your favorite lyrics from the band's discography, pick a shirt and font design, and bingo--you have a one-of-a-kind band shirt. So far, it's only Sleeping At Last songs on there, but they're looking to get other bands involved. Pretty cool since sometimes you like lyrics nobody else does. (emphasis.is)
What DiverseCity Dwellers Wear
TobyMac's longtime DiverseCity drummer, Brian "B" Haley, has long dabbled in fashion and clothing design, and his latest line, "Thee United 1,"features messages aimed at driving a movement of unity in love. (www.theeunited1.com)
Andrew Peterson's Books
Probably the most well-known thing on this list is the fact that musician Andrew Peterson is also an author. He's created an entire fantasy world with this Wingfeather Saga, and so yeah, it's a great way to see another side of this gifted, creative artist. Side note: There's another author named Andrew Peterson who has written military novels. Not the same guy. (wingfeathersaga.com)
Shuree's Got One Too
And hey, while we're talking about books, it's worth noting that new BEC Recordings artist Shuree has a book of her own: One Girl Can Change the World. It's a story about a little girl who wants to make a difference and the mysterious visitor who helps her discover how she can share hope and love with others. Shuree put her money where her mouth is and let 7th grade artist Leah Allman illustrate the book, too.
Jody Davis Has Some Pipes
Newsboys fans know Jody Davis can sing. He frequently lends his voice for background vocals behind Michael Tait, but did you know he has quite the pipes? Actually, in this case, literal pipes. The guitarist moonlights as a maker of actual pipes, and while I could never ever ever ever ever condone smoking, I do have to appreciate the skill it takes to make these wooden crafts. If you decide to buy one, have him sign it. I bet it would totally freak him out! (www.jodydavispipes.com)
Steve Taylor's Movies
He just came out with his first new music in two decades, but between records, Steve Taylor was making movies--his most famous being 2011's Blue Like Jazz, loosely based on Donald Miller's memoir. The movie is basically a film version of what Taylor is known for in his music: asking tough questions, pushing the envelope, and getting real. Snag it on DVD.
Cook with Smitty's Mom
The true Smitty fans have known this for a long time, but 15 years ago, Michael W. and his mom, Barbara, released a cookbook, appropriately called, Cooking with Smitty's Mom. The book features 300 of some of Barbara's best recipes. And they're bound to be good, as Mrs. Smith was a professional caterer for 15 years. If you didn't gain weight during the holidays, you likely will after utilizing this book.
Got any to add to this list? Post it in the comments below.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Here's the truth: I'm tremendously thankful for some great fans in our Christian music community, an incredible NRT staff, inspiring music that seems to get better and better every year and the ability to share it all with you. Seriously, the blessing of our digital age is so huge, that we're able to communicate with one another and encourage one another with the sounds that move us. So awesome!
And speaking of awesome, in the spirit of the holiday, a couple weeks ago I asked you guys to replace one of the words in your favorite band's name with the word "turkey." And you delivered! So, to celebrate this Thanksgiving, I'm going to do something totally ridiculous and illustrate some of my favorite contributions.
Have a blessed, happy and memorable Thanksgiving, everybody! Be filled with His spirit and may Jesus be the most honored guest at your table! Now... onto the silliness!
I had the incredible opportunity to see the Winter Jam Tour Spectacular: West Coast Edition last Sunday in Portland, and of course it was just that--spectacular. It's always encouraging for me to see so many artists, representing so many different genres, styles and even generations, uniting as one to lift up Jesus' name.
And naturally, there were many fantastic moments, from Disciple's face-melting set to Trip Lee's spoken word presentation of the Gospel to Tony Nolan's heart-wrenching testimony to VERIDIA's cool acoustic set on the second stage. And don't even get me started on Hillsong United...
But in the midst of all of it, one moment sticks out to me more than the others. It was a moment fans couldn't witness and the bands and crew probably didn't notice.
It was the picture of a mother holding her young child while worshipping to a song she's likely heard hundreds of times. It was the picture of a family that is sold-out to the mission God has given them to proclaim the name of Jesus, even when it's anything but comfortable.
Oh, the mom? Adrienne Camp--Jeremy's wife and the former lead singer of The Benjamin Gate.
The soft-spoken South African had one hand raised while the other wrapped around her daughter, who was sitting on crates to the right of "Daddy"--who was singing one of his more recent hits, "Overcome."
"Adie" undoubtedly knew the song by heart, and easily could've checked out and been relaxing backstage, but there was something about her presence to Jeremy's right. You could tell she was present--even intercessing?--for her husband, participating in the worship experience, knowing the pricelessness of every one of these opportunities for people to see Jesus.
Not only that, but she also likely knew the pricelessness of showing her children how to worship, even when there's every reason for it to become routine, or even mundane. As a dad, that's a model I desperately want to present.
Lost in worship, Adie only was interrupted by individuals who stopped by to say hello, to whom she responded with patience and grace. Being the former frontwoman of a crazy-good Christian rock band will bring out the fans (this writer included), but rather than be short or distracted, she looked them all in the eye, and with as much worshipful intentionality as she had moments before, making herself available for whatever God had in that moment.
In an industry that can many times be a subculture rather than a counter-culture, it's tremendously refreshing to see the Camps in action. We don't need more Christian rock stars. We don't need entertainers whose songs lead people to a place of worship. We need worshippers who lead people straight to Jesus.
A Christian music subculture replicates the traits of its host. But we're called to be different. Even Christian musicians working in the mainstream world should know we're called to participate in, but not replicate the world's system.
So many times, when we're professional Christians--and I find myself in this camp, for sure--it's easy for God to be our co-worker or our boss more than our Savior, Lord and love. How beautifully refreshing when you meet people who glow with God and act as if He's standing right next to them--even when they're not on the stage.