Why You Should Buy Church Music If You Hate It

This post is controversial. It’s painful to write. But I believe it’s an important message for the church – let me explain. In 2003, I ‘retired’ from administrating the band United Live. This was after about six years of full-time, unpaid service. Completely willingly, I and Marcus Beaumont, a guitarist, invested our lives as teenagers, programming and creating worship. I came on as a songwriter, and ended up doing a large amount of administration and pastoral work setting up systems. I failed to create any balance between ‘work’ and ‘ministry’. No-one seemed to have a clue what I did, what time I started or what time I finished. It wasn’t really fair to the church, as a volunteer retains the kind of autonomy that allows them to be a loose cannon –  whereas staff enter a contractual agreement, a two-way commitment. But in regards to the church, I don’t think I’m alone – many people find themselves spinning a wheel that never stops.

When I wrote ‘Jesus what a Beautiful Name’, I was fifteen. I loved God, and I had a crazy theory that music occurred in circles, with appropriate lyrical and melodic resolution. Music wasn’t made, it was found. It was unlike music ever before created. I often didn’t write in 4/4 and I added bars and subtracted them without a care in the world. My lyrics were informed by Anglican hymns, often dense in text. I remember once sharing my thoughts on music with a well-known worship leader, who looked me in the face and said “You need to drop that and start to learn from the greats”. He meant the existing worship songwriters – Michael W. Smith. Himself. And he was more of a square guy. At times, I think of all the circular songs that could have provided a slightly different trajectory to the path of Australian congregational music.

I wrote square song after square song deemed bad enough to go into the abyss – which, in this case was a group of big boxes kept in Hillsong’s warehouse. A couple made it through. Once, I sat down and listened to the submissions for one week alone. There were about ten. The most interesting was a guy who declared he had schizophrenia, and who pressed the keyboard demo button and sang to it while bashing some kitchen pans together. It was all kinds of beautiful. But, not really the signature sound. By age eighteen, I was crossing whole phrases out of my lines, removing as many words as possible in the hope they would stay out of the box. I formed protective strategies around all the younger musicians and singers. And, at twenty-three, I just stopped submitting. Obviously, the Hillsong albums continued, and they are great. I’m proud of the part I played in regards to the behind the scenes, and for each of the songs that did get through.

Recently, I wrote and recorded an album called Grace.

And, I need your help. Because there is a reviewer response I’m encountering that basically says, “I listened to ‘Grace’ – it’s beautiful but I hate the genre because it’s boring”. Well I’m flattered, but it’s one of the most frustrating seasons of my life, because I now have to care about reviews and the people making them. I’ll be honest. I can only look to a future creating music for a very loud crowd of frustrated twenty-something male constituents if they are willing to invest. I’m sitting in a tiny Los Angeles apartment, having worked a myriad of normal jobs to get here. On the weekends, I lead worship. Right now, I need people who are willing to say ‘hey, Tan, why don’t you try something a little more circular?’…. or even ‘here. I hate your music. take my $25 and go write something better’. The worship leaders, the singers and the musicians we have in church are the ones we create. Most get frustrated and leave. But if they’ve served you week in, week out with their worship leading, would it hurt to buy a $25 package and give it away to your mother?

Feel free to hate it – but if you buy it you become my new constituency. I’d love to write songs for you. I’d love to revolutionize Christian music. I’m happy to organise projects for you. And I’ll listen to all your pet peeves about the types of worship music you detest. If you invest.

But let’s be honest, this industry is not going to just go away. It’s not a level playing field. Publishers spend millions on certain projects and even buy back the albums they create. The ‘spin’ that there is some new dude with a guitar and brilliant talent who is going to come along and rock you out of the water is kinda mythological. Sorry. I know ten guys with guitars and brilliant talent who you won’t  hear about because they refuse to write in boxes. And there are a thousand fresh-faced new sixteen year olds signing the release papers for their first bright-eyed, bushy tailed album of pop worship written by thirty five year olds who’ve gotten used to tailoring their lyrics for publishers, and who will do whatever it takes to buy a house. Kids need ways of getting music to their audiences without years of indentured labour. And in particular, Aboriginal kids need supporters. Don’t tell me that I don’t have a distinctive Australian sound – tell me that you’re interested in investing into Australians. I’d love to help with that, knowing what I know now at the age of thirty-two. But it needs a couple of clicks and a commitment. Unless of course, worship is just a business and you want to treat it as such, with no responsibilities to any of the people involved.

Two Eskimos sitting in a kayak were chilly so they lit a fire in the craft. It sank, proving once and for all that you can’t have your kayak and heat it.

13 thoughts on “Why You Should Buy Church Music If You Hate It

  1. Wow. I can hear and literally feel your pain Tanya. This is such an honest, outpouring of your experience in the ‘business’ so far.
    I bought ‘Grace’ and love it. Some music from the genre IS boring, but what’s new? Pick any genre of music and you will find albums that are good and bad. It is so subjective…
    I praise God for your contribution and pray that you will ‘press on’, in Jesus’ name

  2. Hi Tanya…”Jesus what a beautiful name” still moves and encourages me every time I think of it or sing it. We often sing it to our kids at bedtime. If it’s the result of your “crazy theory” about music in circles maybe you’re on to something. Please keep the beautiful density of your lyrics. “The King chased us down” is a great line to describe grace. I’m a pastor in a fairly contemporary Baptist church and I often hunger for greater depth and God-focus in our music and worship!

  3. I second Shane’s comment. As an artist myself I am aware of the cuts iTunes receive. I would like to buy this from a site that gives you that 35%. Anywhere I can get it other than iTunes?

  4. Hi Tanya, tx for the article – I’ll support you!

    You touched on an issue I find fascinating – the gender of music, for want of a better term – and I am sure there is one! I went to Hillsong for a year up to mid-July last year, before moving interstate, and loved it.

    The biggest shock was seeing the masculinity of the music, that you touch on above. As you know, the public face of United is all male, and many of the worship leaders at Hillsong services are male. But more than anything, the music is primal, primative, drum-based (I am a drummer) – such a departure from the touchy, feely, girly of Darlene and before.

    Your comments?

    1. thank you so much for your comment. I’ve gotten in trouble for saying this in the past – it’s an academic argument that contemporary worship is feminized (Evans 2006, 153). And no doubt it was in the 1990s, and I can see why “Jesus why don’t you come here and hug me” songs continue to be unhelpful for guys to get into worship. Lyrics need to be thought through a little better than that… but surely there’s a need for a variety of sounds and approaches in worship?

      Anyways, I don’t think it’s ALL that’s coming out of Hillsong – I appreciate Brooke Fraser and Mia Fieldes, and I know Darlene also has new albums coming out. But consciousness to gender in worship music is really important – and, if you believe in women in ministry, I think this needs to extend to worship leadership. Here in L.A., there are many many well informed people who are telling me that women are experiencing all kinds of resistance to their worship music. I don’t say that as a sob story, but it kinda makes you wonder….

    1. Erm. Thank you all for your comments… particularly those who have supported me for a while. I’m a tad embarrassed because I knew I pressed ‘post’ but I didn’t press ‘publish’ to the different media platforms – not a marketing spin lie, I’m not sure how this is possible. I thought this would go to all 9 subscribers and my husband. Soo…. please know I really really like ALL the people involved and they are not in any way the enemy …but thank you so much for those comments of support. As I said, I really do need it – for those who thought this sounded entitled, I’m sure one glance at our tiny apartment and suitcases would show you that we’re committed to Jesus’ mission enough to throw ourselves upon the grace of God. And for those who asked above, Itunes is fine, or at the store at http://www.tanyariches.org. (Or, instead choose to donate $25 to your favorite worship leader at your own church – your call).

  5. I applaud you for writing this, and doubly so for *living* it. I want to believe it’s not a sisyphean undertaking. I really, really, really want to believe that.

    1. Thanks Scott. Ha! I have to admit I googled it before I remembered what ‘sisyphean’ meant…. and my first response was ‘yeah, me too’, but then I remembered Marva Dawn – isn’t all worship a royal waste of time? My life, in pursuit of the King is enough. And the narrative I’m reading confirms God is in control of the outcome. I can’t imagine Paul, being let down from a basket felt that powerful, useful, so I’m not sure I am the best judge of anything. I’m not hoighty toighty enough to think my music will be universally adored. But I’ll bring my gifts to the King, and happily waste my life upon Him. Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.

  6. Hey. Interesting article. Not sure if I fully understand what is being said. Are you saying we should buy/support Christian/church/worship music despite if we like it or not? or that if you want to create Christian/church/worship music, we should do it for worship not for appreciation/fame/money? or am I on another planet? What is the over-arching theme? I’m not trying to be difficult, I just want to make sure I understand, as it’s a very interesting and relevant topic.

    1. Luke, can you forgive me for saying that I hate reductionism. My article was for a particular group of seminary students, not for the general public, I’ll pick number two – I think those who create Christian congregational/liturgical music should be encouraged to experiment, and to model worship – to create it for God but also out of a love for a people group and seeing them sing the breadth of the Biblical text, in whatever style. Obviously, a style/genre choice is also an audience choice, and I’m saddened by the amount of people who feel marginalised within the worship space. But I’m also saying our music is preconditioned by culture. I’m saying that worship is irrespective of style of music. I’m saying that we need to get intentional about supporting Australian artists who are grappling with the tough issues and most of all, if you’re friends with a Christian songwriter then encourage them in their endeavors to pursue God, if you’re a theologian then mentor them.

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