What comes to mind when you listen to modern worship music? Encouraging, uplifting music that fits into a commercialized 3:30 radio spot? Breathy lyrics drenched in reverb? Well, that’s partially right. The overwhelming response I get from people is, “It all sounds the same”. Is anyone else frustrated with the current state of CCM music, or is it just me?
I get that. Most of it does all sound the same. Within seconds of hearing a song on a radio station, you can instantly tell that it is CCM. As artists, we are partly to blame. We can’t keep blaming the labels and radio industry for pushing the music one direction when we are the ones creating the product. It’s a two way street.
That being said, the radio industry knows what music attracts the largest demographics of people, and that are ultimately willing to donate the most money. And therefore, they play music specifically catered to them. This is referred to as marketing to “Becky”. "Will Becky like it?” is the question all radio execs ask.
Who Is Becky?
Paulo in an article from WorldMag described Becky like this:
She’s 35 years old. She has two kids. She drives a minivan and is married, but her marriage is not all she dreamed it would be. She goes to church pretty regularly, but not every Sunday. She’s mostly a stay-at-home mom, but she may work a few hours a week or may work seasonal jobs at different times of the year to bring a few extra dollars into the household. She cares about issues that affect her kids: food, education, health, family, leisure time activities.
Top radio stations study this demographic throughly and continue to pursue it every day. Interestingly enough, at the Christian Radio conference in September 2015, the stations all agreed that they are now targeting the 40 year old female. As their primary market changes, they will continue to stay focused on them, since radio stations are ultimately a business. Without a shadow of doubt, this practice hurts any new artist wanting to break into the scene.
From personal experience, I have seen that you will not get regular spins on Air1 or K-Love unless you are on a label and fit into their mold of music for “Becky”. That is why I appreciate stations such as Jam The Hype, run by my friend Derek Hoeim, which is an online rap/hip-hop station that helps to promote those quality artists that you don’t hear everyday. We need more of these people like Derek, willing to step out of the mold and swim upstream. In the connected internet age, it is a shame that there is so much good music out there doesn’t get any play. It's encouraging to see however that there are now "little brother" stations that are popping up to play much hotter music - finally! Check out Boost FM in St. Louis and Hot 95.9 in Orlando.
All Is Not Lost
There are some mainstream artists that see it happening and have made a focused effort to move away from covering current styles/formulaic songs. Some came from the CCM background and are bucking the trends they used to be in, while others are crossovers, straddling the line between AC and CCM. However, don’t expect to find these band’s songs everywhere. Next time you need to get a new album, check out a few of the following groups that I think are breaking the mold of “marketing to Becky”.
- John Mark McMillan
- Bethel Music
- Switchfoot (been around a long time, but still relevant)
Play music to your heart first and your friends later.
Play what brings emotion out in people. What is a band without emotion? Glorified t-shirt salesmen.
When people hear the emotion in your songs, they will naturally want more of it.
Let’s break Becky.