It was late on a Saturday night in North Carolina. We had just finished playing a show in a trendy loft space in a small town. It’s a listening room where the community comes together monthly to enjoy live music and hang out together, and it’s a really beautiful place. I found myself standing by a table full of cheeses, nibbling on some snacks after a long but good day when our friend David swung by and started a conversation. At this point I’ve known David for a couple of years from seeing him at these events. He and his family are supporters of our music and it’s always a treat to see them. That was the moment when he blind sided me with a single statement; “I hate Christian music but if what you guys are making is Christian music, sign me up!”
Sometimes people ask us if the music we make is religious. It’s the type of loaded question that I’ll typically avoid in fear of being entirely misunderstood. I am afraid of being aligned with a system who’s most negative characteristics are more in line with what you would expect from a hate group than the promotion of love and unity. I have fought hard to keep all of the music under this project as relatable as possible to everyone, despite this looming category that for many, can lump your work into a heaping pile of negative association.
So the short answer to David’s question was this: “We believe in God and write music about things that matter to us. I have always felt a responsibility as an artist to welcome everyone's interpretation of our work. Agendas and art don’t mesh well, so I don’t have one, other than to be honest about who I am.” On a similar note, I have often weighed the pros and cons of entering our music into the religious marketplace. As it turns out, our tunes are automatically disqualified by our lack of marketability to someone named Becky.
Have you ever heard of Becky? She is the representative persona of the target audience of Adult Contemporary Christian music (i.e. the largest portion of it’s market). She’s a white, 40 year old soccer mom who always votes republican and lives in suburban America with her two children. I’ve had the pleasure of sitting around the conference table while music industry executives babble on about Becky’s family, the color of her minivan, her aversion to math homework, melted crayons and “OMG, isn’t Chik-fil-a just the best sandwich of all time!?” She is spoken of as if she is a spirit in the room and our God appointed mission is to accommodate her musical taste at all costs.
Interestingly, I’ve never caught her last name nor heard mention of Becky’s husband. This has led me to believe she is likely among the 50% of divorced Christians still fighting to keep the sanctity of marriage "safe from the homosexuals"…but I digress. In Christian music world, the game is simple; the artist who sings songs for Becky makes money and the one who doesn’t is rendered nonviable by the people who control the industry.
Paper Lights doesn’t fit the industry model set for Christian music. Every meeting we have had with Christian labels has ended with an A&R rep asking something like “Why are you doing this instead of what we know makes money?” Generally religion makes me queazy. I’m not ashamed of what I believe. I write about it all the time without using the same trite language and four chords of our peers. I am, however, ashamed of the load of divisive attributes that come with religious systems and how that has hurt people we care about. We often get to play in the living rooms of all kinds of people with varying beliefs and ideals. Those people are our family. We value our long term relationships with them. We love them.
The purpose of this blog isn’t to dog on the Christian music industry. I can understand having a representative control group in business or maybe even going so far as to name her and talk about her preferences. But Becky is an artifact of the past who represents a largely ignored marketplace of intelligent music seekers. We know that most of the people who listen to our music are 18-35 year old millenials who prefer risk over the comforts of a traditional lifestyle. We know that a large portion of them are religious. A sizable portion aren’t. All of you as a whole are the reason we get to make music, and we are so grateful for you!
My point is this: we all tend to fast categorize each other whether it be about politics, race, religion, sexuality etc.. These beliefs can easily align us in categories with things we don’t agree with. I see this fast categorizing as an easy way around taking time to understand someone better. I hope that transparency with each other about the nuance of who we are as individuals will break down the idea that we all have to be defined by a category.
I hope our music is relatable on a human level - that it feels honest and challenges us to think for ourselves. I hope that the inspiration that we have experienced through a process made possible by so many different types of people, can be felt through the music we make.
Above all, I hope that our music promotes unification, respect, and understanding for each other through transparency.