Monday, December 17, 2018

How I Rate and Review Christian Music

In my first few music reviews, I placed this information at the start of each blog post. Due to the sheer amount of words that are required to explain my judging process, I figured I should create a separate post to hold that content and I'll just link to it when necessary. So if you're curious as to why albums end up in the order they do at the end of the year and what factors go into the rating each album gets, this post should clear all that up for you.

About Me, the Music Judge

I enjoy biblical music. There's a scale I made that shows the difference between music that's entertaining and music that's edifying. You can see that here.

My favorite style of music is indie jangle pop, like the band Real Estate. So there's my bias.

Unfortunately, these lists could never be comprehensive. I try my best to feature a smattering of serious Christian songwriters, ranging from popular to lesser-known.

About the Judging

I have done what I can to make my judgments the most objective while maintaining a very high standard for what makes a Christian album a great album. I have created an algorithm featuring five weighted factors that determine an album's rank. They're listed below, along with terms that define what I'm looking for. Each category is given a number on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest.
  1. Lyrics. Biblical. Theologically sound. Thoughtful. Unique. God is big; man is small. (x 3.5)
  2. Music. Higher-quality. Creative. Professional production. (x 2.5)
  3. Appeal. Palatable. Diverse. Transcendent. (x 2)
  4. Quantity. Number of tracks. Length of songs. (x 1.2)
  5. Congregational Possibility. Reproducible by amateurs. Easy to sing along. (x 0.8) 
The max score for an album is 100. 35 for lyrics, 25 for quality, 20 for appeal, 12 for quantity, and 8 for congregational possibility. The totals for each section are added together for a composite score.

I believe in a true 1-10 scale. Often, we treat 1-10 scales like 7-10 scales. That's just wrong.

How Albums Make (and Don't Make) It onto My List

In producing the list each year, I listen to around 200 Christian artists who release music each year. It's amazing to think that there are that many albums released annually that fall into the Christian category.

To start, I listen to the album's title track and/or a song for which the band created a special video (via YouTube). If it's clear that the song(s) is/are not qualified according to my rating system, I dismiss the album. If the song(s) is/are good, the artist made it to a "listen more" list. This first level of rating the songs is what I lovingly refer to as "The Sheep and Goats Judgment." :)

I take about 30-40 albums from the "listen more" list and narrow it down for the end-of-year post as I explore the albums further and give them numerical ratings based on the algorithm. I'll then take the top 20-25 albums and begin writing blurbs that will accompany the albums in the article.

Three ways (in order) an album makes it onto the list:
  1. Exceptional lyrics + exceptional music.
  2. Exceptional lyrics + passable music.
  3. Exceptional music + good lyrics. 
Three ways (no particular order) an album keeps itself off the list:
  1. Poor lyrics.
  2. Poor music.
  3. Lyrics and music that sound like "Christian music." Christian radio is so monotonous. If you aren't sure you agree, click here. Emphasis on "me" and references to fire and reckless love were nearly automatic disqualifiers.
    If you're wondering why some of the big names of Christian music aren't on the list, there's a reason for it. Bring it up in the comments if you'd like, and I'll let you know why they weren't included. No "best of" albums or collections were reviewed.

    A Note on Approaches to Christian Music

    In the final analysis, there are two fundamental takeaways in observing Christian music.
    1. Songs that focus on I/me/my. Songs that cause us to think more about ourselves and the benefits we get from a personal relationship with God. Songs that primarily describe God as serving us. Shines the light on self.
    2. Songs that focus on God's greatness. Songs that cause us to think more about God's attributes and His perfection in all that He does. Songs that primarily describe us as unworthy for the grace revealed in the gospel of Christ. Shines the light on God.
    If you listen to most Christian radio, you'll recognize that approach #1 is far more popular. The lines can be blurry on this, as there is a time and place for each approach. However, the second approach is most preferable and favored. 

    A helpful tip when discerning the God-centeredness of a song: Listen for the pronouns. Are they mostly "I/me/my" (like this song) or "You/He/Him" (like this song)?


    I hope that this information is helpful for you as you read through my music reviews. Music is a great gift from God and we must take it seriously! 


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