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Dallas Morning News August 4 - Taking An Alternate Route


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Teens' music interests, Christian vision lead to site serving broader menu

(l to r) Dan Ficker, Jason Ewert, and Josh Shepherd - Photo by Nathan Hunsinger / The Dallas Morning NewsA group of teenagers from across North America are using the World Wide Web to spread what they fear is a dying message.

Through http://www.cmusicweb.com/ , the group is taking a close look at Christian music with an eye toward artists whose music is biblically sound and challenging.

"Our approach is a little different" from that of most contemporary Christian music observers, said Josh Shepherd of Bartonville. That unorthodox approach mirrors the site's unconventional origins.

Several years ago, Dan Ficker, then a high school student in Hastings, Minn., with a passion for Christian music, created a Web site with links to his favorite artists' CDs and a few music reviews.

Meanwhile in Texas, Mr. Shepherd had begun sending out a small e-mail newsletter to some of his church's members containing his sentiments about Christian music.

Mr. Ficker had a working knowledge of Web design but was ready to relinquish some of the editorial duties for his site when the newsletter appeared in his inbox.

Four years ago, he contacted Mr. Shepherd, who gladly accepted the offer to help create what would become cMusicWeb.com.

Mr. Shepherd, 18, said the two students found they shared a vision for Christian music.

"We as Christians should have the edge as far as creativity is concerned, because God is the creator," he said. "Why does [secular music] top the charts? Because people aren't tapping into what God is the life and creativity of the Holy Spirit.

"No matter what style, we want to see [artists] be driven by that."

Soon after they began updating the site, other Christian music enthusiasts started to contribute. The site relaunched in May 1999 as cMusicWeb.com and now has content from about seven writers ages 16 to 20.

The group accepts contributions from anyone as long as the contributor comments on the artists' spiritual emphasis.

Publicists and independent bands have begun sending the group material in hopes of being mentioned on its site.

Owen Thomas, lead singer of Christian rock band The Elms, told Mr. Shepherd that the reviewer got "inside my head."

While Mr. Ficker said the site has never been a moneymaking venture, the group is selling banner ads to pay for Web space, business cards and some promotional items.

Mr. Ficker, now 19, said the site receives about 10,000 visitors per month.

The reviewers write about many independent bands small bands who wouldn't stand a chance at receiving Christian music's coveted Dove Award but who appeal to the editors.

"The Dove awards don't have the same perspective as we have," Mr. Shepherd said. His favorite artists are "people who are truly poets. Many [musicians] would rather be feel-good than digging into the mystery of God."

The site is not limited to Christian music; it also includes reviews of Christian and secular books and films.

"Our job is to apply the Bible to everything in our lives, seeing God in all creation," said Jason Ewert, a staff writer from Langley, B.C.

The site's three main collaborators Mr. Shepherd, Mr. Ficker and Mr. Ewert met together for the first time in July at Mr. Shepherd's Bartonville home.

"We're not trying to be hip; we're just trying to write and be excellent at writing," Mr. Shepherd said. "We think that's a God-inspired thing trying to be excellent."
- John Drake / The Dallas Morning News
Originally Appeared on Page 2 of the August 4, 2001 Religion Section of the Dallas Morning News
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