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TOBYMAC MAINSTREAM?
[ creation east | june 27, 2003 ]

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TobyMac BackstageLet me set the scene. I was sitting in a locker room at the brand spanking new Giant Center in Hershey, PA. On the way in, I heard a rumble of music in the distance. The air-conditioned arena had been transformed to the Fringe stage for the 2003 Creation East festival after the regular venue, Agape Farm near Mount Union, PA, was flooded due to excessive spring rains. The said locker room was filled with people waiting to ask questions of Toby Mac.

My thoughts were drifting. Earlier that afternoon, in my main stage security role, two guys approached the backstage fence requesting to cross the line. Not recognizing them, I requested to see their backstage pass. Both of them quickly pulled out their pass from a pocket in their jeans. I was still unsure who they were. One guy had a baseball cap pulled down low with sunglasses covering his eyes. Both were wearing dark T-shirts and jeans.

Suddenly my drifting ends as Christa Farris announces that Toby is on his way and is running late. Christa Farris of CCMMagazine.com fame came in from Nashville to help moderate the press conferences for the week. While we were waiting for the big cheese to arrive, Christa encouraged us not to ask about whether or not dc Talk will be getting back together. But the real question for me was, do I apologize for not recognizing Toby Mac when he wanted access to the backstage earlier that day?TobyMac Live "His hair is darker than the last time I saw him, but I should have noticed that distinctive facial hair," I exclaim to my neighbor. We laugh.

When Toby arrived and the representatives from all types of media began to ask questions, it became obvious that there was a main theme for the press conference; Mainstream versus Christian. What used to be called "crossing over" and is now called "getting a mainstream record deal." What with being an executive in a Christian record label and having "crossed over" as part of a band, I'd say Toby Mac must have some insight on the subject. Should a Christian band seek a mainstream deal? Should the separation of Christian and mainstream be eliminated?

"I think that if crossing over or a mainstream record deal is the apple of an artist's eye that is signed with a Christian label, I think he is in trouble. In other words, a lot of times where the dilemma comes is where the artist signs a deal with Gotee or Rocketown or Word or Sparrow, but really what they want is to get a mainstream record deal. So their whole artistic life they are feeling oppressed." Toby has seen this firsthand. Some bands, he believes, are just miserable because they are unsatisfied.

He went on to explain two perspectives he sees from his record label vantage point. Christian music should serve a body of believers - TobyMac Liveto be encouraging, challenging, edifying. But at the same time, there should be believers who are out in the mainstream. "I think that there are artists that should be believers in the mainstream. Whether they are literal in their lyrics about how much they love God, or whether it is about human relationships, but they are just Christians out there in that industry. I think we should have both. I don't think everybody should do just one thing. I think we would not be a body if everybody did one thing."

That still begs the question about the categorization of the mainstream versus Christian music. I mean, after all, isn't it simply just music? Toby Mac may have a position in the industry to break down these barriers. But would that be the ideal situation?

Toby agrees that in some ways it would be good to just let the people decide who to listen to, for instance Grits or Eminem. He suggests throwing all the music out there in one place and letting the people decide what they want to put in their ears.

On the flip side, Toby added the fact that Christian retailers make a portion of their income on record sales. "But take away the financial end" he expressed, TobyMac Live"and there are still people left who want to walk in a bookstore and know whatever they buy will be something that builds their spirit, to lift them up. Even forget all that, it is something that they want to listen to. It agrees with them. And they don't want that question mark or to have to decide which one does agree with me."

He concluded on a more personal note. "On the other hand, sure, do I wish that Toby Mac was sitting there with every other record and is just as available as every other record, I do."

On the way out of the building, Toby heard the rumble of music playing on the Fringe Stage. It was Cross Movement. Wanting to see them on stage, he walked off. Perhaps he was late for his next appointment. But he made it back to the main stage for a great set.

Perhaps the reason I bring up the whole mainstream versus Christian debate is because I myself am seeking an answer. I have yet to formulate my ideas. All I know is that there is a lot of good music out there.
- Kim Flanders
October 2003
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