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I was thinking about the Christian music scene that I grew up with and what exists today, and I came to the conclusion that most of my favorite music is in the past. I’m not saying there aren’t great bands out there now or new music that will be enjoyable, but most of my favorite music has been out for several years.  (Do a test yourself. Sit down with a pen and paper and try to think of how many of your favorite albums were released within the last year.)

The Christian scene I grew up with is mostly non-existent. True Tunes closed, the Heart and Soul Cafe doesn’t do shows that I know of and the ska scene is mostly dead. I went into a Family Bookstore the other day and asked if they had a “Christian Happenings” Magazine and they looked at me like I was from another planet. I also feel old every time I look at the Cornerstone lineup and I don’t know who most of the bands are. Thankfully the North Central College Union has saved a good part of the scene for me.

I get nostalgic thinking about bands like MxPx, Starflyer, the Huntingtons, Five Iron Frenzy and Poor Old Lu. It was a time where there were tons of cool bands and every band that Tooth and Nail signed was awesome, even the hardcore bands like Strongarm.

It seems to me that the Christian industry has become more polarized with bands either totally playing Christian venues or not playing Christian venues at all, which means it’s CCM or the bar. Sure I understand that a lot of Christian musicians are not youth pastors, but historically speaking bands in the Christian market have talked a lot during shows (i.e. Keith Green, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc…). The essence of their music was the message before the music.

I know that Christian stigma exists and that bands want to be taken seriously by non-Christians—probably mostly for their egos or record sales. But I just wonder why some bands have such a hard time talking about God. It seems like either Jesus is the product the band is selling or he has no place on the stage. I know that talking about God on a stage is awkward, but we shouldn’t ever have to feel like we’re ashamed of his name.

So I realize that I can’t go back in time, but I still like to listen to the old albums and reflect on a time when we weren’t looking at the death of the CD or the corporate ownership of human expression. Maybe there are bands that don’t tour any more, but I can still listen to their music and I can still watch them perform live thanks to YouTube and you can too.

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There is a lot of free music out there that you could be listening to instead of paying to download stuff from iTunes or Amazon. There are a ton of sites that have streaming music including myspace.com, facebook.com, purevolume.com, virb.com, last.fm, imeem.com, free.napster.com and others.

MySpace features up to six songs on a music profile and the site has replaced the need for many bands to have regular websites. Facebook is still relatively new to the music scene and not every band is on there yet, but there will be more music on there eventually. PureVolume rose from the ashes of MP3.com and it has taken a step back since MySpace came along, but there are still lots of music on there at 96 kbps, unlike most other sites that are 128 kbps. Virb.com is like another MySpace, which may or may not have the same songs as a band’s MySpace.

After the demise of Napster, it became a music subscription site where you can subscribe to the massive catalog of windows media drm-controlled songs for a fee each month. Free Napster is a site that features songs from the service streaming at low bitrates. The quality isn’t the best, but if you want to listen to a whole song and you can’t find it anywhere else this is the place to find it (it’s a catalog of millions of songs).

Imeem.com is a music social networking site. You can upload your own personal MP3s (of your band and your favorite bands) to the site and other people can stream them. Any remotely popular music can be found on the site. Imeem requires people to sign up and login to hear all the songs, but the best part of the site is the playlists that you can make. Last.fm is another music social networking site based in the UK. I wasn’t particularly impressed with it until it started letting users stream songs. There are tons of full albums that stream on the site. You don’t have to sign in to listen to music, which is a plus. However, I don’t think it has the playlist ease of Imeem.com since you have to browse the band’s albums to see which tracks are available for streaming.

There are a lot of sites that also include 30 second samples like iTunes and Amazon. YouTube is probably the best place to find music videos and the audio for its videos are encoded as MP3s. The beauty of YouTube and Imeem is that people are able to upload whatever they want (not always good for copyright holders) and this allows for more people to hear music they would never hear before. Funeral services will likely be held for major record labels and compact discs, but the exciting thing for listeners is that free music isn’t going away anytime soon.

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