By Stephen Altrogge
Ronnie Martin is/was a real life Christian rock star. He had/has (I’m not aware of the current status of these things) a label, a band, and music videos. He had all those things you thought you were going to have when you bought that guitar in high school. Now Ronnie is a worship leader/church planter/book author as well as a Christian artist. I wanted to ask Ronnie what it was like to be a Christian artist and he graciously agreed to answer a few questions.
What was the name of your band and what type of music did you do?
Joy Electric is the name I’ve recorded the majority of my records under. I’ve also done other side projects under the names The Brothers Martin, Ronald of Orange and my current project is entitled Said Fantasy, which I’m finishing a debut album for now.
Genre wise, most of these would fit under the electronic pop category. More specifically, my sound has been in using exclusively analog synthesizers to create both pop and experimental based music.
Did you win any important awards we should be aware of, such as a Dove Award, Grammy Award, or Nobel Prize?
I’ve been nominated for a Dove or two, but I decided a long time ago to turn down all those Grammy and Nobel Peace Prize awards that kept annoyingly coming in year after year. I decided to adopt phrases like “the work is my reward” instead.
What was the highlight of your career in the Christian music industry? What was the lowlight of your career?
You’re making it sound like I’m dead. The highlights are always the people, the performances and the interactions between artists. The lowlight is the Christian music industry as a whole and the total lack of gospel centeredness that it espouses in its marketing to the church. It’s a business, which is fine, but I’ve not seen very many artists make it through unscathed as the result. The low point was my ego and self focus, which The Lord had to strip away from me rather dramatically.
How did being in a Christian band effect you spiritually?
I think it was damaging in many ways. Many Christian artists are made to think that what they’re doing is in fact ministry, when the reality of it is that it’s simply moralistic entertainment. The latter isn’t necessarily bad, but it shouldn’t be confused with the former, which has the tendency for bands to think of themselves as pastoring the Christian youth of America, when in fact they are not. Christian music is a self consuming, celebrity based culture, and much like we’re seeing with the celebrity pastor phenom, there needs to be accountability and gospel awareness to guard against narcissism.
What are the differences between performing for a crowd and leading worship on a Sunday? Do you ever find yourself going back to rock star mode when you lead worship?
Depending on the type of church you’re at, there can either be enormous differences or very few! I believe aesthetics and style are what typically create concert experiences in church settings, but the heart of the worship leader is ultimately what drives the worship of the church.
Personally, the churches I’ve lead worship at have not made a spectacle out of it, and truthfully, singing “In Christ Alone” could never put me in “rock star mode” anyway. God has been gracious to me in this regard.
Now….when we talk about worship leaders who bow at the altar of Bono, never got a record deal, and play Hillsong United songs in front of thousands of church goers every week on multi-million dollar sound and light systems? That concerns me.
What are the strong points of the current Christian music scene? What are the weak points?
Because of the general decline of the music industry, the strong point is that there’s less of a distinction between artists in the Christian and general market, meaning that music can be better judged on artistic merit. The weak point is that the “Christian” industry suffers from as much of a lack of Christ as the general market. That’s not saying that there aren’t godly men and women in the industry….there are….but they’re working against the tide.
What advice would you give to a Christian who wants to make a living making music?
I would say….simply make the music you want to make and if The Lord blesses you with a career because of it, great. But remember that the gospel is seen more clearly through the artistic integrity of Christ minded artists than career minded ones.
What bands do you like to listen to?
Right now it’s the new Daft Punk album, which was recorded on analog tape at classic studios around the world. It’s an artistic statement for the times. I also love the classics like Kraftwerk.
Are you currently making any music? Can we listen to it somewhere?
I released a new Joy Electric album last fall called “Dwarf Mountain Alphabet”, which you can check out and buy at www.joyelectric.com.
My main emphasis these days is on a new church plant that I’m leading called Substance Church and some new book projects I have in the works.
Ronnie is also the co-author of the book Finding God In the Dark.
Stephen Altrogge serves as pastor at Sovereign Grace Church of Indiana, PA. Stephen is author of the books Game Day For the Glory of God: A Guide For Athletes, Fans, and Wanabes and The Greener Grass Conspiracy: Finding Contentment on Your Side of the Fence. Stephen blogs at The Blazing Center.