As the LDS church continues to grow, the art that its members create continue to fill new and different niches. Most of us are familiar with LDS music, the kind of music you’d see at Deseret Book, etc., and praise-type music like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. I’ve focused quite a bit on members of the church who write non-LDS music, or music that doesn’t necessarily have LDS themes. I interview these musicians on Linescratchers.
However, I’ve stumbled upon artists that don’t really fit either way. Mark Hansen has quite an online presence, and his music is a mix. It sounds like classic rock, or just mainstream rock, but the themes are more heavily LDS. However, it doesn’t really fit in to the average LDS CD either. My guess is that in the future we will see more of these artists in the future as well.
Mark has agreed to an online interview to discuss the LDS music scene, his own music, and the future of LDS music. Special thanks to Mark for the trouble!
AH: So first of all, how did you get started with music? Was it your family or did you start yourself?
MH: My family is very involved in music. My parents raised us on classical music, and each of us kids learned an orchestral instrument starting in elementary school. I played the ‘cello. I played it, in fact, all the way up through early college. I picked up the guitar in high school. Actually, I did a little bit of guitar in elementary school, too, but didn’t really do much with it. I started off on bass. I saved up my money and got one, and an amp, but my folks weren’t too eager. I got this used strat copy from a friend and started learning whatever songs my friends would teach me. “Bastille Day” by Rush was the first song I learned, and it all went downhill from there! 🙂
I still love classical music. There was a time when I was going to school for a music theory/composition major. The idea was to get a degree and go do film scores. Life changes things, you know…
AH: Your music, while not necessarily praise music or EFY-type music, does have a bit of a “ministry” feel due to its uplifting and motivational themes, so you don’t necessarily “fit in” with traditional LDS music OR with totally secular music. Do you feel excluded from either of those, or included in both?
MH: I am an anomaly, caught between two worlds. The traditional LDS marketing establishment doesn’t really know what to do with me, and the mainstream music world is just too stinking big to notice. I definitely feel that there’s a market for LDS rock (as well as other alternative styles), but we’re kind of at a standstill. The main LDS marketing systems (like Deseret Book) don’t target the alternative audiences, so they can’t reach them, and the audiences don’t think it exists, so they’re not really out looking for it. It’s an uphill battle to let the fans know you’re there.
That’s the real reason that I turned to the ‘net for my main connection to my audience. I do a few live performances each year, but not really a whopping lot. I’m not out touring, for example. But people are downloading my songs off the ‘net and signing up for my mailing list constantly, so they’re finding the songs and listening. I hang out on LDS groups in places like myspace and twitter, that helps a lot.
AH: Do you feel that there is enough of an LDS market to really make a difference? Do you feel like your audiences “get” what you’re trying to do?
MH: It’s really taken me a long time to figure out, myself, what I’m trying to do, so I don’t really expect anyone else out there to do it, either! 🙂
It’s very true that the LDS market is small. In the contemporary Christian Music world, there are artists of every style and genre, and the market is much bigger. I love listening to a lot of that music. I long for the day when the LDS music world has as much depth and breadth as that. It may come, but it will take time.
When you consider that the vast majority of church members around the world don’t even know that most LDS music even exists, it’s hard to get it in their ears and capture their attention. It’s a real uphill battle.
AH: Do you have any favorite experiences with your music making a difference to people? Any people you’ve significantly impacted?
MH: Occasionally, I get emails telling me about how this song or that song touched someone, or how excited someone is to hear rock with an uplifting message. I don’t know that I’ve really changed anyone’s life, but I like to think I’ve helped some folks. On the site, on the fans page (http://markhansenmusic.com/custformnew272611.html), there are a few comments that show some impact, and I love reading those.
I like to think that I’ve had a big impact on me, and often it seems that when I’m writing a song the message is something that Heavenly Father wants ME to learn, moreso than teaching.
It’s also a really satisfying thing to hear my kids sing my songs. That really makes me feel good.
AH: You’ve made quite an online presence for yourself. It seems that everywhere I surf, whether it be Yahoo! groups or MySpace or elsewhere on the World Wide Web you seem to make yourself known. Have you found success using the Internet as a tool to reach out to people?
MH: The only really consistent success I’ve had is over the internet. My various songs currently get a total of about 750 to 1000 downloads a month (available at http://markhansenmusic.com/custformnew329907.html). I’ve really enjoyed interacting with people on the web and via email and twitter, etc… I get emails, like fan mail, from all over the world.
When I first started, I thought the key was to do lots of performances, but it’s tough to get into wards and stakes for youth activities.
The challenge with the ‘net is that you get out there and try and make yourself known, but not many people know that alternative styles exist in LDS music, so they’re not out there looking for it. I have to actively get where they are. And even though the LDS online community is growing, it’s still a relatively small percentage of church members.
The other cool thing about the ‘net is that, while it takes a lot of time and effort to get the word out, you can do it for little or no cost up front. The few times I’ve done paid advertising, for example, it hasn’t really paid off for me. It’s the blogs, the forums, the myspace pages, etc… that are bringing the people to my music, more than anything else.
AH: What, in your opinion, is the state of LDS music today?
MH: It’s in a bit of a slump right now. A few years ago, I predicted a renaissance, because I suddenly saw a lot of people exploring a lot of different sounds and ideas that were much more interesting than the “soft Sunday sounds” that I’d been used to in LDS music. But it seems like each time I go into a Deseret Book, there are fewer new LDS CD’s in the racks.
On the other hand, if you’re willing to dig through the ‘net and explore, there’s a lot of indie LDS music goin’ on that’s really exciting. As surprising as it might sound, for example, LDS rap is probably more active right now than LDS rock. I even found an LDS goth artist once!*
AH: Where do you see your music going in the future, and where do you see LDS music going? Should we expect more musicians writing and performing music like yours in the upcoming years?
MH: I’d really love to see LDS music in the full broad range of styles. Yes, I’d love to hear more rock and especially good heavy stuff. But that’s just me being selfish. I love to listen to that, and there isn’t that much available. But I’d also love to see more LDS soul, R&B, techno, dance pop, country, orchestral, jazz, punk, everything really. We have musicians in all styles in the church, so we need to be creating art in all styles.
Check out more Mark Hansen at http://markhansenmusic.com/ !
*I believe Mark is talking about Anthony Mather of Tactical Sekt, but I could be wrong.
Bastille Day is awesome, and Rush rules!
Thanks for the interview.
Very interesting indeed. Especially about how LDS art needs to find expression through all varieties.
Really poses the question…
“What IS Mormon art anyway?” 🙂
I would have to listen to some of this stuff to understand. I also beg the question — what makes it LDS art and music? Is it LDS music when an active and engaged member is the creator? Or does it have to incorporate Book of Mormon characters or something to make it uniquely LDS? (just an example).
So it’s ‘christian rock’ with a mormon spin?
#3… it’s a question of terminology. All this stuff hasn’t been sorted out yet very well, or documented, so terminology hasn’t matured yet. Even a genre like heavy metal has been partitioned into very clearly defined sounds (thrash, doom, black, symphonic, prog, etc.). Yet there are a few different styles that you can find in The Land of LDS that haven’t been defined.
For the purposes of this post, “LDS music” is just an umbrella term for music written with LDS themes. Therefore, it includes LDS-oriented praise music, music with Book of Mormon characters like you mentioned, music that talks about heavily LDS-related themes by LDS musicians (repentance, faith, the Spirit, Joseph Smith, etc.). You can find CDs like this at Deseret Book or other similarly-themed places.
Mark’s music is worth mentioning because the tone is kind of in-between traditional LDS music and rock.