Dr. Shannan Baker
PhD Graduate Church Music
The Mystery, Music, and Markets of Contemporary Worship Songs: An Interdisciplinary Comparison of the CCLI Top 25 Songs from 2010-2020
This dissertation seeks to answer the question: What makes a contemporary worship song (CWS) popular? In other words, do specific textual or musical characteristics, extra-musical associations, or other elements correlate with songs that achieve top placement on the Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI) charts? CCLI publishes Top 25 lists based on church reporting, indicating which congregational songs are the ones that churches used the most during a specified time. These lists are in rank order, putting one song in the top spot. Is there something intrinsic within a song that makes it place in the coveted number-one spot?
This study examines the CCLI Top 25 lists in the U.S. from 2010-2020. 2010 is a logical starting point because that year was when both Bethel Music and Elevation Worship, two of the worship ministries responsible for many of the decade’s most popular worship songs, released their first worship albums. Using the CCLI lists, a collection of seventy songs was created. Each chapter analyzes a different aspect of songs in this collection to determine the customary practices for lyrics and music and to identify the prominent songwriters and music labels. This data is juxtaposed with an analysis of a subset of the eleven number-one songs to determine to what extent these top songs deviate or conform to the standard of other CWS.
What Faculty Say
Dr. Baker’s work is groundbreaking in that she looks beyond the words of the popular worship songs and their ecclesiastical and social contexts to also examine the music itself to determine musical characteristics that help drive a song’s popularity. Unlike most dissertations that would be of interest only to other scholars, Dr. Baker’s has value for practicing church musicians and creators of contemporary worship songs in addition to its highly significant scholarly value.