They’ve all chosen to support the Firstfruits Music Awards initiative. UK founder Nigel Swaby explains that it’s a music event specifically for Christian artists, but he claims that it’s refreshingly unique in concept.
On the judging panel so far are New Zealand film and TV actor, songwriter and musician Jay Laga’aia, worship leader and Premier Gospel station director Muyiwa Olarewaju, Australian TV music director Graeme Press, music industry veteran drummer and producer Alvin Taylor, and former Director of Marketing and A&R at BMG Africa and Sony Music Africa Dave Thompson.
Unlike most music competitions that receive all types of music, Nigel insists that Christian music is different because the main purpose behind the lyrics is to praise, worship and honor God, and of course to bless the listener too.
“Song is a really important medium to reach people for Christ particularly through radio and digital platforms, especially in circumstances where traditional missionary outreach is impractical due to prevailing laws in certain countries”, explains Nigel. “Psalms 105:2 states, ‘Sing to Him, sing praises to Him; tell of all His wonderful works!’”
Having previously worked in Christian music production and as a judge for the highly regarded US-based International Christian Visual Media Crown Awards, Nigel describes his experience of the modern Christian music scene as very mixed, saying, “Although there are some quality and timeless Christian songs, there can be the temptation for some artists to produce songs that ‘tickle’ the senses containing lyrics with a misleading message, limited Christian values, or even worse, blasphemous content.”
Nigel goes on to explain that even with the Christian genre, the music business is fiercely competitive. It may be tempting for Christian artists to succumb to the enormous pressure to produce material that appeals to the masses, sidestepping the Christian message. He suggests that if artists are not careful they could fall into the trap of pushing God to the background as they are inadvertently drawn to the limelight and tug of fame.
So Nigel has decided to take a stand on the subtle war currently being waged against modern Christian music – he insists that the Firstfruits Music Awards is a platform which will allow the voice of unknown Christian artists to be heard, those that have a genuine love for God, that is clearly demonstrated through the lyrical content of their songs. It’s a fabulous opportunity, and is open to all Christians and not just professionals with chart success.
The multiple stage song evaluation process is very stringent, evaluating each song based upon a range of criteria, with Christian and Biblical content being top factors in the scoring. During the competition, members of the general public can register with Firstfruits Music Awards to be a song reviewer and will be given the opportunity to vote on the finalists’ songs. Public reviewers submitting the most insightful song critiques will win cash prizes.
Nigel explains that this concept is unique and has some distinct advantages, as each reviewer must approach every song with much consideration and sensitivity to God’s Word to stand a chance of winning prizes. This process fuels social media interaction as reviewers tell family and friends about their involvement in the contest, or that they’ve won prizes.
The increased buzz on the net will aid to raise artist profiles too. In addition, it will provide songwriters with the comfort that their songs are being taken seriously and gaining valuable public exposure, which as any artist will confess, is one of the key ingredients for success.
The culmination of this event takes the form of a panel of highly experienced music industry professionals subjecting their ears to new mouthpieces and creations, carefully teasing out Christian artists that have the gifting and potential to make it in the highly competitive modern Christian music world.
These judges, with roots in the USA, UK, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, truly make the awards international. With such diversity, including one of the judges being an ordained minister, the panel has the cultural sensitivity, depth of Biblical and industry knowledge to appreciate the subtle nuances that may be present in songs submitted from across the globe.
In particular, Nigel values the panel’s willingness to affirm the event’s Biblical principles and values, which include, to only select commercially viable songs which honor and glorify God (Psalm 66:1-2) and to do nothing out of selfishness or personal gain, being humble towards others (Philippians 2:3-4).
Although Nigel explains that the contest’s focus is to identify and be a voice for aspiring Christian artists who accurately portray God’s Word through song, he points out that entrants have much to gain from participating. Unlike the majority of mainstream competitions that have no submissions cap, entries to the Firstfruits Music Awards are strictly limited to 5,000 worldwide. This means that contestants are six times more likely to win the Grand Prize of £25,000 than other mainstream competitions which, in some cases, receive in excess of 30,000 entries.
Some £5000 from the admission fees will be donated to outreach initiatives: for missions and projects with the emphasis on advancing the Kingdom of God.
HOW TO ENTER
Artists can enter their songs through the Awards website at www.firstfruits.co/enter
As stated in the FAQ section of the website, submissions will close on 31 July 2023, or when 5,000 entries have been received. The song submission fee is £25, and artists can submit a maximum of five songs.