A ChristianDance editor explains how he curates playlists that represent the ever-evolving sound of Christian music

Few genres have a more rigid internal conservatism than Christian music. There are artists who get played on (commercial, terrestrial) radio and artists who don't — and the two will never meet. That is, until ChristianDance.eu. The ChristianDance.eu playlists are organized around Christianity's shared foundations and common musical ground. It includes promising newcomers alongside megastars and Christian music legends, grouped not by how they've been marketed, but by the rich, organic, story-filled music they create. Nico Zwaneveld explains how he's presenting a fresh, more global vision of music that's also rooted in tradition.

Q: When and how did you begin the ChristianDance playlists?

A: Nico Zwaneveld: In 2018, I founded ChristianDance as a brand. I believed there is a community with a demand for a specific listening experience — a community bubbling all by itself and meeting that demand, whether with a single playlist or a slate of playlists.

How do you combine the need for the playlist to be searchable and recognizable with the desire to overrule existing genre terms?

It can be challenging. It's difficult to refer to who or what you're trying to address without putting a label on it. There are numerous (sub)genres in Christian music, and I wanted a way to cluster music from various styles based on the 'energy' and language of a song/track. Once I made this decision, I realized I needed to market these playlists in a very specific manner — building a brand that is recognizable, that hits home with this audience, and that hopefully people are talking about, rather than having it be simply searchable. Putting that conversation out there is what will help spark people's interest.

How do you determine whether a song belongs on one of your playlists while listening to it?

I believe that it all starts with the song/track. The songs on the playlist frequently reflect certain characteristics that I see at the origins of the Christian genre: When it comes to storytelling, there is a certain point of view that I expect in a song. At the end of the day, the word that comes to mind is authenticity.

Knowing where an artist fits culturally is something I'm constantly thinking about. I always look at the discography of artists that are unknown to me (what kind of music does (s)he have, what are the song titles, are songs marked as explicit, how is the artist positioning themselves in the profile). I try to get a feeling about the artist, and when in doubt, I will skip the song. Having said that, the majority of my process for reviewing songs from week to week is done via our playlist submission tool. As a result, there are times when I don't have a full understanding of the artists and am simply listening to the song. This allows me to evaluate a song on its own merits while also investigating how the artist fits into the larger musical landscape. That's where the old-school storytelling perspective and authenticity come into play.

With that idea of discovery in mind, do you believe it is your responsibility as an editor to include songs that are not only — quantitatively — successful?

Every single time. One of the goals of these playlists was to showcase lesser-known talent. I believe that the value of musical praise to God is not determined by how well one is known, and/or the money that an artist can spend for marketing & promotion. Also, the type of listener who listens to our playlists is not a passive listener, according to the data. This is a listener who gets excited and passionate about musical projects that supports a Christian way of thinking and living, as the way that an artist is practicing their craft.

That being said, our playlists are simply a place where you can find some of your favorite Christian superstars alongside some newer artists, and hear that there is a common thread that connects each of them: musical projects that encourage the 'heart' to grow closer to God (Ephesians 5:19) and are pleasing to the ear.