March 02, 2007
David Bach, one part of my favorite all-time Christian rock bands, Guardian, has written a three-part post about the future of Christian music and the CCM industry that one can only pray is being read by the folks in Nashville. Bach writes as someone who has been inside the industry, someone who has seen the guts of the monster, so to speak. And he's trying to get Christian artists to see what's happening to their industry so that they can be prepared. As he puts it:
My intent here is not to discourage anyone, but rather to tell the truthÂ—the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Mine is not a rocket science/ prophetical hypothesis. Similar tales of coming fiscal woe are all over the internet in regard to the general market. But the CCM industry has always lagged behind the general market by about 18-24 monthsÂ—so for some of you reading this, it will be a shocker. Again, my primary hope in writing this is that even one aspiring artist will read it and take heedÂ—hopefully saving themselves years of grief and wasted energy.This is one area in which the Christian industry can't afford to lag behind the rest of the entertainment field. IF Christian entertainers are really in it to get their message out, rather than make some quick $$ from their fellow believers, then there needs to be a radical change in the way Christian music is marketed, distributed, sold, and promoted. And that's exactly what Bach is calling for. I'm not going to simply cut and paste everything he's written -- you can head over to his blog for that. You should go there anyway -- he's written some worthwhile stuff there. What I WILL do, though, is add my own proverbial two cents.
The way music is marketed in general is changing. That much should be obvious to anyone who has read anything about digital music, DRM, the RIAA, or anything related in the past two years. Bach's most recent post about Christian radio really hit home to me -- the only reason I listen to Christian radio in the car anymore is because my iPod died on me (though I've found some people who may be able to help...). Even the preaching I listened to on the radio, I can now listen to via podcast. The only reason for me to listen to the radio at all is for traffic and weather updates -- and a recent trip through Huntington showed my wife and I that few radio stations still do things like that. Radio has always been the promotional arm of the music marketing formula -- that's changing, but the industry isn't paying attention. Digital downloads and streaming samples have taken over, and very few labels have been willing to take advantage of that. Podcasting is the radio of the future -- each podcaster has a definite niche that astute labels can exploit, if they do it right. By positioning their music in the right places, they can attract new listeners, and new fans. I know I've introduced people to new artists on my podcast -- they've told me! So it works!
But there's no money in it for the labels, like there is in radio. That's because few podcasters are actually making money doing it. The next dollar I make podcasting will be my first, and it isn't breaking my heart. Would I like to get some money for it? Of course -- that's why I signed up for the iTunes affiliate program. But I'm not going to have to give up podcasting if I don't get $100 per listener per year or something. And most podcasters are the same way. We're not the cash cows that radio is, so the music industry is going to prop them up for as long as they have to.
There are Christian labels who have some foresight. Centricity Records treats me like the programming director of a (very, very small) radio station, it seems like. Every time I've emailed them about getting a song to play, I hear back quickly, and I get the song. Speak Records is also great to work with. Many Christian labels have signed up with iodaPromoNet, which allows podcasters to use selected tracks from their catalog without having to pay a licensing fee. THESE are the people who get it.
Unfortunately, you won't find very many big names there. The big guys have yet to notice the 800 pound gorilla in the room. They're focused on CD sales. And as Bach mentions in this post, the CCM industry's standby retailers aren't the most stable partners right now.
The Christian music industry has a great opportunity right now to be at the forefront of something new and different. It remains to be seen whether they can change their business models to reflect the changing technology (and changing times), or if CCM will, as usual, be a few years behind its secular counterpart.
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