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Random: Sold Down the River – With Our Own Boat?

Random: Sold Down the River – With Our Own Boat…?

(BOSE headphones promotional picture)

‘Gospel Gathering’ – And Some Worry

This can still have a happy ending….

So the November 2007 SonyBMG event ‘Gospel Gathering‘ has been and gone.

It’s been a huge triumph for gospel music in the UK, which is still so deep underground it’s somewhat hidden even from those of us within it…

However, I worry.

Thieves In The Temple..?

Maybe the following is a cynical view…

But apart from Sony BMG happily lining their pockets with revenues from a huge event and a major venue, I see little direct benefit to the UK scene.

I must add, though: that previous point is an assumption – RCA (the Sony BMG label that actually put the event on) haven’t published any figures that I know of yet.

  • still, that’s not their fault.
  • they’re in business to make money.
  • they make no apologies for it – and they shouldn’t…

My thing is:

  • do we treat this renewed interest in the UK industry as answer to prayer?
  • or the arrival of savvy thieves in the temple…?

I think the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

‘We’ll Take Your Money, Thanks…’

  • I asked a question at the Gospel Gathering Press conference: ‘What’s In It For Us …?’

Mervyn Lyn, then Vice President, A&R (by the way, RCA also represents artists from Alicia Keys to George Michael to Natasha Bedingfield and even X Factor 2007) said:

  • first and foremost, they are in this as a business:
  • If Gospel Gathering 1 is profitable and successful, then we can look at what we can do about promoting more UK acts as major headliners for subsequent ones (update Jan 2011: there was only the one Gospel Gathering)…

For the rest of the press conference many more questions were asked, but a lot were (to my mind at least) either inane or totally the wrong place to ask, e.g:

  • ‘how can we get the UK industry to more like the US one…?’

I mean: is that a question for a record label press conference????

But almost everyone seemed to miss the significance of Mervyn’s statement, which I interpret as:

  • We’ll come into your marketplace (with events and artists promoted through your mechanisms),
  • take your revenue, return you a tiny proportion to keep you happy…
  • And – if you finally get your act together – we’ll think about sharing some of that money with you…

And again, that’s not necessarily an altogether unexpected stance.

Do Something Different – It Has Been Done Before…

But surely we need to be negotiating a stronger return for our industry:

  • ‘Yes, Major label, we need your expertise and muscle to grow our industry into the mainstream.

But here’s an idea:

‘…if you invest in our industry (we can work out the details between us), we can save you ‘x’ percent of your marketing budget by using our own mechanisms to get our audience to your events…

But you need to invest some of that revenue saved in us, based on a mutual share deal we come up with…’

It isn’t like there hasn’t been a precedent.

See Hugo Urban Rules seminars, which Mervyn presents at (update: 20 Jan 2011 – as far as I can tell, the Hugo Urban Rules isn’t running any more).

  • Branding agency Hubbub worked with Hugo fragrances owner, Procter & Gamble to establish the Urban Rules programme with an intention on a long-term stay in the Urban music scene
  • The idea was to place Hugo in the market as a credible and long term property, which (for my money) is most certainly the right way forward.

Any sponsor with their eye on success in this sector has got to look to play the long  game.

Walk with us for a while – we’ll trust you that bit more.

  • I don’t own any Hugo brands (that I am aware of, anyway) but I tell you if I ever make that impulse fragrance purchase, and Hugo is on the counter, they’ve got my money. Simple.

In this context, the success – or otherwise – of the strategy is irrelevant.

The point is this: the UK Urban music scene still benefits hugely from an extremely powerful brand being involved the Urban Rules seminar…

Back To Gospel Gathering

In the meantime, as you’d expect, Sony BMG did a great job of marketing the event:

The Times: ‘Praise the Lord – and go platinum

  • Underlying message? Gospel music is booming.
  • Interesting fact: official gospel music charts will soon be launched…
  • Gospel Gathering is still being referenced, even now in December, after the event.

Check the Guardian’s The Other Side of the Tracks feature by Alex Petridis (who actually attended the Kirk Franklin day Gospel Gathering gig).

  • The piece looked at a lot of the music subgenres of the UK scene (Polish Jazz, anyone…?)
  • Not only does Gospel Grime get a mention (and DJ Fitz get a quote), here’s another thing:
  • Underlying message: gospel music is booming.
  • Interesting fact: official gospel music charts will soon be launched…

So – To End – Are We Gonna Be Sold Down That River…?

It seems interested external investors recognise the potential of our industry.

  • But we don’t seem to realise how urgently we need to ring fence it
  • We’re providing pretty much anyone with a bit of money unbelievably easy access to our largely open market.
  • It’s the one thing of value that we don’t need to sweat to create…

Once these labels get what they want (big audiences to buy their products), why would they be:

  • Interested in supporting the scores of kids who are creating potentially strong, SALEABLE music in their bedrooms,
  • Interested in providing guidance to take things up a few notches (marketing, production, industry seminars, for example)…?

There’s obviously less of a risk for those who’ve been around the industry, but they are the (tiny) minority

One Possible Solution…

I’d suggest that’s where we as a collective industry come in.

  • Build that support mechanism into the contract(s) we negotiate for these profitable events that these companies want to put on…
  • …or if that sounds like too much work:
  • how about taking some of our more established artists (Raymond & Co and Four Kornerz, if you want ready examples) to a wider market…?

Or am I missing something…?

Where’s The Life Jacket..?

The way things stand right now (and like that picture above) we might be heading for a waterfall…

  • If that’s the case, I’d suggest we’re currently in the boat without lifesaver jackets or parachutes.

And – if the history of major external interest in UK gospel is anything to go by – we may be the only ones that haven’t mapped out a contingency plan…

(Originally published – October 2007)

6 replies »

  1. I hear you. Now here is the challenge. The question you asked at the conference is a cyclic one (I think ‘cyclic’ is a word): What’s in it for them?

    To support Gospel music going forward they have to see it as a potential… no, I mean they have to RECOGNISE it as a potential money earner. We know record companies are not charities. They aren’t doing it for the love of music or the furtherment of art (I’m really sorry to break that news to you, but I’ve worked with them and that’s the truth).

    So for example: Why should they take on Four Kornerz who in my opinion are not only an incredible live act, a delicious visual proposition, a solid music entity and cute enough to garner the 14 year old market just like JLS (hmm, 4Kz to go X Factor? – how about a Gospel week on X Factor!!!!). What is in it for them? They’ve got to know that sales are sustainable with primarily a Gospel audience and then a larger (not wider) mainstream audience.

    A group I am watching closely is PARAMORE, coincidentally introduced to me by my lil sis who is Christian by association (lol), a huge fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Blade and Charmed (I’m still praying about that) and loves music that ranges from Britney Spears to… well, 4 Kornerz.

    They have been positioned (or positioned themselves) as not a CHRISTIAN BAND but a Rock/Alternative band with Christian members. See, Gospel, as it should, still strikes fear into the hearts of many and record companies can’t market fear… or at least they think they can’t (Marilyn Manson?). Black Music is easier to sell as Urban Music. This is not news. If Black or Gospel or Christian is your banner then prepare to be welcomed only where that banner doesn’t make people have to question their perception of it. It’s a bigger question then. Will the Gospel music community accept 4Kz being marketed as a Live Rock/Alternative/Urban band with Christian Members?

    I feel a stoning coming on for that comment.

    So what’s in it for RCA if they can’t communication their new signing in the way they would like to if the community from which it comes resists that process of Marketing and Promotion – the very tool by which the record company uses to reach a LARGER market?

    Hmm, discuss.


  2. Bernard said: “Will the Gospel music community accept 4Kz being marketed as a Live Rock/Alternative/Urban band with Christian Members?”

    After seeing all the mud slung at Greenjade for pulling out of the Gospel category in last year’s MOBO Awards, my guess is “probably not.”


  3. Sad as it is for me to say this, you’re probably right, George…

    But surely the fundamental question is: are we right to be so protective of our style and content?

    As Bernard said: ‘hmmm, discuss…’


  4. why does gospel strike fear in the hearts of record companies? I thought the only gospel they know is either Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary or choirs wearing robes and dancing around like in Sister Act 2? Market fear? huh? when did gospel and fear become associated together musically? explain

    As for Four Kornerz being marketed as a band with Christians in it, I think it could work because singers have more chance of getting away with that than the rapper/grime style of gospel music. The rappers have to prove themselves more and therefore cannot risk to allow themselves be seen as anything else but gospel artists. There are some exceptions like Green Jade and Royal Priesthood but they are not pop enough hehehe

    “So what’s in it for RCA if they can’t communicate their new signing in the way they would like to if the community from which it comes resists that process of Marketing and Promotion – the very tool by which the record company uses to reach a LARGER market”

    the above question has hit the nail on the head and it’s going to take a very strong and aware person/act/group/band to understand the game and play it because the way I see it, most will feel they are “selling out” if they play the marketing game like it has to be played. Well maybe not singers like Four Kornerz though, I would say they are the prime candidates to break through


    • Can I just say, at the risk of sounding like a broken record, GOSPEL is not the issue. (Father forgive me)

      If you could get 100,000 downloads and all you say is ‘flob-a-lob-a-lob’ you will get the record company assistance. Florence and the Machine’s cover of You Got The Love (a blatantly Christian song which has already graced the charts in two previous incarnations) is not fluke, it’s a fact. The fact being if it will sell…

      Let me break it down for you again (Lauryn Hill).
      The record companies get involved when and only when they see a viable artist for a viable market. If they can take 80% of the revenue from your project they’ll sign up. Heck they’ll even set up a special label for you so you don’t feel your principles are compromised by being associated with their secular artists.

      You’ll have an RCA Gospel UK in a minute if there was a market to support it. I have data – I know how many people bought album X and Y, and to be honest it’s not a lot. So the challenge is how do we (the existing Gospel music mass) create a market that supports (by buying music) UK Gospel music?

      How, how, how?


  5. I agree that Florence and The Machine topped the charts with their remake of “you got the love” and I’ve always believed that the way any gospel record will get into the charts will be through the dance song angle because those type of songs are embraced and the market for them is there.

    but gospel rap/gospel grime and holy hip is a strange beast for record labels to market. The only acts in America breaking through and achieving financial success are KJ-52, Manafest and Toby Mac who are marketed in the CCM market, Reach Records and Crossmovement records have had a little success because of the sheer market size of America.

    The only way to create a market that buys gospel music as far as I can see is if the scene and the artists are raised in profie and the fans of the music learn to value and esteem and therefore support the music by buying into the artist and his product.


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