*Edit* After another participant told me there were inaccuracies in my original post, I removed nearly every specific statement in hopes of fixing this problem.
Yesterday, Crossroads Music hosted a bloggers conference. About half the bloggers invited were able to make it; I couldn’t be there, but participated via telephone. Daniel Britt, David Bruce Murray, and Doug Harrison were all there in person. Several record producers and industry executives were also present.
The meeting started with the moderator telling us that bloggers have been saying things that record executives have been saying for years–behind closed doors. They wanted to get together with us to exchange ideas and information.
They discussed that traditional Southern Gospel media outlets, such as the Singing News knew about the event. But they specifically were only inviting independent bloggers.
There was quite a bit of discussion as to reforming the Singing News radio charts–how, for example, there were six charting stations in northern Alabama within a 75-mile radius of one another, but no charting statements in Birmingham. There was also talk of how the charting is basically based on the honor system, not actual airplay. They are active in efforts to require that stations that want to chart use programs to record actual airplay, and they also want to see more equal geographic representation from various markets. I asked what percentage of charting stations base their reporting on actual spins, and they replied that we simply don’t know. Some do, many don’t.
They also mentioned that within the last few days they heard about cashola problems with a Southern Gospel promoter and radio stations. Artists were essentially buying chart placement. Various individuals plan to work together to reform the process. If radio stations will want to play, they will have to play by the rules and report actual airplay.
They mentioned that Southern Gospel radio play is connected to sales growth. As it stands, we can’t use the charts we have now to go to retailers or anyone else who is selling SG, because nobody believes the charts. One of the steps in trying to build and grow the industry is creating credible radio charts.
We discussed the fact that CCM radio moved to Nielsen Soundscan to measure airplay about 10 years ago. What convinced them? It was the increased ad market. Ad sales increased for stations that did it.
We talked about how record labels are the bank, and discussed how the songs were central to the investment, and how record labels sometimes invest in an album without hearing the songs involved. Someone said it was like making an investment in property without checking whether it was on a flood plain.
We talked about how long records last. A while back, there was discussion of going to an eighteen-month cycle, so that they could single more of the songs from a project. But the artists told them, “You’re killing me.” The artists go to places once a year and want something new every year. If they spread out major projects, the artist does a table project. Spreading the albums out a little farther helps retail sales, but artists typically see only the table sales side of the coin.
Someone from Crossroads commented that there is a pervasive idea that a record company puts releases into stores. Many years ago, that was kind of true. But it is not true now. Distributors handle this now.
Another thing that has been difficult on the labels is that record stores are typically returning products if they do not sell quickly. If it doesn’t sell quickly, it comes back. This helps the high-level artists, but makes it harder on the middle-level artists.
In the mid-1990s, when EMI and BMG bought up the Contemporary Christian Music industry, it became all about the next big thing. It’s all about marketing plan in CCM. If it doesn’t sell in 45 days, you’re gone and it’s all about the next big thing. Some people are trying to push Southern Gospel in that direction.
We discussed the American Gospel Music and Lifeway’s sponsorship. (Lifeway ignored and excluded Southern Gospel for two years, only to find that it was their third-highest-selling category when they brought it back.) Several things are happening on the American Gospel Music front, but the idea faces significant hurdles that it might not be able to overcome.
We discussed digital downloads. Their music is now available from most of the major digital download sites.
Various bloggers suggested ideas. Doug Harrison discussed paying royalties regularly. David Bruce Murray focused his comments on improving Southern Gospel radio. Daniel Britt addressed developing legitimate new talent shows, to find new artists. I discussed improving their website—something that they are already working on.
Let me try to conclude by answering a question that many people will be wondering. Will my coverage of Crossroads be any different because of the conference?
I don’t really think it will change my coverage much. I hope my coverage will be more accurate. I don’t think I will cover Crossroads any more or less than I otherwise would, though.
Participating by phone was quite an experience. (I have never spent seven straight hours on one phone call before!) Next time—if there is a next time—I hope to make it in person and actually meet my colleagues in the independent Southern Gospel blogging world.
Thank you, Crossroads, for setting this up!