2017: The Year In Review (Top 10 Countdown, part 2)

7. You Don’t Know The Half!

The year 2017, in terms of releases, could be viewed as A Tale of Two Cities. It was the best of times and the worst of times….all at the same time!! Whatever do we mean, you ask? In a given year, great music tends to be spread throughout the year in terms of release dates. This year was definitely different as the first half of the year was relatively quiet, in terms of memorable music releases. It was either feast or famine. Towards the top of the year, it was a pretty slow time in terms of significant releases hitting the marketplace. Consider this fact. It wasn’t until mid-February that we had a Gospel project released in 2017 actually hit the top of the charts. (That was CeCe WinansLet Them Fall In Love.) Including this project, there were only six new releases that sat atop the Top Gospel Albums Chart in the first half of the year. That’s a pretty staggering number when you think about it.

The second half of the year was far different. Every album atop the Billboard Top Gospel Albums Chart was released in the second half of the year. The choices abounded for many, consequently bringing about a revolving door for who would top the charts in a given week. There were twelve new releases topping the charts in the second half of the year, exactly double the amount in the first half of the year. Not to mention, the second half saw new releases from gospel heavyweights The Walls Group, Tasha Cobbs Leonard, Anthony Brown & group therAPy, Anita Wilson, Marvin Sapp, Ricky Dillard & New G, Le’Andria, Bryan Popin, Travis Greene, Tasha Page-Lockhart, James Fortune & FIYA, Tye Tribbett, and more!!

The stockpiling of these releases so close together was seemingly Heaven for the music lover yet became a bit difficult to digest. It’s very possible that several great projects were overlooked and otherwise missed. Perhaps 2018 will see great music more evenly distributed throughout the year, but we’re thankful to have had such a strong year of musical content.

6. To Stream or not To Stream?!

This question has been on the forefront of artists’ lips for the last three years. In many annals of faith-based music, the thought was that purchasing an album did more for an artist than streaming. In fact, many artists began to look at streaming as the equivalent of illegal dubbing (yes, we went back to the cassette days for that one!!).

The reality is that the consumer made this decision for the industry. Streaming portals such as Apple Music, GooglePlay, Spotify, Pandora, and Tidal boasted some of their biggest revenue and audiences in history during 2017. As a result, gospel, CCM, and all inspirational artists and labels had to jump on board the train. This year, Billboard made a wholesale change in their view of music consumption. The larger charts such as the Billboard Top 200 Chart already reflected the power of streaming. Now, all genre specific albums sales charts incorporate both pure sales and streaming metrics. This is a win for both new releases and for projects already in the marketplace. As consumers continue to discover artists, streaming allows the artists previous catalog to return to the current charts. As a result, throughout the year, artists such as Travis Greene and Tasha Cobbs Leonard had multiple albums in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums Charts.

Speaking of Greene and Leonard, they both made streaming history this year. Travis Greene’s Crossover: Live from Music City became the first Gospel release with over 1 million streams in the first week of release. That record would be broken the following week by Tasha Cobbs Leonard, as her project Heart. Passion. Pursuit. posted over 2 million streams in its first week.

One look at the year-end Gospel Streaming Songs Chart will show the power that streaming brings to an artist’s catalog as no song in the Top 3 was released in 2017. Tasha Cobbs Leonard’s anthem “Break Every Chain” takes the #3 spot on that chart. On the strength of 2016’s viral “You Name It Challenge”, Pastor Shirley Caesar’s “Hold My Mule” is #2. Topping this year’s Gospel Streaming Songs Chart is Tamela Mann’s smash single “Take Me To The King”.

Simply put, streaming really makes music timeless with no shelf life. Get into it!

5. Tasha Cobbs Leonard

When historians review this decade in faith-based music, one of the fresh faces they will speak of is worship leader and songwriter Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Her cover of the single “Break Every Chain” has become a church anthem and helped to establish her as a household name. Since her 2013 Motown Gospel debut release Grace and 2015 follow up One Place Live, the Jesup, GA native has become synonymous with soaring vocal presentations and powerful worship experiences.

2017 would prove to be another landmark year for the Grammy Award winner. The year kicked off with the announcement of her secret wedding to music director and producer Kenneth Leonard. She would proceed to record her third national project titled Heart. Passion. Pursuit. Unlike her previous two projects, this effort saw her gather 25 worship leaders from across the country, from varying backgrounds, for a worship session that looked to bring unity to the body of Christ.

Veering from her trademark gospel arrangements, this project was more simplistic in its approach and universal in its message. The effort was not without controversy. Some criticized the effort for feeling too much like a CCM crossover attempt. However, those criticisms paled in comparison to a collaboration that had the world talking.

Leonard partnered with 10-time Grammy award nominee and leading female rapper Nicki Minaj for the track “I’m Getting Ready”. The collaboration was a stroke of marketing brilliance bringing together the leading female performers in both hip-hop and Gospel music. However, some fans of the genre felt as though the collaboration wasn’t a good representation of Kingdom principles, reigniting the age-old debate of the partnering of artists from multiple genres.

Well, none of the controversy negatively impacted the consumption of the project as Heart. Passion. Pursuit. made Gospel music history, being the first album to post over 2 million streams in its debut week. She launched a six-episode web series chronicling the journey and story of this release, which is available via her YouTube channel. The album has spent 8 weeks atop Billboard’s Top Gospel Albums Chart. In addition, Leonard has not one, but TWO albums in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Year-End Top Gospel Albums Chart with Heart. Passion. Pursuit. coming in at #5 and One Place (Live) clocking in at #6.

Few artists have maintained the consistent momentum of Tasha Cobbs Leonard. Her 2018 shows no signs of slowing down as she’s announced the return of the iLead Escape, scheduled for August 1-4 in Greensboro, NC.

We are more than halfway through the countdown. Let’s see what tops the countdown by clicking here!

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