Gospel Music: Shall We Buy or Nah

Kirk Franklin

Kirk Franklin

Let me first begin this piece by saying that I am a lifelong fan of the gospel music genre. Growing up as a kid, it was the only permissible music in the house. I was privileged to grow up in the era of gospel music greats such as The Hawkins Family, Milton Brunson & The Thompson Community Singers, Rev. James Cleveland and more. I also had the honor to watch gospel transform and watch artists such as Commissioned, The Winans, and others lay the contemporary and urban foundation to breed today’s legends such as Kirk Franklin, Mary Mary, and Donnie McClurkin. My lifelong dream was to somehow be involved in this great music industry. Thankfully, through mediums such as Gospelflava.com and now Bonnerfide Radio, I’m able to live that dream.

So, it is with that foundational perspective that I take this time to express my extreme concern for the future of this genre. Now, before some of my extreme saints get super spiritual on me, let me state my case and then you can make your own decisions. I will start by saying that this issue is actually quite practical and you, yes YOU, can help to turn this genre around.

In the next few minutes, I’d like to share what some of the issues are and how you can help fix them.

 

Pharrell Williams

Pharrell Williams

Let’s begin the conversation by agreeing that this genre contains perhaps the greatest contextual message known to man, the love of Jesus Christ. Now while many may argue about the lyrical content of today’s gospel music presentation, we can ALL agree that the message of our genre, by and large, is the most positive message of any genre today. With that said, why can’t the most positive message reach a mainstream platform? I mean, we are just coming out of one of the biggest musical successes with the single “Happy” from Pharrell Williams. It’s been the best “feel-good” song of the last year and has sold over 6.1 MILLION copies. (Let that sink in for a second.)

So clearly, people want a positive and uplifting message. Well why hasn’t the message of the gospel seen this level of success?

Let’s start here. What’s the last gospel song or album that you know that has sold 6 million copies? Well, that’s just it. You won’t find one as of yet.

It’s time to pull the covers off of the elephant in the gospel room. Gospel music simply is not selling on par with any other major genre.

As the single “Happy” has experienced huge success in the last year, so has the single “Take Me To The King” from Tamela Mann. First released in the summer of 2012, the song has catapulted Mann to mainstream stages such as ABC’s The View, BET Awards, and most recently the Neighborhood Awards (hosted by Steve Harvey). The song has had GREAT radio airplay in both gospel and urban A/C formats. Yet, in its 2 year run, the song was JUST certified gold (500,000 copies) and has sold 516,000 copies to date.

“Happy” vs. “Take Me To The King”.

Seven time 2014 Stellar Awards winner Tamela Mann (Photo Credit: Linximages / The FrontPage Firm

Seven time 2014 Stellar Awards winner Tamela Mann (Photo Credit: Linximages / The FrontPage Firm)

Mann’s song has been in the marketplace a year longer than Williams’ huge hit. In fact, “Take Me To the King” is STILL top 5 on gospel’s Digital Songs Chart, some 2 years after its release. So why does it take such a huge song 2 years to accomplish this feat?

In any given week, we will hear the social networks brim with excitement about their favorite artist’s place on Billboard‘s Top Gospel Albums Chart. Certainly, we congratulate these artist’s fantastic efforts. However, let’s dig into what this actually means. This week, the #1 gospel album in the country sold 2,571 units. That’s an average of 51 units per state, if every state in the United States sold that album. The top 50 gospel albums this week cumulatively sold 24,716 units. Keep in mind, Lakewood Church, led by Joel Osteen, has over 40,000 members. One other stat. In this SAME week, the number one album across all genres is a movie soundtrack that sold over 92,000 units.

Now, for those who think that this is an anomaly, think again. For quite some time now, sales for the top 50 gospel albums have been significantly outperformed by the #1 album on Billboard‘s Top 200 charts.

Why? How?!

In order to be effective in any culture, you must first speak the language of that culture. For instance, you will get nowhere in France by speaking exclusively English. At some point, you must learn the language. So, the language of success in the music industry equates to units sold and revenue. In the gospel music genre, our consumers are generally members of the local church. As it pertains to our African-American populated church (who are the largest consumers of gospel music), we tend to measure success in gospel music based on something called “anointing”. While this term can be subjective in many circles, it is NOT the measurement of success at record labels or within the overall music industry.  So our first issue is, we aren’t properly aligned with our measurement of success.

Lecrae

Lecrae

Secondly, this calls into question the value that we, the consumer, place on gospel music. (It’s about to get tough through this patch, so buckle up.)

The Bible is clear when it says “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) In other words, your money will go to the areas you value. So ask yourself this question. How often do I BUY gospel music? When was the last time I bought gospel music? Now ask yourself this. When was the last time I listened to gospel music? One could make the case that perhaps we aren’t buying gospel music because we don’t value it.

Consider this. the Hip-Hop genre celebrates its 40 year anniversary this year and started as a grass roots movement. Its listeners saw it as a movement and responded to it as such. Now, Hip-Hop is one of the most dominant genres in all of music, not solely because of its content but because its listeners bought the music.  What would happen if our listeners committed to buying music?

We have to recognize that we have great buying power. Fifteen years ago, supporters were encouraged to “Buy Don’t Burn”. Today, I’d like to encourage you to “Buy Don’t Stream”. Certainly, streaming services like Spotify give you the opportunity to pay one low price and listen to all of the records you want. What they don’t do is support the artists at the rate that purchasing their product does. In fact, it’s a SIGNIFICANT difference….I mean SIGNIFICANT.

I live by the motto “What you feed lives. What you starve dies.” When you don’t buy gospel music, you are starving it. If you continue to starve this music, it will die.

Erica Campbell

Erica Campbell

I know that many have stated all sorts of reasons why they don’t buy gospel music. Some don’t like its content, direction, or even musical progressions. Well the good news it that there is more diversity in gospel music’s presentation than ever before. The gospel message can be found in all sorts of fantastic packages. There are great ways to find this music. But here’s the thing to understand. The gospel music genre is facing a serious crisis and can ONLY be fixed by consumers.

Let’s no longer procrastinate when it comes to the purchase of this music. I want to challenge everyone who has been impacted by gospel music to commit to purchasing at least one piece of music per week. That’s $10. That is easily spent on a trip to Starbucks. Understand that this $10 purchase is really an investment or a partnership. It is your way of saying that you are committed to seeing your favorite artist and their message, spread around the world. If you don’t see music that you like, bless a friend and purchase new music for them.

I challenge all leaders and pastors to really take up this charge at your local church. Truth be told, there is no more performed musical genre on a weekly basis than gospel music. Without it, most of our churches would be quiet places. If we value this music, begin encouraging your parishioners to purchase the music. Bring in gospel artists that you trust and allow them to share their gifts with your members. Then, teach the members what support looks like. Support isn’t just a tweet. It’s a purchase.

Tye Tribbett

Tye Tribbett

We can’t ever complain about the poor representation of gospel music in the mainstream marketplace when we don’t purchase it ourselves. Specialty genres such as country, R&B, and Hip-Hop have become part of the fabric of pop music because their supporters bought the music.

With the growth in church membership around the country and the proliferation of megachurches, there’s no reason why gospel music can’t chart like other musical genres. It just requires us as a body to come together for this common cause.

I’ll leave you with this thought. The Tower of Babel was built because the people were united in purpose. In fact, it was their unity that garnered God’s attention and their motive that determined God’s response. The tower was destroyed, not because of their unity, but because of their motive. Yet in Psalms, unity brought about a blessing. So, I believe that if the supporters of gospel music would decide to band together and buy gospel music with the design of allowing gospel to become part of the mainstream music conversation, God would breathe on it and we can save our gospel music industry.

So, shall we buy Gospel Music or Nah?

 

 

 

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