British Gospel Artists: Time to Switch Sides?

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A controversial question for some and a divisive subject for others but in this climate of change in the music industry the question needs to be asked to British Gospel Artists “is it time to switch sides?”

For my critics, traditionalists, and those who think inside the box please try and get passed the title of this article before your blood pressure erupts out of control.

When Legendary American RnB artist Sam Cooke switched over from Gospel to Secular in the 1950’s the church community were placing the final nails in his cross on the back of rumours, let alone radio airplay. Such was the man’s fear of spiritual assassination that the record company put out his first release under a pseudonym but with such a unique voice it fooled nobody. The late great Rosetta Tharpe, a blues guitar genius and gospel artist in equal measure, somehow found a way to precariously balance between the Gospel and Secular worlds. It is also a very interesting fact that Elvis Presley, the King of Rock n Roll, only ever received one Grammy…for Gospel album ‘How Great Thou Art’. Kanye West has flirted with the concept of gospel although some in the higher echelons of the American inspirational world would defend him as being a misunderstood artist.

Please put your weapons down. I am not advocating or endorsing the exodus of Gospel artists to the secular arena. My point, if you allow me, must be reasoned from an obtuse or obscure angle.

Sit back, I am going to get very preachy for a paragraph at least;

Jesus told the story of fishermen who went out to sea to catch a bunch of fish but were unsuccessful. They toiled for long periods of time and spent energy casting nets which probably netted the local sewage contents or disposable Roman items of the day. Dejected they were commanded by the great master to cast their nets on the other side of the boat. In doing so, their nets almost burst with an abundant and probably career record catch. Apart from the fact that the boat almost sank I am pretty sure the local fish market benefited for a long period of time, as well as the workforce bank accounts.

I think I have nudged a bit closer to making my point although I must admit I went down the scenic route.

You have been on the route to Gospel music success in Britain for some time now. You have spent a fair bit of money on promotion, marketing, advertising, production, not to mention the website and the videographer. You have posted more times than you can count on every social network site known to man. You blog, tweet, instagram, snapchat not to mention the mother of them all, Facebook.

Ok, time for the sales figures. Downloads, hardcopy, and those t-shirts you knocked out as part of your Jay-Z inspired merchandise range have barely moved the numbers dial. In fact, you came home from your free concert recently to find that your little brother started to use the CD that you produced with blood, sweat, and tears as a Frisbee.

So you can imagine and show empathy for those fishermen. Investing all their savings from the bank of Caesar in a brand new state-of-the-art boat and top of the range fishermen nets. The whole crew must have felt tired and demoralised to say the least, until of course the main man came along and advised them to cast their nets on the other side.

To some of you reading this I know what you are thinking, surely it does not take the strategy of a genius to suggest a switch of sides, but this story, like so many of the biblical tales run beyond time and underlay our concept and are deep, deep principles that are relevant in so many situations today.

British Gospel artists, if you have been going down the same route for too long and it does not work, then switch sides. I am not by any means asking or pleading with you to abandon Gospel. Go back to the drawing board, rip up the original blue-print and change the very fundamentals of what you do. Reflect and self-analyse why you are prepared to be efficient, but not effective.

In the mid 1990’s a man from Texas called Kirk Franklin approached Gospel from another angle in terms of production, marketing and business…and the rest is history.

Your music should be produced and created to connect with big numbers. The argument that is often applied subscribing to the fact that it is not about the numbers, is not true, or reflects a mind in denial. Prescribing rather than appealing to the masses is not the basic tenet of the Gospel message. You are prepared to accept poor-quality and quantity output after the prayer, fasting, energy and quality-time spent?

That approach is pathetic.

Why should the secular major and independent record companies and its artists be focused on big numbers, yet the church-related music business is prepared to accept the recycled scraps.

When you sit in meetings with your British Gospel marketing and PR strategists, is UK Gospel a gap in the market or a market in the gap, glass half full or half empty?

It is time for true British Gospel entrepreneurs to switch or cast their nets on the other side. Switch to another style or approach to production, song writing, marketing, sales, touring and perhaps, just perhaps, the nets will come up bursting and abundant with the fruits of your labour.

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Over to you

Do you agree or disagree with Steve, is it time for Gospel artists to switch up their strategy? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.

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