Publicity in a post-radio genre
I hope Southern Gospel radio never goes away.
Testimonies abound about how people were introduced to the genre through radio. And, though fewer, there are testimonies out there about how people were introduced to the Lord through hearing a Southern Gospel song over the airwaves.
So this post is strictly hypothetical—a hypothetical situation I hope never transpires.
But here’s the question. Should we reach a point where 50% or fewer of Southern Gospel fans are within reach of a radio station, what online or other methods might we see groups using to introduce new projects to current and potential fans?
Of course, this discussion doesn’t really require the hypothetical. That’s because it’s probably fair to say that at least 25% of Southern Gospel fans already live outside the reach of a primarily-Southern Gospel station. But I believe the hypothetical helps frame the issue better.
There are a number of options.
Streaming 30-second sound clips. Virtually every group already does this. It’s a convenient way for someone who has already come across a group’s music to find a specific song they heard on the radio or in concert. Also, it’s a way for someone who likes a current CD to see if they would like the older material—or for someone who came across an oldie to see what they think of a current lineup.
What it isn’t is a way to bring in new fans. And that’s due to the nature of the genre. Thirty-second clips might mean more in a genre where it’s mostly about the music, but in this genre, it’s mostly about the message, and thirty seconds generally isn’t enough to really get a grasp for the message and delivery of a song.
Perhaps more than in other genres, Southern Gospel depends on the artist/fan connection—that the artist delivers lyrics a fan can relate to in a way that persuades the fan that they’ve been through a similar experience. And thirty seconds just isn’t enough to build that bond.
Streaming a complete song. This is an option we’re starting to see more often. Many groups are open to it, and I haven’t any trouble finding groups willing to feature a single (complete) song for streaming on this site’s relatively new mp3 player.
Streaming a complete project. This is something we rarely see—though two examples this week helped prompt this post. The idea was already percolating in the back of my mind, but pondering those two stories helped the scattered thoughts congeal into something readable.
Offering a complete project for free download. With the cost of producing projects running into the tens of thousands of dollars, I just don’t see this as becoming normative at any point. It might work as a good one-time publicity move for a new group—Daybreak Quartet being a recent example. But groups will not be able to make giving projects away a regular practice unless they come up with an entirely different model for funding both the studio time and the rest of their ministry. Not that that’s impossible, but it would require quite a bit of creativity.
Offering a single song for free download. This could be the future. Granted, labels, songwriters, and all other creative content owners would have to either give permission or be properly compensated. Provided the group has a track record of including several songs as good as the free track on the project, this would spur the group’s current fans on to prioritize purchasing the new project. And it would give potential fans an opportunity to give the group a test drive, to see if they like the song’s message and the group’s soundtracks and vocals enough to make it worth the $10-$15 for a project.
It might make sense to make free downloads available for a limited time (say a week), coupled with a limited-time special pricing for the complete project. This would limit response for the first and second times around, but would in the long term spur more listeners to subscribe to the group’s mailing lists to hear when the new single comes out.
Some groups may focus on hosting the song downloads on their site; others, especially those with smaller fan bases, may want to make the download available to a variety of news websites and blogs, in the hopes of attracting new listeners.
Likely enough, the solution for the future won’t be one-size-fits-all. But some of these avenues should help Southern Gospel grow in a future where either radio shrinks or the fan base grows in areas where radio still doesn’t cover.