Imagine you're a fan of a certain band, say, Canadian quartet Downhere, and one day, a guy from the band shows up at your front door, inviting you to listen to an advance copy of their newest CD. He then asks for feedback, ranking your favorite songs from favorite to least. The following month, that label comes back to your house and offers to pay you to develop a music video for the first single. About a year later, they call back and point you to an exclusive digital release of acoustic versions of the songs you enjoyed so much. By this point, you feel pretty close to the company, right?

In the liner notes of their 2006 release Wide-Eyed and Mystified, Downhere described their new record label Centricity Music as "an anomaly" in the music industry for employing grassroots techniques like these. Discussing the label switch in an interview with Christian Music Today, band member Jason Germain explained the difference using colorful imagery, calling the label a "four-foot ninja" in an industry of "Scottish Highlanders wielding two-inch thick swords."

Quick and agile, Centricity is among the younger labels that are rewriting the status quo in Christian music with innovative record deals, marketing, and artist development. Seven hundred fans did listen to and rank the songs for the forthcoming 2008 Downhere release, Ending Is Beginning. Those rankings have indeed altered the track order, as the fan favorite now leads off the CD. A fan-video contest is also planned, as are digital releases targeted directly at the fans.

Centricity began in the first half of this decade at a time when labels shouldn't have been starting up, since so many were going under. The Seattle family that founded the label didn't know the industry was in upheaval, because they had no experience in the music business. They just knew they were blessed by a worship leader at their church named Jaime Jamgochian. Veteran A&R man and producer John Mays was recruited to answer the questions the founding family didn't know to ask, and by 2006 the label consisted of three full time employees and three artists: Jamgochian, Circleslide, and Downhere. Since then, the roster has grown to eight artists, and the staff outnumbers them by only one.

Today, Centricity is an indie label at a time when the line between indie and major is becoming increasingly blurred. "I wouldn't say record labels are dead, but they're definitely on life support," says Steve Ford, Centricity's vice president of marketing. "They've got to figure out a way to survive. We've lost 40% of our CD sales over the last three years. That's huge. There are not a lot of companies that could absorb that kind of loss of revenue and still survive. Imagine the auto industry losing 40% of its sales. There'd be a lot of unemployed people in this world."

A major impact of that fight for survival, according to Ford, is the way artists are treated. "As the industry has declined, you see more and more labels signing lots and lots of artists, basically throwing stuff against the wall to see what works."

The alternative pursued by Centricity is what many thought to be a by-gone concept in today's music industry: artist development. To Ford, that commitment was what pulled him away from a past with major labels. "The reason I came over to Centricity was artist development. It's not the 'pop or drop' mentality. We're in this for the long term. This label has a deep commitment, very ingrained in the DNA, to development: finding the uniqueness of the artists, finding the audience for that uniqueness, and marketing it like crazy."