Presidential Briefing: Christian Music Leaders Speak Out
- Wednesday, May 04, 2005
In the business of selling Christian music, there has been — almost since the beginning — the trinity: three major companies and their respectively owned and distributed labels that have shared this market for many years. Though now wholly owned by major music and entertainment conglomerates, each is still managed by veterans of this business whose careers began with independently owned and operated labels.
Bill Hearn was formerly the president of Sparrow Records prior to being named president and CEO of EMI Christian Music Group, a division of EMI Recorded Music North America. His father, Billy Ray Hearn, who founded Sparrow, continues to function as chairman of the group. A 27-year industry veteran, Bill oversees management of EMI CMG Label Group, EMI CMG Distribution and EMI CMG Publishing. He also serves on the board of The Sparrow Foundation and TJ Martell Foundation.
Jim Van Hook is currently CEO at Word Entertainment, the industry’s oldest label that was started in 1951 as Word Records. Van Hook was a music professor at Nashville’s Trevecca Nazarene University for six years before starting his own company, Brentwood Music, with $500 in 1981. The company was sold to Zomba Music Group in 1994 and had become an $85 million business when he officially retired in 2003. In a unique arrangement with Word (owned by the Warner Music Group), Van Hook concurrently maintains his role as dean of the Mike Curb College of Entertainment & Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville.
Terry Hemmings, who spent a decade with Reunion Records, now serves as president and CEO of the Provident Music Group, which includes labels as diverse as the benchmark Benson, Brentwood, Reunion and Essential and recently acquired distribution rights to Integrity Music. Provident is now a division of Sony BMG Music Entertainment, operating under the umbrella of RCA Label Group Nashville.
These are the men who steer the present and shape the future of the Christian music business on a day-to-day basis. We believe you will find it fascinating to get a deeper insight into their world, hear their reflections on the buying trends of 2004 and catch a glimpse of their future goals and plans.
CCM: It was an interesting year for Christian music, wasn’t it? Though overall sales of Christian and gospel music were almost identical to 2003 (43.4 million units in ’04 compared to 43.7 million in ’03), sales of rock titles more than doubled. Is rock selling better because of general market exposure and availability, or has the church finally just gotten comfortable with more aggressive musical styles?
Jim Van Hook: I think it’s both. I think praise & worship has sort of loosened up the church a bit to accept a wider variety of styles than in years past. Look at an artist like BarlowGirl whose debut album has sold more than 200,000 units and is what we would have always classified a rock record but is now really in the center of the market.
Terry Hemmings: There has always been an audience for rock, and the roots of this business were in rock; but we kind of got away from it in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Over the last decade, people like Brandon [Ebel, founder of Tooth & Nail], in particular, have really done an incredible job of developing a market again for rock. Once that happens, and tools like Internet sites and the like develop around that, expectation develops in the consumer; and they start looking for it. Combine that with a greater access to the products, and you have a formula to reach those people who were always there for rock music.
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