Marketing Groups (and CD Reviews)

What is the value of a CD review?

Former Bishops bass guitarist Steve Perkins, who contributed to Mark Bishop’s Fields of Love project, proposes the question:

Either way, what can we (artists and record companies) do to better serve this SG internet community and translate their passion for SG into revenue? Do reviews from anyone (no offense to Doug, SN, or other print and online outlets) really have any influence one way or the other on your music purchases? What would you say is your main reason for purchasing a SG CD?

He raises several questions, but I wanted to look at one in particular. What is the value of a CD review?

Rarely does someone purchase a recording by a group he has never heard–a group that doesn’t already have a track record of producing recordings he likes–on the basis of one review alone. But CD reviews and word of mouth (from forums) can, over time, get people curious about a group. This leads them to check out the group when a chance arises, be it a sale at a bookstore, a concert in the area, or a showcase at NQC. That, in turn, can often lead to product sales.

Marketing a group–taking it from zero name ID to having an established fan base–isn’t an easy thing. It will typically involve some mixture of paid marketing (advertising) and free marketing (publicity–product reviews and press releases).

The first step is making people aware that the group exists. This is often done through some mixture of advertisements and press releases–the press releases being more likely to be printed if one or more members of the group come from an established group. The second step is making people curious enough to want to check the group out. This is where reviews come into play, a positive review, like this one, can make people curious enough to check out a group. Once you have their attention and they try a CD or concert, you get to the third part of the process, the make-it-or-break-it step: Delivering on the potential and landing someone as a fan.

Of course, the same principles apply to marketing other things, such as this website; you had to find out about it, perhaps through a link somewhere, and be curious enough to click the link. But getting you here wasn’t enough; I had to come through with content that made it worth your while to stay and keep coming back, or else you wouldn’t have come back.

While I’ve marketed this website and other projects, I have never marketed a group. Those of you who have done so undoubtedly have more insights about the process; if you are so inclined, feel free to share those in the comments.

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Sony’s Thoughts: God Will Make This Trial a Blessing

Back in 1989, the McKameys recorded a song called “God Will Make This Trial a Blessing.” The first verse was about a person who was going through a difficult trial and was trying to find a way out but there was no human way of escape. They knew, however, that no matter how difficult this trial that they faced, God would turn it into a blessing because of His love. The song builds from there and ends with that same person standing on the mountain and looking back at the trial. He could now see how God had led him and how God had never left him.

Many times through the years, I have been able to relate to the first verse of this song. I have faced trials that seemed they would never end but I had to trust that, one day, God would make that trial a blessing for me as well. I can honestly say that He always has. I haven’t always seen a tangible blessing through these eyes of flesh but I am so thankful for what God has done in me by helping me to lean on Him in ways that I wouldn’t have if not for these hard times. I am thankful that I can now unwaveringly say that, no matter what you’re going through, God hasn’t left you and He will turn this into a blessing in your life if you will let Him.

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Saturday News Roundup #15

Other stories from the week:

  • MLive.com reviews a Gaither Homecoming Concert in Grand Rapids. Most interesting was their summary box, which gave the concert 3 1/2 stars (not sure if it’s a 4-star or 5-star scale) and covered everything from Most Unique Souvenir (“Ernie Haase Bobble Head, $15″) to top Distraction (“Pre-recorded background vocal tracks sometimes were too loud”–not sure if that’s a reference to stacks or background vocals).
  • SouthernGospelReporter.com site editor Chuck Peters set up a fund where donations can be made to cover medical and other expenses for Larry Ferguson, Dottie Rambo’s manager, who is still recovering from his injuries from the bus accident. [EDIT, 11/8/10: The link appears to be down, and has been removed.]
  • Canaan Records has launched a podcast series featuring their upcoming releases, available on their website.
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CD Review: “The Fields of Love” (Mark Bishop)

BishopRating: ****

Producers: Jeff Collins, Mark Bishop

Song List: Falling Star; Fields of Love; Big Big World; The Tent Revival; Poor Goliath; Every Memory; What’s So Bad About Believing?; The Prayer; He Never Sleeps; Take Another Step; Tell Me What You See; Blue Skies; Love and Faith.

Website: www.markbishopmusic.com

Available on 6/17 from: Crossroads, Artist Website.

***

A “concept album.”

Wikipedia defines a “concept album” as “an album which is ‘unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical.’”

A “concept album” is the sort of thing that has to be defined in Southern Gospel, since its like has rarely (if ever) been seen before in the genre. Similar things have been done before in Christian music, just in other genres. Michael Card has recorded several concept albums covering everything from the life of Peter to a complete album about the Incarnation. Perhaps the closest parallel in Christian music to the project at hand is The Roar of Love (2nd Chapter of Acts), a concept album based on the Chronicles of Narnia (sound clips here for anyone interested).

If anyone in Southern Gospel is positioned to give a concept album a try, it would be Mark Bishop. His story-songs have defined his songwriting, particularly in his solo years. Since Bishop’s dedicated fans enjoy story-songs, they would perhaps be more receptive to an effort to extend a story over an entire project.

Story synopsis: It’s set in a Midwest farm. The farmer’s wife dies in childbirth, but the son survives. The father turns away from God in his anger, and to an extent from the son as well. At the county fair, the son comes across a tent-meeting revival; this prompts a conversation which challenges the faith of father and son. The son has a bout with pneumonia which drives the father to seek God again. This time, God answers with a yes, saving the son’s life. The father turns back to God.

Could this story have been captured in one song?

Perhaps it is something that a songwriter of Bishop’s stature could have pulled off–to a point. But no matter how talented the songwriter, nobody could capture some of the key elements and motifs of the drama that play out over this more extended musical journey.

Bishop’s solos bear some stylistic resemblance to his usual fare, but the album as a whole is more varied. Debra Talley provides several narrations, and there are also some spoken-word parts by Bishop and the farmer’s son (played by Dennis Kuzmich). Reggie Sadler provides guest vocals on “The Tent Revival,” and the Kingdom Heirs make a guest appearance on “Poor Goliath.” The variety helps provide a width and depth to the musical drama.

The album has to be listened to as a whole. Taken any other way, it cannot be fully appreciated. On initial listen, no song grabbed my attention individually. This seemed to be a general reaction among early listeners to the song, prompting the question of whether Bishop would release any singles from the album. He said he would–that he had made sure to include two radio-friendly songs on the project. It’s not immediately evident which songs those are.

I was expecting a somewhat bigger musical conclusion. “Take Another Step,” the conversion song, does have a memorable enough melody to stick with you after listening to the project once or twice. But the three tracks following return more to the musical equivalent of normal, real life. There is enough drama in the story itself to carry the drama to its conclusion without starting to drag, but drama doesn’t really have a big, hanky-waving, triumphant anthemic resolution.

The album as a whole is far greater than the sum of its parts. Typically, averaging my ratings on the individual tracks plays a large role in how I rate albums. Doing this produces a 2.8 average on the songs. But the album as whole draws you in in a way the songs don’t individually. Yet the songs weren’t supposed to draw you in individually–they were supposed to draw you in to the overall story. And that is exactly what they do. The project as a whole deserves at least 3 or 3.5 stars. But Bishop, Crossroads, and the other participants in the project deserve extra credit for their innovation in making the first major effort of this sort in our genre, and so I will give this project a 4-star rating.

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