Exploring trEnds in thE christian music industry By Beau Black What’s next A couple of years ago, buzzed-about music outlets Noise Trade and Brite Revolution hit the ‘What’s Next’ radar. This month, we look both backwards and forwards, with a little help from Steve Ford, vice-president of marketing at Centricity. Both have met with mixed success and each offers a peek at what’s coming. First up: free music. Derek Webb put together Noise Trade as a platform for artist to get their music out to the masses. NT built on the ‘free’ model pioneered, if you’d call it that, by Napster. The ‘trade’ part came in exchanging your e-mail and three friends’ for the tunes. Many balked at spamming their friends, and now users have the option of Tweeting or Facebooking about it instead. Ford, who works with downhere, Andrew Peterson, and Jason Gray, has a storied history at several labels [inpop, EMI, INO]. The Centricity crew, inspired by the Noise Trade idea and Chris Anderson’s book Free, experimented with giving away the first 30,000 copies of Lanae Hale’s debut in hopes of growing her fan base quickly. “If you have something free,” Ford says, “you have to have something behind it to monetize it. We didn’t have the second part. We built some awareness, but it didn’t turn into dates [for the artist] or revenue.” That’s been the payoff for at least some of the Noise Trade artists, who have seen concert attendance spike. Unfortunately, that hasn’t worked for all of them. [An aside: Some may find the notion of ‘monetizing’ music off-putting, but let’s be real: if the artist isn’t making something from their sales or touring, they can’t continue to Noise Revolution? make music. If we as listeners value their music, we’ve got to be willing to pay something for it.] As for the label’s experiment, Ford muses, “Would we do it again? I don’t know--don’t think so.” But, he says, a $5 CD isn’t much better: the label makes 15-30%, and the artist maybe 45%. Brite Revolution is a niche version of a subscription service, populated by mainstream and Christian bands and singer-songwriters like Andrew Osenga, Ginny Owens, and Waterdeep. It offers an enticing, Nashville-centric mix of music (my faves so far: tracks from the Silver Seas and Joy Williams, though the latter is no longer a part of the Revolution) for $5 a month. Part of the proceeds is donated to the artists’ choices of charities. It’s an intriguing idea, but it’s still very small-scale. So what is next? Ford says it’s “digital access.” Although he doesn’t think a subscription model just for Christian music will fly, “a [broader] subscription model is the future- -say, in five years.” This may seem counter-intuitive--Apple’s iTunes platform dwarfs subscription services like eMusic and Rhapsody (the latter of which is hemorrhaging subscribers). The key, he says, is portability, pointing to Pandora, Internet radio for both computers and portable devices, and to European service Spotify, which users rave about, as more viable platforms. [In a recent and interesting development, Apple bought subscription service Lala this spring, leading tech watchers to speculate that it might offer its own through iTunes.] 56 CCM