Spotify & Worship Music
“STREAMS RENEWING THE DESERT”
by Jonathan Mason
“…almost every time a new technology appears, the industry tries to stop it. Ninety years earlier, music publishers sued player-piano makers, fearing that people would stop buying sheet music. In the 1920’s, the publishers sued radio broadcasters for copyright infringement. The CD, the main driver of the latest boom, was booed by record men in the audience when it was introduced by Philips in Miami in 1983.”
Streaming may be the newest way to consume music, but it’s not our enemy. As worship leaders, I would argue it’s our greatest ally. Streaming and all it offers is our friend.
The majority of people alive today have heard stories about artists and songwriters who have made their royalty statements public, attempting to show that they would be hard-pressed to afford a pizza with their income. There have been well-known artists who have kept their music from being on streaming platforms in the past, and there are still others today that continue to hold music back for a period of time upon its initial release, to drive consumers towards physical and digital sales. While there has been opposition throughout the history of recorded music with each change in the way people consume music, streaming is here, and it is good. The facts are, streaming currently makes up the majority (59%) of digital revenues, and digital revenues make up 50% of the share of total recorded music industry revenues.
As streaming has grown in its impact and revenue within the general market, it is also having a special influence on the transformation and synonymous growth of Christian music, and specifically worship music. “With the popularity of playlists on streaming… we are witnessing a changing of the guard and this has great implications for how artists are broken in the US…”
STREAMS EXPANDING THE “GENRE”
In most genres, radio has been the main driver for the spread of new music over the years. The reality is, there is a finite amount of space being battled for within each genre-specific station, and there are only so many stations available on the dial for different genres. The result of this is, artists and writers often aim to fit within certain parameters, ultimately refining their sound to fit within more general guidelines. In one sense, as worship music has become more commercial, it has found itself in many cases taking on the musical style, length, and other characteristics of the greater CCM genre. With the newfound real estate within streaming platforms, we are seeing a resurgence of new worship music crossing over musical borders.
Take a band like Local Sound, with a very pop sound, and no label partner. There sound is not the standard within what is played on current Christian radio stations. Their music was created with a clear purpose, unique sound, and demographical aim, so they felt launching on Spotify was the right avenue for its release.
“A big dream for us was to create powerful worship music for our college students here in Nashville and at the same time accessible for people outside the Church. Spotify has been a huge part of that. As an independent band, without any formal distribution structures, the power of playlisting has been a game changer..” Said Jared Runion, lead singer of Local Sound.
The band has gone on to not only garner over 4 million combined streams on Spotify but has also filled one of the prestigious spots on the OUTCRY tour, one of the biggest worship events of the year. As bands like LOCAL SOUND find continued success, the result will inevitably be cyclical upon other industry gatekeepers.
Spotify, and streaming in general, has provided a new, active, quantifiable platform to see what people are truly engaging with, which ultimately puts much more weight back in the hands of the listeners.
Music streaming has truly been a game-changer for us as we now have direct access to a large number of Christian & Worship music listeners. Since streaming is driving most of our growth we naturally try to serve those listeners. These factors now drive our release strategy as well as influence production decisions. Overall, streaming has been tremendous for us as it has helped us find an audience, it has helped us evaluate and improve our music, and ultimately it has led to our ministry having a greater impact.” explains Dustin Fenison of People of the Earth, an early adopter of Spotify playlists who operates under the name, David Franklin Playlists.
As I am writing this, another beautiful example of Spotify’s far reach can be seen through a local church here in Nashville who recently released an album. Without any Christian radio airplay, the church has garnered around 500k monthly listeners on Spotify. Significantly, over half the album consists of songs over 6 minutes long, which certainly would not fit within the standard commercial radio parameters of the past. In comparison, a Christian recording artist that has had two number one singles on Christian radio this past year currently has fewer than 400k monthly listeners. This isn’t intended to be a knock on the Christian recording artist nor the Christian music industry but instead is intended to show there is a growing reception for worship music, across various musical borders. For those that have felt like worship music has gone down the road of conforming to a radio format, streams are renewing this desert, and more is yet to come.
STREAMS EXPANDING A LIVING AND ACTIVE HYMNAL
Beyond streaming being a beneficial platform to launch and discover new music and it helping to expand the musical language of a genre, it’s also of great benefit to the church and worship leader in a general sense. The “changing of the guard” previously mentioned can put you as the gatekeeper for your congregation (and/or ministry) and beyond. Personal playlists can be used as tools to create catalogs of songs you would like your worship team to learn, or beyond your worship team, to have your whole congregation learn. A major plus is that this is a legal way to accomplish this!
As a former worship leader, I remember the challenges of trying to teach my team new music. It had become the norm for many worship teams over the years to burn cd’s and/or send mp3s of the songs being learned, without much regard for the legality of such a practice.
Beyond personal playlists, I am greatly encouraged to see Spotify placing a special focus on Christian music, by way of their curated playlists.
“Spotify is committed to Christian music in all of its forms and especially that of worship music. The platform is looking to work alongside leaders, songwriters, and artists to help them engage audiences with authentic worship experiences. This means music right now, but will include so much more in the near future.” Said John Butler, the Spotify Head Of Christian Music. I believe we have only experienced a foretaste of the great impact streaming will have on Christian music and specifically worship music, and I am grateful that Spotify is placing a high value on the growth of music within the church.
How are you going to put this into action? Maybe it’s time to make a playlist of the songs you lead at your church for your congregation to take with them during the week? Maybe it’s time to make a playlist of the songs you are planning to teach them in the upcoming weeks? Here is a new playlist we have just started as a place to listen to current songs being sung in today’s church, according to a mixture of CCLI, PraiseCharts, and Planning Center Online worship leader activity: www.smarturl.it/sundaysetlist