Following the rollout of three new iPhones on September 12, Apple has been quietly making some rather notable changes to their Digital Media Retail Store, iTunes. As reported by numerous media outlets last week, the Tech Giant has streamlined the iTunes Experience in anticipation for their new mobile devices and forthcoming software updates. These ‘changes’ have seen the App Store completely removed from the iTunes Desktop App, their ‘Internet Radio’ has now been incorporated into the Music Section, and ‘iTunes U Collections’ can now be found under ‘Podcasts’. Some of these changes were announced by Apple in August.
REMOVING THE RUG
One of the more discreet recent changes however, was the removal of the ‘Christian & Gospel’ Category from the iTunes UK Charts – something I noticed following a Facebook Post by renowned UK Gospel Musician Adrian Moore, just two days ago. The ‘status update’ read “So iTunes Gospel & Christian Charts are gone, no more 50 sales to a number one 😂, let’s see how People get kicks now 😂“; a rather interesting perspective considering the fact that the act that appear to have achieved (and subsequently celebrated) this feat the most (previously landing three #1s on the Chart, as I recall) are produced by Moore. However, despite whatever perceived ‘personal’ controversy may have surrounded the post, it did speak to a wider number of issues that has been plaguing the niche ‘UK Gospel Industry’ for some time now – which, now that Apple have removed the ‘crutch’ from beneath many of these Artists, I hope can now be addressed. To put this quite simply, a #1 on iTunes UK’s ‘Christian & Gospel’ Chart was nothing but an ego-booster – and personally, I’m glad Apple have finally gotten rid of it.
I referred to the Chart as a ‘crutch’, because since the Religious Music Category launched on iTunes UK in November 2014, Artists have been able to continuously use this to portray a certain level of success that did not at all reflect the reality – something I wrote an extensive Facebook Post about back in 2015. In fact, I even saw one Artist described with the line “Charted #1 on UK Gospel Charts with New Single” (‘UK Gospel Charts”, referring to iTunes UK’s Christian & Gospel Category). Sounds great, right? Not when you consider the fact that that probably only meant about 65 sales. You can read the hyperlinked post above in your own time, but just to give a little understanding – it is (or at least was) in fact possible to sell zero copies of a release and still have it remain in the iTunes Chart for any given period during their live ‘update cycles’. In other words, in some of the smaller categories that have now been removed, having a #1 did not necessarily mean a huge number of sales. More often, it simply meant that there was a unusual surge in ‘buzz’ surrounding that release, in comparison with others on the Chart during the ‘update cycle’ (which is not very hard to achieve in UK Christian & Gospel Music, considering the very limited and sporadic number of releases within the Genre). This ‘buzz’ is determined by a set of non-disclosed algorithms set by Apple, that go beyond just sales alone.
Though I had a pretty good idea as to why iTunes decided to remove this Category from their UK Charts, I wanted to get a little more insight. Upon reaching out to an extremely reliable industry source, I was exclusively told that “Apple have removed it along with several of the other less-visited categories on iTunes (including Greatest Hits, Music Videos, New Artists, Comedy) as they focus on Apple Music“. My source was also sure to mention that the genre is still well-represented on Apple Music (the streaming service counterpart), including their flagship Christian & Gospel playlist (“The A-List: Christian”) – additionally, it’s worth noting that this category still remains active on iTunes US’ Charts.
Not only does this move reflect Apple’s ‘tightening up’ of iTunes and a clear poor number of sales within the Christian & Gospel Genre in the UK, but the change arguably falls in line with a wider music industry shift and focus on streaming; with it now being the dominant form of music consumption. Although, I am not entirely sure the ‘streaming focus’ played a role in this specific decision, since Christian & Gospel Music is a genre that – according to Nielsen’s 2017 US mid-year report – is still bought more than it is streamed (which one can assume is likely also the case in the UK, as a large number of the fans still prefer owning a physical product – with many being readily available to purchase weekly at Churches and Christian Events, often with guaranteed large crowds).
MORE WORK, NO PLAY
The reality is, charting in this now-removed iTunes Category required little-to-no effort from Christian & Gospel Artists – and that’s why so many of them were probably so very delighted by the prospect. It required no registration for the Official UK Charts, no understanding of the Music Business or how Chart Systems work, no substantial Marketing Plan/Strategy – it was as simple as uploading a release to say a Ditto Music (a service I would personally advise against using, for the record – Tunecore is a great alternative), putting a few Social Media blasts out there, and hoping for the best (then checking the iTunes Charts every hour, to see if you’ve reached a position worth shouting about). Now that this ‘luxury’ has gone, I’d hope that Artists will now channel more of that energy towards what I believe to be the ‘bigger picture’ – being one that leads to career longevity, and not just temporary moments of celebrating meaningless accomplishments for pride’s sake.
Moving on, the next question one must wonder is, now that Apple have deemed this genre to be somewhat ‘unworthy’ of chart inclusion, what does that then mean for the future of the Official UK Christian & Gospel Charts, if anything?
I always try to close out with a scripture when writing for aStepFWD, and I believe it’s Proverbs 4:7 that says “Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding“. Speaking of which, you can get some of that ‘understanding’ at the upcoming Music & Media Conference this Saturday. I believe there are still a few remaining tickets that can be purchased here.