British Gospel music after Brexit: Time for the Revolution?

History teaches us that revolutions are sparked of by an overwhelming drive for change. The format in which popular revolt takes place can vary from soft, stealth and gradual to a fully blown explosive big bang change over of the old guard.

Cuban revolutionaries, led by Fidel Castro in 1959, took control of the government as it was felt that American influence had gone too far. In the early 1980’s, fears that Cuba’s communist influence would spill over into Jamaican politics polarised political parties PNP and JLP into a Manley versus Seaga blood-soaked political struggle. That socialist revolution was eventually crushed (by the CIA it was rumoured).

France cleared out it’s monarchy after the people stormed the Bastille a few hundred years ago.

The slow progress of British Gospel and sacred music can be traced back to 1873, but it is time for a revolution.

The use of the ‘R’ word in gospel music circles is by no means unique. In the mid 1990’s Texan-born Kirk Franklin stormed into the US billboard charts with his revolutionary sound and lyrical rhetoric. The sales of black-influenced gospel music spiked and has never been the same since.

Back home in Brexit Britain a scenario is played out on a day to day basis. Gospel artist is inspired to create music and is motivated by the thought of breaking into the mainstream and blessing souls with millions of units sold.
You have gone into overdraft getting this product off the ground. Your overtime and uncle’s money have disappeared into the abyss of advertising, production, marketing, PR and of course your managers 50% for wise nuggets of advice.
Come the day of the EP launch (you ran out of money for the album) not enough people have turned out, despite the hundreds of thumbs up on your Facebook events page.
A few months down the line, the dial has barely moved on your sales meter and you are doing gigs for free. Time to give up, or time for a revolution?

After one of my younger brothers almost burned down the family home, my father lined up all 8 of the sibling’s and said in a loud but clear voice as he threw down his felt hat:

“Thing’s are going to change around here”.

British “grassroots” Gospel music is not making any impact in the national UK charts. The Christian and Gospel charts that were launched a few years ago does not come anywhere close to reflecting the movement on the ground.

The mainstream music press such as NME show little interest in Gospel if any, and the major record companies will only look down, if the numbers go up. By numbers I mean sales and social media buzz. Ok, so you have just released a music vid to go with your song. Your family and friends have pressed the view button, taking you to 5,000 plays and you have sold 800 copies in 3 months. Neither is a hit. No point knocking on the doors of Sony or Universal or even big Gospel labels.

The potential purchasing market for Gospel music in Britain if you count church-goers as your demographic is huge. But in reality, in the words of a marketing experts that market is ‘a difficult sales environment’.

If you are a Gospel artist somewhere in Britain and you are reading this, something is not quite right with the industry that you operate in, or are about to enter.

A revolution needs to occur and it needs to begin very deep within the psychological and sonic cultural fabric of the Brits who produce, market, air, televise and promote Gospel music to consumers.

The fundamental creative process behind Gospel music in Britain and the marketing strategy, needs to change. Even if it means retiring out the term ‘Gospel’ to something else more palatable to the wider public.

After all, the church, yes, the church in early 1930’s America were not too keen on ‘Gospel music’ as they thought it, and its main practitioners represented the ‘Devils’ music. Traditionalists were quite happy thank you with the church-friendly ‘Spirituals’.

British Gospel needs to attract more funding across all levels in order to lift up the quality of output and engage with big players and moguls in the wider music scene . Yes, the ‘M’ word plays a big part in the music business. You ask the artists and record companies that hit the national UK top 20.

Crowd-funding is a good place to start, but a sponsor or investor would be more appropriate. At least there would be no need to duck and dive when uncle comes knocking for his money.

Brit Gospel needs to become an emerging economic and dare I say, political force. Money creates influence in Simon Cowell and Jay Z’s world. And perhaps with economic progress politicians including the Mayor of big cities may even include the genre on their music funding agenda.

The way Brexit Britain Gospel is marketed, sold, produced, written and managed needs to undergo the process of revolutionary reincarnation. Tour strategy, artist-collaborations, radio playlists and social media plans all need to be ripped up and looked at again.

An action plan should involve action, not stagnation.

Bodies that claim to represent the interest of British Gospel need to decide whether they are influential, powerful or just propped up corpse.

In fact, real power in the music biz is money, so perhaps institutions such as could start funding the many thousands of artists who are desperately trying to break through on their uncles pension.

It is time British Gospel started to emerge and participate in the wider music industry. We should hear the music on Radio 1, see it on ITV read about it and its artists in NME and the music sections of the national newspapers.

Perhaps Gospel promoters need to bribe mainstream DJ’s and politicians with money in briefcases or organise for funds to be wired to a tax-free haven somewhere in the Caribbean. I am kidding!!!!!

The British Gospel revolution may even begin to take place on social-network sites. Gospel artists could escalate the recent trend of cutting out the music industry middle-men and sell their products direct to the consumer.

Perhaps this very feature will one day be cited as the starting point or catalyst to a new (sonic) movement. Berry Gordy , Phil Spectre, Kirk Franklin, Dr Dre and Steve Alexander Smith. OK, Back to reality.

Whatever your role is within the British Gospel industry, start to think outside of the box.

All revolutions begin with people who dare to think differently. Do not allow fear and intimidation to prevent you from creating something new, dare I even say, something commercial in sound. Also remember, sales of CD’s, and downloads are on a downward trend, so like Jay Z, Justin Bieber and Beyonce’s team, think of alternative revenue streams.

I am not suggesting for one minute that Gospel artists stand up in front of the tanks of traditionalists or drop roses in the gun barrel of those who have a little power and influence over you, but begin to think more commercially in whatever sphere of the music you inhabit. Not meaning to patronise, but the music business exists to make profit. It is a business.

Unless of course you plan to give away all your music for free, change your name to a symbol and write the word ‘slave’ on your right cheek.

1873 and 1916 represents almost 150 years of time and progress on British Gospel music. Brexit is a major milestone for this country and will no doubt lead to more inward looking and study of what Britain could offer the world.

If British Gospel brand is to make any impact home and abroad, the old gigantic statue of stagnation and must be pulled down by the revolutionaries. A new, more commercially and business-prepared structure must be erected in place.

At its Zenith, must be a faith-driven beacon that is ready to shine bright and do business with the world.

Image courtesy of Sounds Like A Revolution