In a year that saw gospel music sales reach 43.4 million units, according to Sound scan, there were three bands that stood out! Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns are three bands with very different stories, but together they represent the newest generation of artists and are one of the big stories of 2004 for gospel music sales.
The rising popularity of Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns, has signaled a growing trend for gospel music, according to John W. Styll, president of the Gospel Music Association (GMA). Their successes at retail, radio and at the 2004 GMA Music Awards, coincide with the more than double increase in the rock category of gospel music where artists like Jeremy Camp, Third Day, Relient K, Pillar, Kutless, BarlowGirl, tobyMac and others that appeal to the youth demographic also experienced strong sales in 2004.
“Gospel music will always be unique for its wide-ranging music styles and diverse audiences, and black gospel and praise & worship continue to be powerful categories of Christian music, but there has definitely been a measurable shift towards rock, alternative, hip-hop, urban and other styles of music particularly popular with younger consumers. This is a great sign that a new generation of music fans has discovered these and other artists and hopefully indicates a continued bright outlook for gospel music,” said Styll.
Styll points to other trends that confirm younger consumer’s impact on gospel music sales. The “American Idol” phenomenon significantly impacted gospel music in 2004. “Idol” contestants whose Christian beliefs were prominent in their appearances on the Fox-TV hit show made their way to the charts, with Clay Aiken, Ruben Studdard, George Huff and R.J. Helton among the “Idol” finalists with charting gospel records in 2004. Aiken’s Merry Christmas With Love and Studdard’s I Need An Angel (both sold at Christian retail through Provident Label Group) ended 2004 at the #2 and #12 spots respectively on Christian SoundScan’s Overall Albums chart for the year.
Black gospel remained the second best-selling category of gospel music and its younger artists made headlines and were among the strongest sellers in 2004, including Israel & New Breed, Smokie Norful and Kierra “Kiki” Sheard. Israel & New Breed’s critically acclaimed Integrity Gospel release Live From Another Level, debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Gospel Chart after its first week of sales, and number three on Billboard’s Heatseekers Chart. It ends the year at #5 on the gospel charts. Recent Grammy and Stellar nominated, Israel & New Breed performed for an estimated 40,000 at a December Madison Square Garden event.
EMI Gospel’s Norful was named Billboard’s Top Gospel Artist in 2004, for the second straight year, as his debut CD I Need You Now and his September 2004 sophomore release Nothing Without You, kept Norful among the top-sellers all year. Fellow EMI Gospel label mate and 17-year-old daughter of black gospel legend Karen Clark-Sheard, “Kiki” Sheard did what no other new gospel artist has ever accomplished in the SoundScan era. Her I Owe You debuted at both #1 on the gospel chart and Billboard Heatseekers chart in August.
Among all the highlights, however, Switchfoot, MercyMe and Casting Crowns are the resounding sales success story for 2004, confirmed by Billboard’s crowning the bands as the top three Christian artists for 2004 in the trade magazine’s year-end issue.