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5/12/2006

CHANGING CHUCK

Putting a gaggle of white conservative Christian women around age forty in a room to register their immediate approval or disapproval of a thirty second (or less) musical clip only leads radio program directors to choose music of tomorrow that sounds just like the music of yesterday: all that's being tested is familiarity. Different loses. Same wins.

Chuck Finney is a smart straight-forward man. A successful man. He's a pioneer in the use of focus groups in the Christian radio business and he'll tell you it's working for him so he ain't changing. I enjoyed spending time with Mr. Finney when my last album first came out - a feeble attempt to woo his power into our corner over a plate of fajitas. It didn't work and he assured us it never would. He swore that nothing short of a great test score would ever get my music or anyone else's on his airwaves. I believed him and I knew then the end was near for my radio history. "It doesn't matter if I like you or your music if it doesn't test well with our group." He then suggested I cover an old song, a worship song perhaps that would be familiar to listeners and test better.

This wouldn't have been such grievous news for the sweating label guy sitting across from me if Mr. Finney wasn't the man unknowingly in control of the Christian music business. He truly seems peacefully unaware of his sway on radio and of radio's sway over the industry at large. Virtually no one - except black gospel artists - stays on the top fifty best selling discs list created by SoundScan for long without substantial radio play - or wins a Dove Award or plays to crowds of any magnitude. And Chuck controls the biggest slice of radio real estate out there, the bit small fish model their play lists after.

He programs the highly successful KLTY in Dallas, Texas but also "green lights" singles for possible play on ALL Salem owned stations nation wide. Literally hundreds of stations can only play songs Chuck has tested and approved of. A station in Atlanta, for instance, may love a song but be unable to play it because Mr.Finney says it isn't worthy. Salem stations can choose to play anything they like...as long as it's something from Chuck's green list. Chuck is trusted that much. And Chuck trusts the focus group - a relatively small gathering of women listening to clips and turning a handheld knob which registers their degrees of love and hatred for hundreds of songs.

Chuck is brilliant, kind, loves God and me and his listeners and Tex Mex, but Chuck is wrong. I've told him this kindly but, well, I wouldn't listen to me either, honestly. What do I know about marketing or running a radio empire? Well, even a blind squirrel finds a nut once in a while I guess. (This is the part where I arrogantly say, "I told you so" and do a happy dance while flipping off invisible nay-sayers...with a ring finger of course.)

Focus groups are an overused source of "wisdom" continually being poo pooed by marketers like Seth Godin, who recently lamented...

"Groupthink is a problem, for one. Second, you've got a weird cross section of largely self-selected people, the kind of people willing to sit in a room with bad lighting to make a few bucks.

What focus groups can do for you is give you a visceral, personal, unscientific reaction to little brainstorms. They can help you push something farther and farther to see what grabs people. But the goal isn't to do a vote or a census. Any time your focus group results include percentages, you've wasted an afternoon."

So do we never consult a focus group? Do we marry focus group data to our own expertise and gut? What would you do? What HAVE you done with the opinions of others in your work and life beyond? How important is the herd's perspective to you? How do you discern what the customer wants? Would you do any differently than Chuck if you were in his position?

49 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow...I never met Chuck in person but I have wanted to work for him. What "Christian radio" geek wouldn't want to work for the biggest "Christian AC" station in the biggest "Christian city" in the country?

I'm climbing a ladder at a station in Tulsa, OK ("the second biggest Christian city" in the country"). Our station is new on the map but we hope and pray to make huge waves in Christian radio.

Do we test music? Yes. Do we use our gut? Yes. Do both matter yes? Most definitley.

I wish I could play more of your music, Shaun! It speaks volumes to me...but according to the "focus group herders," I don't shuttle kids to and from soccer practice 3 times a week.

As I learn and grow in Christian radio and artists who happen to be Christians make it in the mainstream, I hope to one day be in a position that helps artist like you breakout.

I'm not sure how long you'll keep writing music, but if you keep putting it out, my own ears will be keep listening...no matter what Chuck Finney says.

dc

PS...Would love to get together when you're in town in June!

5/12/2006  
Blogger Loren said...

How did "sad song" test? that seems like it would win my mom's vote!

It is scary to think the future of my frinds in Nashville is in the hands of this Guy...If a new christian artist isn't AC friendly what are their options...the club/church circut, hope to build up a large following and then push them to itunes from their site?

5/12/2006  
Blogger Chaotic Hammer said...

I didn't realize that this is how the playlist decisions are made in Christian radio. But it sure would explain a lot.

I don't know how I would manage things if I was told "You're the manager of this Christian station, we'll have a fundraiser every few months for operating costs, and you should play what the people wanna hear." Surely somebody somewhere in that position, at some point, must have said "I'm going to have a wide variety of playlists, and will always be seeking out new talent and sounds, and will never let the current playlist get stale".

But, I don't know. If somebody did that, he must have been fired or something, because I've never heard that tried. What I hear is a horribly vapid and wearisomely repititious playlist. At any given time, I can turn on the radio and hear any one of a dozen or so songs that are currently on the list. And nothing else. Ever.

That was true when I lived in central California, and it's true here in Nashville. Maybe the target audience is just too small to take a chance with trying new songs, and they'll turn it off if you don't play what they've come to expect.

But where I once thought "Hey, at least this stuff doesn't give me dirty thoughts, it's uplifting and talks about the Lord", I'm now thinking "This song AGAIN? Ugh..." and turning it off. Which is probably a good thing, because I pray while driving, instead. So Christian radio is helping me in my walk with the Lord.

5/12/2006  
Blogger Rachel said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Rachel said...

(My first comment needed a bit of revision, I apologize, it's late and I'm a perfectionist sometimes.)

****
I was recently placed in a situation where I felt much like a guniea pig, an inadvertent member of a two-person focus group. I was with a friend who was recording, and in the process another musician that her producer was working with came into the picture. We'll refer to him as Smooth Steve. So Smooth Steve and I got into a conversation (along with my friend, who eventually came in from the other room) of how the "typical Christian audience" really sees things.

I for one did not like the idea of being canned in with a bunch of other people, solely on account of the fact that I was raised in a relatively conservative Christian home and have listened to quote-unquote Christian music for the greater part of my life. As Smooth Steve came to learn, I had quite different views, despite my supposed "average" stance.

It fascinates me that control of Salem's playlists relies on good ol' Chuck's green list, and I'll admit...it surprises me to some degree.

I have a question for you, Shaun. Would you consider this as a form of censorship, or more a poorly constructed form of preference and selection? Or am I off-base in my thinking completely? I'm keenly interested in this topic.

I can tell from your comments of Chuck that he doesn't intend to unfairly truncate what we hear, but it sure does cut down on variety...and it fuels the frustration that I have often seen between Christian artists, their respective labels, and their "air time" on Christian radio.

I'll stop rambling now. :)

5/13/2006  
Blogger Ryan Meyers said...

As a huge fan of almost everything you've ever wrote, and as an independent artist, I've come to accept and realize that there are two significantly different ways of selling records: 1) Get radio play, 2) Affect people directly. The reason I started listening to your stuff wasn't because it was on Christian radio (in fact, at that time, it probably would have kept me from listening to it), but that you played an incredible opening set for Bebo Norman, and sang songs that touched my heart.

Now that you and Rockettown have parted ways, at least on paper, you have the opportunity to release independently and only have to sell one copy for every ten or fifteen you sold before, thanks to the margins I've been working with on my new contract. You've built the base of people that will support your music, distribution has become a million times easier with iTunes and the like, and you're out there gigging it up to make sure you're expanding the list of people who look at life a little differently after coming in contact with you.

The younger generations listen to traditional radio so seldomly (unless it's dialed to an 88.x station to hear their iPod), so Finney's focus groups will have to keep getting older and older. Soon he'll be passing out hearing aids to hold on to his demographic, and the landscape of music distribution will have changed completely.

That's my two cents (ok, that was bad...)

5/13/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What decisions are made in the corporate world that don't come down to money? I don't think Chuck is 100% wrong. I think he has created something that has become the standard for Christian radio. And on top of that I think he has just taken the lead from secualr radio stations. I haven't listened to a radio station that didn't cater to a specific 15 songs, with an occasional "old hit" to assure people they haven't gone too far away from what they "used to be". Especially in Christian radio, every time there is a "new-hip-young" Christian radio station it flops. The reason it flops? Money. "New-Hip-Young" people dont have money. They don't drive huge SUV's, and they would (now) rather have their own ipods that play what they want. I don't think radio will ever change. I think radio will die out to ipods and satelite feeds. Chuck Finney will still have his "Soccer Mom" radio playlist, with just fewer and fewer listeners.

On another note. Christian radio ten years ago was nothing like it is today. It seems that we are watching some evolutionary process that will (and has) taken time to change. Yes, focus groups choose the music that plays. No, I don't think they should. No, I don't think that part of it will ever change. However, looking over the past ten years of Christian radio, I believe the focus groups have changed, and will continue to.

b

5/13/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

One idea-- still not perfect, but a step forward-- would be to give the focus groups a CD full of songs to be tested, and have them listen to it in their normal listening environment (car, work, wherever they usually listen to radio) for a week. Then they sit down (at home, not at the radio station), and score the songs. Though still flawed (i.e. these people are self-selected), it would be closer to the real radio-listening experience, and so it would (hopefully) produce more accurate results.

5/13/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

I recently left the "listener advisory board" of my local Christian station because it was useless to remain there. I'm a 42 year old mother of 4 who drives a truck (our son currently drives the mini van) and I find myself listening less than even daily because of the repetition. Anytime I can hear the same song or artist more than 2 times in an hour without listening to a cd just stupid. Of course telling them that didn't change anything.

Beth

5/13/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Seth Ward said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

FROM RACHEL: "Would you consider this as a form of censorship, or more a poorly constructed form of preference and selection?"

No, no. Not at all. It's commerce. It' business. In a race so we get upset that not everyone gets a medal at the finish line and call it censorship? No. I'm not kept out of the race - just slowed down a bit - like being born with stumpy legs...or something.

Anyway, no, it's not censorship. It just forces me and many others to run a different kind of race - like Joe Trippi's accounting of the Howard Dean campaign. The Presidential race is about tv time and Dean lacked funds to get on the air. So he went grass roots - and nearly won his party's nomination. He ran a different race.

FROM B:
"What decisions are made in the corporate world that don't come down to money? I don't think Chuck is 100% wrong. I think he has created something that has become the standard for Christian radio. And on top of that I think he has just taken the lead from secualr radio stations. I haven't listened to a radio station that didn't cater to a specific 15 songs, with an occasional "old hit" to assure people they haven't gone too far away from what they "used to be". Especially in Christian radio, every time there is a "new-hip-young" Christian radio station it flops. The reason it flops? Money."

A - freakin' men. Chuck said as much when we met. This is working for him and many others in radio. "Working" means generating revenue. If it stops working he's out a job. That's why I say what would you and I do differently if THIS system is what worked for us? Not sure I'd do anything differently. I have to pay the bills and so does Chuck. And, yes Christian radio is the best it's ever been.

FROM MATTHEW:
"give the focus groups a CD full of songs to be tested, and have them listen to it in their normal listening environment"

Two problems: time and time. Time to listen to every artist's disc. A station gets a stack of singles every week. Imagine if those singles were entire CDs!! And then there's the time it takes for a listener to log all that opinion in their own environment. I get the heart of your comment but it's just not practical. See why I say now that I don't like the system but it may be the best system there is?

SG

5/13/2006  
Blogger Matthew Smith said...

Shaun-- I think you misunderstood me. I meant a CD full of songs being considered for airplay. i.e. All the singles in that stack burned onto one disc. Logging opinion on 14-16 songs that you've listened to all week would probably take 5 minutes.

5/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Gotcha. Me moron. You brilliant.

Thanks for clarifying.

SG

5/13/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am in Christian radio, but not Christian radio as most know it. My husband and I operate a station that does not test. We have such a variety that we get comments on the v word all the time and questions about the artist and/or song title (because the majority of the songs in our nearly 3,000 song database do not get airtime on any station). Who is OUR listening audience? Although our target is 12-35, all ages listen(we have a range from infant to elderly, no joke). Before operating this station, my husband was in Christian radio as most know it. (It was a radio group with a 40-something female target that tested songs....) He has stories galore from his short stint of less than 2.5 years, and the testing/target thing is true. I was saddened by the stories I heard. My husband and I say if it is a ministry, then why the need to test, have outrageous goals for sharathons, have plump salaries...? Money-over-ministry: what a concept! For that reason, he was glad that the group he worked for parted ways with him. (We think it was about the threat of future competition for coverage of the area.) Now WE are the ones in charge of what gets played (and every other aspect of station operation), and although it is not easy, the low-budget aspect keeps things in perspective/keeps us humble. So not only do we know about the target/test thing, but we know what it costs to run (ours and those other)stations. If you know how to talk, spread the word. Deception should not be a part of Christian radio! Spreading the TRUTH here...

5/13/2006  
Blogger Andrew Peterson said...

Hey, Shaun. Andrew Peterson here. Some folks on my message board pointed me to this topic on your blog and I felt the need to say, "ARRRRRGH."

I echo your sentiments exactly.

The thing is to keep your head down and keep writing the best songs you can. Keep being as true to the gift God's given you as you can. (I'm speaking of the general "you", not you specifically.)

That's the ideal. The reality is that it can be frustrating. It can kinda sting a little too. And it can make you wonder whether you're barking up the wrong career tree. But on my good days I think that's exactly what Satan would want me to do, so instead I dig in.

Here's to keepin' on keepin' on.

AP

5/13/2006  
Anonymous Miss Munky said...

I don't have time to read right now, just wanted to say how thrilled I am to have found this site! I have had your first album since like five minutes after it was on the shelves, but hadn't heard much of your stuff since...
Am I listening to the wrong stations?!
I'll get back here and read later.
Blessings,
Trish

5/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Andrew, I'm honored to have you here. Andrew Peterson everybody - arguably the best lyricist in Nashville. And yes, I'm keepin' on, just forced to find new ways to bark. And oddly grateful for that forced evolution.

Miss Munky (I can't believe I just typed those words), you're making a point perhaps without realizing it. You have my first CD because it contains seven radio singles - five heavily played - two number ones. (Not that I counted). You don't have my other CDs because they contain one charting single and no charting singles respectively. You never heard anything from those CDs so you never knew they existed. Behold the power of radio.

What happened between CD one and CD two? Why the drop off in play for me and many others? Anybody have a guess?

SG

5/13/2006  
Blogger Loren said...

Here is a thought: If focus groups pick out what soccer moms like and soccer moms pay the bills, then they are running an effecient business. We shouldn't trash that system, cause it works for its purpose, to keep the station in business.

So we need to talk about new distribution channels, or else start to ante up on the next pledge drive...I vote for new channels!


AP- good to see you here!

5/13/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

I'm sometimes frightened at how typical a representative of my generation I am. That said, (and in saying this, I think I speak for more than just myself), I couldn't give a rats about Christian radio. Don't listen to it, and I couldn't be persuaded to either. The only live radio I listen to is sports talk or maybe a little regular talk radio, (when I feel like getting in a good yelling match with my dashboard.) I'm an iPodder. I listen to what I want when I want. I find out about new music by networking with friends. I never have a clue about how much airtime someone is getting unless I'm researching contracting them for a show. And even then, I don't always care if I know my audience will be more people from my generation. So I think AP's comment is the best: make good music. If it's good, I'll find out.

So in answer to the question about the radio model, I suppose it's a great model for a niche business that exists on borrowed time. Although I am still uncomfortable with the way stations are blatantly profiteering off of Jesus. And before it comes up, stations and artists are very different in this instance. I don't know a Christian artist who doesn't have ministry in mind at all times. I conversely don't know a Christian station that doesn't have ad sales in mind at all times.

And KLTY might be the most awfully boring radio station in America. I would sooner tune into crackly AM mariachi music than them.

Just more stirrin' the pot here, I suppose.

5/14/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I don't know a Christian artist who doesn't have ministry in mind at all times. I conversely don't know a Christian station that doesn't have ad sales in mind at all times."

Part: (A)
That's a pretty bold statement. "At All Times"? Really?
I know several Christian artists that "don't have ministry in the mind at ALL times". I know Godly men and women that are very spiritual and love the Lord, but are also business people who realize they need to be somewhat "marketed" to generate sales. I know those same artists who are concerned whether their cd's are "rock" enough for this generation; all the while selling those same cd's for $20 bucks a pop. Merch tables, posters, cd's, videos, all with Christian artists faces all over them. That sounds like sales to me. And I think that's ok. I think they are ministering, don't get me wrong, but to say that artists aren't concerned about sales and are strickly focused on ministry at all times is, (in my opinion) what soccer moms and focus groups bring to the table concerning Christian radio.

b

5/14/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

That's fair. It was an unintentioned overstatement. What I should have said is that amid all the other things that go into the music industry, most Christian artists in my experience are genuinely concerned about ministry. Not that they aren't concerned about sales, just that it is usually a byproduct of their ministry. And I too think that's okay to an extent. And the more I've thought about that statement, the more I've been reminded of a few artists here and there who seemed more concerned with how they looked on stage than anything else, but the vast majority seemed genuinely concerned with ministry. I'm also not saying that I was necessarily ministered to, or that I thought they were particularly effective given their medium or model, but it did seem to be their top concern.

Conversely, I have never had the impression in all my dealings with Christian radio people that ministry was truly their primary concern. Perhaps my perception of them is off. If so, how sad for them that they have done such a wretched job of communicating what they're all about, but that is the perception from not only me, but from many in my generation.

5/14/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

The station I listen to, when I bother to listen, is commercial free and relies on listener support to stay on the air. This is their 51st year on the air. They definitely provide a ministry to listeners. My frustration is that they have no control over what they play and their playlist is severely limited. They were an awesome help in promoting Shaun when I brought him to town last year. Mentioned the show almost between every song, gave away cds and tickets, etc. all for free. However, they didn't play one song by him the entire time because it's not in their catalog! Very frustrating to be sure. Without the airplay, people didn't know if they wanted to come to the concert or not.

For me personally, I don't tend to buy the cds of the artist I hear on that station because I can hear them all the time on the air. I'd rather spend my money on cds I won't hear elsewhere.

Beth

5/14/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Beth, how is the recuperation and reading going for you?

5/14/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

I doing OK cach, thanks for asking. My surgery was Friday morning and I was in quite a bit of pain throughout Friday night. I'm doing much better now though and had a good day in church today. Right now I'm reading "Church History in Plain Language" by Bruce Shelley. I'm just getting started, but I'm really enjoying it so far. I'm also doing a study on Daniel which is very interesting.

Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there. I'm having a great one!

Beth

5/14/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Good to hear, Beth.

5/15/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun, you are a smart, talented musician and I enjoy your music very much. I can only guess how frustrating it must be to invest so much into a song and then have it rejected based on a focus group. At the same time, I’m glad you’re willing to consider Chuck Finney’s perspective. I work for a small Christian radio station that is not affiliated with KLTY or Salem Communications. However, I regard Salem as an industry leader that has done a lot to improve the quality of Christian radio. I’d like to point out three things and then make one suggestion.

ONE

Radio stations do not conduct music testing so they can punish innovative artists. Our research is designed to make sure we are serving our listeners as effectively as possible. It would be cheaper and easier for any program director to “follow his gut” on which songs to play, but that would turn the station into the program director’s personal jukebox. Music research helps maintain the quality and integrity of the service we provide, and no matter what Seth Godin says, the radio stations that test their music are the stations that consistently attract the most listeners.

TWO

Focus groups are made up of people, not statistics. The people who participate in our music tests are real, live listeners who have hectic schedules and who are constantly trying to juggle work, family, and church responsibilities without losing their sanity. The people who make up our focus groups represent thousands of others who all depend on Christian radio for encouragement and companionship. When a woman takes time out of her busy schedule to share her feedback with a radio station, that station should take her seriously. Imagine the trust we would lose with our listeners if we said to them, “Thanks for spending four hours testing these songs! We know you don’t like this one, but we’re going to play it anyway!” Ouch.

THREE

Radio stations are not about the artists or the announcers. They are about the listeners. There are many aspiring Christian artists who desire to serve God through their music. However, the primary purpose of Christian radio stations is not to make sure those men and women succeed in their careers. We don’t try to force-feed our listeners the music we think is good for them. We try to build relationships with them so we can understand their needs and provide them with the music that will be the most encouraging to them. It’s not that we enjoy disappointing an artist or a record promoter when we turn down a song. It’s just that our listeners are a higher priority.

A SUGGESTION

In light of these three points, I’m going to make a suggestion very similar to Chuck Finney’s suggestion. If stations are telling you that your songs don’t test well enough, why don’t you tailor more of your music to Christian AC radio? Surely you wouldn’t be sacrificing your artistic integrity if you intentionally included two or three “radio-friendly” tracks on your next album, would you? The Apostle Paul made tents while he carried out his mission work. Maybe you could think about those “radio” songs as your “tents.” Some of history’s greatest artist worked on commissions from the Catholic Church or from the aristocracy of their day. Men like Bach, Handel, Rembrandt, and Michelangelo didn’t always get to express themselves however they wanted. Still, they created some of the most enduring and inspiring works of art the world has ever seen…and they did it for their patrons. Couldn’t you record a song specifically for Chuck Finney and his “gaggle of white conservative Christian women around age forty?” Wouldn’t that get you the exposure you need to sell more albums and give more people a chance to hear the rest of your music?

CONCLUSION

I’ll admit, it’s easy for radio people to become too radio-centric. We need to remember that artists are real people who should be treated as ends, not just means. Even if we can’t play a certain song, we can still show love and respect to the artist behind the song. At the same time, artists need to guard against become too artist-centric. Artists must work with radio stations to build up the listeners, instead of expecting radio stations to play songs just because the artists worked hard on them. We all need the humility to look for ways we can serve instead of ways we can be served.

5/17/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Anon, you make great points. Greater still if you bravely posted your name along with them. As is, it's hard to take them completely seriously - not knowing the source.

However, all great points that I agree with...except your suggestion. I am not desirous of AC radio play. My label is...was The meeting was set up by them for the potential marketing of my music to an AC audience through Salem's many stations. Therefore, I'm not compelled to make changes to fit that format.

I believe Christian radio (AC radio) is only broadcasting to 3-4% of American professing Christians. It's goal is to sell them stuff and/or encourage them. Both admirable goals for capitalist Christians - which we both are. I've seen data from two studies (one conducted by a network) backing this 3-4% number up Testing only insures that those 3% keep listening but turns a blind eye to why the other 97% of us aren't tuning in. Maybe we never will, no matter what you guys try. The "brand" Christian music is tainted now. Turning it around would be like getting most folks to think positively about Hundai. But as the format is today, I love those in your audience but do not relate to them or they to me. I don't offer what they crave to hear and they don't offer what I crave. It's a mismatched I've tried, succeeded at and then walked away from. I wish it weren't so some days. But on most I relish the challenge of making music for the 97% and beyond.

My tent making is non-musical. My music is about expressing my desire to see an American church that serves as easily as it sings, loves people as well as it professes to love God, makes God known and increasingly knows God. It's what I write for me and people like me who are religious but wandering unsure of what we're to do with the years between "salvation" and the grave. I can't do that and conform to the lyrical standards of AC radio at the moment. I'm not talented in that way. No metaphors? No loose ends? No allegory? No thanks. That's not what I'm good at. And what we're good at IS our calling.

Chuck is scratching an itch. He's ministering in the way he was made to. It's just not my way. I don't fit in any more. So I'll go elsewhere and be thankful for the differences in the Body of Christ, at the same wishing the relationship had worked better and that Christian radio would listen to the marketing geniuses out there like Seth, able to grow the audience and not just maintain it.

Thanks for you comments. Well said...whoever you are. (Coward) ; )

5/17/2006  
Anonymous Seth said...

Actually a better scenerio if you were to dicuss Mozart or Bach or any other person commisioned by the Catholic Church would be: "Hey Mozart, would you mind writing a Mass immitating someone, try not to be yourself if you don't mind and be sure and not write something thats sounds like you or something that you would ever enjoy to write." The ONLY reason Mozart would have written something like this is if he was STARVING and then he would have written his family and poured over how much he hated it which he did from time to time and let me tell you,...that Mozart, whew! Luckily these commisions never came from the Church, they came from people who were anonymous and who wanted to claim the work for themselves.

The whole reason the Church commissioned anything from these guys is that they already admired their genius for what it was. The Church wanted that particular genius to express a certain scene or person in Christianity. If we are talking Bach then Bach wrote exactly what he wanted ALL the time. He wrote for the Church, which he loved, and when his contrapuntal fugal style went out, then he just kept on trucking. So if we draw a comparisson with what Shaun is doing to Bach then you would be asking Shaun to write in the way he was made to write rather than ask him to be someone different to appease a room full of moms. If they asked Bach to stop being Bach, then he would have quit that Church post. Just like Mozart did with the Archbishop who decided Mozart had developed quite enough, and Beethoven with the Aristocracy, and Brahms with the Wagner crowd, and any other artist who believes in himself and who God has created him to be.

Beethoven, well the man never did anything anyone said. If he did it usually turned out to be the biggest piece of crap and honestly, he purposed it to be that way.

I also think the tent making thing is a bit irrelevant. The parallel could be drawn if someone would have asked Paul to write Romans differently. "Hey Paul, you know, that Romans is kinda hard to get, could you simplify it a bit? maybe leave out all that fancy smancy law talk you learned from that Jewish teacher of yours?" If it was tent making then someone might ask him to make a tent with less skill and care then he was capable of. And for that matter, I hope that radio stations are offering Music and artistic expression rather than a work of art on the artistic level of a tent. Michaelangelo might have made a tent, but would anyone know it was a tent made by him? Proabably not. Because it would look like every other tent on the shores of the Nile.

I think with this mindset, you may be killing true artistry and individuality in an already hurting genre.

5/17/2006  
Blogger The Cachinnator said...

Great stuff Shaun and Seth. Very focused and solid answers. I would also add that people in focus groups absolutely are statistics; I know, I conduct them. Of course they are people, but they are people specifically chosen because of their age, gender, race, income, activities, etc. They're not plucked off the street at random, they are screened and chosen. That is how Christian music only and always serves that same 3-4% Shaun was talking about. Why choose that niche? Because that's who the music appeals to. Why stay absolutely and only with that niche? Marketing and promotions.

5/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun… Maybe I misread your original post. I thought you were lamenting the fact that Chuck Finney keeps you from selling albums by refusing to play your songs. If you’re not complaining, then… peace.

I believe Christian radio is a powerful tool for encouraging the body of Christ. I can respect the fact that you feel called in a different direction. May God bless your ministry to the 97%.

The Coward :-)

5/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cachinnator… I know it’s counterintuitive, but when a radio station tries to serve everybody, its audience actually gets smaller. People who tune in for adult contemporary music don’t necessarily like bluegrass. People who are hoping to hear rock probably don’t want boy bands. In my experience, artists tend to appreciate a much wider variety of art than other people. That’s a great quality, but it means artists are not always good judges of what works or doesn’t work for radio stations. Stations that zero in on a particular niche are the ones with the most listeners.

I’ll admit that a big audience is good for a station’s marketing and promotion, but it’s also good for a station’s ministry. We can’t encourage people if they don’t listen, right? You asked why a station would “stay absolutely and only with that niche?” The answer is simple… To attract the most listeners.

I think you’ll agree with me that Christian music stations should not try to be churches. We can’t offer our listeners any accountability. We can’t offer them any deep fellowship with other Christians. We can’t offer them in-depth Bible teaching. However, we can offer them encouragement and a positive alternative to the ungodly messages on most secular radio stations. I think that is a legitimate ministry, even if it doesn’t appeal to everyone.

In the past, Shaun Groves has participated in that ministry and I am grateful to him for sharing his talents with us. If he feels that he cannot record songs for Christian radio at this point in his career, I respect that. We will miss him, we will wish him well, and (in the words of Motel 6) we’ll leave the light on for him.

The Coward

5/18/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

"To attract the most listeners."

Why?

$$

Does the pursuit of $$ supersede more important considerations in the coward's opinion?

5/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! Talk about leading the witness. :-) I certainly don’t think the pursuit of money supersedes “more important considerations.” However, I think it would be a mistake to assume that money is the only reason a Christian radio station would want more listeners.

I suspect you are pleased when you sell a lot of records, aren’t you? While the money does help you feed your family and continue your ministry, money isn’t the main reason you’re happy, is it? My guess is, you’re excited about the opportunity to share your message and your music with more people. You believe in what you do and you want others to benefit from it.

Well, we believe our radio station has a positive impact on our listeners, too. We try to come up with programming strategies that will attract as many listeners as possible. If our programming causes fewer people to listen, then we feel like we aren’t making the most of a God-given opportunity.

I know there’s no way for me to prove that money is not our underlying motivation, but… it’s not.

The Coward

5/18/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I agree. BUT why target THAT audience? We're talking about testing to get a larger audience. We're talking about testing to get more of THAT audience. In Chuck's confession over TexMex a while back he admitted the reason he goes for more of THAT audience is $$. Advertisers want to sell her stuff. If he can get her listening he gets advertising dollars. Does he love his audience? Absolutely. But he chose her because she can be sold things.

I am thrilled when my records sell. BUT if I were about targeting a demographic that buys lots of records, has lots of cash relative to other demographics, I would NEVER play colleges. I would play women's conferences. I would aim for that middle aged white evangelical women's pocketbook - like Chuck does. He admitted to no higher calling in doing so. It is about advertising dollars. He's having ministry impact on their lives simultaneously. I don't fault him. But it's one way we're different.

Are you different from Chuck?

SG

5/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun... I grant your point. The station I work for, like most Christian AC stations, has chosen to focus on women who are 30 – 40 years old because they are more likely to support Christian radio. We are a little bit different from KLTY because we are a non-commercial station. Nobody here works on commission and nobody gets a raise when the ratings go up. However, I don’t consider people in non-commercial radio to be nobler that people in commercial radio. Our station needs money to keep broadcasting just like KLTY does.

So you’re right. The initial choice of our target demographic was definitely influence by money. No denying that. But I can honestly tell you that our primary motivation for attracting more listeners is because we think our station will minister to them.

And by the way, I’m pretty confused about something...

When you said that Chuck was “wrong” in your original post, did you mean he was wrong for programming to rich middle aged women instead of programming to poor college students? Or did you mean that he was wrong for using focus groups to increase the size of his middle aged female audience?

See the thing is, radio stations have to pick their audience. We can’t program to soccer moms and college students and senior citizens all at the same time. The message of the Gospel is universal, but musical taste is not. Stations that try to please everybody end up pleasing nobody.

So if God has called you to reach college students and Chuck Finney to reach soccer moms, isn’t that just the diversity of the body of Christ? Shouldn’t you both follow your individual callings to the best of your abilities? I guess that means people like Chuck (or me!) shouldn’t pressure you to record music for the Christian AC audience. But maybe it also means that you shouldn’t blame Christian AC radio for not playing music targeted at your audience. If your calling from God prevents you from recording Christian AC music, then God is the one who decided you don't need to be on KLTY... not Chuck Finney.

The Coward

5/18/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Coward said...

"When you said that Chuck was “wrong” in your original post, did you mean he was wrong for programming to rich middle aged women instead of programming to poor college students? Or did you mean that he was wrong for using focus groups to increase the size of his middle aged female audience? "

I meant he was wrong in thinking focus groups yield accurate information about what anyone outside of the focus actually wants to hear. Should have been clearer than I was. I'm learning that lesson a lot these days.

Coward said...

"See the thing is, radio stations have to pick their audience. We can’t program to soccer moms and college students and senior citizens all at the same time. The message of the Gospel is universal, but musical taste is not. Stations that try to please everybody end up pleasing nobody."

Absolutely. That's why I don't think I'd do much differently from you guys or Chuck. Let me explain. I would not use focus groups as they are used today if at all. I would not choose my target based on who is easiest to reach, already interested, or has the most cash to give me. But I would have a target of course. I would choose that target based on perceived spiritual need, my person God-implanted passion for a certain group of people, or some other criteria seemingly - to me - more substantive than $$. And I'd probably get blogged about and questioned. I'd screw up for sure. That's why I'm not whining. I'm explaining how it all works and saying, "COuld we really do better? Maybe. Maybe not. How would you do things differently in hopes of doing better?"

Coward said...

"So if God has called you to reach college students and Chuck Finney to reach soccer moms, isn’t that just the diversity of the body of Christ?"

If I married my wife because she was rich and then I grew to like her would you say I was "called" by God into that marriage? A calling, as I understand it, never leads us to work against God's ethics or character. I have a friend who cheated on his nagging cold wife with a sweet "godly" sexually generous woman. His wife abused him verbally. His mistress affirmed him. You get the picture. He left his wife and married his lover claiming that God had told him to. God wanted him to be happy after so many years of misery. Now, is there anything in scripture saying money is always bad? No. But there is plenty that leads me - maybe wrongly, I'm open to that - to believe making a ministry decision based on money when there are less temporal needs to consider is against the character and ethic of Christ. I personally do not make any decisions based on money unless money is the ONLY factor to be considered. Treasures in Heaven, not on earth. IF radio guys are choosing their target audience based solely or firstly on how much revenue can be generated "Reaching" her then, no, I do not think that strategy can be called a "calling."

Coward said...

"Shouldn’t you both follow your individual callings to the best of your abilities?"

Yes.

Coward said...

"I guess that means people like Chuck (or me!) shouldn’t pressure you to record music for the Christian AC audience. But maybe it also means that you shouldn’t blame Christian AC radio for not playing music targeted at your audience."

What the... Alright, I realize that on paper I'm not the best communicator but did I ever say I'm blaming anyone for anything. Blame: assign responsibility for a fault or wrong. NNo fault or wrong against me has bee knowingly claimed. I see a cause and effect relationship between focus group testing, the kind which Chuck Finney engages in and described to me over lunch a while back, and the lack of my music on the radio since record #2. I went from 7 singles, 5 charting to this present record's 0. I have the e-mails from PDs to proves that at least some of this, probably much of this, is caused by focus group feedback. I even have the feedback itself. Very interesting stuff about not understanding the lyric, sounding weird, too dark, not happy, can't "worship" too it etc. AT one time I ddid see this as a bad thing - my lack of radio play. COuld I use the money from it? Always. But I've not said here in this post that it is a bad thing for me today. It's given me a completely different audience in fact. Try playing a college when students' moms love your music. Doesn't work. But now I'm in. I'm accepted by younger audiences and males partly because I'm not accepted by your audience. Christian radio play guarantees that any song will no longer be considered "good" or "cool" by a certain demographic of Christians in America: the other 97%. (Ok, just joking on that last percentage. It's more like 50%) ; )

Coward said...

"If your calling from God prevents you from recording Christian AC music, then God is the one who decided you don't need to be on KLTY... not Chuck Finney."

I don't know. I get what you're saying and this has to be one of the best conversations I've ever had with someone in radio. You're really making me think and I'm thrilled at your openness and kindness. But you're stepping outside of radio into theology regarding sovereignty and I've never had fajitas with God so I have to confess I don't really understand this subject as well as I do focus group testing.

Bottom line is that I'm not blaming Chuck. I think focus groups have a place but less of one than they occupy today. It's possible to love one's audience but select it for erroneous reasons that may not be congruent with the character and priorities of God, such as the amount of $$ certain audience can generate over others, or the ease of dealing with that audience. I would like to think I would do things differently, and assume arrogantly that if I did the results would be "better" as defined by me, but I also admit that I'm not so sure I would many days and that I'm not sure what "better" looks like. I do not get played on the radio any more. I once did. But play lists narrowed to half of their size in 2001, the domination of cover songs and "worship" music and FOCUS GROUPS brought this about. I once saw this lack of play as a negative and would have used words like "blame" in describing how I felt about Chuck and his friends in radio. But that was along time ago. I do not see my lack of play as a negative any longer. I made lemonade and it tastes swell. I have no reason to blame anyone then, but I cannot deny the obvious undisputed cause of my present radio situation.

Thanks very much for this intelligent calm and kind conversation about a subject artists and radio folks have a hard time being intelligent, calm or kind about too often.

-Shaun

5/18/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Shaun,

Couple points, minor, won't probably be of great import, but....

"Focus Groups" are small panels (10-20 or so people) where a moderator interviews current or potential consumers on a comparatively open-ended quest to get...well, any number of types of info, depending on the goal of the research. But it is rather visceral and personal as Godin suggests.

Regarding radio? No one I know in radio seriously attempts to plot their entire offering of songs for airplay based on focus groups. They might use one to track feelings on how a morning show is doing or reaction to an ad campaign, etc. But usually not to determine what songs to play.

Auditorium Music Tests are done for that. Much larger groups of people, in a non-interactive setting (meaning they are not talking to each other in a group panel, they are doing one thing ONLY -- rating their "play it more, play it less, play it about the same" responses to song clips as they hear them). Done in two or more sessions, weighted and compared to each other so as to help ensure accuracy.

KLTY has basically doubled the amount of people listening to it since Chuck came on board. Efficacy for advertisers and Salem shareholders aside, that also means nearly a half million people (200,000 more than used to) in one city are hearing the message of Christian music, which is hard for me to criticize.

That's enough outta me. Grace and peace, Shaun - appreciate you. If ever you would like to come on SIRIUS and share some more of your POV on things musical and non-musical, you have a standing invitation.

Doug Hannah
Format Manager, Spirit 66
SIRIUS Satellite Radio
(and formerly with WAY-FM / Nashville, KSBJ/Houston, and Mr. Barsuhn's 11th grade drama class. Oh yes, also an idiot radio consultant)

5/19/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shuan… I think Doug Hannah’s clarification is helpful. Maybe some of the problems that Seth Godin has with “focus groups” do not apply to “auditorium testing.” Maybe we should have addressed that distinction at the beginning, but Doug explained it better that I would have, anyway.

I think it was the word “grievous” in your original post that made me assume you were upset about not getting more airplay. But hey, you have the right to use a little hyperbole for effect. :-) I’ll take responsibility for the misunderstanding.

Just one more thing for you to consider and then I promise to leave you alone… There are a lot of Christian radio stations that wouldn’t be able to operate at all if they didn’t target middle aged women. Many stations are located in small or medium-sized markets where there simply aren’t enough college students to support a Christian radio station. When I say “support” I’m talking about either buying things from advertisers (commercial radio stations) or sending money directly to the station, itself (non-commercial stations). I guess this is crass, but it takes a lot more poor college students to come up with enough money to support a radio station than it does rich middle aged women. If your town isn’t big enough, then your only choice is to focus on the women. Fortunately, those women need God’s love, too, so it’s not a complete waste of time! :-)

The good news is that HD radio may soon allow more stations to add extra channels without grossly increasing their overhead costs. Maybe in a few years more Christian stations will have channels for AC music and channels for music that reaches a younger audience.

All the best,

The Coward

5/19/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Doug, I thought you might be "coward". Dang it!

I see your point about the difference between auditorium tests and focus groups but I still argue, having seen both in action and having read the results from auditorium tests we conducted on my recent singles, that my Seth's opinion still sticks: that they are not scientifically sound and guide us towards more of the same when used to construct playlists.

We used the same company K-LOVE uses, btw, when testing singles from my last record hoping to get guidance on what to send radio stations using such tests. Lots of info that basically said, "This isn't "worship", isn't happy, and doesn't sound like Mercy Me." Try testing any metaphor song (like the old Rocketown by MWS) with a snippet of the chorus. Testers are lost as can be. It's like hearing the punchline without the rest of the joke. Bad idea. Testing lends itself best - I THINK - to simpler straight ahead songs that, honestly, tend to read like sermons that rhyme and not songs. "Rocketown" the song, would bomb today in a test just on lyrical content alone.



Coward...

"Grievous" I gotcha now. Makes sense to me now.

Well, through the magic of the internet I changed that sentence just now - left "grievous" in there but took the thought away from me. Truth is, at the time, as Chuck said those words about testing trumping his like of me or my music, my heart sank because I knew my label had no plan B for my music/ministry. It's radio play or...um...we don't know how to let that many people know about new music any other way. DON'T say " how about touring", because touring is inextricably linked to radio play as well, and besides, how much can a pastor with three kids and a wife tour and be a responsible good person anyway?

Anyway, I get where you're coming from on the whole "grievous" thing. It certainly was grievous the instant he said those words at Papasitos but not so grievous now. Still grievous for labels everywhere though. Their hell continues. I've progressed to purgatory. ; )

You said..."I guess this is crass, but it takes a lot more poor college students to come up with enough money to support a radio station than it does rich middle aged women."

Can I just say, AMEN! Not crass; refreshingly honest. Tell me about it! When I do play on a Sunday morning for a bunch of middle class folks, most of whom are female, can I just admit to you that I suddenly am not at all worried about how my mortgage is getting paid that month? I play one song as an offertory - something on piano is usually requested - and they clean my merch table off. I could double the price and they'd do it too. It's sick. College students do not do that.

You know that churches run like radio stations. Few large churches invest in college students. So, 89% of high schoolers drop out of church when they graduate and don't return until they are married with kids - IF THEY RETURN. Married folks with kids get well serviced don't they? My point is that you are right and I thank you for your honesty about your motivations. I understand them, but somebody has to play for the least in the Church and not the wealthiest over-serviced segment of American Christians.

And yes those folks need God's love. But you have to admit that's one extremely loved demographic at the moment.

What do you guys think about telestial radio and the iPod? 95s that the right word for satellite radio? Is it celestial? I barely know what I'm talking about.) Is that a fear at all? For a while "Becky" was a technophobic Boomer that would never leave you guys for greener more technology driven pasture, but now she's my wife (Her name actually is Becky). She's 36, listens to an iPod, hates CCM radio, plays it only because we don't have an iPod or Sirius in the car yet and she doesn't want the kids hearing about sex from the morning shows. She downloads singles and looks forward to the day minivans all come with satellite radio or, even better, iPod like systems.

I was talking with Bill Hearn recently - pres of EMI Christian - about all this. he was telling me about technology that will be in cars soon that allows for local weather, gps and full control over music played all in one device. It knows where you are and gives you info if you want it about that place, the roads and the forecast. It knows what you like and makes suggestions of new music in that vein if you want it to. It always back announces through it's display screen (CCM radio rarely does)...You get the point: It's better than terrestrial radio (IS that the right word for FM radio?). I control it. And it is linked not to stations like Sirius or XM or K-LOVE but to a digital catalog of my choice: iTunes Store or my own stash kept on-line somewhere.

So guess where record companies will invest their dollars when THAT thing comes out? Not on trips to radio stations or bricks of CDs gifted as on-air prizes - I'm betting. Worried at all?

One more thing, I read recently about a study - one step above focus group maybe - that the Jack FM folks did showing that the listener does not want DJs or morning shows. So if what the listener wants is so important why does CCM radio still have them? Is the CCM fan different? Do they equate "ministry" with a human talking? Where's the Christian Jack?

Just curious.

SG

5/19/2006  
Blogger marianne said...

Soccer Mom here who would be kicked out of a focus group after five minutes. I admit to skimming here as I am far behind on my reading on Shlog, but these comments are very helpful to me in attempting to understand Radio. Never understood why they couldn't play lots of different songs instead of like ten over and over again. Ugh!!! So I joined that Music Advisory Board also and notice I am "advising" on the same songs over and over again. Oh well. :-)

Some days I tune in just to see if by chance they are playing some of the songs I am hoping to hear and may have requested and I have to turn the volume down during the talking. Doesn't sound very Soccer Mom-ish, I know. But the Soccer Mom Bubble Christian Radio seems to live in feels so small. In my very small opinion.

I can't say whether Radio will be changing very much. But I can see how other things could make a place for themselves right next to Radio or even ahead of it. So, again in my very small opinion, singer/songwriters who see a broader audience out there maybe one day can find radio to be less and less of an obstacle. I hope so. :-)

5/20/2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Shaun… I’m not very good at predicting market trends or forecasting which technologies are going to become dominant. The Christian music industry may look totally different in 5 or 10 years… or we may be surprised at how similar it remains. Most Christian radio stations I know do not have deep enough pockets to take risks on unproven technology. Some are leading the way with HD and podcasting, but most are waiting to see what happens.

There are three advantages that terrestrial radio has right now. (1) It is free, (2) it is simple, and (3) it is local. Satellite radio costs money and is not local, yet. Mp3 players also cost money, and they require people with busy lives to spend time managing their play lists. Obviously, both of these new technologies are growing, but there are still good reasons for people to listen to old-fashioned radio.

One of the things that will be hard for satellite channels to do (and impossible for mp3 players to do) is become involved in local communities. Sure, satellite could eventually give your local weather forecasts, but will the people at your satellite channel ever put on a blood drive in your town? Will they throw a banquet for your local crisis pregnancy center? Will they collect Christmas cards for your local children’s hospital?

In my observation, the Christians radio stations that compete most successfully with secular stations in their markets (KLTY in Dallas, KXOJ in Tulsa, WPOZ, in Orlando…) are the stations that get heavily involved in their communities. Over the past 10 years, more and more Christian stations have started to do that – not just setting up a table at a concert, but planning and executing community service projects. As long as local Christian stations are serving people effectively, I think there will be a place for them.

I’m not familiar with the Jack FM study you mentioned, but I can certainly believe that some listeners don’t like deejays or morning shows. Some Christian radio announcers are too preachy. Some are too cheesy. Some think they’re funny and laugh at their own jokes. But the good ones know how to keep the focus on their listeners! They know how to talk about information that their audience is already thinking about... but in a new way! They may or may not be funny, but they are consistently relevant. You may find this hard to believe (depending on which stations you have heard lately) but many Christian radio stations are taking that issue seriously.

As I said at the beginning, I don’t know where technology will take us. Maybe someday I’ll be begging Doug Hannah for a job in satellite radio. Or maybe I’ll be selling insurance. :-) But for now, terrestrial Christian radio is growing (yes, Seth Godin, growing!) and I believe it makes a difference in people’s lives. I’m proud to be a part of that.

The Coward

5/22/2006  
Blogger Jason Gray said...

I had the pleasure of opening for Shaun in Indianna this fall. Thank you for generating this lively and civil discussion.

Just to throw one more log on the potentially tired fire of this conversation:

When I've talked to radio guys about this issue, they always come back to me with arguments similar to "The Coward", saying that "we can't play to everybody," and assuming that I expect them to play blue grass and emo alongside Avalon and Mercy Me.

That's just ridiculous and I don't think Shaun, myself, or most people who protest the current state of Christian radio think that way. Focus is good, and we're not suggesting that radio programmers not focus, we're all just wondering aloud if the focus is misplaced or at least misguided.

I'm friends with another Groves - Sara Groves - and I know that her career has had a similar arc to Shaun's in that her radio support has trailed off with her most recent (and arguably her best) recordings. Why her last single wasn't a huge hit is bewildering to me. I talked to some radio guys at NRB in Dallas this year and learned that her song tested poorly, but these guys played it anyway because they believed in it and in her ministry. They found that in the end it actually performed well for them.

Maybe there IS still a place for the "gut", or for people to be led of the Spirit.

The best songs have always had to grow on me. I've found that the records I loved at first listen quickly faded into the background, but the ones that I wasn't immediately taken by usually had the lasting impact - not to mention that they are the records that have done the deepest work in me. Christian radio and their testing process doesn't seem to allow room for that kind of thing to take place. There's no dating or courting phase - you have to fall in love with a song and take it to bed with you the first time you hear it.

I think the most crucial issue and the potentially fatal flaw of Christian radio is in the idea of "serving" their listenership and "encouraging" them, which means giving them what they want. Are listeners best served when we just give them what they ask for? Are we encouragers only? Is there no mention of exhortation in the bible?

I think those in Christian radio have a responsibility to their listeners to give them not only what they want, but also what they need. I'm sorry if this sounds like a cliche, but I doubt that Jesus or His teachings would have tested well in our control groups ("eat my flesh... drink my blood" anyone?). At what point are we just tickling the ears of our listeners and fattening them up on Christian junkfood that clogs their spiritual arteries.

That said, and I think it's been well-established here, I don't envy the position of the radio programmer. They have to serve God, their listenership, the ministers/artists they work with, their shareholders, and their family (by providing for them). They need our prayers! But perhaps they also need more imagination and trust. The Christian walk requires we take risks. "He who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for my sake shall find it" Jesus says, and that sounds risky to me.

Testing and control groups look a little bit like risk-management to me. and yes, I get that Chuck has done a great job at growing KLTY's listenership (I've met Chuck, he is a genuinely kind man and I suspect he's not in love with the power that he weilds. Here's an easy solution: Let Chuck continue doing the good job he's done and let everybody else determine their own playlists), and yes we want to reach more people... But I think if we only give these people what they want, then we are not truly serving them and may be in danger of only serving our own interests.

What if the model was testing and _____. what if testing was used to chart a general course, but then music director's were required to be Spirit led or use their God-given "gut". What if they tithed 10% of their playlist to songs they prayed over and felt were useful or important for their listeners?

Let's face it, most of us know that the most important and compelling songs are not on the radio. And it's NOT because they are blue-grass or emo. It's because they are real and have substance and actually require something of the listener. There are many compelling records that would play well stylistcially on AC radio. Sara Groves' new record is a great AC record, it's lack of play time is largely due to the fact that it's literate and thoughtful and requires a listener to actually engage their mind for three minutes. These factors (music that is thoughtful, challenging, intelligent) are detrimental to radio airplay, but their absence from Christian radio are an even greater detriment to the life of American Christianity.

There is a poverty in Christian music today, in my opinion, because of all this. A thought that startles me: would Rich Mullins have had the career he had if these rules of radio had been in place during his run?

One last thought. The gospels end with a commission. Yet we are notoriously reluctant to answer that commission ourselves or support those who would. We only support what we benefit from, what we enjoy, what gratifies us. The Vigilantes of Love was a compelling rock band from the 90's that was singing the gospel in bars, clubs, street corners, and churches alike throughout the nation. They told the truth in a gut-level fashion that startled many white middle class evangelical Christians who were only versed in church-speak (therefore never inspiring their support). I watched them minister the gospel in a bar in Minneapolis and was undone by the beauty of it. They were going where most Christians wouldn't or couldn't dream of going and were making an impact - and yet with no support from the church, CCM, or Christian radio. Inevitably, and I think to our shame, they disbanded. At some point, I think Christian radio programmers need to understand that they play a significant part in whether a worthy music ministry succeeds or fails.

At it's worst, Christian radio is in danger of perpetuating the creation of consumers of Christian goods instead of purveyors of Christian good. And in the end we all lose, I think.

Most people I know are turning off Christian radio. Listenership may be growing in some regards, but the lifeblood of the music industry has always been the smaller core of people who cared deeply and obsessively about music. The fans! And they are the ones checking out and being excluded while the business caters to the casual "soccer mom" listeners. There may be money to be made now in the short term, but it will play out. Christian record sales are down substantially. I think that's happening at least in part because the music industry (including radio) isn't putting anything out there that people can really care about and give their heart to.

"Coward" (I hate calling you that, I'm sorry :-) encouraged Shaun to write some songs for radio, and I get that, I really do, but at the same time, I think we need to hear the kinds of songs that an artist HAS to write, as if their life depends on it. these may not test well, but they contribute to a vibrant and vigorous and life-changing expression of Christianity. And I think that if radio programmers will dare to play them, they'll find like those who played Sara's new single, that they will find an audience - and it will likely be an audience who will become ardent supporters.

I'm done - sorry for being so long winded.

5/25/2006  
Blogger RADIOELIZABETH said...

Wow.

There is just so much I really want to say, but I am reminded of Elisabeth Elliot's words on the neverending opinions...

So, what to say?

First, to Shaun...that I am a fan of your music. Your songs are ones I turn up. They inspire me, encourage me, and remind me of some things I need reminded of. They speak life into my moments of death. THANK YOU.


I read this blog and was overwhelmed with the word "perspective". Other words like "wrong", "soccer mom", "ministry", "money", "artist" all came into view as well.

I do not know what the frustrations must be for a artist, a label, a manager, a promoter. I can imagine, but I'd never presume I'd get it right...at least not completely. I can only offer again, a perspective.

I do know the frustrations of a listener. I do know how it feels to find exactly what I'm craving on the radio. I know that I don't listen to any station or format exclusively. I know what it is like to hear a song I love on the radio. I know what it is like to hear the start of a song I don't before I hit a different preset. I know how many songs I've purchased and what motivates me to make that decision. And I know that I represent, to a good degree, the target listener of most AC radio (sans mother, wife, career).

Successful radio is catered to the listener. Every song, every ad, every sweeper, every piece of content that hits the air. There is risk involved in every programming decision made. To gamble additionally with song selection would seem to me to be not only poor programming, but foolishness and potentially destructive.

Certainly there ought to be balance in song and spin selection. Any station spinning the same artist or same song(!) in one hour needs to seriously consider new software and/or staff. (I contend that this is perception as opposed to reality in most all cases...one never hears their favorite enough and always hears the one they hate too much).

But familiarity is part of radio usage. It goes to how the target consumes the product. When faced with a decision in the midst of a million multi tasks, convenience and comfort will play a dominant role. That is not to say creativity does not, or should not have its place...but simply to state that place may not always be behind the wheel of a car or piped through the office.

And yes...radio stations and record labels have different goals. While one seeks to sell records, the other seeks to serve listeners. Both need money and ministry, and a balance of each.

Some people have completely different views on what the mission of this format should be. And that will be up to that person's personal call as to how they manage that mission. I disagree that "Christian" radio is there to give listeners what they "need", even if, especially if the listener does not want it. It might sound good in theory when sampling CDs in a changer at the desk, but it hardly seems to flesh out when it comes to a reach for seek or scan.

In my opinion, the discussion is relevant. And the perspective of artist, manager, programmer, and listener is vital.

Thanks for letting me in to share some of my thoughts as well. Or, as Elliot might say...neverending opinion. ;)

Elizabeth

5/29/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Jason and Elizabeth make both of their cases so well. Their words only serve to underline my motivations in posting about Chuck in the first place. I empathize with stations. I don't think they're evil. I don't know that I'd do anything differently if I were in their headphones. And, of course, I empathize with artists because I am one.

There seems to be no wrong or right here and that's what I hoped more of us would admit after discussing these issues a bit. Radio and artist are on the same team but not able to be everything the other wants or thinks he/she needs.

Tough reality. Maybe the only thing we can agree on then is the need for more honesty, more dialogue,m more cooperation on all sides, more prayer and always kindness and love toward one another.

I'm thankful that we've had that here so far. Thanks to everybody who's contributed to this very eye opening discussion - at least for me. I don't envy anybody ; ) Bummer. I think I'll go work for GM or hang sheet rock now.

SG

5/31/2006  
Blogger RanTheRadioMan said...

In the same way, I'm saddened by the state of Christian radio today--so much so that I'm seriously considering leaving Christian radio period. At least the general market/secular stations are honest about what they do--trying to earn money and make a profit. In Christian radio, we say we're in it for the ministry then deny ministry opportunities to legitimately talented folks like Shaun, Andrew, and others because they don't have a "hit" or they don't "test" well or some other flimsy reason. It's deception. Are we in it for the money or are we in it for the opportunity to show Jesus to a dying world? I'm almost to the point of thinking that I can show Jesus better while working at a secular station than at a Christian station. My point in this is that Christian radio, unfortunately, is no different than secular radio in its procedures, methods, and ways of doing things. It's all about the money. Maybe a song "tests" well but does it have any "meat" to it? Maybe a song "test" well but does it push people toward Jesus and Biblical living? To me, that's the real test of a true Christian song--does it exalt Christ and admonish us to more closely follow Him.

6/26/2006  
Blogger RanTheRadioMan said...

Does anyone see that Christian radio has become like secular radio? Is it really ministry? Or is it just a money-making scheme? I understand that the bills have to be paid BUT why can't the independent artists--many of whom record songs that are just as good OR BETTER than the "hits" that are churned out by the big boys--get any airplay? I know of a local artist who is just as good as anyone on the national scene yet I'm not allowed to play his stuff. I can name names of indies that are just as good as some of the big names--or the new famous names. And how about the superficial pablum that passes for Christian lyrics these days? No depth. The whole situation is starting to push me toward leaving Christian radio period.

6/26/2006  
Blogger Couchy said...

Shaun,

While I don't disagree that Chuck Finney is highly respected and influential over "CCM" radio (and talented), he does not speak for ALL Christian formats. The focus here (and the audience reading) seems to come from Christian AC stations.

What about Christian CHR, Rock, and Rhythmic stations? There's your risk-taking trendsetters. While some in the CHR format are so conservative with the chances they take (thanks to testing), the format as its meant to be programmed involves taking calculated/educated risks and trying songs that are not familiar. Part of CHR is all about being the FIRST on the next big thing...to find it first, make it familiar, and "own it" in the minds of the audience.

Christian AC would not be what it is today had CHR not been the format to take risks on former unknowns like DC Talk and Third Day. Smart CHRs use testing (focus, call out, online, and other methods) but also use their God-given guts for decisions too. (I doubt many Rock or Rhythmic outlets have the money to do quality research.)

MY POINT? :-). Radio's use of research (Christian or secular radio) is a MUST. Our frequencies are too valuable to totally assume we have our listeners figured out. We need quality research to understand them better. In Christian radio, it is simply good stewardship (in my opinion). However, using research as the end-all-be-all in music decisions leaves no art to radio. EVERY song was unfamiliar at some point!

At my station, we use research to verify whether a right or a wrong decision was made. Over time, if I see a trend, I start to know better than to add certain types of songs. For instance, if I take a chance on Gospel songs but Gospel keeps testing bad...I will hopefully see the light and realize that my audience does not want Gospel.

The next time you are in Grand Rapids you are welcome to look me up (as well as my co-horts at our sister AC station...WCSG) and bounce this (or anything else) around.

Mike Couchman, PD @ WaYfm in Grand Rapids-Kalamazoo, MI (not affiliated with the national WAY-FM network ;)

7/24/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

Thanks for the comment, Mike. I would use testing if I were a PD - which is one fo the points of this post really: to say this is how radio works and ask "what would YOU the listener or artist really do differently?" Th answer I think is nothing. It's good business. At the same time it has "hurt" me but only because I wrote songs that did not test well. So I'm sayin two opposite things here and I hope this comes across clearly to you and everyone:

1)Christian radio tests songs, especially AC stations. And testing gets us "familiar" and is good business for the station. I'd do this too if I were in their headphones. Good job radio.

2)Testing does not welcome innovation and new sounds and metaphoric lyrics...at this time, and that makes it much harder for those of us who write that sort of thing to market ourselves and communicate our messages through radio - just about impossible. But I choose to keep writing what I write best even if it's not what radio plays. Good job me.

I love the folks I know in radio, I'm especially fond of CHR radio, but I'm also fond of innovative smart music that is often times missed by CCM radio stations...even CHR ones.

SG

7/27/2006  

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