Hard bands Skillet, Pillar, Day Of Fire and Disciple; pop rockers TheAfters; innovative rock/electronica act MuteMath, and their current tourmateMat Kearney, a singer/songwriter/rapper; all have scored mainstream deals. They're not alone.
Screamo band Underoath has racked up 200,000 sales on word-of-mouth andtouring. DJ Andy Hunter hasn't been ringing the record store register -- buthis aggressive electronica tracks have appeared in dozens of movies, TVshows and commercials. If you saw an action movie trailer last year, you'velikely heard his inescapable song "Go." His newest release hit iTunes' top10 electronica albums.
Improved musical chops, impressive fan bases cultivated by constanttouring, and artists who don't trash hotel rooms are all part of the draw,according to label execs like Capitol Records' Jaime Feldman. He snatched upRelient K's new record, "Mmhmm," after their previous disc sold 400,000 on asmall Christian label. "Mmhmm" has equaled that already -- and now bothrecords have gone gold.
"They recognize that when a band plays several hundred shows a year andhas a base of 100(,000)-200,000 units, they have a number of things alreadyworking for them," says Zach Kelm, Skillet's manager. "If they sign a brandnew band, they don't have any of that, and you have to get a huge hit (tosucceed)."
While pop artists Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith and r 'n' b siblingsBeBe 'n' CeCe Winans led the crossover charge in the late '80s, much of thesuccess Christian rock acts are tasting today is because of a couple ofgroundbreaking bands.
"Switchfoot dramatically changed the landscape," notes Brad O'Donnell, avice president for EMI Christian Label Group, the band's Christian labelhome for seven years. "They weren't the only one: Jars (of Clay) knocked onthe door. P.O.D. knocked it part way open. Switchfoot knocked it down. Theychanged what we think is possible for a Christian rock band."
Their success -- a double platinum record (2 million copies) and twomonster radio hits -- is notable in part because of their record's lyricalapproach. Rather than preaching, or dodging faith issues, songwriter JonForeman lobs questions at the listener: "This is your life/Are you who youwant to be?"
For Christian artists, the answer increasingly means having a foot inboth secular and sacred worlds -- typically without changing their message.
Both O'Donnell and Kelm say eight of 10 acts they talk to now want to besigned in both markets. "It's not that they don't want to be in theChristian market," says Kelm. "They just want to look beyond that." Inaddition to Skillet, he's working with two new bands that will each debut inboth.
Steve Ford of S/R/E Recordings, home to the group Disciple, says, "Moreand more artists want to follow that Switchfoot model. There's an amazingband in Dallas (called) Radiant. I call up their management and ask 'How canI be involved?' He says 'Get us a general market deal.'"
Because of the current climate, Ford says he can call up someone at'upstream' record label Epic, and they'll listen, in this case sending a repto hear a gig at Austin's South-by-Southwest music festival. "More bands aregoing 'OK, the Christian market, that's great -- but tell me about generalmarket.' That excites me."
Pop-oriented Christian labels have had to rethink relegating rock musicto a niche. According to radio analyst Rick Welke, the target audience forthe two largest Christian radio formats -- "Adult Contempory" and "ChristianHit Radio" -- grew up on rock. "Now they're 20, 30 and even 40-plus yearsold, and it is part of who they are."