O'Donnell's company is responding with an imprint, Credential, dedicatedto breaking what he describes as a new breed of artist. Industry giant EMI'strack record is dotted with big hits (Newsboys, delirious?) and bands thatquickly disappeared.

"With Credential, we're trying to respond to what's happening in themarketplace. There's a new generation of rock acts that needs a differentkind of marketing." He says they're defined by their touring schedule:"There used to be more of a distinction between a band that plays clubs, orplays youth groups; now, they may play a club Friday night, a youth groupSaturday night, and a worship service Sunday. Now the lines are a lot moreblurry. We need a new label that can accommodate that." Credential's first two acts, hard band Dizmas and the more reflectiveEdison Glass, will release this summer. O'Donnell's working with another newact, needtobreathe, jointly with Lava/Atlantic. All three are working withmainstream producers.

"They're interested in taking our stuff into their marketplace," saysFord. "Avalon and Point Of Grace have such a distinctly Christian sound --that big vocal sound -- if you take that to (a mainstream label), they go`What is this?' You can't even find a band like that out there. It takeswisdom. Just because it sells over here doesn't mean it's viable in thegeneral market."

Too-direct lyrics aren't necessarily the issue, says O'Donnell. "I'll behonest, sometimes we over-think the lyrical question. Sometimes if the musicwere stronger, it could go more places. Sometimes what we perceive as a biasagainst Christian music is just that the music's not as good."

It's possible to succeed without jettisoning faith-oriented lyrics:Skillet scored an active rock hit with the not-so-subtly titled "Savior,"and pop band MercyMe has marched up the AC chart three times with blatantlyfaith-based songs.

Signing in both markets is not without pitfalls, though, as both Skilletand Pillar learned.

Pillar played round-of-the-label shuffle, a game the artist often loses.According to lead singer Rob Beckley, when Universal chief Jimmy Iovineshuttered the declining MCA label, he shifted five acts over to sisterGeffen Records: Mary J. Blige, Blink 182, The Roots, Newfound Glory -- andPillar. "No one at Geffen knew who we were ... there was no interest, theydid nothing." They soon freed themselves from their contract, returned hometo Flicker Records, put out a new record that's sold faster than their last-- and are again being courted by the mainstream.

Skillet got their shot through a long-standing connection with producerPaul Ebersold (Three Doors Down, Sister Hazel), who helmed demos theyshopped to the mainstream. Kelm recalls, "He said, 'I've got a 14 year-oldkid, and I'm sick of working on things that mean nothing, so I'll invest mytime with this."

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