Gospel Music Association – John Styll

Recently I had the rare opportunity to meet with John Styll, President of the Gospel Music Association, to talk about his role and some key issues with which the GMA is involved.

This is part one of a multi-part series which I will be posting over the next few weeks. You may also see the video of the interview on VideoRocket.com.

Brian: John, starting out, describe a little bit about your background, what you did in the [Christian Music] industry before you became president of the Gospel Music Association.

John: I really started out doing radio in the early 70’s, before Christian Music was really anything here [in Nashville] and it was through that that I got to know a lot of the artists and the people in the industry. And it was through that with some partners that we started a magazine about Christian music called CCM in 1978. I did that until 2001, sold the company and left, and that is how I ended up with my industry contacts and through that had become the chairman of the GMA, which is a volunteer position. The president of the GMA left and the board asked me to step in on an interim basis; that was the end of 2002.

Brian: What is the GMA and what is its purpose?

John: The GMA is first and foremost a trade association; a collective of the different aspects of the industry, where we basically gather together for the common good to, as our mission statement says: “To expose, promote, and celebrate the gospel through all forms of music”. 

When we say “gospel music” , we mean really anything. Although, when the organization started in 1964 it was all southern gospel, southern quartets. Our awards show, the Dove Awards, the first year had 11 or 12 categories, all of which were southern gospel. It was just ‘Album of the Year’ , and that was a southern gospel album. Now we have 43 categories including everything. But we’re here really to promote music that has the gospel message in it.

Brian: Do you represent all genres?

John: Any genre; from bluegrass to punk rock.

Brian: What does the GMA do in terms of promoting Christian Music? How does it help further Christian Music?

John: It happens on a number of levels. One area is record sales. We have a sister organization called the Christian Music Trade Association. It is just record companies. And we do SoundScan for the Christian Music industry. Before SoundScan came, when one of our big artists like Michael W. Smith or Amy Grant had a release, none of the sales in Christian music stores counted. It was like they were invisible for Billboard Magazine purposes. And, you know, some of these artists have a lot of sales through Christian bookstores. So we worked with SoundScan where we collect here all the data from the Christian stores and it gets sliced and diced and then sent up to New York to SoundScan, so now all those sales count. Well, this week for example, Chris Tomlin is going to debut in the top 20 on the Billboard top 200, which he absolutely would not have done had the Christian bookstores not counted, and we feel at least partially responsible for that. When big retailers like Best Buy and Target and WalMart see Christ Tomlin in the top 200, the order Chris Tomlin’s albums, and when they have it stocked it sells more. So that’s a real fundamental example of what we do.

On the GMA side we do a lot of media relations: We get a lot of calls from newspapers, magazines, television networks, and radio networks for information about this industry. And so one of the things we do is compile all of the stats and facts and figures, and are a media resource. We do a lot of public relations on behalf of the industry as well.

Our awards show, the Dove Awards, yeah it’s to honor excellence, but the main thing is to get it on TV so that millions of eyeballs can see these artists performing all these different kinds of music and therefore hopefully create interest in it.

We have an event in Estes Park, Colorado, called GMA Music in the Rockies, that is designed to bring up brand new artists. We do a lot of education and training for aspiring artists, because new artists are the lifeblood of the music industry. And our event that we do in April, GMA Music Week is for professionals in the industry. We bring together radio and retail, managers, agents, promoters, record companies, and artists, for a week of fellowship, learning, showcases and all kinds of things that go on for a week.

Next time we’ll here about John’s perspective on how the Christian Music industry was birthed and how it grew.

Video of interview may be seen here: http://www.videorocket.com/musiccity/

© 2007 Brian Crow & Universal Language, LLC