More ways Bill Gaither is a genius

Today’s installment of Why Bill Gaither is a Genius starts with SoundScan. What is SoundScan you ask? Good question. Let’s quote from their website: “Neilson SoundScan is an information system that tracks sales of music and music video products throughout the United States and Canada. Sales data from point-of-sale cash registers is collected weekly from over 14,000 retail, mass merchant and non-traditional (on-line stores, venues, etc.) outlets. Weekly data is compiled and made available every Wednesday. Nielsen SoundScan is the sales source for the Billboard music charts.” You don’t hear much about SoundScan in sg for a coupla reasons. First, a lot of sg sales take place on the road, at product tables, and are difficult to track with the kind of precision a tracking system like SoundScan requires. Perhaps because of this, and/or for other reasons as well (and this is the second point), the driving force in sg dynamics is not sales but a slavish devotion to radio and sg’s unique brand of distorted radio charting (I’ve written ad nauseum about this, so I won’t rehearse it all here). Sales matter, insofar as they’re how a group pays the bills, but because of the disconnect between radio “popularity” and actual sales in sg, the resources and infrastructure to track the full range of sales is underdeveloped - the brunt of the resources having been dumped into the radio side of things. So, most sg acts don’t much bother with SoundScan.Nevermind right now how the lack of clear and regular tracking of road sales fits into the broader problem of how to accurately chart the popularity of (and so viable future for) sg music. For the moment, let’s swing back around to Gaither, who distributes his Homecoming stuff through a label he has a stake in, Spring House (not to be confused with Spring Hill, in which Gaither also has a stake and which used to distribute Homecoming product up until a few years ago when Gaither pulled the plug on Spring Hill and took his business from one of his businesses and gave it to … well, another of his businesses, at Spring House). A wee tiny part of Gaither’s widespread success has been his ability to leave his mark, to get noticed by other people’s measuring sticks, beyond the more intimate world of sg … measures and marks like SoundScan, which is at least as influential in music as Nielson ratings in television. Here’s the genius part: Gaither, marketing mastermind that he is, offers combined deals on videos/dvds, often using a Spring House artist’s cds as a premium gift with the purchase of some other product at the core of the Gaither marketing strategy du jour. Smart idea. And it also makes it appear (and technically it is true) that the premium-gift artist has sold a huge number of units - often on the basis on having been bundled with some Gaitherized product like a Homecoming tape. This is not an insignificant operation: Gaither’s warehouse is affiliated with its own Christian bookstore, through which he can run all his mail-order and internet sales - thereby reporting the sales to SoundScan, making his SH artists and his dvds/vhs tapes rise to the top of industry sales charts. I think/suspect the Crabb Family is among the other rare few in sg who ring up their sales in similar ways - at least I’m pretty sure they have been counting road sales and turning in SoundScan affidavits for table-product purchases. I offer all this mostly by way of satiating the curious of you out there (and by now you probably realize I love this kind of industry arcana). But I also realize there’s a larger question going begging here: which comes first, the resources to support the sales and sales-tracking, or the sales to warrant the additional overhead in resources to track sales in a more robust fashion? That is, do you not get the big-time recognition unless or until you invest in this kinda thing, or does this kinda thing come naturally with big-time success? What’s the payoff of investing in the apparatus to support SoundScan reporting? Well, for the average sg group, not much. Except for the groups that are 1)mega-sellers (or have the potential to be) and 2)looking to expand to markets beyond sg, SoundScan street cred is pretty meaningless, since the number of units (i.e. copies of a given project) even the best selling sg groups moves in a year or a month would hardly be a blip on the SoundScan radar. Plus no one inside sg cares much for SoundScan as a calling card. But for the few outliers and anomalies who (want to) cultivate a base beyond sg, Gaither’s model (one which he didn’t invent, even if he was probably the first sg type to perfect it) is a pretty good one to keep in mind. For the rest of us, the takeaway truth is this: when you see artists or groups working the SoundScan angle, something (potentially big) is - or may be - afoot.*Clarification:

As some of you have noted (esp NP), some of my label genealogy is probably a bit oversimplified, on account - I think - of my memory being less than sharp. NP suggests Homecoming videos never were distributed on Spring Hill, which if true probably means I was thinking about some precursory iteration of SH that Gaither was using (Chapel, Star Song, etc). At any rate, the real clarification here is what I overlooked: namely, that Spring House is now of course Gaither Music Group, which is home to all the Homecoming recordings, Mark Lowry, and GVB as well as new additions The Isaacs, Lynda Randle and Signature Sound Quartet.

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