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Music industry changes spotlight challenges Print Email
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Thursday, 24 September 2009 09:17 AM America/New_York

GMA regroups for survival as full-time head steps down


Gospel Music Association (GMA) President and CEO John Styll has stepped down as part of an effort to ensure the survival of the cash-strapped organization.

Ed-LeonardThe move is part of a concentrated "re-set" of the organization, which will use more volunteers and a managerial position to oversee its reduced staff, said Ed Leonard, president of Daywind Music Group and new chairman of the GMA board of directors.

The association's changes spotlight the challenges faced by the music industry as it continues to be impacted by digital sales and the economic downturn.

"The GMA, like many other organizations and businesses, has taken hits during this prolonged downturn in our economy," Leonard said. "It has forced the GMA board to evaluate our association's current business model and to acknowledge that in order to meet current financial obligations and needs of our members, and to ensure GMA's vitality in the future, we needed to make some significant changes."

Leonard told Christian Retailing that part of the inspiration for the move came during the organization's summer Immerse music training conference.

"About 100 people came together—between volunteers and staff—to plan, run the event and market it," he said. "We were very energized and excited about that because it gets people more involved in their association and helps them to network better."

Meanwhile, some of the industry's leading artists—Amy Grant, Michael W. Smith, Natalie Grant and Casting Crowns—were due to take part in a $1,000-a-plate "Save the GMA" event, which was scheduled Oct. 12 in Nashville.

Support for the event was "vital to GMA's ability to continue operating," said Leonard in an invitation circular. "What would it be like if events like GMA Music Week, the Dove Awards and Immerse went away and there was no organization to bring us all together?"

Leonard said that the fundraising idea—spearheaded by EMI CMG Publishing President Eddie DeGarmo and The Premiere Group founder Roy Morgan—was intended to retire ongoing debt incurred from a last-minute sponsorship drop for the Dove Awards five years ago.

The venue "seats around 800 and our payables are about $800,000," Leonard said. "If we sell it out, we pay off the debt and re-set the organization. That's what we're trying to do."

Styll, who remains a GMA board member, has led the organization and its affiliate group—Christian Music Trade Association—through a challenging period, as attendance was significantly down at this year's GMA Music Week, despite efforts to attract attendees by lowering registration rates and offering seminars on financial management to address an unstable music environment.

Leonard said that the debt as well as dwindling GMA Music Week attendance and declining membership are directly connected.

"When you go register for an event and see a discount for members, you become a member," he said. "If event registrations are down, then it just goes to show that memberships are down."

Leonard—who estimated that the organization's current membership of 3,000 is down from a high of 4,000—said there was a 20% drop in registrations at this year's GMA Music Week.

The organization faces an additional challenge if Christian radio programmers, who comprise a significant portion of GMA Music Week attendance, completely pull out of the event. Christian Music Broadcasters (CMB)—which has traditionally offered an educational track during GMA Music Week—held its own event, Momentum ‘09, in Orlando, Fla., last month.

Coinciding with Disney World's annual Night of Joy Christian music concert series, the event attracted more than 400 radio industry professionals. Momentum included educational tracks on subjects such as programming strategy, digital music, shareathons and donor relationships as well as performances by a wide range of artists, including Casting Crowns, Natalie Grant, Jeremy Camp and MercyMe.

Meals and events during Momentum were sponsored by Christian music companies, such as Integrity Label Group, Provident Label Group, EMI CMG and Word Records.

Don Burns, program director for KXGM in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, compared the gathering to the CMB track during April's GMA Music Week, but said that Momentum was "a lot quicker pace and more concentrated."

Although CMB Executive Director Linda Meyers did not comment on how the new event would impact Gospel Music Week, Burns said: "In my opinion, this will replace (the GMA radio track). Attendance at Gospel Music Week wasn't as big as this is."

Leonard, who attended Momentum, said radio was a "key driver for our music" and hoped for continued involvement during GMA Music Week.

"I thought it was a fantastic event for radio, but I think there's a place for another event, where people are used to gathering with everybody," Leonard said. "I hope radio will support that effect, and we're going to do everything to make it attractive for them to come."