Spiritual Entertainment: The Religious Genre in Music

From Nielsen:

For many Americans wrapping up their Easter and Passover celebrations, April showers and May flowers have a spiritual tone. Holidays can revive consumers’ interest in related genres—for example, romance genre sales rise around Valentine’s Day. And this spring’s celebrations were no exception: the religious genre’s popularity—and sales—grew this month. By exploring how consumers connect with this genre—whether through music, religious television specials, Bibles and everything in between—over the holidays and year-round, marketers can identify new opportunities to extend the reach of both religious and mainstream content.

In 2013, over 10.3 million Christian/Gospel music titles were sold. While this is small in comparison to music market as a whole (3.5% percent of total album sales), the genre is healthy, with hits coming from established artists and new talent alike. And sales for some titles from this genre can reach levels comparable to those in the Billboard Top 200 albums chart. For example, the Christian R&B chart ranges from GRAMMY-winning artists like Gospel crooner CeCe Winans (who has sold over 2 million albums to date) to Christian rapper Lecrae (who has sold over 2.2 million tracks to date). On the Christian rock charts, Casting Crowns, a GRAMMY-winning group of minister rockers, has sold over 7 million tracks and 3.3 million records to date. These artists have all thrived while staying true to their religious roots and without the intention crossing over into mainstream genres—a decision that’s typically made to garner more exposure and revenue.

Nevertheless, Christian/Gospel music genre artists can also win mainstream fans. The Australian worship band Hillsong United’s “Oceans (Where Feet May Fail)” recently gained mainstream attention when it peaked at No. 83 on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart on March 15, 2014. And this past week, the Christian rock band MercyMe debuted at No. 4 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart with their newest album, Welcome to the New. And these are the latest of many. From rock to rap, many religious music artists have also done well in crossovers and charted songs on the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart, including Skillet (whose Awake album has sold over 924,000 albums to date), Switchfoot (whose appeal came early with The Beautiful Letdown, which has sold over 2.2 million albums since its release), and newcomer singers Britt Nicole and Francesca Battistelli, to name a few.

Similarly, mainstream artists have done well in the religious genre. Carrie Underwood’s “Jesus Take the Wheel” (2.3 million tracks sold to date), Flyleaf’s “All Around Me” (1.4 million tracks) and Kanye West’s “Jesus Walks” (1.4 million tracks) have all resonated well with both religious and mainstream consumer groups.