Tony Cummings reports on the charts and listings for UK Christian and gospel music
If you go into Manna Christian Centre in Streatham, South London, there by the tills you will find a document emailed to them each week which aids them in their sale of CDs. It's the Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20. The manager of the shop, Dave Lockman, finds the chart "helpful" in what to stock in the mass of albums being released each week. He explained, "It's good for Christian retail to have an authoritative chart, especially one compiled by the people who put together the pop charts."
The Christian chart is compiled by The Official Charts Company. Cross Rhythms quizzed the Company's Lauren Kreisler. She explained, "The Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart originated from discussions with Christian labels in creating a chart that would spotlight repertoire that was flying under the radar. As well as the main Official Singles Chart and Official Albums Chart, the Official Charts Company produces over 80 weekly charts spanning a range of formats (eg, downloads, streaming, vinyl, physical) and genres (R&B, Dance, Rock & Metal, Country, Americana, Jazz & Blues and many more). Charts are introduced as a result of technology and consumption changes in the market such as the Official Vinyl Chart launching in 2015 in response to the huge resurgence in vinyl consumption in the UK. In the case of genre charts, these tend to come from organic demand in the market from record labels, community organisations and media licensees."
Music charts have a long history. Britain's first pop chart was published in New Musical Express in 1953 and in America the trade magazines have been publishing various charts for decades. A few years ago, Billboard took the controversial decision to classify religious music made by predominantly Caucasian artists as "Christian" and music recorded by black artists as "gospel", and two different charts have since coexisted side by side. In Britain, the Official Chart makes no such distinction. This commendable decision brought an uncomfortable truth to Britain's gospel movers and shakers. A study of the Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20 for 10th-16th August shows that, like most weeks, there are NO gospel albums in the UK best-sellers.
Veteran broadcaster Mike Rimmer spoke about this. "I know for a fact that it was the UK's Afro Caribbean gospel community who did all the groundwork and were the pressure group in pushing for a Christian & Gospel chart. So it's ironic that now they've got one there's hardly ever a gospel record in there! The official chart has been a wake-up call, particularly to the black churches. In the UK, gospel albums sell a few but nothing like as many as the modern worship albums by Redman, Hillsong, Bethel, et al."
Modern worship albums do indeed dominate the Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20. The week of this article's writing, Hillsong Worship's 'There Is More' album is back at number one, having been there for 18 weeks, while a brand new entry, Phil Wickham's 'Living Hope', is at number two. The few non-worship chart albums, like NF's 'Mansion', POD's 'Greatest Hits' and Skillet's 'Awake' (which has been in the charts for an extraordinary 231 weeks), cannot hide the fact that these days the majority of Christian bookshops only stock modern worship albums. Dave Lockman of Manna Christian Centre admitted he is bemused by the marathon stay in the Official Chart bestsellers for Skillet's 'Awake'. "We've never had a customer come into Manna and ask for a copy, and as far as we can see, Skillet are unknown to our customers."
To understand why Skillet, POD and others can sustain long periods in the Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20, one has to understand how the chart is compiled. It's all to do with download and streaming. Lauren Kreisler of the Official Chart Company said, "The Official Christian & Gospel Chart is compiled using physical sales data, digital downloads and audio streams from this panel. UK consumption within this genre breaks down as 41.8% streaming, 40.5% downloads, 17.6% physical. Although the long-standing perception is that C&G over performs on physical - it does particularly well on digital too and in terms of download sales this genre out performs the market, proportionally."
Alongside the Official Chart, for the last couple of years, the internet has offered another unofficial "chart", this one concentrating on singles though some industry figures would argue that it's not really a chart at all. The UK Christian Chart is published each month by aStepFwd, a ministry established by British Jamaican O'Neil Dennis. A mission statement on the site sets out aStepFwd's aim, "We want to support the UK Christian music scene to reach a generation through the digital tools that are second nature to them," and, alongside occasional artist interviews, its main thrust is the UK Christian Chart. O'Neil explained how it is compiled: "The chart system is composed of two elements; first we have the judges or the pundits. That number currently stands at 136 judges and these are made up of worship leaders, newscasters, some Christian and non-Christian, there are some in the UK, there are overseas judges as well and they are the ones who make the first call if you will about the submitted tracks. The submission period runs from the 16th to the 15th of each month, all those submissions once they're checked and verified by our team of music researchers, are then sent off to the judges, all 136 of them. We're constantly adding to that number as well. Each judge will vote for their top three, that then allows us to compile a list of the top 20 based on the judges' votes and that top 20 would then go on our website for the public to get involved and the judges' votes are weighted two to one."
Calling the aStepFwd listing a "chart" has caused some criticism. Steve Perry, a broadcaster and founder of Access Radio, commented, "Using the term 'UK' implies two things: that the chart is a fair representation of everyone in the UK who listens to Christian music, and that it includes as wide a range as possible of Christian music artists listened to nationally. The problem is that neither of these are quite accurate."
In fact, there are hundreds of tracks being released in the UK which are never submitted to aStepFwd and though aStepFwd judges might be able to add a few standout tracks that they become aware of to the list of submissions, it is clearly a rather arbitrary listing.
Alongside charts both official and unofficial, another kind of listing that both fans and industry people find interesting is the radio station playlist. Each week, BBC Radio 1 have tens of thousands of people accessing their website to check out what tracks are currently making it to the 'A' and 'B' lists on the station. A web search reveals that UK stations who see themselves as platforms for new music are happy to make their playlists available to Joe Public. However, this is not the case with most local radio stations or specialist stations which concentrate on one particular musical style, like hard music or country. Similarly most Christian stations in the UK don't, in the main, publish 'A' and 'B' lists of the tracks they're currently playing.
One of the few UK-based Christian radio stations which does publish a playlist is London's Premier Gospel. Although the main Premier station doesn't, its Afro-Caribbean subsidiary does. Said Mike Rimmer, "I think it's true to say that the black community, both in the USA and the UK, are fascinated by charts, playlists and awards ceremonies. It would take a better social historian than myself to explain why this is so, but both consumers and artists really want to know who's got the top seller in their field, or who's likely to win the next MOBO Award."
As many Cross Rhythms listeners and readers know, our 'A' and 'B' playlists are available on our website. These playlists are a significant part in the weekly preparation of the Cross Rhythms Top 10. Over the years, Cross Rhythms have used different systems to create its Top 10 and has now arrived at one which is, in the words of Cross Rhythms' CEO Jonathan Bellamy, "the best formula we could come up with in putting together a list which reflects the most popular tracks currently on the Cross Rhythms playlist but also takes in some relevant sales data considerations such as songs or albums from which a song is taken, their showing on the UK mainstream chart and the UK Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20, the sales figures from Cross Rhythms Direct and even taking into consideration a song's showing in the US Christian & Gospel charts for songs and albums. It's admittedly a complicated formula, but we're keen that our charts reflect music which has genuine, documented popularity."
The nature of charts and playlists are changing as the music industry continues to change. It could be argued that in view of the streaming revolution today the most significant charts compiled by the Official Chart Company is now the UK Streaming Top 50 (published each week in Music Week trade magazine). Industry people and music fans alike have a fascination with lists and it seems certain that as long as there is music being made available to the public there will be statisticians and programme controllers endeavouring to put together lists of music which people find helpful and stimulating.
Charts & Playlists
Official Christian & Gospel Albums Chart Top 20 (10th-16th August)
1. Hillsong Worship - 'There Is More'
2. Phil Wickham - 'Living Hope'
3. New Wine Worship - 'You Restore My Soul'
4. NF - 'Mansion'
5. Skillet - 'Vital Signs'
Billboard's Top Gospel Albums (the week of 18th August)
1. Tasha Cobbs Leonard - 'Heart. Passion. Pursuit'
2. James Fortune - 'The Collection'
3. Bryan J Pierce - 'Glory: Live'
4. Koryn Hawthorne - 'Unstoppable'
5. Kirk Franklin - 'The Essential Kirk Franklin'
Billboard's Top Christian Albums (the week of 18th August)
1. Phil Wickham - 'Living Hope'
2. MercyMe - 'I Can Only Imagine'
3. Lauren Daigle - 'How Can It Be'
4. Hillsong Worship - 'There Is More'
5. MercyMe - 'Lifer'
UK Christian Chart (singles/tracks) (July)
1. LZ7 - "Legends (ftg Silento)"
2. Olaedo Ibe - "Good Life (ftg Leke & Becca Folkes)"
3. Cerose & Reblah - "Give Him Praise (ftg Dwayne Tryumf)"
4. Life Worship - "A Thousand Times (Thank You) (ftg Chelsea & Ryan Carins)"
5. Suzanne Hanna - "To God Be Glory"
Premier Gospel Playlist (singles/tracks) (August)
1. Valerie Woodard - "Mighty God"
2. Evans Ogboi - "Onye"
3. The Walls Group - "Satisfied"
4. Noelle Travis - "I Am Free"
5. Jide Williams - "He Is Great"
Cross Rhythms Top 10 (singles/tracks) (12th August)
1. NF - "I Just Wanna Know"
2. For King & Country - "Joy"
3. Riley Clemmons - "Better For It"
4. Bonray - "Inside Out"
5. Tauren Wells - "Never Gonna Let Me Go"