Large record companies, ignoring weak sales figures for Christian music, continue to move aggressively in purchasing Christian recording labels.
On February 28, the Zomba Group bought Benson Music Group, the last remaining large independent Christian music company, for an undisclosed sum. Zomba, the world's largest independent music company, purchased Brentwood Music three years ago and the Reunion label in October 1996.
That leaves only three corporations holding all major Christian labels: Zomba, EMI (which owns Sparrow, Star Song, ForeFront, and GospoCentric), and Gaylord Entertainment, which bought Word Records from Thomas Nelson in January for $120 million.
Twenty-five Benson employees, about 20 percent of its staff, have been laid off as a result of the acquisition. Another 25 people displaced in the purchase have moved to other positions.
"In a business sense, the acquisition was a matter of creating critical mass," says Jim Van Hook, president and chief executive officer of Brentwood Music. "We wanted to create a big enough base to be efficient."
Executives of secular companies such as Zomba and Gaylord believe Christian music is a sleeping giant, like country music, with growth potential in untapped markets.
"The lyrics speak to faith, and we believe the audience for this type of message is huge," E. W. Wendell, president and CEO of Gaylord Entertainment, told his employees in a February meeting. "All that is needed is someone like Gaylord Entertainment to help expand the audience, like we did with country music."
BREAKTHROUGH UNLIKELY: However, Van Hook and music industry observers, including John W. Styll, publisher and executive editor of Contemporary Christian Music magazine, say such a boom will not happen. They say ...