The Art and Culture of Selling Sacred Music

by Joel Shoemake, Pine Lake Music Co.

Years ago I partnered with a Baptist state convention to provide low-cost choral music to small choirs across the state. This included creating new music in English, as well as translating everything into Spanish. As we began the translations, we hit a roadblock. You see, Spanish isn’t as uniform a language as English is. Not only do Spaniards speak a very different dialect than Mexicans or Cubans (for example, the Spanish word for “duck” in one Latin American country is a vulgar insult in another), but some of these cultural groups actively dislike the languages of the others. In the end, we found ourselves unable to adequately serve these groups because we simply did not understand their cultures well enough to meet their needs. The wisest decision we could make was to recognize that we were not well versed enough to serve that particular customer base.

So what does this have to do with selling sacred music to English speaking churches? Well…quite a lot, actually. You see, for decades we in the music publishing industry have referred to the market as being comprised of two parts – the Mainline and the Evangelical. Essentially, “Catholics and those who are like them” fell into one camp, and “Baptists and those who are like them” fell into another. And yes, this is the most basic way to divide our customer groups, and yes, these two groups do tend to prefer different types of music. But the truth is, both of these groups are actually made up of many tribes, each with their own cultures, traditions, preferences and dialects. Such a small number of choral music descriptors are used in so many ways that the words themselves have become practically un-descriptive. What words like blended, traditional and contemporary mean is defined less by the context clues of a sentence and more by the tribe of the person speaking them. In my opinion, you can’t sell more than a cursory amount of sacred music without investing in understanding the tribes in your area. Are they mainline? Evangelical? Do they sing with piano and organ, or guitars and drums? Do their choirs pride themselves on performing difficult pieces, or is the music just an avenue for the message? The answers to these questions will change how you order music, display music, interact with customers, and (most importantly) if sacred music can be a vital part of your music store.

Care to continue the conversation? Join me at the RPMDA conference (Friday, April 28 at 4:10pm), where we will dive deeper into the art and culture of selling sacred music.

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