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MI Goes to Church

Dan Daley • June 2019Last Word • June 5, 2019

Photo by Brett Sayles

The house-of-worship market has traditionally been a significant one for MI retail. The contemporary worship style in particular has been a boon, driving demand for everything from instruments to accessories. For those MI retailers who have jumped into the AV-installation market in recent years – and there have been many of them – the HOW vertical is even more important, bountifully local and creating demand for PA systems and other live-sound equipment, recording and broadcast/streaming gear, and projection video. It’s enough to make a believer out of some.

That market may be about to get more interesting, however, thanks to the unlikely boost it’s getting from Kanye West. Yeezus – the title of his sixth studio LP and among West’s more ironic nicknames, given what we’re about to discuss – has lately been holding praise and worship music sessions outside of his home in Calabasas, California lately, with full backup bands and sizable choir on a temporary stage and touring-type PA. Those led to an even bigger Sunday “service” performed by Kanye at the Coachella music festival in April, where he was joined by performers DMX and Chance the Rapper. All this was also streamed live on TMZ, which was likely hoping to catch the Second Coming but was satisfied to catch Kim, Khloe, Kendall and Kylie bopping to Ye’s heavenly beat. It all took place on a separate stage, which drew an estimated 100,000 festivalgoers. Whether he intended to or not, West has put the spotlight on how religion and pop music might be headed for another interesting intersection.

Come One, Come All

Churches and concert venues have had a long history of interchangeability. The increasingly disused cathedrals of Europe have been hosting classical concerts for decades. More recently, churches and music venues have been changing places: in February, the former Tricky Falls concert hall in downtown El Paso, Texas became the third outpost of the Abundant Living Faith Center, a 30,000-member nondenominational Christian church; a few years earlier, the former St. Francis Street Methodist church in Mobile, Alabama was transformed into The Steeple, a 500- to 600-seat music venue. This fungibility extends to the musicians who perform in both types of venues, playing heavy metal in a club till 3 a.m. Sunday morning and somehow making it to church in time to play in the 9 a.m. service’s worship band.

New Tools Of The Trade

Not every church is as welcoming as some of secular musical influences, and that can extend to the sound of instruments. A Sunday service that accommodates acoustic guitars might not tolerate electric ones using Van Halen stomp boxes. Sensitivity to the increasingly broad worship-style spectrum that modern churches cover, from traditional organ-and-choir music to rock-concert SPL and staging, can make an MI retailer a resource for churches and their musicians alike. Products like drum and cymbal mutes, and modeling guitar amps offer church musicians the tools they can use to satisfy both audiences. In-ear monitors are a huge help when it comes to keeping volumes down onstage, as well as keeping that stage less cluttered.

The next generation of church sound systems is also going to have to address the same issue that secular stages – and NBA arenas – had to: low-frequency punch for hip-hop, which is already making its impact felt in gospel music. Because for the message to be believable, the music conveying it has to be authentic, and hip-hop demands big bass. The challenge will be making the low end impactful without alienating more traditional worshippers. Maybe Kanye holds the key, there, too.

The Next Step?

Is Yeezy breaking down what barriers are left between the two domains? That remains to be seen. But crossover between the spiritual and the secular can only be good for business – think of it as the amplified version of the prosperity gospel. Just be ready with the right  tools.

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