Mormon Media Symposium: LDS music

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By: Katarina Ricks

The music industry has experienced a significant shift from tangible to digital in the last ten years. Music experts, both from and outside BYU student body and faculty, met in a panel at the Mormon Media Symposium to discuss this change and where LDS music fits into the popular music market.

“The classic record model is busted,” one panel member said.

Revenue in the music industry has shifted from an emphasis on the selling of physical albums to a new emphasis on live shows and merchandise sold both at shows and online. This change has been largely due to the introduction of music sharing on the internet, whether that be illegal pirating or on music databases such as Pandora, Rdio and Spotify. These tools can be used to listen to free music as well as share favorite mixes. This past year, album sales have dropped eight percent and are continuing to drop in this digital age.

Record companies are quickly trying to adapt and keep up with the changing industry in order to find a way to keep making money. Many labels have turned to a focus on publicity towards live shows and tours. Because music is so easily accessible to the public, more people are aware of bands they like and concerts. Record labels can expect people to pay more for shows as well as buy merchandise so to have something to remember their night by.

“The solution here is to create scarcity,” another panel member said.

By making these venues limited in capacity, fans will feel more pressure to pay money to have this special musical experience. While an artist’s album is available to everyone at any time, performances are limited and one-of-a-kind.

Most of the panel members seemed baffled when asked to define what LDS music is. There are institutional hymns, commissioned and non-commissioned songwriters, Mormon artists who have been successful in mainstream music charts, the Mormon Tabernacle choir, etc. The demand for specific LDS music is very small, but it is a demand. On Utah radio station KSFL, for example, there are Sabbath day programs that feature spiritual hymns and conversations that are very popular to the Mormon audience. Mormons make up a small community that likes to feel unified through music. For this reason, Utah has a market for religious music that might not exist in other areas of the world.

This demand isn’t going away either. Within the realm of LDS music, physical records are still selling in stores. This may be because of an older target market, while the younger generation seems to be more drawn towards a digital copy.

One student asked what the role of Mormon musicians is in sharing the gospel. Panel members responded by stating that it is an extremely personal decision that may also be based off one’s creative preference. But whether members of the Church are scientists, teachers or artists, their responsibility as disciples of Christ is to share the Gospel, whether that be in subtle or obvious ways. Not all Mormon musicians write spiritual music, but it is their responsibility uplift their audience.

 

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