Unveiled Hope: The Press Kit As Art

Contemporary Christian labels push with beautiful packaging

By Victoria Moon

The CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) industry is a small niche in the wall of the music industry, at its best accounting for about 10% of total record sales in the US. The music that it produces is for the most part mainstream, family-values-friendly pop that too often has relied on imitation instead of innovation. Many independent CCM labels and artists have also pointed to a lamentable tendency on the part of the larger CCM labels like Myrrh, Sparrow and Word to toss artistic quality out the window in favor of the monetary bottom line--in other words, choosing to focus their marketing dollars on who sells the most albums rather than who has the most talent or potential (Carman is the most painful example of this tendency that comes to mind). In this respect, one might speculate, they are incredibly similar to the secular music industry.

But in the mid-Nineties, artists like Charlie Peacock, a CCM veteran, began to have an artistic influence on the industry that has begun a slow but vocal movement to focus more publicity on artists rather than merely singers who sell CDs. Peacock started his own label, re:think, as well as his own artistic center, the Art House based in Nashville, Tennessee. He has enough industry clout and financial backing to produce the quirky, poetic singer/songwriters and jazz-inflected pop musicians he favors and package them in a slick way guaranteed to get attention. All of the artist's on re:think's roster have CD's with interactive computer software on them--a great PR gimmick he offers through a marketing agreement with AOL Online. Anyone with the capability to play CDs on their computer is treated to artist interviews, sound bites, video clips, etc., as well as free AOL time.

Michael Card is another industry veteran who, like Peacock, is trying to produce artistically viable projects wrapped in slick marketing campaigns. With a solid following since the early Eighties, 4 Dove awards (CCM's version of the Grammy), and 17 number-one singles on the Inspirational and Adult Contemporary Christian charts, Card is an artist to be reckoned with, and his label, Myrrh, realizes that. His latest projects, -Unveiled Hope- and -Close Your Eyes So You Can See- are being marketed with press releases that are quite frankly amazing: amazingly well-done and amazingly expensive. The press kit for -Unveiled Hope is as close as a press kit can get to being art: a beautifully designed folder that looks like a stone cathedral door opening up to reveal an opaque sheet of vellum with a circular green inset of a saint from the cathedral door on the cover and the words "Michael Card: Unveiled Hope". Included with the normal press releases, ordering information and news articles is the CD itself, wrapped in vellum and sealed with a gray circular picture of the icon from the cover sheet. When the CD is slipped out of this casing, several CD-sized 4-color promo sheets fall out, all on heavy cardboard stock, all covered with pointilist-styled drawings of the thematic cathedral of the opening folder. Lyric sheets, all on heavy-stock paper and gorgeously printed, seem almost excessive--page after page of lyrics, artist interpretations, music notes, etc. Since receiving the press kit I have found myself handling it like a rare book, and indeed the quality of its production almost demands that. One can only imagine the cost of such perfect packaging, but it does serve its purpose: one look at the press kit and you are dying to hear to know if the CD is as of high a quality as its packaging infers.

-Unveiled Hope- has a companion book written by Card and Scotty Smith, a well-known minister from the Nashville area. Card--a voracious reader and critically-acclaimed writer--often writes books as literary companions to his music, and since the books sell as well as the music, CCM insiders are more than happy to let him do this, and push both book and CD in one fell swoop. Athough -Unveiled Hope-'s press kit did not come with the companion book, his newest children's release, -Close Your Eyes So You Can See-, does and once again Myrrh and Card's literary publisher, Harvest, outdo themselves with a slick marketing campaign. The book is a well-drawn, heavily-illustrated large hardback andis a surprising--and expensive--addition to the press kit for Card's children's album. Both of Card's newest projects are marketed with kits worthy not only of notice, but collection.

Since its inception in the late Sixties, CCM has seen many of its labels go belly-up, from little-known indies like Blond Vinyl to major industry players like Forefront. Often, it was high-price album marketing and an almost pathetic lack of concert and radio promotion that led to lukewarm sales and cost the labels millions. With the industry finally allowing some of its more artistic voices to be heard, one can only hope that the marketing savvy these artists have learned in the trenches of Christian music will pay off in increased album sales, and therefore a better chance for them to affect the artistic quality of the music as well.

"Seize from each moment its unique novelty, and do not prepare your joys". --Andre Gide