At least a decade before karaoke clubs caught on in America in the 1980s, performers in churches were belting out songs to instrumental recordings of religious music, called solo performance tracks or accompaniment music.
So Christian karaoke music is "not a big leap" for buyers of religious music, says Frank Breeden, president of the Nashville-based Gospel Music Association. "It's capitalizing on something that's already in existence ... a format of music that is, by its very nature, very conducive to singing along," Breeden says.
Family Christian Stores Inc., which has about 325 stores in 39 states, released six different karaoke CDs in October featuring Christian performers. John van der Veen, the company's music buyer, wouldn't disclose sales figures but said a second production run has been ordered.
The music is made for boom box karaoke, the portable music players that display lyrics for singing along. Christian music has been a fast-growing genre, having its best sales year ever in 2001 while overall music sales declined. It sold nearly 50 million albums that year, up 12 percent from 2000, according to Sound Scan, which tracks sales for the industry. Some past attempts to sell Christian karaoke music ran into problems finding retail outlets, says Breeden a problem Family Christian doesn't have.
Even before the Grand Rapids-based company started selling karaoke music, one of its stores, in Augusta, Georgia, was holding monthly "karaoke nights," at which people sang with accompaniment. "There's a lot of people who actually came up and sounded good," chuckles Rory Rezzelle, 18, a store employee. He said the karaoke CDs are selling quickly.
Family Christian got the idea for them last summer when "one of our vendors came to us and said, `By the way, did you know that one of the biggest retailers out there this year is going to be selling about $40 million worth of karaoke product this Christmas?' ... and we just kind of went, "Wow,"' van der Veen says. His company contracted with a consultant to form a new company, Fuseic (pronounced FYOO-zik), and make the CDs.
The first group of six CDs is targeted at girls age 8-16. They include music by ZOEgirl, Stacie Orrico, Out of Eden, Plus One and Jump5, plus a compilation of artists. Each CD contains three tracks and retails for $12.98. Youth groups, at sleepovers and birthday parties, are using the karaoke CDs and by people who enjoy singing when there's no one around to hear.
"They're singing, they're having fun, but they're learning a little bit about God's word in the process and learning a little bit about some spiritual matters," says David Austin, marketing director for Family Christian.
Next spring, the company hopes to release half a dozen more karaoke CDs featuring Christian artists, van der Veen says. "We know that people use these in settings other than just singing solos in church," says Breeden. "Some people use them for personal enjoyment, for parties."