African orphans & tweens unlikely focus of new Christian record labels

by Kelly Ledbetter |

(GOSPEL MUSIC ASSOCIATION/Cameron Powell)Maxx Recordings is one of two new Christian record labels that have recently launched, and features two new artists and a boy band. From left to right: Kolby Koloff, Riley Clemmons, Maxx Recordings founder Mitchell Solarek and the band, 3for3.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Christian Examiner) – Tweens and orphans are the focus of two recently launched Christian record labels. While Maxx Recordings wants to give Top 40 savvy tweens more music with a message, Storysong, which started as a nonprofit, hopes their music will help them minister to more orphans in Africa.

Both offer new business models that may also bring in new listeners to the ever changing Christian music landscape.

"In the midst of the success that Christian music is enjoying right now, you've got these two new models, and they are fresh and they are different," said Barry Landis, the former president of Word Label Group and current president and chief executive at Ribbow Media Group, told the Tennessean. The social media and marketing firm focuses on faith-based entertainment.

Music for orphans

Storysong is a nonprofit record label dedicated to paying for the basic needs and education of 100 orphans in Zimbabwe. Orphans are placed with extended family members and then given financial support for education.

The creation of Storysong, a partner of Leadership International, is unique because it was established to address a specific need. After visiting Africa in 2008, singer-songwriter Mark Wagner felt called to support Zimbabwean orphans by raising money for their education.

We believe by sharing these stories, and by offering people simple opportunities to take action, we can continue to benefit vulnerable children.
- Mark Wagner, Storysong

"We believe by sharing these stories, and by offering people simple opportunities to take action, we can continue to benefit vulnerable children," said Wagner, who began his own music career in 2004 and has performed with other Christian artists such as Brandon Heath and Rachel Lampa. "We want to release music projects each year, as well as other creative products that will help us tell these stories of transformation and raise funds for kids."

Wagner and his wife Kalle founded Storysong, a nonprofit organization that sells creative products including its second compilation album, "OrphanSong," featuring TobyMac, Jamie Grace, Jars of Clay, Newsboys, Nicole C. Mullen, Mark Schultz, Ashley Cleveland, Mark Wagner and others.

FILLING THE VOID FOR TWEENS

Maxx Recordings founder Mitchell Solarek is a veteran in the Christian music industry, responsible for the launch of Christian vocal super group Plus One, one of the most successful launches in the recent history of the Contemporary Christian music genre. His management firm Maximum Artist Group represents artists Natalie Grant and Danny Goke among others. Solarek recently launched the new label with three newly signed younger artists in an attempt to fill what he sees is a void in the Christian music industry.

"I have a 13-year-old daughter," Solarek said. "I am having dialogue with her every day about what gets played in the car, and when we don't have music that sonically fits the pocket of what she wants to listen to, then that's a problem for me. And I think it's a problem for all of us."

Solarek aims to reach a Top 40 audience with the boy band 3for3 - made up of all-star football player Josh Davis, "American Idol" alum Spencer Lloyd and son of iconic CCM artist Kim Hill, Benji Schuler. Two other young singer-songwriters he recently signed include Nashville native and high school freshman Riley Clemmons and Kolby Koloff, who most recently appeared on two seasons of Lifetime's popular network series "Preachers Daughters."

I want my children and their friends listening to Christian radio. I want them listening to things that will encourage them and edify them, but if we don't deliver our music in a way that doesn't respond to what's going on at Top 40 radio, then we are just going to continue losing them.
- Mitchell Solarek, Maxx Recordings

"I want my children and their friends listening to Christian radio," Solarek said. "I want them listening to things that will encourage them and edify them, but if we don't deliver our music in a way that doesn't respond to what's going on at Top 40 radio, then we are just going to continue losing them."

Solarek's vast experience in the industry and launching the career of Plus One has prepared him to follow what he calls a "Top 40 musical sensibility" in which Christian artists can create an appealing and modern pop sound.

"There's a void right now in Christian music, and I think [Solarik is] probably the right guy to pursue this," said Landis. "It doesn't happen overnight. It takes time to build a young artist's career, but he's got the experience and the eye for talent."

CHRISTIAN MUSIC EXPANDS

Statistics affirm what Solarik understands about the Christian music genre: it is larger than ever.

Almost 220 million Americans, or 68 percent, listened to Christian music in the past month. Of these, 53 percent were female and 47 percent were male, with 23 percent being females ages 25-44.

Brian Smith, president of Turning Point Media, said an area of growth in Christian music "is the number of independent artists who are creating unique, powerful music and finding innovative, new ways to tell their stories. Not only are many of these artists doing what they do at the highest levels, they are developing passionate followings across genres and expanding the traditional definition of Christian music."