On St. Patrick’s Day, my family and I did something that I haven’t done since I was a kid: we went to a CD signing at a bookstore. In episode 97 of the NRT Now Podcast, I shared with Shelley Breen from the contemporary band Point of Grace about the first time that I met them. They were holding a signing for (if I remember correctly) their 1998 album Steady On.
I was in middle school at the time, but I do remember the event and still have pictures of it around my house somewhere. As Shelley and I were reminiscing, we noted how these bookstore signings had faded away.
I know that I’m not saying anything new, but in the years since I met Point of Grace at that bookstore signing, online shopping and streaming services like Spotify have taken a huge chunk out of brick-and-mortar stores.
I love going to a bookstore, but the convenience of online is just too strong far too often. I’m sure that if we took a poll right now, many of us would say something similar. There are many reasons for this, whether it be distance, time, or physical storage. Whatever the reason, not too many of us are racing to the local bookstore to pick up the latest album release.
I’ve also seen a rise in album release parties and concerts instead of signings. I’m not sure if it’s in correlation to the digital revolution or if it’s happening in parallel. Even in the pre-COVID era, it seems like the trend has been to have an album release concert or two and carry on with the album release cycle.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this as it’s an awesome way to share the songs from the album, but it’s just a change in how albums are released. We could go on about how we’re moving towards single-centric releases as well as other changes we’re seeing, but let’s get back to talking about this CD signing.
When popular pop band for KING & COUNTRY announced that they were doing CD signings for their latest album What Are We Waiting For, I thought it was an awesome throwback of days gone by.
Then I saw that one of the signing events was about five miles from my house at a Christian bookstore chain that exists primarily in the south called Mardel. Being that for KING & COUNTRY is my daughter’s favorite band, we decided that we were going to surprise our daughter and made plans to be there. In all honesty, it was a throwback for me as well.
We arrived about an hour and a half early. And the line had already snaked its way through the aisles of different departments. Luckily for us, we landed in the kids and baby book section, so we were able to keep the babies entertained (we also updated ourselves on all the new kids’ books). While we were waiting, I chatted with the Mardel employee who organized the event, Shannon Brown.
He said, “I have been putting together Mardel in-store events for 22 years. When I started, in-store events were big, and we were holding autograph signings on a regular basis at all our stores. They were big for several years and slowly became less and less until finally, we got to the point where we were doing maybe one to two autograph signings a year.
I still believed in these events and knew that music fans love the opportunity to meet the artists they listen to. I told some label reps and music distribution partners that even though music is predominantly consumed digitally now, customers and fans would still come out to in-store events and purchase a CD as a memento to get autographed. I was given the opportunity to prove this a few years ago when we invited for KING & COUNTRY to our Edmond, Oklahoma store for a successful event.
After COVID put a pause on these events for a couple of years, I was given the opportunity to do this again in three stores with for KING & COUNTRY during release week for their new album.”
I can’t speak for the other locations, but the signing event at the store was very successful. By the time the scheduled start time arrived, the line was weaving in and out of what seemed like every aisle along the perimeter of the store and people were still trickling in.
Phones were pointed at the door and recording as the Smallbone brothers—that is, for KING & COUNTRY—entered the store, giving high-fives to the fans in line as they walked past. The atmosphere was electric, and I could feel the excitement in the air.
In true Joel Smallbone style, he kicked things off by standing on a register, addressing the crowd over the PA system. He greeted everyone and thanked them for coming out. He thanked Mardel and all the employees for making this event happen. And he prayed for the event before kicking things off.
I was impressed by how the organizers kept everything flowing. Though we were way back, it only took us about 30 minutes to get to the front of the line. Due to time constraints, they didn’t do any posed or staged pictures, but their tour manager Chico took photos as CDs were getting signed.
Before the line started moving, Joel said that they couldn’t wait to say good day to everyone. True to their word, they genuinely said hello to everyone as they went through the line. Every fan got to share a moment with for KING & COUNTRY.
This was such a special event to participate in. It was a lot of fun to see everyone’s excited faces as well as the built-up anticipation. Shannon says, “Because of these successful events, the word is getting around to the other record labels and we are slowly being asked to host more in-store events with artists.
I don’t know if it will ever be the same as it was 22 years ago, but I expect to see more events at Mardel that allow us to connect artists with their fans—and our customers—on a more personal level.
One other thing I also hope to do again is a few more in-store mini-concerts. To have an artist like Steven Curtis Chapman pull out a guitar and play a song or two unplugged is so awesome that it will send chills down your spine. The intimate Christian bookstore atmosphere is totally different from a concert. It’s something you need to experience yourself to truly believe.”
I recently had the chance to talk with Luke Smallbone, the other brother with for KING & COUNTRY, about this event from their perspective. You can hear the conversation on Episode 113 of the NRT Now Podcast.
I understand that there are a lot of places around the country that can’t support a signing like this, and it’s probably reserved for larger areas. Growing up in the small town of Riverton, Wyoming, we had one tiny Christian bookstore that my sisters and I loved going to, but there was no way they could support a signing event. They eventually closed as online shopping took hold.
I’m hoping that we see more of these bookstore events pop up across the country where fans can connect with their favorite artists and in turn, artists can connect and hear about how their songs impact others.
Jake is the host of the NRT Now Podcast. He lives in the Dallas, TX area with his wife and 3 kids.
NEW!BEHIND THE SONG
#1135 - Dan Bremnes
The contemporary artist talks about his latest hit song
We pause to praise with Chris' latest album
Five of the band's songs that speak into anxiety, depression and suicide
NRT’s Kevin Davis recaps the magic of the live concert
Michael W. Smith
We look back on 'Change Your World's' 30th Anniversary