Another GMA week ended for me about an hour ago. As I sit here in the Panera Bread restaurant in downtown Nashville that has been my satellite office this week (the day these guys set up shop in the UK, my days of using Starbucks as my ‘office away from home’ are over – or at least numbered), I can’t help but wonder where it all went wrong.
I’d already written my post-GMA blog/note in my head months ago, back when I had the initial signs that this GMA was going to be a bit of a problem. It was to be an open letter to John W. Styll, the President of the Gospel Music Association. I was going to ask him if he remembered me, the British reporter who’d interviewed him the previous year – an interview that was heard across London and the rest of the UK on Premier Radio.
Then I’d point out to him that I’d been unable to do the same thing this year because he and his crew had come to the conclusion that us reporters weren’t covering their precious convention and so were now charging us something in the region of $200 for the privilege of doing our jobs (jobs which don’t pay a great deal, to be honest). By charging us to work (in the midst of a credit crunch), the GMA were, in my mind, cutting off their noses to spite their faces.
Well, there’s no need to publish that letter now. Turns out us journo scum weren’t the only people getting short shrift from the Association – or the only people voting with our feet/wallets. Attendance figures here were down to about a third of the usual figure. Only 40 media outlets paid for press passes (I’m told). There were journalists here – but like myself, they’d all refused to buy passes, and simply contacted publicists directly and set up their own interviews, completely bypassing GMA in the process.
Independent labels turned up, found an empty space in the lobby at either the Renaissance or the Hilton, and networked as usual. Like us journalists, the other industry people discovered that they could make things happen for themselves without GMA’s help. In trying to milk us for money, GMA just showed us that we really didn’t need them in order to do business. On the “Disastrous Own Goal” scale, only Andres Escobar at the 1994 World Cup could possibly rank higher. And like Escobar’s, this own goal has probably cost the GMA its life.
But I don’t want to bury the GMA just yet. All week, there have been rumours flying around that this is going to be the last GMA ever. It would be a shame if that were the case. Yes, we all now know we can do business with or without them (in an age where just about every contact or business tip you need is freely available on the Internet, how did it take us this long to figure that out?), but one thing GMA has consistently done is provide a space where we can all meet. Not via email, Skype, phone or video conferencing (or whatever), but in person. And it would be a shame if we lost that.
Call me old-fashioned if you must, but I still believe there’s a place for in-person, face-to-face, smell-the-other-guy’s-breath-on-your-face meetings; for human contact. As someone who could easily do most of his work without ever setting foot outside his flat, I for one do appreciate those times when I can combine work with a little socialising. If that’s the only function GMA ends up serving, then so be it. But the organisation definitely needs a re-think of its purpose. If it doesn’t learn that from this year’s abysmal turnout, then maybe it does deserve to die.
Same thing is happening to the CBA (Christian Booksellers) annual trade show.
Attendance keeps dropping. I hope some of the changes they are making this year help, but we – like so many others – can’t afford to go.