Chris Tomlin Talks About Signing New Deal & Launching Bowyer & Bow Imprint: Exclusive
Singer-songwriter Chris Tomlin has signed a new record deal with Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG).
Tomlin, a star in his genre, has rolled up 10 Top Christian Albums No. 1s, including Burning Lights, which topped the Billboard 200 in 2013, making Tomlin the only Christian artist to crown the all-genre tally.
Simultaneously, it has also been announced that Tomlin is launching his own imprint record label, Bowyer & Bow, in partnership with CCMG.
With Bowyer & Bow, Tomlin will have the opportunity to mentor and work with other artists. Singer-songwriter Pat Barrett is the first to be signed, with an EP expected on March 30. Barrett, who wrote Tomlin’s hit “Good Good Father,” will release a single to Christian radio in May.
Peter York, Chairman & CEO, Capitol Christian Music Group, tells Billboard that his company embraces the ever-widening world of music consumption: “We’re focused on growing Chris’ audience at all accounts -- streaming, physical albums and digital,” says York. Chris is a unique artist that has strong consumption across all those platforms, and he also has broad appeal. Many people sing his songs in church on Sunday and may not realize he wrote the song. So we’re always looking for innovative ways to connect his music with consumers and give it as big of a platform as possible.”
Concurrently, although Tomlin has hit many career goals, York feels that audience can be expanded:
“Our goal is to grow Tomlin’s audience, as well as the entire category of Christian music,” York continues. “The growth of streaming has opened up many new opportunities and new territories for Christian music that weren’t there before. We are seeing strong traction in the Philippines with streaming, for instance. We saw a study recently that indicated there was potential to engage users with streaming services, who would have never purchased music before. That’s a massive growth opportunity that we want to unlock for Chris, and for the genre as a whole.”
As he gets ready to embark on his new chapter, Tomlin sat down with Billboard to discuss his future plans.
After a long association with Six Steps Records, you have a new deal with Capitol Christian Music Group (CCMG) and your own imprint deal through CCMG with a new imprint called Bowyer & Bow. First, why now -- and then the obvious question, what does Bowyer & Bow mean?
I guess I picked an imprint title no one can say. [Laughs] Bowyer means ‘maker of bows’ kind of a beautiful picture of what music is about, bow the bow used on string instruments, is also about shooting arrows, and to be more specific, the picture of that arrow piercing the darkness that surrounds us, allowing music to bring light. Great songs have that power, to bring a shining light to where there was formerly darkness. I love that in scripture, during battles, that the singers were sent out first, bringing their arrows. It’s a striking image of how music can transcend you to a healthier place.
Your first release on Bowyer & Bow is an EP from singer-songwriter Pat Barrett, with an EP being released on March 30. He wrote your No. 1 hit “Good Good Father.” Will you be in an expanded role of signing new acts as you go forward?
Yes, exactly, but we won’t be staffing up like a big label and throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks. We’re going to be really selective. You know a label executive said to me once that 10 percent of the artists are responsible for 90 percent of a label’s revenue, so we’re going to be smart about it.
Pat was our first signing because he’s a phenomenal singer-songwriter-instrumentalist and also an amazing guy. I can’t wait for people to hear his music. The EP will be followed up by a full-length album later this year. With this new imprint we’re partnering with CCMG and with their expertise in marketing and getting music to people in this ever-changing world, it’s a great arrangement. With Pat, I really believe that I found the perfect artist. He comes from the Atlanta based music-collective, Housefires, and he’s never gone solo. I will be overseeing the project and Ed Cash will be producing. I just can’t wait for people to hear this music.
With the new Bowyer & Bow project, I am sure your many fans want to be assured that you’re not stepping away from making music.
Don’t worry, I won’t be an executive anytime soon. I will be continuing to make my own music. I want people to be assured that I am not going anywhere. I am as excited about music as I have ever been, in fact more invigorated, determined and refreshed than I have been in a very long time. This will be an exciting chapter.
Your latest single, “Resurrection Power,” is already top 15 on Christian Airplay and Hot Christian Songs. For anyone who has not heard it, what’s it about?
I am glad you asked that. I am so thrilled about this song and that it has the capability to have a real impact on people. “Resurrection Power” is that same power that raised Jesus from the dead, that we have that authority. I don’t know about you, but when my feet hit the floor in the morning, I don’t have that energy, you have to claim it. It’s actually pretty simplistic, we’re God’s sons and daughters and we have that ability, letting God lead us and take that heavy weight off of our shoulders. He gives us the know-how to take authority of ourselves, breaking addictions and leaving whatever darkness that we’re living in behind. This song is what it’s all about, because if we don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, than we don’t have anything.
Getting back to your music, you’ll follow the latest single up with a new full studio album this fall? Is it finished and what can you tell us about the new set?
No, not finished yet, but I’m writing and recording new material as we speak, and I’ve branched out, working with some extremely talented songwriters that I’ve not collaborated with previously. Also, I am enlisting several different producers, while my longtime producer, Ed Cash, is anchoring the entire project. I have not been this energized and excited in a long time. I’m really mixing it up this time and it’s healthy to do that.
Can you give us a snapshot of your show happening on Good Friday (March 30), which is called Good Friday Nashville? Will your fans from around the world be able to see it? I know a lot of other artists are taking part, including Kim Walker-Smith, Tauren Wells, Matt Maher and Pat Barrett.
We are working on streaming the events in the future and we’ve contracted with the Bridgestone Arena for the next seven years to make this an annual Nashville event on Good Friday each year. I think anyone who comes will be lifted up and will leave feeling reconnected to God. That is my hope.
Proceeds from the show are going to Tennessee Kids Belong -- that charity supports foster care, doesn’t it?
Yes, that’s right. That’s a charity group that does God’s work and I have become really attached to them. When I was talking to my wife [Lauren] about the show, we said, "Why don’t we just give all the money away," so that’s what we’re doing. All of the performers are donating their time.
Tennessee Kids Belong is part of America’s Kids Belong, so we are hoping to take this idea to other cities and states. This charity finds families for kids, and there are way too many of these children waiting…way too many kids out there on the fringe. My prayer is that there will be so many families stepping up to take a child, that families will have to wait for kids. We have the governor of Tennessee, Bill Haslam involved and he’ll be speaking at the show on Good Friday, so when we go through the country we’ll be trying to extend this project to other cities and states.
Speaking of other cities, your Worship Night in America tour starts right after the Good Friday concert, on April 5. How long will you be out?
We’ll be hitting 25 cities in about six weeks.
For music fans not familiar with the genre, in many cases Christian music shows have multiple artists on the bill, sometimes as many as five or six acts, is that the norm and do the acts collaborate onstage?
What makes it special and unique is when you walk in, you’re not expecting this but all of the artists are onstage together all night long collaborating with each other. It’s a really unique way of presenting the concert and tying in the fans to make them part of it as well.
It sounds like a Christian version of a guitar-pull.
Yes exactly. [Laughs] Sort of a worship-based guitar-pull.
Okay, switching gears and being honest, sometimes when I listen to Christian radio, even though I love the music, I feel like it’s a club that I don’t belong to. Am I crazy or have you ever heard that before and secondly, I know you do work at making your shows inclusive, how do you accomplish that?
I totally get that. When someone is walking in to one of our shows, it can be sort of daunting and be perceived as an insider’s club. But here’s the thing… and when you read about Jesus, that’s exactly what he wasn’t. He invited the broken souls into his circle and it drove a lot of people crazy at the time. So when people walk in, they are seeing a group of people onstage who are in the same boat, we’re all broken and hurting. My hope is always that someone comes in looking, and through our music that they can remember who they are. That’s the power of the song and we’re the vessels if that makes sense. Hopefully we can have a disarming effect and people walk out the door at the end of the night lifted up.
You’re the only artist in the Christian format to top the all-genre Billboard 200, you’ve sold out Madison Square Garden, you’ve collected 10 No. 1s on Top Christian Albums, so going forward, do you have goals you’d still like to achieve?
Honestly, I don’t think about the material goals. Of course I want my music to be successful and be the absolute best that I can be, however at the end of the day, while awards are great and appreciated, that’s not what it’s about for me. It’s all about creating the right songs, because the songs are a lifeline to God.
Finally, what is your hope for fans to take away from attending one of your shows or listening to your recordings?
My wish is that they’re reminded of who we are, like the message in the song “Good Good Father,” that God is there for us and that the music reminds us of that. My hope is that the music helps you see and understand that you’re God’s special child, that people will lift their eyes and see what’s really true…that there’s a God who loves them and is looking out for them. That’s the power of music. So, that’s always my hope.