Grammy-winning Christian artist Jason Crabb is signing with Reunion Records, part of Provident Label Group, a division of Sony Music. Exiting Spring Hill Music Group after three albums and a live DVD, the new deal signals a move to expand Crabb’s career further into Christian AC territory.
“They’ve come to me with some really wonderful ideas and I just couldn’t turn it down,” Crabb tells Billboard exclusively. “We’re going to go all different routes. They said, ‘Just be you and lay it all out there. We want to help you make the best Jason Crabb record you can make.’”
Crabb says he fielded offers from four different companies and also seriously considered going independent and launching his own venture, but opted to go with Provident. “We signed Jason Crabb because he’s an amazing singer – then meeting him and spending time with him, it became bigger than that for me, and for a lot of us here,” Provident Music Group president/CEO Terry Hemmings tells Billboard. “He’s a really wonderful, genuine guy driven to the ministry that he’s been called to. . . He’s written a series of children’s books. He’s a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional guy. As an entertainer, minister, husband and father, he’s got a lot to say. We want to give him a place to express that.”
Crabb’s career has been anchored in Southern gospel music since he began performing with his siblings as The Crabb Family. The Beaver Dam, Kentucky-native went solo with his eponymous Spring Hill debut in 2009, winning a Grammy for Best Southern/Country/Bluegrass Gospel Album. “I love Spring Hill. They helped launch my solo career and I’m very thankful to them for that,” says Crabb, who has won 21 Gospel Music Assn. Dove Awards, including artist of the year in 2012. “I’ve enjoyed my time at Spring Hill. I love everyone over there but I just think this is the right move.”
During his tenure on Spring Hill, Crabb flirted with other formats beyond his Southern gospel base. “Somebody Like Me” from his debut album made inroads at mainstream country radio and Spring Hill worked two singles – “Let Mercy Hold You” and “Near” – from his 2013 release Love is Stronger to Christian AC radio. Crabb also worked the title track to mainstream country stations. At the same time, he continued to crank out hits for the Southern gospel format.
Provident is one of the big three contemporary Christian companies (along with Warner-owned Word Entertainment and Universal’s Capitol Christian Music Group). Their roster includes Casting Crowns, Steven Curtis Chapman, Brandon Heath, Building 429 and Tenth Avenue North. Hemmings says Crabb’s debut album is slated for either first or second quarter of 2015 and they plan to work him to the Christian AC format. “We plan to put our core competencies around what he does well and to the extent that we’re not going to be dictating the kind of records he makes or the songs that he sings, but certainly advising him as to what we know works and what we know doesn’t and his open-mindedness is going to contribute a great deal to our success,” Hemmings says. “The guy I’ve spent the last year getting to know and working through this process has not been unwilling to talk about any possibility we put on the table.”
Yet both parties are mindful not to alienate his Southern gospel fan base. “He knows his audience quite well and [so does] his management and agents. There’s a team around him that’s not going to let them vanish,” Hemmings says, “but there’s also a team here that we believe can find more people to enjoy and appreciate what he has to say.”
Crabb has no plans to abandon his existing fan base as he courts AC radio. Booked by Jeff Roberts & Associates, he has upcoming tour dates with Southern gospel stalwarts Mark Lowry, The Martins and comedian Chonda Pierce. He also says he wants to continue to work on projects with Southern Gospel patriarch Bill Gaither, one of the principal owners of Spring Hill Music Group. “In no way are we finished making music together,” he says of the Gospel Music Hall of Famer.
On his last album, Crabb worked with several producers, including Jay DeMarcus of the country supergroup Rascal Flatts and Southern gospel veteran Wayne Haun. He says they’ve yet to determine who will produce his Reunion debut. “Instead of trying to play to genres, I’m really just going to focus on making a good record,” he says, and adds that there will definitely be something for his Southern gospel fans. “I’m always going to do that. That’s who I am. That’s a piece of me, so if I make a record true to myself then it’s going to have a little piece of that.”
In addition to his recording career, Crabb has authored a memoir, "Trusting God to Get you Through," published in 2011, and has authored a series of children’s books. He made his acting debut in the faith-based film Inspiration Pop 2929. Provident also has a film division, Provident Films, and Crabb is hoping his new affiliation will provide additional opportunities to expand his brand and further develop some of the properties he’s already launched.
Hemmings looks forward to helping Crabb expand his horizons. “I took him to Sony’s CMA Awards after party back in the fall,” Hemmings says, “and I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I really was, at how many people in all facets of music not only knew him and respected him, but wanted to find a way to work with him or have their picture made. He’s a real important member of the community.”
Hemmings is hoping that good will translates to success at AC radio. “I’m trusting that people in radio are open-minded. A lot of artists come from different places and backgrounds,” he says. “Some are less prominent or visible than others. Some they embrace and some they don’t, but this is a guy that represents the values and the association that Christian radio wants with their artists so they need to pay attention to who he is. If we can put the song and the voice together, I don’t see any reason why it would be a battle. There will be questions. They are going to want to hear it, but I’d be disappointed it he were dismissed outright because of his success in another category.”