For Australian-born, Nashville-based duo Joel and Luke Smallbone, the past decade has been spent releasing a string of increasingly-successful Christian pop songs under their moniker For King & Country, racking up a total of 16 top 10s out of 32 entries on the Hot Christian Songs chart. But this week, the group finally achieved the one final piece that had until now eluded them: their latest single, “Relate,” reached No. 1 on Hot Christian Songs, their first chart-topper on that tally in 10 years of hits and 17th top 10.
The achievement is the result of a push on several different fronts, from the likes of radio — where it became the band’s 10th No. 1, and seventh in a row, on Christian Airplay — as well as streaming, where big playlist placements saw the track grow 34% in the past week, racking up 1.9 million U.S. streams, and a big remix from Dutch producer R3HAB, which helped it to For King & Country’s sixth top 10 on the Christian Streaming Songs chart. And that push has helped earn Word/Curb Entertainment’s senior vp commercial partnerships and revenue Benson Curb the title of Billboard’s Executive of the Week.
Curb was key in helping “Relate” land many of those streaming playlist placements, and in helping the song reach a new height for the band, which has been on Word/Curb for much of its career and is gearing up for its next album out in March. Here, he discusses the success of “Relate,” the growth in streaming for the Christian format and how the band has kept building momentum even through the pandemic, with drive-in tours and cross-genre collaborations. “We intend to continue to take the band to multiple formats and share their music around the world,” he says.
For King & Country’s “Relate” became the group’s first-ever No. 1 on the Hot Christian Songs chart, after 17 top 10s over the past 10 years. What key decision did you make to help make that happen?
We have been focused on developing the band and their music for several years. I remember when they hit 100 million streams and now they are over 1.5 billion, according to MRC Data. When you have strong music and one of the hardest working groups in the business, you always have a chance for No. 1 and huge success. We then set up a strategy to reach maximum radio airplay and streaming in multiple formats. R3HAB has done several remixes For King & Country and “Relate” is very strong. It was one of the biggest first-week streams on a remix we have had so far.
The song has also done well at radio, reaching No. 1 on both Christian Airplay and Christian AC and gaining traction in just two weeks on Adult Pop Airplay. Why?
After having seven Christian hits in a row and coming off their highest-charting AC single, “Relate” was poised to be the next song to go to pop. And this song was penned by For King & Country, Tayla Parx and Josh Kerr, who all have a strong and successful record of writing hit songs, and “RELATE” is proving to be a multiple format, worldwide hit. Also, the production on this track is very strong. Josh Kerr, Tedd T and For King & Country have done an amazing job.
How have you seen the band grow in the years you’ve worked with them, and how have you tried to help maximize that growth?
It takes a team of people to create success and we have a great team, from A&R, promotion, marketing, to international and a great owner and leader in Mike Curb. He makes all this work with his passion for developing artists and making big hits. Just fact check his track record. The band has a vision for their music and we have continued to amplify that vision. We believe in artist development, and it all starts with great music. The band has also toured extensively for the past four years, even through COVID, with a big drive-in tour in the fall of 2020. Together with the group, we continue to engage their audience in a meaningful and powerful way. One thing we constantly hear from their fans is how inspiring their music and message is.
Christian and Gospel music consumption units were up 5.5% last year over the year prior in the U.S., and audio streaming in particular was up 9.4%, according to MRC Data. Is there a change in listening habits happening for listeners within the genre? How are you shifting strategies to meet that?
We are focused on maximizing consumption, whether that be a vinyl record, CD, stream or download. We have dedicated more resources to maximize the trend in vinyl and streaming, but still service fans however they may consume the music. We also have the group collaborating with artists outside the format. This strategy has helped bring in a new listener and has helped grow their international fan base. The guys have collaborated with artists from Tori Kelly and Kirk Franklin to Dolly Parton and Gabby Barrett.
In what other ways have you seen the Christian music genre shifting over the past few years?
The consumer still listens to radio, but we are seeing strong signs of streaming growth in the format. We have put a big focus on delivering to both formats to continue to share the powerful message the music brings. As I mentioned before, For King & Country have now done several collaborations with artists from other genres and this has helped us broaden the audience worldwide.
What’s next for the band?
They are releasing their brand-new album What Are We Waiting For? on March 11 with a big spring tour to support the project. The album is loaded with more hits including “For God Is with Us,” which has just shipped to Christian radio, and we see “Relate” being a big international pop hit. We intend to continue to take the band to multiple formats and share their music around the world. Growing our international audience is a big focus for us and we are already seeing strong growth in the U.K., Germany and Australia.