By Bob Marovich
In 1998, Damon Williams eagerly purchased a copy of the first-ever WOW Gospel two-CD compilation.
“It was a big moment in gospel music,” Williams, who was recently named Vice President of Marketing for RCA Inspiration, shared with the Journal of Gospel Music. “To find something that had the year’s best gospel songs all in one place, by the top artists, was extremely appealing to me as a consumer and a burgeoning industry executive.”
On the 20th anniversary of the best-selling franchise, the 2-CD WOW Gospel 2018 hits stores today.
While it will be Williams’ first time working with the project as part of the RCA Inspiration team, he’s a WOW Gospel veteran. From 2001 to 2009, he ran the marketing department of Verity Records, a frontrunner on that decade’s WOW Gospel releases.
“The whole purpose behind WOW,” Williams explained, “is to cater to an audience that may not necessarily be as dialed in, or as connected to, the music throughout the year. Or, for the consumer who likes gospel music but doesn’t have as many discretionary funds to spend on it all year long, here’s a chance to get a really great snapshot of that year’s music, all in one package.”
This year’s edition is special because it celebrates the 20th anniversary of WOW Gospel. “The brand still compels consumers to part with their dollars,” Williams said. “To me, that’s something that needs to be heralded and applauded. It’s a mile marker. I can’t think of many brands or series that have lasted 20 years. That’s a huge testament to the quality and value of gospel music.”
As for the process of selecting artists and songs for WOW Gospel 2018, Williams said: “It really is 30 of the year’s top songs and top artists, so we look at the charts from the previous year, which songs performed, and which artists made the most noise.” He added that although WOW Gospel represents a partnership between RCA Inspiration, Motown Gospel, and Word, “we leave room for other entities that are not part of the partnership but did make significant strides in gospel music for the year.”
Although some past WOW Gospel packages featured tracks from emerging independent artists, Williams said this year’s collection is “bursting at the seams with music that has performed well over the past year, so we didn’t see the need to offer anything but the hits. Nothing but the hits. If the chart could become a CD, it would be WOW Gospel.”
An informal honor system keeps artists featured on the compilation from scooping the track list in advance. “We want the track listing to be a surprise,” Williams said. “We want it to be a moment. Everybody respects that.”
Nor are featured artists required to do any special marketing of the project. “WOW Gospel is such a respected brand,” Williams said, “that we don’t have to beg anyone to promote their visibility on it. People are excited about being on such an esteemed compilation.” He singled out five individuals—Koryn Hawthorne, Gene Moore, Bryan Popin, Royce Lovett, and Jermaine Dolly—who are making their first appearance on the WOW Gospel project. “They are honored to be listed among some of the biggest names in gospel music.
“Koryn Hawthorne, she started on The Voice, and she’s beginning her gospel music recording career. So for her very first professionally recorded single to be counted among the year’s top 30 – she was elated!”
Williams disagreed that the track list reflects what appears to be the gospel music industry’s shift from groups and choirs toward individual soloists. “Anthony Brown and Group TherAPy had a great year,” he countered. “JJ Hairston and Youthful Praise are nominated for their first GRAMMY, so I would say it’s pretty well balanced. There are ensembles, and even choirs that are rearing their head in the landscape.”
Despite the popularity of the WOW Gospel brand, Williams said the company is leaving no stone unturned when it comes to marketing. “We’re trying to cover the touchpoints of those consumers of gospel music who may not have had the chance to purchase records throughout the year. Any way we can reach them, we’re doing that because this is the record for them.”
For Damon Williams, working with gospel music has been, and continues to be, a labor of love.
“Gospel music has always been a passion of mine. I was raised in church, singing in choirs, singing in my college choir. I started a gospel radio show on the college’s radio station, so gospel music has been part of my DNA the entire time.”
For more information on WOW Gospel 2018, visit: http://rcainspirationshop.essentialfan.com.