An Interview with @mariemusicacademy #cnmac10

Can you give us a bit of background into the project that has been nominated?  When was it established, what was the commission/what’s its overall goal (e.g. mission, event-based,…)?

The Musicademy website was nominated in the category for Best Christian Music Site. We see our website as having two very distinctive parts. The part we get most excited about is the Blog. Actually we’re hesitant to describe it as a Blog because a lot of people think blogs are self indulgent pieces detailing what you had for breakfast. Our blog is actually a huge resources area with some 500 pages of articles, videos, discussions, comedy, worship ideas, top tips and practical advice on many aspects of musicianship and worship leading. The blog is very central to the way we communicate with customers and also a place where we listen to what they say and engage with them more informally. The other part of the site is an ecommerce store where people can view trailers and buy products – we create instructional DVDs for church based musicians teaching guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and vocals as well as backing tracks for churches and housegroups without musicians.

What’s the best good  news story that has come out of your site – what made you punch the air in joy?

We’re always delighted when something we have written on the site gets a lot of audience participation. We’ve recently had an article asking to what degree the Sunday set list should harmonise with the sermon theme. Sometimes we get quite controversial – topics such as why men don’t like church, how would Jesus lead worship, why we dislike drum screens, common worship leading mistakes and 10 things that annoy worship leaders (people that can’t clap in time was one!). We find that we learn so much from the comments people make. It is by no means all about us dispensing the wisdom.

We’d love to know a bit about the people behind the site, what is is about your journey of life and faith which puts you where you are now?

Andy Chamberlain is the musical brains behind the site. He is a guitarist who has played for people like Tim Hughes, Matt Redman, Vicky Beeching, Brenton Brown and others. Andy presents all our guitar teaching DVDs and produces the other titles. Marie Page is the business and marketing manager working behind the scenes on admin and communications. Marie has dovetailed mainstream business and church leadership for several years and currently co-facilitates an emergent, fresh expression-style church. Musicademy has a small team of people working with us including assorted impoverished musicians, editors and admin people.

Do you think it’s important for Christians to be online, and why so? What can we do, either individually or corporately?

Of course. Digital is an increasingly important part of most people’s lives. I don’t really like that sacred/secular divide. I’m online and I want to access stuff online that makes me think, entertains me, makes my life easier, helps me connect with others. Obviously a part of that will be things that we might categorise as Christian. I’m actually doing an MSc at the moment in Digital Marketing Communications. I’ve really enjoyed showcasing our website (as a “Christian” resource) to some of the UK’s leading digital marketers and seeing that the way we do business and the way we communicate stands up well against much bigger mainstream organisations. For us selling worship training DVDs and online resources, we really are selling into a very niche market whether in the UK, US or elsewhere in the world. Without the internet I’m not sure we would have had a sustainable business. We certainly couldn’t have had so much reach from one small office base.

Which digital media tools do you use (either personally or for the project), and what does each do for you? Which tool would be the winner in the race for ‘most important’?

As I’ve said, the website and blog are the most important. Here we can give away our expertise for free. If people then want more they can look to purchase our DVDs for deeper, more specific learning then they can. But they will be doing that from the basis of knowing a bit more about our expertise and approach before parting with their cash.

Linked to the blog content is a weekly newsletter which is emailed out to those on our list (you can sign up here)

We enjoy great click through rates with this, mainly I think because we don’t bombard people with sales-focussed product content. Instead its packed with genuinely interesting articles that church based musicians find helpful.

The other thing linked to the blog is our Facebook page.!/Musicademy We find that people like to access content in the online spaces they are familiar with rather than hotfooting it across to a bunch of company websites. So Facebook pages, packed with great content, are a good way of communicating. We upload the same content there that is on our blog and also add in some Facebook-only links. Sometimes the content there is a little more light hearted or risqué than what we put on the blog.

We’re also using Twitter (@mariemusicademy). We tweet about what’s going on in the business, send out links to interesting stuff and enjoy meeting new people on that platform. Its also quite useful in finding out about the lives our potential customers live. We sell about 65% of our product into North America and Twitter gives us a helpful insight into how American worship leaders and musicians think.

How did you feel to be nominated for one of the Christian New Media Awards?

This was our second year and we’re delighted to have been recognised for the work we’ve put into our website. Website development never stops. We tweak, and hopefully improve it, everyday. We’ve got some really exciting new developments lined up for 2011 so watch this space.

How did it feel to win runnerup in your category? Did you make it to the Awards event, what was your highlight of the evening?

Its great for a company as small as ours (there really are just two of us here full time – our other staff are part timers and freelancers) to be up there with the big players in our industry. Its the second year we’ve been runner up to the mighty Worship Central. They have a site packed with content and quite a big team of people that contribute as well as well known worship leaders and Alpha/HTB connection. Coupled with their one day events, Worship Central can draw a huge audience so its good to still be giving them a run for their money!

I think my highlight was all of us naughty Twitterers continuing to tweet non stop despite being instructed by Steve Chalk to turn our phones off. I enjoyed watching the hashtag and connecting with other people in the room who were sat at other tables. It was an awards aimed at celebrating digital after all!

We’re working on the @bigbible project. What do you think of such a project, and how can the Bible inform what we do online. Have you seen any particular tools that you’d recommend, that help to spread its message digitally?

I loved the @bigbible presentation at the awards– such a nice relief to use Prezzi rather than the usual Death By Powerpoint. I also really like the community ethos of @bigbible and the way in which it inspires churches, housegroups, young people and other individuals to engage with the Bible and other helpful resources. We do a lot of work in the US and whilst there are a lot of resources out there many are “monetised” i.e. your church has to invest a chunk of budget to access them.

I’d certainly recommend looking at Walking Bible – its another brilliant free resource that gets people engaged with scripture in a way that makes sense in the 21st Century.

And finally, where do you see things going over the next few years?

Churches will certainly be using digital technologies more and more both in their services and as communications channels. I think we will see an increase in online collaboration and connections. Musicademy plans to continue to embrace the challenge of web 2.0, using technology to create better products, communicate more effectively and access a wider group of people. We live in exciting, if fast moving, times.

About bigbible

The #BigBible Project. Educating in the digital spaces, creating 'bigger Bible conversations' between #digidisciple(s). Look out for #bigread14.