CHRISTIAN rockers and pop princesses are driving the fastest growing genre in the Australian music industry.
Sales have overtaken country music for the first time.
Booming sales are fuelled by faith-based radio stations and cable TV channels playing religious music.
The music is much more accessible to the mass market as a result of lucrative distribution deals with major retail outlets.
Christian music captured a $30.2 million slice or 5.6 per cent of the total recorded music sales market in Australia in 2004.
"That makes (it) bigger than country, bigger than jazz, bigger than soundtracks and bigger than classical," says Wes Jay of Christian music monitors Woodlands.
As the rest of the music industry struggles to maintain flagging sales, the Christian pop and praise-music phenomena is carving out a larger share of the shrinking market.
ARIA figures show the overall market for recorded music (excluding DVDs) was $540 million last year, down from $573 million in 2003.
The advent of faith-based radio stations such as FRESH FM and RHEMA and the Australian Christian Channel on Foxtel has boosted the growing trend.
So too has the recent alliance of major labels, such as SonyBMG, EMI and Warner, with smaller Christian music labels.
This has opened up sales channels through major retailers such as Sanity, Virgin and JB HiFi.
The most successful Christian artist in Australia is Darlene Zschech of Hillsong, whose album, God He Reigns, debuted on the ARIA charts in July at number two. She says contemporary styling has made Christian music more accessible.
"Especially over the past five years, there seems to be a real groundswell of support," she says.
"It has a lot to do with the fact that it is music that has not been manufactured with sales as the ultimate goal.
"A lot of this music is very organic. It's people's prayers and lives put to music. And I think that kind of organic song really does resonate."
The Hillsong Conference in July attracted more than 25,000 people, up from 18,000 last year.
The Blackstump festival south of Sydney next month is again tipped to attract more than 5000 people.
Popular Christian artists include Sydney rockers Revive, folk singer Nathan Tasker, Baptist country singer Paul Coleman and crooner Rebecca St James.
Roma Waterman, the most played Australian Christian artist on radio, says the fear of terrorism is helping the revival.
"We live in a very unstable world and I think a lot of people ... are looking for some hope and certainty." [url=http://entertainment.news.com.au/story/0,10221,16330762-7484,00.html][source][/url]