Jerry Morris of Ringgold has always had an affinity for Southern gospel music. As a teen, this music drew Morris to church.
During the 1990s, as Morris would travel and sing at churches throughout the southern U.S., he came across a common problem: many small churches were lacking a piano player.
Morris said that in Georgia there’s the “80-20 rule.” This meant that about 80% of churches were large enough to have a live band or pianist, while 20% of churches either could not afford this weekly service or didn’t have a pianist in the congregation to volunteer.
Another scenario was if a player were sick, a replacement would be difficult to find. The smaller churches are known as “biblecational” churches, in which the preacher would work a regular job throughout the week and then would come in on Sunday mornings to preach.
Morris decided it was time to help these biblecational churches all over the U.S. be able to make the music he loved without having a trained pianist on hand.
On a Monday in October 2005, Morris left his career in manufacturing and marketing to follow his calling. Four days later Church Music Co. was born with the help of his wife Kathy.
Church Music Co. produces the m.a.c. (musical accompaniment for church), a digital sound system with hundreds of recorded hymns, ranging from southern gospel to contempo-rary, all in mp3 format. The m.a.c. is housed in a custom podium, much like the kind preach-ers usually stand behind when leading the congregation. What makes it different is the com-puter screen, which lays flush at the top, and the controls, which lay on a shelf beneath the screen. This is where the preacher can choose what hymns to be played.
“When I started, all I had was an idea,” Morris said. “I left my career of 40 years and it took six months for the first system to be developed and installed.”
Morris began marketing the m.a.c. “the hard way,” making “cold calls” to mission direc-tors of county and state Baptist associations, making contacts with other denominational leaders and seeing what churches in the area might benefit from the m.a.c.
Now Morris uses “guerilla publicity” techniques to help with marketing. This is finding a pre-existing network and using it to the advantage of the marketer — for example, informa-tion about a company or product within a newsletter that reaches a large amount of people.
“My biggest challenge has been getting in front of people to show them what I have,” Mor-ris said, adding that it took around 200 calls for his first demo and then took 10 demos before his first sale.
Morris, a Baptist, said his product crosses over denominational lines because music is of-ten the same in churches and that all denominations have the same problem with piano players. He added that the future of live pianists looks bleak because few young people are interested in the instrument. He said the m.a.c. would help keep alive the music that brought him to church.
Morris said that in the beginning he recorded much of the music for the m.a.c. himself, but has a partner in Arizona to record all the music.
“It’s singer-friendly music with natural pauses,” Morris said.
The m.a.c. uses Windows Media Player and allows the conductor to extend these pauses as needed, allowing the congregation to sing along as if there was an actual pianist in the room. Morris said this is a more fluid alternative than using CDs on a stereo to lead services.
The m.a.c. can be plugged into an existing sound system or can be used alone. If the con-ductor wishes to use hymns not available on the m.a.c., an mp3 player can be plugged in as well as CDs or DVDs. It can hold up to 10,000 hymns.
Morris now has the m.a.c. in 14 states and has about 25 products in Georgia. Kathy Morris, a graphic designer, does all of the artwork for their website and brochures, coming up with two logos for the company. They run the business out of their home.