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TobyMac brings the hits, and an old school revue show, to Sears Centre

TobyMac brings Hits Deep Tour Sears Centre Saturday Nov. 23. | Submitted

TobyMac brings the Hits Deep Tour to Sears Centre on Saturday, Nov. 23. | Submitted

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Updated: October 14, 2013 9:28AM

Like millions of people, music star TobyMac Tweets.

That’s just one of the ways the music business has changed for TobyMac, who has been performing professionally for a quarter century, his career launching in the late 1980s with dc Talk, a rap-influenced trio that was one of the most popular acts of its day in the broad field called contemporary Christian music.

Not big on being pigeonholed, TobyMac said, “I wish it would just have the label — music.”

With 11 million or so albums sold during the course of his career, whatever you call what TobyMac does still finds him at the top of it. This year, he’s won a Grammy, Billboard Music Awards for Top Christian Artist and Album, his first American Music Award for Favorite Artist in the Contemporary/Inspirational category, iTunes’ Best Christian Gospel Album of the Year, and Amazon’s Christian Artist of 2012. He recently was named Artist of the Year by Christian music mega-station K-LOVE at its Fan Awards, too.

Last year’s release, “Eye On It,” landed him at No. 1 on the Billboard Top 200 and at the head of the iTunes Overall and Christian sales charts. TobyMac’s Grammy for “Eye On It” was his sixth overall. His previous four solo projects went Gold and his live DVD, “Alive & Transported,” is certified platinum and also received a Grammy. His 2009 album “Tonight” received Grammy awards for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album and Best Contemporary Christian Song.

“My music is for everybody, not a niche market. My songs are from the heart and resolve in my faith in God. At the same time, they are about things I am going through,” TobyMac said.

Old and new

TobyMac is bringing that sound to the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates, Saturday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m., his second visit there this year, having been part of the calvalcade of Christian-themed acts that is Winter Jam in February.

“I like the diversity I see in the audiences when I play the Chicago area,” he said.

Diverse City is TobyMac’s band, which has a key role in the upcoming performance. He said the Hits Deep Tour is set up as a revue style show, similar to those in the early days of rock or the Motown tours of the 1960s where all acts played a few of their most popular numbers backed by the same band.

The format worked well enough last year for 10 dates that TobyMac decided to give it a go again this fall with a 20-city tour. On the bill this time are Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Jamie Grace, Colton Dixon, Chris August, and Capital Kings.

“The bus still pulls up to the back of the venue,” TobyMac said of touring these days.

Still, with the rise of the Internet and other technologies, there have been big changes for those making a living as musicians. With downloading of songs and file sharing, TobyMac said, “It seems something that sells 600,000 units is making as much impact as a million-seller used to do.”

While that might cut the potential size of an artist’s bank account, “You can record at home now. There are no big studio bills hanging over your head,” he said.

With fewer albums and songs sold, touring is very important for most bands, TobyMac said, although for him songwriting royalties are his bread and butter.

Computer and Internet technologies also have meant “there are more acts, everywhere. Music is more accessible. It’s easier to create a recording and make it available,” he said. While fine with what he calls this “open market art,” TobyMac said there still is a major role for music business companies.

“There’s always going to be a need for there to be someone to pick choices out. I think it’s important to have somebody there who says ‘I believe in these artists,’” he said.

Radio needed

With YouTube and downloading and social media competing for a listener’s time, “We depend on radio. It’s still really important, whatever the format now available. A majority still listen, Just watching the reaction when we play a song that’s just hit the airwaves tells us that,” TobyMac said.

Another challenge for touring performers is keeping merchandise sold at venues at an affordable price for fans while still making a profit. Some venues demand 20 percent to 30 percent of sales receipts, he said.

Technology also allows some acts to prerecord music or auto-tune vocals, but TobyMac said, “We are still play like a band.” Still, computerization does allows such effects as synching videos to the action on the stage, he noted.

What it all leads toward is a connection with the audience.

“There’s that electric moment when you’re feeding off the crowd’s energy, and you recognize God in all of this,” TobyMac said.

Tickers for the Hits Deep Tour are $31 and $41, with parking $20. For more information, visit

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