Music executives bend the knee to laud sales-boosting effects of Songs of Praise

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For music industry executives desperate for that sales-boosting publicity, God is at hand.

Songs of Praise - the BBC's long-running Sunday night religious programme with an audience of five million - is proving a career enhancing platform for artists new and old primarily because the show appeals to older viewers.

Of the current top 20 album artists, both Hayley Westenra, the 16-year-old New Zealander hailed as the next Charlotte Church, and the opera singer Bryn Terfel, have featured in recent programmes.

Appearances by newcomers such as the teenage singer Lauren Waterworth and the violin duo Duel - both of whom are produced by the music guru Pete Waterman - produced enthusiastic audience responses even before they had an album ready for release.

Similarly, for non-liturgical music, the current hot spot for reaching the mature music-lover is certainly not Top of the Pops but Parkinson.

Performers from Will Young and Dido to Sting, Rod Stewart and REM have appeared on the show which routinely attracts 6.5 million viewers.

Ajax Scott, of the magazine Music Week, said: "The show wields such power because ... it is made up largely of that holy grail to record company marketers - over-25s with a broad interest in entertainment and music."

Jamie Cullum, the 23-year-old jazz star signed in a £1m deal by Universal Classics, stormed the charts with his album, Twenty Something, after Parkinson gave it his enthusiastic personal endorsement and invited him on to the show.

Katie Conroy, whose company Adventures in Music manages Duel, said Songs of Praise obviously had a specific brief as a religious programme. "But in the last couple of years, more contemporary artists have appeared on it. I watched Songs of Praise [Christmas special on Sunday] and I would have thought lots of people would have thought, 'Wow, look at that.'"

Parkinson was ideal for artists such as Sting, she added. "These are album-selling acts, not singles-selling acts. But for Sting to go on Parky is a fantastic opportunity ... These programmes are watched by people with money to spend on CDs."

A spokeswoman for Universal Classics, which releases Jamie Cullum, Hayley Westenra and Bryn Terfel, said the fact that all three were in the top 20 album charts showed many people wanted good tunes sung by artists with personality. "In some ways it's quite an unrecognised market, but if you get it right it's very big."