Southern Gospel’s Irrelevance? – Part 2

hello-my-name-is-irrelevantI started a commentary last week regarding the potential irrelevance of Southern Gospel music.  I touched on three points last week (church decline, more to occupy our time and the death of ‘live’ music).  As I suspected the death of ‘live’ music garnered the most discussion.

I for one am going to make an effort to bring live music back to Southern Gospel concerts.  Whether that means artists employing additional musicians or having current members pick up an instrument.  A movement starts with one.  I hope other’s will get on board.  I will touch on how we as a listening audience can make this happen in a future post.

Speaking of adding ‘live’ music back in to concerts, I want to give a quick shout out to Greater Vision.  I had the opportunity to watch Greater Vision online from Lake Gibson Church of the Nazarene in Lakeland FL on Saturday (02/16/13).  The group did two songs with Gerald at piano and Rodney on bass guitar.  Both featured Chris (“I Know A Man Who Can” and “His Eye Is On The Sparrow”).  If that wasn’t enough, Gerald called Mark Trammell and Pat Barker to the stage to do some impromptu moments with just piano and voices.  They sang “Wedding Music” and “Master Builder” and then Pat was called back on stage to sing a verse and chorus of “How Big Is God”.  Gerald, more of this in concert please!

For those who think I am just spreading doom and gloom about the Southern Gospel industry and its future, I will wrap up this commentary adding a few ideas on how Southern Gospel music can survive in the 21st century.  And for anyone that knows me will understand that I want nothing more than for Southern Gospel music to be around for our children and their children to enjoy.

The next three talking points are more for the Southern Gospel industry than for the general fan.  I wanted to add some items to discuss if certain industry practices are leading to Southern Gospel’s irrelevance.

  • Over Saturation:  For a niche genre that has a small listening audience (comparable to mainstream musical genres), Southern Gospel has artists in abundance.  The problem is really not with how many artists are out there singing (or attempting to sing) Southern Gospel; the problem is the Southern Gospel industry’s mindset of a level playing field.  The ‘I can sing just as good as you’ weekend quartet is able to throw some money together, record an album, throw money at a radio promoter to get a song on radio (and charted, if enough money is thrown) and all of a sudden they feel they are on the same level playing field as groups like the Booth Brothers, Triumphant Quartet, Gaither Vocal Band, Hoppers, Perrys, Etc.

Don’t get me wrong.  I am all for talented individuals/new artists getting discovered and eventually make it to a place where they are listed among the biggest groups, but one mediocre album and a song that charts in the top 80 doesn’t make it so.  There is a time and season for everything.  Emerging artists; if you’re to make it to the same level as ‘top tier’ groups, then stick with it because if it is to be your season will come.

  • The recording industry is backwards:  To add to the over saturation argument and the reality that ‘Joe Anybody” can go record an album and get a song on radio for the right price, we need to look at the Southern Gospel recording industry.  For the little bit of knowledge I have (anybody that can add to this would be great) regarding mainstream musical genres, artists are discovered and then signed to a record label.  The record label foots the bill in regards to all the expense to getting the album recorded, to the marketplace and ultimately purchased by the listening audience.  The record label will re-coup their cost when the album finally starts selling.  Once the label breaks even, then the artist starts receiving a percentage of additional record sales.

The luxury to that is weeding out artists who aren’t selling.  When an artist flops, the label drops them and many times the artist is never heard of again.  The model in Southern Gospel is; a new album is not recorded by the artist until they have the money to foot the bill to get the album recorded and to the marketplace.  The record label will offer marketing/advertising, distribution and radio promotion.  Under this model, I wonder why all Southern Gospel artists are not recording independently and releasing every album as a custom recording.  That way the artist at least retain rights to their masters.  I would like some insight from someone in the Southern Gospel recording industry on this particular topic.  I ask this question, not to be sarcastic but in really wanting to know the answer.  What benefit does a Southern Gospel record label offer an artist (if they are actually signed to a label)?

  • Where are the classic albums?:  How are new Southern Gospel listeners to learn about the history and enjoy this music if the best Southern Gospel albums of the past are not available today in digital format.  I don’t want to sound harsh with this statement, but didn’t artists of the 1960’s/1970’s/1980’s ultimately want to retain the rights to their masters so their music would not be forgotten?  Another question would be, are these masters even still available or did the record labels discard them?

If I wanted to go online to one of the many music sites and listen to Johnny Cash’s The Singing Story Teller from 1969, I can.  Or since I’m a kid of the MTV generation (80’s), I may want to go listen to the Thompson Twins 1984 pop album Into The Gap and again I am able to do so.  Why is it then I can’t go  and listen to the Cathedrals 1983 Live In Atlanta album or the Oak Ridge Boys 1971 album Performance?  The gospel record labels (Canaan/HeartWarming) showed how much they cherished this music.  I believe a large portion of the HeartWarming record masters from the 1970’s were destroyed.  How shameful.

**TO BE CONTINUED NEXT WEEK….**

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7 thoughts on “Southern Gospel’s Irrelevance? – Part 2

  1. Good stuff. As for not being able to hear the older stuff from the past, this is something CCM )or Jesus Music before it became overly commercial,), suffers from as well. I have had friends digitize some music for me, but of course, it doesn’t sound quite as good, but better than nothing…in fact, one of the older albums I have on digital is “Performance” by the Oak Ridge Boys, as well as “This Happy House” by the Happy Goodmans. But I’d sure like to see some albums by the Hinsons and the Hemphills become available…and some of those old albums are so short, they could do a “2 for 1” and put them on the same CD.

  2. I am unaware of Heartwarming masters being destroyed, but maybe they were. What you might be thinking of is that supposedly a lot of the Skylite masters were destroyed by fire.

    I suppose part of the reason the classic SG isn’t available is because it is a smaller genre. However, if they can’t release budget CDs (which SHOULD be possible), they should at least offer them as downloads. The cost in doing so is not that high of an investment. Part of the reason too might be because the labels are owned by secular companies. I think that there are enough fans (new and old enough) who would buy CDs even if we have LPs or whatever. I have all of the Oaks lps and I think the Cathedrals (in one format or another) yet would buy them on CD. I would even buy more than one copy. It is a shame that Travelin’ Live and Land of Living weren’t released on CD. Especially For You was only on Cathedrals classics and that wasn’t good quality. Live in Atlanta was re-released twice on CD. The first was on double CD with Voices in Praise A Cappella and the second as a budget “The Right Price” which was digitally remastered (this was on cassette and CD, I believe).

    There were a few Skylite and Canaan albums re-released, but most companies seem to be more interested in releasing yet another compilation.

    My wish list would be Heartwarming Oak Ridge Boys and Stamps albums re-released (including the Vista Oak Ridge Boys Lighthouse and other Gospel Hits), Oak Ridge Boys Columbia, Warner Brothers, Starday, Rockland Road etc. (including the ones released on 45 only), Oaks and Stamps Skylite, Cathedrals Eternal, Riversong, Heartwarming etc., Gold City independents (before and after their initial Riversong live lp), Riversong recordings previously not on CD (at least), Singing Americans with Funderburk, English, Parker, Strickland (some have been done), the Sound’s first lp, the Oaks Band / Rockland Road, The first two Gaither Vocal Band albums (I have them on cassette and lp), There are others (but admittedly even some of these are stretches), but it is sad that these aren’t available. At the very least it is a travesty that some of these aren’t. In the case of some of the Gold City table projects that Daniel doesn’t even know where the masters are. I would buy these on CD (I have found some of used cassettes) and I am not the only one.

    Maybe it has to do with the dated covers (which could be done even though I wouldn’t want them to be), but I don’t understand why more wasn’t re-released of the Oak Ridge Boys during their Elvira phase at the very least. There have been tons of compilations (many with the same old Skylite songs, but some of their Heartwarming and Columbia stuff and even some other). I wish that the Bear Family would do a complete box set on them with all of the unreleased stuff too (or break it down gospel in one set and country in the other).

    With the Gaither Videos still being shown and the connection of the Cathedrals in particular with EHSS, L5, Greater Vision and MTQ, I would think there are new fans to discover their material. In fact some have (Daniel, YGG etc.)

      1. There are still compilations that have some of the stuff still done, so they either use other sources or some were spared. Benson has released some things. The thing is, even if the masters survived, tapes that are 40-50 years old should have been backed up, stored in the right conditions etc. to be in good shape, I believe. It is a shame that so much stuff is unavailable to the masses.

      2. And another question I would have is if the masters are still available why are the record labels still sitting on them. They have already shown they are not interested in re-mastering and selling them. They’ve already determined ‘no one’ wants to purchase them anymore.

        Why wouldn’t they want to sell them back to the artists at this point? They could make a little money in the process and then at least the artist would have the option of choosing to re-release old material. I’m confused.

    1. It’s probably the same reason that people won’t sell cars they won’t restore and women don’t want a man, but don’t want anyone else to have him either. 😉 What I am half joking about is they might not want to utilize the property but not want someone else to make money or use them or they think they might be worth something someday.

      Charlie Burke once told me that he tried to buy the Singing American masters for I believe Live and Alive from the label and they wanted way more money than they were worth. Now, I don’t know if it was him being cheap (as I heard he could be though I have no idea if it is true or not) or if they were being greedy and overestimating their worth or shooting a high price to get him off their back. But that is what Charlie said.

      I also heard once that someone talked with Duane Allen of the Oaks about re-releasing the Oaks gospel LP on CD (like the Imperials did), but he wouldn’t both for legal reasons and because he wanted to do them right and use the masters or (perhaps) re-master.

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