I 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….**