Subtle Observations Underlying the Problems of a Southern Gospel Market
—– For those of you anticipating part 2 of The Cathedral Quartet series, stay tuned in the next couple of days. It shall be ready this week, I promise…
I was on the lawnmower today thinking about various things and considering tactics on some upcoming posts as well as reflecting on past posts I’ve already conquered or seen conquered by other bloggers. I’ve mentioned before that the question, “is southern gospel dying” always proves itself to surface. But as long as we keep aging, I suspect it will continue to live on. We could sit here for hours talking about what might need to change about our beloved genre, but I’ll refrain on that topic. I want to make 4 arguments as to why southern gospel will always be treated as one of the least recognizable in the Christian music industry.
1. Ticket prices. As long as the mega industry looks at a style of music that only charges $15 per ticket…or (gasp), heavily relies on “love offerings”, we will continue to be overlooked on a big market. Some of this responsibility is on us. Not every fan or supporter fully realizes the impact and the voice we do have. Paying for a ticket when your favorite group is within an hour drive is a very little sacrifice to sustain the integrity of the group and ultimately the genre. In that realm, we have it easy. Artists, not always. You’d think we would take advantage of this dilemma as we also have decent accessibility to these artists, which is essentially a bonus. This has mostly been hashed out on other blogs.
2. Cover songs. What really spurred this thought was a combination of my last post on BF&A’s debut review, and two other posts I’m in the process of sorting out. We all find it to be a radical thing when a southern gospel artist does an old Inspo, CCM, or P&W song that was popular 5-15 years ago. We’re always curious and anticipate to hear the new rendition and arrangement. And usually what was popular several years ago can be fitting to our genre as it currently is. That’s just how little SG changes over time. Nothing technically wrong with that. It remains one of the reasons we love it so much. But what I don’t see is artists in other genres covering southern gospel songs from years past. With the exception of Gaither penned songs, and hymns, it’s very, very rare. Yes, you have the occasional country artist releasing a collection of hymns or old southern gospel songs, but when Newsong, Brandon Heath, and Meredith Andrews start recording “Love Came Calling” or even “The Lighthouse”, we would see some interest and more respectability from other markets.
3. Table projects. I don’t know many other genres that release table projects as frequently as southern gospel. Once again, another factor of why it is so compelling.. More music!! But we all know table projects are usually cheaply made, less original, and less creative…and that’s fine. I understand the animal. Why not make a project where we can almost always sing along as soon as we spin it? Because we’ll probably buy it… Of course it also shows that because a group goes out to sing every weekend on love offerings and CD sales, another source of income is undoubtedly justified. I’ve heard stories of how The Statesmen would pack an arena of thousands night after night in the 50’s and 60’s and sometimes have more numbers than popular country and rock acts. Obviously southern gospel has lost its rock star status of that era, as the only enterprise that could come near to that would possibly be Gaither and his homecoming crew. And Gaither doesn’t need to put out table projects. Once again, this isn’t an indicator that southern gospel is dying, groups have been pumping out table projects for years…just proof that we need it to help survive financially. Table projects seem to be both an enjoyment and a nightmare for the serious collector. When Third Day begins to release table projects, we’ll know that ALL Christian music is in trouble.
4. Live Music. I’ve been adamant against the use of tracks for every song. But I have to be realistic, it’s not exactly economically feasible. Canned music takes some of the “spirit” out of it, but with love offering concerts, lower flats, and higher gas prices, most groups couldn’t adequately stage a decent live band night after night. What is surprising is the level and wide range of talent among some artists that don’t even play instruments they are capable of playing during the concert. At least David Sutton has the harmonica in his pocket. There aren’t many secular, CCM, or P&W concerts you go to, where there is not a band…unless it’s an all acoustic type of event. Even most low-level rap artists have a live band on top of their mix. Concerts can become mundane and overly robotic many times. This does still appeal to many people…to which I sometimes I scratch my head, but I’ll take the stax and trax for a few more years. Maybe the economy will be bad enough in twenty years that every artist, secular or CCM will not be able to afford a live band. But right now, live bands don’t seem to do much for our current demographic…even if there was potential in the economics of that structure. All opinions in this argument are completely valid…both pros and cons. My only response is that it may contribute another reason why southern gospel music is virtually un-noticeable in the grand scheme of the Christian Music Industry.
These observations are clearly not the only factors, as I have excluded some key elements of the southern gospel village within the Christian Music empire so you can join in. If you have other insights or opinions, feel free to strike up a conversation.
*Editor’s Note: My intention is not to compare southern gospel to other branches of music, specifically, and try to size up against them or formulate a strategic plan to take it over. The things that make southern gospel different, makes it special to us. We want more appreciation and recognition for our efforts in the music biz. But at what expense? Sacrificing so many of the little intricacies that make it what it is in exchange for a bigger or better platform? Or are we truly satisfied with our proverbial little fish in a big pond, as long as we can count on it not progressing above the means and foundations on which it was founded? That perspective of thought is only what is intended in this particular post.