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Looking In The Mirror: Part 1

July 12, 2011

I’ve had the majority of these thoughts in my dashboard but with Daniel Mount’s post today, now seemed like a good time. I didn’t read all the comments.  I didn’t have to.  I would’ve posted on his blog, but since this was set to go, here’s my opinion mixed with some fact.

I’ve mentioned before why southern gospel begins to emulate CCM and other genres after 10 + years.  I’m not singling out just the musical aspect, but the current state of SG as an industry.  We may not always like it, but a lot of it is our fault.  One side wants southern gospel to go further, because they believe it can and should reach a broader and wider audience.  Here’s why it should:  Because it contains the Gospel.

Southern gospel is slow to change because the majority of fans are older and many are found in the Bible belt of the south.  And that makes the traditional aspect of SG majestic to some.  And sometimes we find this contradiction in the lyrics.

Let’s put aside musical styles aside.  What’s in these lyrics?  Much of southern gospel in the past has contained some excellent, theologically rich lyrics.  Some is rather watered down.  You can say that for every genre of Christian music, whether it be Rock or Rap, etc.  But what I’ve realized by folks in churches across America is that the ones who don’t want it to change musically, back up their stance by pursuing to sing and love and write some of the worst lyrics in the genre.

Others pursue more deeply impacting, theologically correct lyrics, and see some sects of southern gospel standing in the way.

That baffles me, honestly.  Why defend something when the evidence you are using to defend your own point of view, is in contradiction to the reality.  Many fans are blindfolded.  Rock or Pop music can progress much more rapidly than other genres.  Things can change dramatically within just a short 2 or 3 years.  The popular culture went from Nirvana to Backstreet Boys in less than 5 years.  That may not be true for all, but to a large extent, that is an accurate statement.  It’s expected to expand, broaden, progress.  It’s unacceptable if it doesn’t to some degree.  The Beatles went through stylistic changes, heavily setting the pace for innovation and pioneering, and in turn, became inspiration for more artists to do the same.  Some if this dilemma lies with aging and maturing.  I don’t listen to half of what I listened to as a 17 year old kid.  Southern gospel is discouraged to change so quickly, so dramatically, so gracefully.  And well, it may fail to be southern gospel if it does.

Once again, that’s exactly what makes it unique.  But if we want to stay the same, we shouldn’t have a problem with emulating CCM or any other genre 10 + years down the road.

  1. Yes, long, long, long ago when you were a 17-year-old kid… 😉

    You said, “But if we want to stay the same, we shouldn’t have a problem with emulating CCM or any other genre 10 + years down the road.” I’m not exactly sure what you’re getting at here. Do you mean “staying the same” as regards lyrical content? Somehow I think it would be a bit of a stylistic adjustment for an SG artist to start experimenting with death metal or rap…

  2. Or are you referring to the fact that SG always seems to imitate yesterday’s CCM? But in that case, 10 years down the road, “yesterday’s CCM” will look different from what “yesterday’s CCM” looks like today.

  3. “Southern gospel is slow to change because the majority of fans are older and many are found in the Bible belt of the south.”

    That statement about Traditional Gospel Music is what I call “popular truth”. It’s not “actual truth”. Actually, the popularity of Gospel music has been waning in the South for quite a few years. Personally, I think it’s an issue of apathy and over-saturation. Our largest audiences, by far, are in the North, Midwest, Southwest, and West….and Canada. In those areas, where our type of music is not easy to find, the enthusiasm of the audience is amazing. They will drive hundreds of miles to attend a concert, when some in the South have trouble committing to a thirty-minute trip. “We’ll catch ’em next time” is the most-often used phrase to support their decision to not attend a concert.

    Last year, we ventured to Scotland and Northern Ireland for the first time, and were amazed at how much people were willing to endure to attend a concert. Some came to Glasgow by train, others came by ferry. In Belfast, Northern Ireland, close to 1200 people showed up for a Saturday night concert to see a group they had never seen before. Many of them stayed over and packed-out our Sunday night concert, which was only ten miles away! That would NEVER happen in the South. We wouldn’t dream of scheduling two concerts that close together…it would spell disaster for both.

    The problem is not an aging audience…Gospel Music’s audience has ALWAYS been made up of mature people…it has never been, and never will be a music for the majority of teenagers. Our music and our message doesn’t need to change, for the sake of change. Positive change is good, as long as it’s not confusing, but change for the sake of change, will result in an even smaller audience. That’s true in ANY form of music. If you don’t believe me, ask 84-year old Tony Bennett. He tried the “change” thing in the early 80s and almost went bankrupt. In 1994, he did an “unplugged” concert for MTV, with a four-piece band, singing the songs that he made popular in the 50s and 60s and “relaunched” his career. I took my family to see him a couple of months ago in Nashville, where he sang for ninety minutes to a sold-out auditorium. With the exception of two people, everyone sitting in my row was a Gospel singer I knew. I think ALL of us learned something that evening. Find good songs, sing them well, convey the message, be consistent in your presentation, and you’ll have an audience for as long as the Lord allows you to sing. You just might have to travel outside the South to find them.

    • Very good insight Mr. Wolfe. Indeed, over-saturation seems to be a problem. And I hope I made it clear in my post that we agree on “Our music and our message doesn’t need to change, for the sake of change”.

  4. Here is a thought that is probably gonna get me slammed, but here goes….

    Southern gospel is to mainstream music what polka is to mainstream music. It’s a niche genre. Listen to a polka song from 20, 30, 40 years ago, and odds are, it’s gonna sound pretty similar to a polka song done today. Fans of polka music like it because it doesn’t change. Southern gospel, likewise, has an audience that may be smaller, but is very loyal, and the reason for that is the lack of constant change.

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