What is a Table Project?

What is a table project?

This perennial question resurfaced in the comment section of last Friday’s five-star review of the latest from the Mark Trammell Quartet, Treasures.

Historically, the term “table project” was used in our genre of a project only available on the artist’s product table, after concerts. These projects typically consisted of hymns, classics, and songs previously recorded by other groups. There were exceptions; there were some major releases of classics projects, and some projects of new songs only available on an artist’s table. But there is probably 90%+ overlap between the two groups.

Until recently, when someone would ask this question, the choices were pretty straightforwardβ€”a project was termed a “table project” either due to (lack of) distribution or due to song selection.

The digital era has changed the distribution part of the equation. There are fewer physical retail locations than five years ago, and digital retail locations like iTunes, Amazon MP3, and eMusic are an increasingly higher percentage of the retail pie. Thanks to services like CD Baby, many artists today do make classics projects available for digital sale.

Perhaps the time has come to re-define table projects. Now that many of these projects are available digitally, fewer table projects are only available on the artist’s table. Perhaps we should tip our hats to the term’s origin, but move on to defining it today by the song-selection aspect?Β 

“A table project is a project consisting primarily or exclusively of hymns, classics, and songs previously recorded by other groups.”

Or do you have a better definition?

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50 Letters to the Editor

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  1. When I think of a table project, the only criteria I use is that it was recorded without the benefit of a “record company” such as Daywind or whatever. In other words, the group paid for the recording out of pocket, and there was no Label as such behind the project.

    • I second this. Who is responsible for making and releasing the recording is the defining factor for me.

      • OK, fair enough! You would both consider Declaration (Booth Brothers) a table project, then, and the Talley Trio’s 2009 Songs You Know By Heart as a mainline release?

      • Count me in with John and Brian. To me, a table project is one that was done independent of a group’s typical label. Hence, Declaration is a table project, Songs You Know By Heart is not. That’s also why I distinguish Gold City’s Lord Do It Again as originally a table project, but later picked up by Riversong. Custom project may be a more accurate term.

      • So you would advocate that “custom project” and “table project” are 100% identical?

      • Yes, to me those terms are synonymous. Originally a table project was a custom recorded project that was only available directly from the group (ie at their product table). While they are a bit more widely available now, it is still a custom project totally done by the group.

      • If there was no label behind Declaration and if Songs You Know by Heart was recorded WITH a label, then yes.

        I never considered the content to be a factor in the equation.

      • Yeah, regardless of material on there, or the amount of money spent, the criteria is distribution and where it is released. A hymns project released on a label and available in stores isn’t a table project. A project that has all new songs, big production and a lot of money spent, but not on a label and available in stores is a table project.

        Basically, a table project isn’t available to stores or other places where mainline releases are. Downloading does change this some though as it has equalized things a little.

      • Fair enough!

      • But the same “table” projects are available in the artists’ stores. I prefer to call them “independent projects”. What would someone call the Nelons combo of the two? Their “Seasons of Song Vol 1” was released on Daywind and “Seasons of Song Vol 2” was released independently. Now the group combined both projects and calls it “Seasons of Song Vol 1 & 2” and it was released not on a main label.

  2. I know absolutely nothing but what I’ve heard, πŸ˜€ but that’s the way I understood it too. (In fact, that’s the way I explained it to my sis-in-law just last night.) A table project was one that was recorded “on their own,” instead of by their record company, frequently consisted of classics and/or was done on a smaller budget, and was usually better (we were speaking specifically of L5, which accounts for that last criterion).

    • I literally burst into laughter at the last part of your definition!

      With Legacy Five, that just might well be the case, unless you’re talking about “Just Stand,” which had so many excellent songs that I’m inclined to call it better than a table project. πŸ™‚

      • You LOL’d? πŸ˜†

        I never did get the big deal over Just Stand. It was table albums that hooked me on L5 (the Heritage series), and I almost believe it’s table albums that keep me buying. Even Just a Whisper Away (if that was the title) started as a table album, and I really liked it. I enjoyed Know So Salvation; I don’t remember what that was. I guess they just have the four voices and piano player to make me prefer their simpler music. Not to say they don’t have a lot of good stuff on the regular releases.

      • Yes, but I don’t like using the acronym!

        Lyrical content of songs is bigger than any other factor in how highly I think of a project. That L5 project had some incredible lyrics. πŸ™‚

  3. I think it would be worthwhile to attempt to differentiate major label releases of primarily new songs.

    For example, GV’s Songs of the 1900s was technically not a table project, since it was released by Daywind. Also, you can say that Welcome Back was GV’s first major label release after Chris Allman’s return. But really, The Only Way was the first big recording with Allman.

    • Agreed, that thing tricked me out. Basically Allman just put his voice over top a collection of previously already recorded tracks. And what if groups start doing more Independent labeling, like the The Whisnants? Daywind didn’t pick up “Give The World A Smile” did they? Because I believe songs are going to radio..

      • Agreed. I think a few of the comments here might have missed my point – namely, that as distribution models change, things are simply getting more complicated. It’s not as clear-cut as it used to be.

        There have also been instances where an artist with a major label pays for and self-releases a project, but their label gets it to iTunes for them. Is this a table project?

      • I do get what you’re saying about it being more complicated. I liked what Brian said about differentiating between new projects and hymns/classics recordings.

        I guess what I don’t see is “re-purposing” the title “table project.” Even in its most-widely-stretched definition, it seems like it should mean “only available through the artist.” (Recognizing that I can still get it through Springside no matter what.)

        You are mentioning valid cases that blur the lines – independent groups, and – mixed distribution, would you say? I don’t really know what to call that, but I still don’t see it as the same thing.

      • I guess what I’m saying is that I think these will become less the exception and more commonplace over time, and that it will get harder and harder to define projects by distribution alone.

      • No sir, I’m on point with you. As the culture changes, so does the definition of a table project… Here’s another question, (trying to stay on topic) is the exclusive southern gospel record company getting weaker as more and more groups begin to find success in VERY quality table projects as the recent case has been?

      • Oh, there’s no question that the massive changes in the music industry over the last 10-15 years have made things harder both for artists and record companies. But record companies who are constantly innovating still can bring promotional and other resources to an artist’s project which they cannot do for themselves.

      • Please expand on that subject.

      • I should not have said “cannot”; I should have said “have the time to.” I apologize for the unclear wording.

        I have in mind outreach to the major sites which pay SoundExchange royalties (i.e., Pandora, Spotify etc.), radio promotion to Sirius/XM, and promotion to hundreds of little online broadcasters who pay SoundExchange. These can generate revenue for artists and record companies alike via SoundExchange, in addition, of course, to revenue for songwriters via ASCAP/BMI/SESAC.

  4. a table project? i thought thats what tool time tim built in episode 3 of season one of home improvement?

  5. The mindset of most SGM consumers thinks all projects on the table are table projects.
    Getting to the table, the consumer have choices of the brand name projects and the custom produced project by the artist with a little more love.

    The music industry is contrary to the retail market place.
    Generic and brand name products are produced by major entities.
    (Generics are almost like brand name but not supposed do it in SGM.)
    Single entities create custom products.
    Normally β€œcustom” cost more.

    The intent of what is inside the product does not determine the quality the product.
    The consumer have the final say on the products in the marketplace.

  6. A “table project” is just a nice way of saying it sounds bad, and they really didn’t need to make this CD.

    • Note above what Amy H. said about Legacy Five projects. They aren’t the only group to whom that could be said to apply! πŸ™‚

      • Yeah, but that’s just an opinion from a fan. I don’t generally put much stock in them. If I did, I’d like the same stuff everyone else likes, and we sure can’t have that! LOL

      • Hmm. Well, how about I cite the comment from Gerald Wolfe, and the reference to Hymns of the Ages and Everything Christmas, in the comment directly below this exchange? πŸ˜€

  7. In our case, and every Artist’s contract is different, we are scheduled to record a Master for Daywind every eighteen months, and we can do one “table project” between the Daywind releases. Last year, with Chris’ return, Daywind released “Welcome Back” as what’s called a “mid-line” release…meaning it wasn’t time for a new Master, but all of us felt like we needed to have a new recording with Chris available for retail, and for our concerts. As you know, we used previously recorded tracks from the “Not Alone” Master, as well as other projects…plus… we added the “My Statement Of Faith” track, that we hadn’t previously released on a GV project.

    In our case, “table projects” serve two purposes…to give us new product to sell at our concerts, and to allow us to record songs that we might not otherwise have the chance to record for a Daywind release. Not all Artists “skimp” on the production budgets for “table projects”. Our “Hymns Of The Ages” and “Everything Christmas” releases were not Daywind projects, but were the two most expensive projects we’ve ever recorded. Thankfully, Daywind or New Day usually pick up our table projects for distribution, after we’ve had them available exclusively at our concerts and on our website for a while. The exception was “Hymns Of The Ages” which was distributed through In Touch for a year before it was made available through Daywind.

    I guess the term “table project” means different things to different Artists. I will admit that some of my favorite CDs are CDs that were recorded by some of my favorite groups as “table projects”, i.e. “Especially For You” by the Cathedrals, “The Heritage Series” by Legacy Five, and “Harmony” by the Booth Brothers, just to name a few. Of course, “Everything Christmas” and “Hymns Of The Ages” are my favorite “table projects” of all time! πŸ™‚

    • Fascinating!

      I would completely agree that, especially when we’re talking about an artist of the caliber of Greater Vision or the Booth Brothers, a table project isn’t necessarily any lower-budget or poorer in quality than a mainline release.

      And by the way – “Hymns of the Ages” isn’t just one of my all-time favorite table projects – it’s also my all-time favorite Greater Vision project! (And for me to rank anything higher than Quartets is really saying something!)

      I actually haven’t heard Everything Christmas yet. I meant to buy it at NQC last year – I seem to think it was out there – but it must have slipped my mind.

      • You MUST hear “Everything Christmas”. My goal was to get a recording out there that would sound good, in a “shuffle-mix” with my all-time favorite Christmas recordings from The Carpenters, Nat King Cole, Bing Crosby, etc. . I’ve always felt that a Christian Artist’s Christmas recording should be at least as good as, if not better than, ANY secular Artist’s Christmas recording. After all…it’s THE message we’re supposed to be proclaiming! I’d love to hear your opinion, once you hear it.

      • I’ll definitely plan to check it out one of these days!

      • I don’t think I knew that “Especially for You” was a table project. It was on Riversong also later if not originally.

      • Yes… Riversong / Benson distributed that project as a “mid-line” project. It was GREAT!

      • If memory serves Zondervan was involved too back then. πŸ™‚

      • Zondervan owned Benson during that period of time.

  8. Let’s go to the experts, George and Glen, for this…

    GEORGE: On this new album…well, we don’t call ’em “albums” any more, they’re called “projects.”

    GLEN: I call ’em “8 Tracks.”

    A “table project” was once called a “custom album,” which is actually a little more accurate in terms of production: the artist custom-produced their own recording for their own use, not for a record company.

    I personally prefer the term “independant release,” or “indie project.” Gerald’s explanation pretty much sums it up. It’s a recording that is not done with the involvement of a label, regardless of song selection, cost, etc. That the majority of these independent releases are typically done on a lower budget with cover songs is beside the point.

    There are some major advantages to indie projects compared to label projects. First and foremost, ownership of the masters belongs directly to the artist, not a label, so they can release whenever and however they want (royalties notwithstanding). Second, the artist has full creative control over the project. As I have stated previously, this can be either good or bad; if the artist knows what they’re doing, it can be a fantastic album, but if they’re great singers and only so-so creatively, you can get some pretty bad albums.

    It seems to me, though, that enough people have properly defined what we consider to be a “table project”: a recording not released by a record label that is funded, promoted, and released directly by the artist.

    To answer Daniel’s question, I think the term “indie project” best describes what we think of as a “table release” today. He is correct in that services such as CD Baby can put any recording into worldwide distribution via iTunes, Amazon, etc., but it does NOT promote it. It simply puts it there.

    The term “Table Project” is indeed obsolete for this reason. “Indie release” much better fits this model.

    However, when referring to indie projects prior to the digital age (i.e. the Cathedrals “Distinctively,” or any of the Gold City “blue light specials”), the term “table project” would indeed apply.

    Does this answer the question you posed, Daniel?

    • Kyle – yes, indeed, and great points.

      My only question / hesitation with using “indie release” – I think some people hear that and assume “independent artist,” “artist not currently with a major label.” Do you think there is much prospect for confusion in this genre?

      • I disagree. Most people in SG know what artists are signed with a major label. If someone hears that Legacy Five is releasing an indie project, they’re not going to automatically assume they’re an independent artist.

        Just as a side note, who cares if they’re indie or not??

      • Valid point sir. I do like your argument. And yes, most fans that would care to know would indeed know what labels artists are on.

      • I really think that we’re overestimating the extent to which an average fan cares about the industry side of things.

      • I would also think all who are blogging on the topic that you brought up, are more than average fans. πŸ™‚

      • Naturally. πŸ™‚

  9. Besides the Cathedrals Acapella Christmas project, Everything Christmas is the best Christmas album you will ever hear! HANDS DOWN!!

    • You just gave me an idea for December: my favorite Christmas projects. The Cathedrals Acappella is easily #1, but then I’d have to think about it. Gold City’s Voices of Christmas jumps out off the top of my head.

      I do agree with Gerald that Everything Christmas fits right in with the “classic” Christmas sound. So it’s very unique among most SG Christmas projects in that regard. It’s not as “southern gospel-ly”. πŸ™‚

    • I’m still pretty partial to Greater Vision’s first Christmas project, so this one would have to be REALLY good to surpass it!

      • I liked half of their first one. I didn’t get that much out of the solos or instrumentals as I recall.

        “Everything Christmas” was indeed really, really good. It got into my head right off.

        The thing about GV’s Christmas projects, is that the sound like Christmas. I don’t know what that sounds like, except it sounds like GV’s projects. πŸ˜€ It must be a result of what Gerald’s saying, that they try to make it go along with the classics. (My only exposure to secular artists was some old projects of classic Christmas carols that we used to listen to.)

  10. Daniel J. Mount says: August 15, 2011 at 3:16 pm “I really think that we’re overestimating the extent to which an average fan cares about the industry side of things.”

    You understand!

    Reading these blogs is a constant learning experience for the average fan.

    • …as indeed it was for me, not that many years ago! And here I am! πŸ™‚