20 or 2000?

Would our genre be better off if we had

(a) 20 groups using 3+ piece live bands, with our genre’s best vocal talent concentrated in these groups, or

(b) 2000 groups using soundtracks, with the best vocal talent in the genre spread between these groups?

And why?


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38 Letters to the Editor

Southern Gospel Journal welcomes letters to the editor. We will post the most thoughtful and insightful submissions. Ground rules: Don't attack or belittle groups or fellow posters, or advance heresies rejected by orthodox Christianity. Do keep comments positive, constructive, and on topic.
  1. With your question, are you including local and regionalized groups as well, or are you mostly referring to national, top-quality ensembles?

    • Hmm. I guess I am referring to anyone who is traveling outside of their home church and/or immediate community and promoting themselves as a “Southern Gospel” group.

  2. In my opinion, it would be better with 20 groups with live bands. Tracks on the rare occasion are okay, but I’ve stopped attending concerts where groups only sing with tracks. Tracks annoy me to no end. Especially when I’ve just attended a Dailey & Vincent concert, which only uses instruments and their voices – wonderful!

  3. I guess, going one way or the other, I would go with 20 groups with live bands (but I have no problem with those that use tracks).

  4. Same as “Paul the Concert Guy”, staying in the confines of your question, 20 groups with live bands.

    Why? Bigger slice of pie. (you asked)

    Reality, it will not happen. Reality, there are small “no name” groups who are better than the “big name” groups. Reality, flip the previous comment around. My opinion, God equips the called and who am I to say who God has gifted and who he hasn’t. Brass tax, Romans 12:2

    • Clarification on the “Bigger slice of pie” comment. I don’t just mean money. Example, NQC board already can’t decide who should sing on stage and who shouldn’t.

  5. I think music is like anything else…you either have the talent or you dont. Its not a matter of judging, its a matter of common sense. I dont want someone being “called” to do heart surgery….i want someone who KNOWS how! Now, we all have different musical taste no doubt, but there are certain situations that are just obvious. If you cant hear a part..God probably hasnt gifted you to sing..BUT, if you still feel that he has, then go to school to learn how, just as if you wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer…
    That said… 20 groups with bands is much more appealing.. It doesnt take as much away from tge groups working hard to make a living…and, it makes it more professional.. 1500 groups halfway knowing what they are doing is killing this great music….
    Btw..there are pro groups halfway doing it as well! Weve got to have more quality in the music again…

    • “If you cant hear a part..God probably hasnt gifted you to sing”

      One person who’s shown otherwise…Mark Lowry

      • I might be wrong, but perhaps the poster was talking about learning it. Lowry can’t hear it all of the time to pick it out, but he can learn it. Others can’t seem to stick with the part at all or at least if someone else is singing another part beside them.

        One instance is there are people who sing lead an octave down and think it is a bass part.

      • I had the unfortunate task of asking one of the members in my group to leave because he could not hear his part and the entire group was singing around him. It is imperative in Southern Gospel music that you can hear the parts and I am a firm believer that if you are going to sing this great music, you should (a) be able to hear the part and sing it to the best of your ability or (b) you should have the humility to realize that you can not do it and let someone teach it to you and you memorize your part. There are a lot of singers singing today that can not hear the parts but they realize they can not hear their part and they get people who can to teach them. Mark can do the harmony if someone shows him but unfortunately there are people out there that will say, “I have sang it this way for 30 years and I will continue to sing it that way.” Those are the ones that you can not do anything with.

    • So true – agree completely.

      • That is agree totally with Michael Garner.

  6. Every genre of music has “amateur” groups that aren’t as good as the professionals, but in their genres its welcomed while it seems to be frowned upon in Southern Gospel.

    • Other genres have a clearer line between groups aspiring to be and considering themselves professionals, and those groups which are simply aspiring to do it for fun. πŸ™‚

      • I would agree, but there are also those who are trying to make it in their industry, but don’t quite have professional status. It’s not just amateurs (doing it for fun) and professionals, there’s a middle line too. Sometimes that line is grayed more in SG than other industries.

        Think about The Allen Family out of Branson. They’re likely not considered “professionals” but they wouldn’t be living in a bus 24/7/365 if they were singing “just for fun”

      • You are correct that the line is grayed more in SG than in other industries.

  7. How come most all of your “top tier” groups use soundtracks and not live music? I really don’t understand the put down of folks using soundtracks. I mean most of the tracks were created by the best musicians in the business. When you compare Dailey-Vincent with the Talleys or anyone strictly southern gospel, anyone ever heard “apples and oranges”?

    • The discussion pertains in part to the live programs that a top-tier soundtracks-only group can present now as compared to the live programs a top-tier group with a band could present twenty years ago.

  8. For me this is an easy choice – the 20 with live bands is much more appealing, for several reasons. It’s actually goes back to something I’ve been “preaching” for several years – I believe we have too many “professional” groups and I believe the industry suffers because of it. It waters the numbers in regard to the audiences, waters the available dollars to make the music better and the promotions stronger. It decreases the “buzz” about an upcoming pro group concert in your area (in fact, “buzz” is a rare occurrence indeed in my observance, and usually only among die-hards).

    We’ve come to accept soundtrax and they are here to stay it would seem. I don’t mind them – I use them myself. Would I rather sing with my family backed by a 3 or 5 piece band? Sure I would. For the pro groups, for some it’s a matter of economics – just can’t afford to pay more folks. Also, I think the dependence on soundtrax has partially contributed to a shortage of quality musicians who like SG music.

    So to me, there are really two issues in this question – the number of groups as well as soundtrax vs. live.

    • You make some great points – especially with fewer musicians being attracted to our music.

  9. The dream would be (a).
    Reality tells us (b> with the 2000 plus groups not counting all those groups that do not have a “www” website.
    Why?
    The groups that are traveling the back roads on a Sunday afternoons n route to Sunday night services in a used vehicle will probably be a blessing to those small congregations as much as Greater Vision singing at the Third Baptist Church on Sunday night.
    Those groups have go home Sunday to get early to work in the morning.
    That doesn’t sounds like fun to me. (see the end of this comment)
    Many in those situation have never been exposed to the quality and professionalism of Top 80, never mind the Top 20.
    I been to to sgm concerts where groups that I would called lower than regional groups attract a crowds between 200-300 to a small church. People in those local churches thout it was revival time following the concert/service.
    We, who have, are blessed to have professional groups to be able to our thing in attending and discussing SGM.
    It all depends on your focus.
    You can have ministry either way (a) or (b).

    Read the answer on this page which sums up my thoughts perfectly to a tee.

    • It seems as though there have been a lot of good points about the 20 groups with live bands and all are well thought out and have much validity. I for one love quality music and tight harmony as well as live instruments. I’d like to also present another angle though…if those 2000 groups with what is seemingly classified as “lesser” talent were not traveling and singing, southern gospel as we know it might dry up. Smaller churches that don’t have a huge music budget wouldn’t be able to experience the blessings of some of these lesser known groups. Add in to all of this, if there is one very talented individual in a lesser known group, he/she can help culitivate raw talent. There are many who have raw talent but have never had the opportunity to sing with a group to get experience and exposure to ministering to a congregation. If you’re purely entertaining an audience, let’s go with the 20 groups with live bands…but if we want this music to carry on, we need those talented people who are in lesser groups to train others so this music doens’t die on the vine. Again, I love quality talent, tight harmony and live instruments but we can’t neglect those who don’t play an instrument or have a professional voice. If we’re ministering to an audience, want to see souls saved and see this great music passed on, we need to pass it on and not hide it under our “20 talented groups with a live band” bushel.

      • Actually, I would prefer four guys and a piano. The bands frequently drown out the singers and sometimes it makes me wonder if it is because the singing isn’t all that good. If I want a band, i will go to a rock concert, not a gospel music concert, where the emphasis should be on the message and not on the messengers.

      • I would count just a piano. If a group is like the Dixie Echoes – good enough to put on a great program with just four singers and a pianist – that counts. πŸ™‚

      • I disagree with the line of thinking that says all these groups keep the music alive. I’m not saying anything against local or regional groups – we need them to certainly. However, if those small churches were not able to have groups in because there weren’t as many groups and they couldn’t afford them, you know what those people would do? . . . Those people would go to the more limited number of concerts in their region and there would be bigger crowds, bigger “buzz” and the genre’s status would increase. That would, in effect, INCREASE the ministry component.

        What happens now is that Anna Bell and Lucky love to go hear Joe Bob and the Burping Frogs because they are “free and local” and because “they know who I am”, but won’t go to see the top groups. That is their choice and always will. However, when what is considered the top end of the genre is just as available as Joe Bob and the Burping Frogs and because there is so much of it the difference in the quality seems not as much as it once was . . . to me it keeps the really good ones from reaching their potential.

        The great equalizer is church. I can go and hear a group in my church of some level of quality, sometimes pretty good quality! If I miss this concert, I’ll catch the next one. It’s in my church so it must not be that big of a deal – that seems to be the line of thinking.

        I can remember when there was a “buzz” when the Cathedrals came to town. I sense very little “buzz” today.

        Let me put it another way. The perception of an average group is raised when there is a live band playing – it just adds a lot to the atmosphere, makes it seem more “real”. That’s my opinion. However, even those groups who would prefer to have live musicians, most of them cannot in today’s economy. It’s just a fact.

      • Let us not forget that the Cathedrals used a good bit of tracks….

      • They used a few each evening. That’s a far cry from using tracks 95%-100% of the time! πŸ™‚

  10. Another tracks vs. live band debate? I’ve seen artists like Natalie Grant, Michael English, and David Phelps use tracks. I’ve also seen them all with live bands. I was blown away in either instance. It’s all about quality of talent.

  11. I’ll take the 20 Groups all day long!!
    Big name groups can afford bands if the
    owners give up their Mercedes & Bemmers!

    • Wrong. If they “give up their Mercedes and Bemmers” the group owner and his family would have that money, not the group itself. Don’t confuse individual budgets with group budgets.

  12. Our trio uses tracks ..we usually do the last part of our gig at the piano. Our leadsinger plays the piano just enough to enable us to do that..he’s not a hotlick player..and he’s not comfortable enough to do all of our songs.
    Personally i would choose the 20 groups with live bands in a heartbeat…i used to be a die-hard anti-cannedmusic guy..but tracks enable us to sing..it’s hard to find anyone in The netherlands to sing/like southern gospel music, let alone find a piano-player. We are trying out a piano-player tho in a couple of weeks…but he has to match not only our style, but personalities too..we’re kind of closeknit..with the same kind of humor and stuff..it’s kinda scary to add someone we don’t know to that tight outfit. Anyway live music really is my preference!

  13. To me this is the beauty of the American capitalist system. If you don’t like it, don’t come on here and complain, then this weekend go to a concert and support a group using tracks. If you only support the ones that follow you’re values and wishes the market will conform to bring you the desired results. This is ultimately what’s happening anyways, the poor ones soon aren’t able to pay for their bus and decide they need to find something else to do and the good ones climb the success ladder.
    I don’t begrudge anyone the opportunity to do what they enjoy singing and telling the Word. If you need to use tracks and you have some promoters that will hire you and support you when you’re on the road, go tell the Good News. If I don’t like you, I won’t support you; it’s that simple. Personally I’ve heard people use live bands that weren’t worth the evening spent listening to them. I’ve also heard singers use tracks that I’ve paid tickets for, bought the cd and purchased the dvd that were that good. Sure, I’d prefer a live band but I also can’t spend $100 for a ticket just so they can pay for that live band either.
    So yes give me the choice and I’ll listen to the 10% of singers I enjoy.

  14. Someone mentioned the Dixie Echoes. Piano, bass and genuine vocal talent combined with a classic style that defines SG… I can’t imagine the “real” quartets such as the Blackwoods, Statesmen, Blue Ridge, Rangers, Prophets, etc. using “fake” music.

  15. To me I would love to see more and more groups with live bands but as it has already been eluded to, economically it would be tough to support a live band. I think that a live band is a great idea but as another person commented earlier, I do not like it when the music is overpowering the vocals of the concert. I come to hear the singing, not the playing of the instruments. Four guys and a piano and a bass guitar and possibly a guitar would be a perfect band for a southern gospel group, I think. Drums are ok but if you do not set the levels just right, they can be overpowering. The fact also has been made that there are not enough “top quality” musicians that love southern gospel that will play our style of music. If you do get some great musicians, it is hard to keep them. Keeping a group of four guys together is hard enough but when you start trying to keep 8 to 10 guys in the group it can be very stressful I would imagine. Our group uses soundtracks but I will not lie to you, I would love to have a live band. I do not have anything against soundtracks but am a huge fan of live accompaniment. So, I guess my stance on this subject would be 20 groups with live bands just because in a perfect world where you could keep everyone together it would be awesome! You could do just about whatever songs that you wanted and do intricate arrangements that nobody else can do.

  16. Many underestimate the economic troubles we are having right now. I recently had the opportunity to join a top tier group. I had to turn the position down, though, because we couldn’t make it work financially, and this was a group that didn’t use a live band. They certainly are well known, and have been nominated for many awards, but in these times they aren’t making much. For most, leaving out only 5-6, it wouldn’t be feasible to hire a live band and support your family.

  17. I would like to see some lines drawn. I would like to see the industry say, “Ok, these are the top groups right now, putting on an excellent gospel music show.” They work 150 plus dates a year, with a full band, and are able to charge a larger flat because of their status.

    Then you have the legends, who only do 80 dates a year, one per state, and can charge more money because of supply and demand.

    Middle-tier, or “regional” groups have to hustle their own dates until they either a) reach the top-tier status, or they b) move on to something else.

    Political? You bet. Does it work in every other genre? YES!! For the Southern Gospel Music INDUSTRY to be taken seriously, they need these separations in talent.

    Who decides? Well, in the mainstream market, it’s the record labels and radio stations. It’s night and day between SG “record companies” and mainstream labels.

    SG record companies want more money, so they’ll charge every regional group an arm and a leg to do a custom project, then charge them AGAIN to promote it. Why wouldn’t they, instead, grab four or five established groups, sign them to a recording deal, front them the $$ to record, then take that recording and promote the daylights out of it? Maybe because the quality of some of these supposed “top-tier” groups is still mediocre, simply because they have no reason to do better. When your competition is a large number of regional groups who aren’t all that great, why should the top groups feel they need to do any better? Complacency, ladies and gentlemen.

    I know this will never happen, because it goes back to, as several comments have already noted, “God has called me to sing.” Yes, that may be true. God may have called you to sing. But did He call you to sing in a traveling quartet every weekend? Did He call you to travel on a bus from city to city? Or did He simply call you to sing, regardless of the location?

    I’d venture to guess that at least half (if not more) of the current wannabe national groups today are full of singers who are “called” to sing, but not necessarily called to sing in a national traveling group.

    I know that I am called into music, but until (or unless) God directs me to a quartet, I’m perfectly happy singing in my hometown.

    Wow, I took several offramps on that one!!

    • There was a day when major groups sold enough records that only releasing 4 or 5 incredible records in a year’s time would have been a viable business model. Sadly, if a major label tried that in SG today, they’d go bankrupt before the year was up.

      • That is correct. Why is that? Is there simply not enough talent? Perhaps the quality is not high enough?

        Or is it the argument of the messenger getting bigger than the message? Are SG artists AFRAID of a certain level of success, making the artist appear to be the center of attention rather than the message?