Does Southern Gospel really need live bands?

Live music is on the decline in Southern Gospel; an increasing number of concerts consist solely of three or four singers with soundtracks. These soundtrack-only performances often sacrifice spontaneity and excitement in exchange for perfection.

When this issue is raised, someone will invariably note that soundtracks are necessary because it is not economically feasible for many groups to add three or four more salaries. But is this a false dichotomy? Are these our only two choices?

Southern Gospel’s period of greatest visibility and cultural influence was in the quarter-century from 1950-1975. For the last 8-10 years of that period, it was common for groups to travel with bands. But for two generations of Southern Gospel prior to that point—and for most of this peak visibility period—Southern Gospel live programs consisted of three or four voices and a piano player.

The singing was so good, the piano playing was so good, and the songs were so good that these live programs were hardly inferior.

What would happen if Southern Gospel live programs went back to four voices and a piano player? Would groups still be able to execute the show-stopping anthems that are generally the high points of current live programs? For many of the best groups, the answer would be yes. If you have a featured vocalist of a Mark Trammell, Arthur Rice, or Joseph Habedank caliber, you don’t need a 60-piece orchestra to bring the house down with “Loving the Lamb,” “We Will Stand Our Ground,” or “If You Knew Him.”

Two more questions. (1) Has our culture progressed to the point where three or four top-notch vocalists and a top-notch piano player cannot put on a compelling, dynamic live concert that will draw fans to the genre?

(2) On the flip side, is three or four top-notch vocalists and a soundtrack player more or less compelling and dynamic?

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61 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. Does it “need” live bands? In my opinion, no. But a group with a great live band makes for a greater show. Even though it’s “ministry”, you must first be entertaining enough to capture and hold the attention of someone who’s lost.

    • The appropriate appeal is the word of God. Singing cannot replace the need for the lost to hear the preaching of the word.

  2. Different genre I realize, but when we went to see Elton John not too long ago, it was just him and the piano. That’s it. Now he has an immense repertoire etc etc etc, but the place was packed.
    Can this work for SG? I think so, as long as the vocalists/instrumentalists are top notch.

    It reminds me of the movie “The Firm”. When I first went to see it, I enjoyed it alot, and it took me until later that day to realize the soundtrack was solely piano. I had to re-watch the moview again, and took notice. My point is that the screen performances and the soundtrack were (IMO) good enough to sustain each other.

    • Elton John? Elton John????? ELTON JOHN?????? Sorry for raising my voice. I’m just incredulous. Not sure I want someone who likes Elton John giving advice on southern gospel.

      • ” as long as the vocalists/instrumentalists are top notch.” I understand what you are saying. The 70’s and early 80’s witnessed top notch bands and singers. Those musicians today, are some of the best studio musicians in the world. If my time travel invention works, things are going to get interesting. lol

  3. No, it does not need bands, but its just an added bonus when they do have one!

  4. Well – we all have opinion, and opinions are just that, opinions, so here’s mine 🙂

    No. 🙂

    I really have no problem with them, as long as they are kept in their place, and do not over-power the singers, which is basically why I don’t prefer them.

    Do they “need” them? No. Case in point – – – The Cathedrals! Four men, a Piano, & a Bass Guitar.

    • I have to say the last couple concerts I’ve attended the soundtracks overpowered the singers so it can go both ways!

  5. From the 1950’s through the mid 1960’s, the reason SG consisted of a piano and four voices was because that’s what churches would allow. Most churches would not allow electric instruments or drums of any kind.

    A friend of mine was in a gospel group in the late 60’s/early 70’s that consisted of several live musicians, including drums. He said they would arrive at a church and be told that drum kids were NOT allowed in the sanctuary, so they would compromise and put the drums in the hallway next to the platform.

    It wasn’t just gospel music or churches, however. The Grand Ole Opry did not allow a full drum kit on its stage until the mid-70’s (a brush and a snare were ok). When Johnny Cash began recording at Sun studio in the mid-50’s, Sam Phillips would not allow drums in his studio, so they inserted a dollar bill in the strings of a guitar and strummed it to create a snare sound.

    Another issue was technology; when a group recorded, they did it in a primitive studio, usually in one take. Recording more than two or three instruments was possible, but very time consuming and difficult. Today, one person can arrange an entire orchestra digitally on their laptop, render it as a WAV file, and have a track ready for that weekend.

    I firmly believe that, had artists like the big two (Statesmen, Blackwoods) been allowed, they WOULD have had full bands; the music industry as a whole simply didn’t allow it, and churches DEFINITELY did not. Even today, there are still some churches who will not allow anything but a 100 year old pipe organ and a piano in their sanctuary.

    However, if SG goes to a live band or piano (or guitar) only, the tracks HAVE to go. The added “bonus” of being able to stack vocals on a track during a performance has made way too many artists LAZY. If they can sing a part ONE time in a studio (or if it can be edited), then why bother straining yourself night after night when you can turn up the stacks and lip sync? Not only that, but having two or three BGV’s added to “sweeten” the live vocals sounds about as bad as the 1950’s sitcom laugh tracks.

    When you have live musicians (piano, guitar, drums, etc.), you have some relief for the vocalists. If someone is having a rough night vocally, you can give the musicians a feature without having to stop the show. Not only that, but the focus does not have to stay on the vocalists the entire time. There is nothing more awkward (for me) than watching a singer stand on stage during an instrumental on a track. It got so frustrating that I actually went back and edited out any extended instrumental breaks in all of my own tracks just so I don’t have to deal with it. I also remember several instances where the GVB would do the same thing with their tracks for live performance.

    Does SG NEED live bands? Not necessarily, if you define a band as 2 or more musicians. Does SG NEED live musicians? YES!!! Does SG NEED to get rid of tracks? A THOUSAND TIMES YES!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Agree with that last paragraph!

    • Great comments, Kyle! Except I don’t agree with the point that the only reason groups didn’t have drums,etc, was that churches wouldn’t allow it. I allow that may have been true in some cases, but you make it sound like the churches were old fashioned, stuck in the mud fogies who had to be dragged into the future. Don’t forget those churches were made up of people who shared those sentiments and wanted their pastors,etc,to take a stand against the encroachment of what they saw as worldliness. And while people look back on that and mock it today, and point to it as the church being irrationally resistant to change, there were some very valid reasons why they held that view. And I believe a lot of the older groups felt the same way. A friend who was in a group with a full band told me they did a concert with the Masters V, and during the sound check, one of the Masters V got irritated and said, “I hate drummers!’

      Drums do seem sometimes to bring in other elements that can detract from the message and bring the attention more towards the baser sort of entertainment. Not in every case, but I have seen it happen. Done tastefully, I have no problem with it, but I guess like anything, it depends on the motives of the player.

  6. et me start by saying in all aspects of God’s music I am old school. That being said my answer is Four voices a piano and a bass guitar is all you need. I have been to many a concert in my day and excitement was at an all high without the use of soundtracks. You could actually hear the words being sung. This modern notion that God’s music has to keep up with the times is le saying God’s Salvation plan needs to become modern. We don’t need modern worldly idea to get God’s message out. Don’t misunderstand me I like a lot of the songs being written and sung today but I base my like for the way it is presented this way…If I close my eyes and listen to just the music does it make me feel the way I felt when I was unsaved and listening to rock music. God doesn’t need modern ways and styles to bring people to salvation. By the foolishness of the reaching(singing) shall God draw men into the fold. Joel Hemphill wrote a song that says “There ain’t alot of polish in gospel music, But it sure beats rock and roll.” Of course I am old school and this is just an opinion.

  7. I have no problem whatsoever with tracks, unless they are too loud, such that the performer’s voice is swallowed up in the noise. I also, like most people, do not have a problem with live instrumentation, it’s better than tracks. However, a group changing from tracks to a piano only would not do it for me. If you take a group like the Hoppers and let them sing with just piano music on all their songs in a concert, I think the songs wouldn’t sound bad at all but they wouldn’t sound as powerful as they would with tracks. A song like “Jerusalem” would sound too ordinary, or extraordinarily depending on the listener’s taste, with just piano accompaniment. No doubt with their powerful vocal abilities, especially Kim’s, they would bring the house down, just with piano. But for me it would not be an upgrade on the song but a downgrade. But had the Hoppers been singing the song with just piano and I loved it, then they decided to use tracks, I would consider it a downgrade. To impress me they would have to use the real thing, a live band and orchestra.

    I think every song that any group performs has a uniqueness about it, such that a change in the instrumentation, be it an addition or subtraction, would in a way lessen the uniqueness or appeal of that song to the people. So I think a transition from tracks to just piano would be too much a step.

    • I’m not sure that *every* change is a step down. Suppose the Hoppers routinely performed “I’ve Come Too Far to Look Back” with just piano. I don’t think that would hurt it any.

      “Jerusalem” is one of those landmark tracks and arrangements, though, much like the Cathedrals’ “Champion of Love.” Either would probably be weaker with just piano, since we’re so used to the track.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if my ideal concert would be much like a Cathedrals concert: Piano and bass for most of the songs, with a few tracks where it actually made a difference.

    • John, I disagree with you about changes in instrumentation of a song, and I’ll use the Cathedrals for two examples. First one: “The Prodigal Son.” The original studio recording was a straight 3/4 mid-tempo arrangement with a (somewhat whiny-sounding) harmonica intro. It was a good song, but it didn’t really “take off” until they rearranged it with a more up-beat, syncopated style.

      The same goes for “The Plan Of Salvation.” The original studio cut was a straight 3/4, but was actually rather fast. When they began staging it, they again used just a piano and bass, but slowed it down, syncopated the 3/4, and a classic was born. Every single group today who does this song uses the Cathedrals’ live arrangement; the studio cut (which was actually produced by Bill Gaither and Gary McSpadden on Master Builder) has all but been forgotten.

      • Daniel and Kyle you both have good points.

        I’m now thinking differently. But if you think of it, few would take the move from track to piano only. As good as such a move may turn out, as you have illustrated, many would think it a risk. The Cathedrals were very bold to do it. They must have been led by the Spirit. But Yes, sometimes, more is less and less is more.

  8. Something to think about and throw into the mix is the “intention” of the arrangement. Bringing this over into the church choir realm, I would venture to say that most choirs would use the accompaniment track over a live orchestra on a typical Sunday morning. (understanding it’s probably mostly just piano and organ, but if given the choice, track usage would outweigh live orchestra). Those arrangements are often times written with that in mind. As an example, it’s easy on a track to have a lot of brass playing throughout a song because it can be pulled down in the mix and doesn’t become overpowering. However, when that same arrangement is performed live, the brass is just too much because it does become overpowering and it wears out the player. You can get away with more “bang for your buck” on a track, but it could be a nightmare trying to do the same arrangement live. Great arrangers know when to thin out the orchestration for clarity and when to add the punch needed for the big part of a song.

    All that rambling to say I don’t think the big argument is tracks vs. live band–either can be overpowering or tasteful. (rabbit trail: sometimes psychology plays into whether or not we think something is overpowering) I think the bigger discussion is whether a track or live band is playing an appropriate arrangement, given its context.

  9. Some may not agree with what I am about to say, but that is fine; we all are entitled to an opinion.

    I think that culture affects music in the church to a large degree (and when I say in the church, I don’t mean only Sunday morning; this includes all Christian music, including SG). As time changes, so do musical styles. There are always going to be varying tastes within any cultural “time frame,” and there will always be the more progressive group of SG musicians and fans that want to push the envelope, as well as the more traditional group of musicians and fans that want things to either stay the same or be like the “good old days.” Those two groups (progressive and traditionalists) likewise vary with the times.

    Although there are many SG purists who would be very happy with four singers and a piano, I don’t think that, by and large, that would sell in today’s culture. Today is a different time musically than the 1950s. Church music is different. Secular music is different. And yes, southern gospel music is different.

    If a musical group started up trying to sing all 1500s style “church music” — or 1600s style — or 1700s style — yes, it would be different, and yes, there would be a small segment of people who would like it, but it simply wouldn’t sell enough to keep a full-time group on the road selling albums. We are in a different time. 1950s style will bring a slightly bigger audience, because some people who are alive today remember what things were like in the 50s, but it is still past culture. And the longer we go, the fewer and fewer people will be around who were alive in the 50s, and even the number of people who like that style will wain.

    When push comes to shove, no matter what type of ministry, whether foreign missions, home missions, local churches, or yes, Southern Gospel groups, it takes money for it to work. Many, many southern gospel fans who buy CDs and videos by the score would have no use or interest in 4 men around a piano. An occasional song or a flashback album on occasion may sell, but we are now living in 2012, and have to accept that most people today have no interest in turning the clock back 50 or 60 years.

  10. I like Kyle’s comment above. In fact I was thinking the same thing, the old time quartets used only piano because that was all they could use that was considered appropriate. In our church, even to this day the only ‘baptised’ instruments are the piano, organ, acoustic guitar and keyboard. Drums and the rest are the devil’s invention and only God knows when they’ll get ‘baptised.’ To my surprise, with recorded music(sometimes even played in church) every conceivable instrument on the face of the planet is considered appropriate. We are living in a developing country anyway so no one can blame us.

  11. I’m probably just repeating all of the already posted comments but do we “need” live bands? Probably not, but it really does change the performance. There are groups that do just fine with tracks, but in almost every case, some spark seems missing. There are groups I love that I used to hear with a band and now they are back soley by tracks…There is definitely a difference. I enjoy the spontaneity of a band, the creativity of the vocalists and musicians working together, and even the lack of the “fullness” of tracks sounds great. Even a group running split tracks and a few musicians can make a world of difference …..even JUST A PIANO (check out the difference in the Perrys WITHOUT matthew holt and then WITH him, for a quick example…to me there is a world of difference, an energy, a different sound of something “new” being added to a track)

    I understand that its not financially feasible to run a full band for some groups. However, I think it would be a great thing for the industry, bring some excitement, and bring some fresh blood in.

    One side note: I find it really interesting that many of the older fans of the industry will moan about how there is a lack of live music and how much they miss it, but when a group (local, regional, or national) has a band…SOME immediately get uncomfortable and complain. Here comes the “Its too loud”, “THEY HAVE TOO MANY DRUMS”….ect ect. The reality is the band was no more loud than the pumping tracks of the group before them.
    Of course, there are many who actually do appreciate it and will tell you, or a young person who goes and sees a group and is memorized the whole time by great singing and playing. Maybe, if there were more opportunities, the young kids would have something to aspire to in our industry

  12. Take away the tracks and stacks and you will see that some artist can’t sing as good as you thought! I remember working a date where groups had to sing in two different venues. By singing in this format the time you had to switch from one stage to the other was short. Now there was a group that was having a problem with there tracks , they couldn’t get the stacks to work but the music side was working fine. I asked why don’t you just sing without the stacks? They said oh no we got to have the stacks! I told them that’s pittiful! When you can’t sing without stacks you either can sing or you can’t ! I will not name the QT but I will say they are well known name!

    No the industry doesn’t need a band to keep going . It will just keep going the same way it’s always been going! You will have this same conversation 20 years from now! I wish I had a chart and numbers that would show you what attendance was as a whole and the venues we had before tracks took over and the number of young people standing on the side of the stage when the artist that had a band or live music where on the stage! I believe it would be very interesting . I will say this some of the arrangements that some of the artist have can’t be done live without the tracks because they need the the strings and brass to make it work! That is why on the last three or four projects we didn’t record any songs that needed strings or brass because we felt
    everybody was doing it and we couldn’t do it in concert without tracks! That is how tired I am of tracks! Do you know how hard it is today to find a piano player and if you do they don’t know how to play southern gospel! When we were trying out bass guitar players, the kid knew our songs but when I said lets do Glory Road the kid had never heard the song ! So I called out I’ll fly away he didn’t know it either! I asked him how did you know our songs ? He said I just downloaded them on iTunes and practice! I then asked him are you a fan of Southern Gospel and he said. Not really been to a few concerts but they all used tracks I like the music but the concert was boring! Then he begin to name his favorite gospel bands and bass players And guitar picker. Someone gave me this kids number and told me about him so I called him and tried him out but it worked out that we hired Mark Peele instead he knew Glory Road ! lol this is my reason for the band we need to get as many kids listening to our music and a chance to be a part of our music! You can keep on saying we have people getting older everyday and when they get in there sixties our
    music takes them back to there childhood. Well if they are not hearing the music as a child or as a teen then what childhood memories about our music are they going to remember?

    • Good point, Mccray. I can see the validity of it.

      I also want to comment on your 1st sentence. . . you said: “Take away the tracks and stacks and you will see that some artist can’t sing as good as you thought!”

      I’d be interested in hearing your take on the REASON for the SG industry having so many that just do not have it when it comes to raw talent. I’ve been a SG fan since the 70’s and what MADE me a fan was not JUST the quality of the music, but also the concert experience!

      My first concert was put on by Larry Orrell (of Orrell Brothers fame) and he turned Jerry & The Singing Goffs, Wendy Bagwell & the Sunlighters, The Kingsmen, & The Cathedrals loose and the place was insane! It lasted until 1 or 2 in the morning and FEW were wanting it to end!!!

      Bill Gaither once told a friend of mine (and this was back in the 80’s) “You don’t have to be able to sing WELL to make it in SG music, but you do need to know how to market.”

      We all know that Bil Gaither sure knows how to market 🙂 But, has SG music digressed to the point that raw talent is no longer a prerequisite for being in a group?

      • On your last sentence: It matters for some groups more than others, but raw talent always helps!

    • McCray,

      I think the tracks also make a great singer lazy and eventually he or she become dependent on them. Then it becomes very hard for that singer to have that good pitch that they had at one time if he or she should sing with live music again.

    • McCray,
      I was at the Anchormen Homecoming sing this past Friday night and came just to see you guys. The band was great and I was expecting it to be great after everything I’ve been hearing. I have read through some of your posts on this blog and other blogs. I agree with you on most of what you have to say. There is one thing that I do wonder about and that is why you never make mention of the band members in any of your recent posts or small press releases. I try to memorize the names as you introduced them. You should be proud of these guys. My wife and I did recognize one of the band members and in my humble opinion he is a top 3 piano player in any kind of music. We’ve not seen Joe Lane in 20 years but I’m telling you that guy tore the keys off that keyboard. He was always good but my gosh it was incredible and the audience went crazy over him. He is a very humble person and thankful to GOD for his talent. Rainey was always great but he had nothing on Joe and neither did the other guy but at the same time you don’t see that many great piano players in the same room these days. Devin, Bub, and David are excellent also. I noticed how well Joe and Devin work together on the stage. Great stuff McCray so keep it rolling and hang on to them guys!

      • Your opinion on Joe was the exact same one that I had after hearing him with the Dove Brothers at NQC last year! At that point, he was just “filling in,” but I was glad to hear that McCray offered him the job after that. The guy is a great player that really deserves more recognition.

  13. A talented band is most ideal in this genre of music, although I understand why many groups take the more economical approach with tracks.

    I do like the four guys plus piano routine for a change of pace, but it would get to be VERY boring if every group in the industry went that route.

    Each group needs to find a specialty…something that sets them apart.

    For the Crist Family, for example, they are unique in that they have six vocalists rather than the more typical 3-4. What sets them apart is their a cappella singing. No other group can duplicate that sound. They should make a cappella singing the centerpiece of their concerts by doing a set…or they might start and end their concerts with a cappella. When I’ve seen them, though, we’re lucky if they do two songs a cappella.

    For the Dove Brothers, it’s an entirely different sound that sets them apart and a live band is vital to pulling that sound off.

    The downfall of SG is that we have so few original groups any more. When the very best groups in the industry resign themselves to imitating groups from the past, the lesser groups that are looking at them to lead are imitations of imitations…and like a Xerox machine, a copy of a copy never looks as good as the original.

  14. As someone who performs quite a bit, as well as an avid concert attendee, I say that a strong vocalist can pull off just using a track. However, I will always prefer live instruments simply because it allows for a certain amount of spontaneity in the set itself. Some of the best moments in concerts are when an audience member shouts out a request, or even the singer themself, and the guitarist adds the music. Or if a singer has a thought to add in the middle of a song, something that is heavy on their heart at the time, so he just motions for the band to “vamp” for a minute, things like this are impossible when you have to stay true to the constraints of singing to a track. I completely understand how in this day and age it’s financially beneficial to use tracks, but I’ll always prefer live instruments. In my opinion it feels more personable and unique to that performance, and less like a repeat of what the artists may have done the previous 5 concerts.

  15. Wow Daniel -what a succinct analysis you did in your little essay -you summed it all up so well. For me, less is definitely more. Soundtracks immediately put a barrier between the artist/song/message & my heart. Much sound & fury signifying nothing – totally unimpressed. Give me a piano and/or a live band any day- anything but the razzmatazz canned nonsense. Start with nothing and build up from there -even a washboard and spoons would be fine. There is something inherently phony about tracks -not to mention their wayward offspring -stacked vocals, vocal modulators, and all the other gimmicks. The crowds will come again if you start out line upon line, precept upon precept. – the building blocks of a good song. Don’t follow passing trends, but lead the saints (and saints-to-be) with honest music built on a true musical foundation, and they’ll always come back for more. This is not the way of the past, but the way of the future. Being real will open up more doors than anything else and earn you a respect that even the best publicity kits could never buy.

  16. I have always maintained and still do that if the voices, the blend, and the arrangements are good enough, there is no need of a band to cover up any of these that may not be up to par. I’d hate to think of the old Blackwoods, Statesmen. original Imperials, Stamps, etc. having those great singing school tained voices smothered by the loud band music that some feature today.

  17. In recent weeks we’ve seen The Dixie Echoes sing their whole program with just piano and bass, and we’ve seen The Mark Trammell Quartet do a large segment of their program with just piano and bass. Both, of course, were excellent. Same for The Dove Brothers and The Dove Brothers Band.
    Here’s another element. We love the songs and the singers, and we’ll keep coming whether it’s live or Memorex. But when a new person who could be the next lifelong southern gospel fan walks in the door, they see karaoke and many time they never get past that first impression.

  18. Ill make my case for a live band: the kingsmen now vs when the had the band. And I’m talking as late as the early 2000’s here. The only group that has ever really known how and when to use a track was the cathedrals, and what did they have on many of there great live albums? Yup, a live band. Closest thing we have is signature sound. They only use tracks where they need it: every time, love carried the cross, and even then stuff like til we fly away is live. I am not one who says sg should be “progressive”. Such a though is stupid, and here’s why: people don’t want a knockoff version of country music or ccm. The best thing is can do is stick to what made it great. I am by no means saying we should go back to piano only. I am saying we need quality reinserted into our music.

    • Allen, the case I was making in the post wasn’t live music vs. live band – it was piano vs. live band. 🙂

  19. Great subject and very good comments. I believe every good quartet man would like to sing with a band some of the time and just a piano some of the time. In southern gospel, I really believe it is all economics. Mc Cray Dove has made several comments about the “money” and that you really need funding to carry on the ministry. I understand that and it brings some questions to mind for McCray. As you have recently gone to “The Dove Brothers Band” have you seen an increase in attendance? Are you getting the flat you ask for and have CD sales increased. These questions may be too personal but the real desires of your audience will reflect in the results af these inquiries.
    Having sung in a regional group(local yokels), when we decided to put all the money we received back into the group, it certainly led to a more relaxed feeling and the ability to have a band when we wanted one. They were all volunteers with no pay, and it had no affect on the attendance or CD sales. It was just a matter of our enjoyment and what we wanted to do.

    • “They were all volunteers with no pay” Would you mind sending me their names and phone numbers? Thanks 🙂

  20. In answer No they don’t need a live band but………..I like concerts more with groups that do. I am a musician and I Love Southern Gospel Music and for years traveled in a family group and I was part of “The Band”. I miss it. The soundtracks or glorified karoke as I call it has made me a part of a dying breed. And even some of the groups today that do have a band, are playing along with a soundtrack as well. Giving it more dept. So, no a group dosen’t need but should.

  21. Tom, yes I have but not in the same venues! We work in different venues. More fairs, corp meetings Opry houses etc! If we can’t make it work we don’t go! But so far we are still rolling . It’s not where I want it yet but we are getting there! We have many places to call and book us and pay what we needed because we had a live band! So far so good!

    • McCray, that’s fantastic. I pray for your continued success and God’s blessings. And thank you for answering. Tom

    • Bro. McCray…If you ever have need of a good, solid, southern gospel (country) piano player, please give me a chance. I really love your style of gospel music! 770-773-6933. God bless you guys!

  22. Doesn’t it really come down to quality? If a group is using a live band, but the bass player or drummer has an “off night” it will affect the quality of the sound. As well, tracks are not the perfect solution either, as technology will fail occasionally. In the group I am in, we mix it up. Primarily, we are a track group. It’s easier on us vocally to not have to carry the whole base of music, but we do a few songs live with a piano and sax. I’d love to know McCray’s thoughts, but you would have to think many groups are resistant to live bands due to the cost factor and not the overall sound.

  23. I would love to see the Dove Brothers. I think they are the most exciting group in SG right now. I live in Eastern Canada and I wish a promoter would bring them up here. And so I’m not off topic, I miss the days of the live band. For me, a great quartet backed up by a super band can create more excitement than any other genre of music.

  24. Brian, not sure what you want me to answer. If you are paying the bills and you are ok with what you have it does not matter what I think!

  25. My preference will always be to live musicians instead of tracks. I have performed in both manners, and the spontaneity and flexibility of using just a piano, or piano/bass, or band is far greater, makes the program far more enjoyable for me.

    BUT, I realize first and foremost that this music is first and foremost driven by the songs. While my preference will likely be to stick with live arrangements, I certainly would not be one to turn down a good song just because it would be better utilized by a track with strings and brass. A good song is a good song, and if it fits my group vocally and stylistically, then I will make the efforts necessary to put this song in front of the people.

  26. being a GVB fan i would love to see the guys with a full live band no tracks i hope whoever the new piano player is that they will not only get a new piano player but a whole band not just a 3 piece band i talking full time lead guitar player bass player and another keyboard player and utility musician i would love to go see the guys with a band and no tracks

  27. For all those who may be against using sound tracks…please go to and hit the “donate” button and as soon as I can get the salaries for a drummer, lead guitarist, Bass player and a keyboardist and don’t forget the tour bus to carry all the equipment and the band and a full-time agent to keep us on the road so I can afford this troupe, I will ditch the tracks. So for now, my wife and I will continue to use tracks like we have for the last 25 years.

  28. Hey Doug a donation button want do you any good because that’s what your audience is doing now in the name of love!

  29. If groups could get away with just 4+1, then they’d all be doing it. But it just doesn’t work like it used to. Sure, I love to hear music like that for a few songs each concert, but then it needs to get bigger for the fans to appreciate the simple styles.

    Now a full band? That’s another story. I’d rather hear a group with a full band than just tracks. Something about the pop of the drums and the rumble of the bass guitar live that makes a concert so much better. Give me that anytime. Props to Dove Brothers and Signature Sound for keeping the bands going.

  30. yessss…..gospel music…needs LIVE BANDS AND MUSIC….why do u think king saul – used David – a skilled musician – LIVE MUSIC…ushers in the presence of the Lord….

  31. I understand the financial benefit of not having to pay for a live band or even a piano player. BUT, I am a Southern Gospel piano player that God blessed with a talent and the ability to create and play HIS music. I did have the opportunity to play with some very good gospel bands, most recently being the LeFevre Quartet. Now, I do not even have a chance to use the talent that God gave me and play for groups because of “canned” music.
    I know that I can still play at home and at church services but I feel that I would like to use my God given talents for a career and vocation. It is a shame that no one wants to have a live musician “because it’s one more mouth to feed!”

    • Hey, Mike… I hear you, Brother. I played SG professionally years ago. Recently, I have the performance bug… AGAIN. I am going to take myself on the road with a guitarist who plays lead and bass. He and I have good harmonies. Pray for us that we will be able to touch lives and be successful enough to stay in the music ministry.

  32. Please bring back the live music!!!!

    • In order for live music to make a comeback, you must book us. We have a hard time getting bookings these days that we can accept. When we travel to a venue, we have a tough time because of the heavy equipment, the near impossible stage areas allotted for our setup, and the fact that our overhead is much greater because of the purchase and upkeep of our expensive equipment. We do not travel with roadies and groupies to help us unload, set up, and reload our heavy instruments and sound system. It is not like we can afford to pay for additional help. If you want live musicians, please book with these things in mind. Any and all help is appreciated more than you know. We love performing, and will continue as long as possible.

  33. I’ve read all comments about live band’s and “canned music” and different idea’s or opinion, on the thought, regardless
    all of you seem to forget the way it sounds is up the the Master of Music Jesus Christ. Live or canned If you don’t know him in the forgiveness of sin none of your singing is to avail. Some curse,smoke. lie,cheat,and I’m sure not all do. But
    I’ve seen it even in big groups, over my life’s span. If your going to sing let it be for pleasing to God not to heap glory on
    yourselves then it won’t matter if you sing with live band or canned, or no instrument at all.

  34. I know Daniel read and commented on it already, and it will probably end up in the Saturday Roundup, but Gus Gaches (L5) wrote an interesting blog post about live vs canned music

  35. I became a musician specifically because I became obsessed with all the great musicians who used to perform at my church when I was 5-14 or so. I may have been more influenced by them than I was their secular counterparts. My introduction to guitar went Elvis records and grandma’s >live gospel bands at church>dad’s old rock and roll albums.

    Today, our youth are bored to death by track music. If you are a guitarist, there are no longer any SG guitar heroes to aspire towards. Only contemporary praise and worship and rock/ country guys. Wish the bands would return.

  36. As I was listening through my SG playlist, something dawned on me that I thought was interesting. It doesn’t 100% fall under this topic because it deals more with live projects than live music at concerts, but close enough.

    Ever since Ernie Haase & Signature Sound blew onto the scene almost 8 years ago (self-titled DVD released 10/2005), every major project they’ve released since then (so taking out Influenced I/II, the Younce project, and the two Christmas projects) has featured at least one live version of a song.

    I just thought that was kind of interesting. Maybe others won’t think so…

    • That is fascinating! I had never noticed that.

  37. Just a questions that’s related to the topic at hand…What do you think folks would rather hear when they go to a concert (with or without a live band; with or without tracks): people who can knock someone’s socks off with their incredible vocal talent, or someone who maybe can’t sing as well but carries a song with such conviction and emotion?? For me, when I am fortunate enough to be able to go to a concert I would rather hear the latter. It’s awesome if someone can REALLY sing, but I would rather watch someone who may be slightly sub-par who stands up there to just praise Jesus Christ! That’s what’s it about to me, and what I think it should ALWAYS be about! In my opinion, you just can’t beat someone who KNOWS what they’re singing about, regardless of their vocal talent!

    The day that our genre starts becoming more obsessed with sounding good than honoring Christ is the day we become no better than any secular genre of music (again, in my opinion!)

  38. As a piano player for a local small time gospel quartet I’d like to add my opinion. Our group does a few songs with tracks (that we made ourselves), a couple of songs with piano and bass but mostly piano, bass and drums. As most piano players have experienced, I find you can play much more interesting and entertaining licks, runs, fills and chords when you have a drummer keeping the rhythm and a bass player playing the bass notes for you. This frees the pianist to be more creative. When the piano is the only instrument being played then one musician has to play the bass notes, keep the rhythm, play chords or infer chords AND when there is opportunity play fills and runs. For a comparative picture imagine a vocal soloist clapping his hands and stomping his feet for rhythm and at every chord change in the song he would sing an arpeggio to establish the harmony we need to hear. This might be entertaining but it would come up short most likely in matching how good the song could sound with several musicians helping him out.
    I like gospel music. I like to see a pianist challenged to play without other instruments to see what he can do to play all the parts. But I really like to hear a band so the piano player gets to do more.

  39. Why not mix a little modern and old-day? You could have a keyboard player and four singers. A talented keyboard player can do a lot to sound like a full band. Our praise band did this and sometimes you couldn’t believe the sound we got — it was great. And, the focus stays on the vocals because the singers aren’t competing with musicians.

    You also could have some of the singers pick up an instrument or two here or there as well. If you already have musical knowledge, it’s not hard to learn a little solo here or there. There are so many resources at our disposal these days — you can learn to play an instrument online.

    Like your blog. Thanks for the opportunity to comment.