On Bias in Southern Gospel

Some bloggers think that being “unbiased” means “to be critical of everyone and judge them by secular music standards.”

But I think that’s a sort of bias in and of itself. It is based off the assumption that Southern Gospel ought to sound like another genre of music–in arrangements, production quality, and perhaps even vocal stylings.

So when I’m reviewing a project, here’s what I do: I try to listen to any project I review – from Eighth Day to the Inspirations – with an open mind, and try to determine how well they achieved what they tried to achieve.

Sure, the Inspirations aren’t always perfectly on key, but in the mind of their fan base, some things are more important than singing perfectly on key. So I try to approach their music from the perspective of their fans and find what I can like about it. Doing that, I find much to like.

I know musical standards are important, and some of them will impact how much I personally like a CD. But if it happens to be something that I know is irrelevant to that part of my reading audience who might be considering the project and could be influenced by my review, maybe it becomes less important.

Some would say that looking down your nose at less professional varieties of the genre is being unbiased. But could the truly unbiased be those willing to look at recordings from a wide variety of Southern Gospel–progressives to traditionalists–on their own merits?

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10 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. Very interesting perspective.

  2. WWJLT?

    What would Jesus listen to?

  3. Or maybe I wouldn’t be rating them at all. :o)

  4. You would be rating recordings based on popularity if you did that. If I applied your philosophy to my 1-5 star rating system, the mega-groups you were blogging about a few days ago (GVB, EH&SS, etc.) would always get five stars on everything they recorded.

    Your approach doesn’t do away with bias. It simply introduces a different bias…the ever changing wind that is fan opinion.

    How popular the product is has nothing to do with looking at a product on its own merits. Judging a product on its own merits means that you concentrate more on musicianship when reviewing a bluegrass recording. Or you judge a male quartet recording based on criteria like vocal blend.

    Singing on pitch is a pretty basic standard, by the way, whether or not a lot of fans are satisfied with it.

  5. Of course, you’re right.

    As usual. 😀

  6. Whether you put an actual rating on a CD or not when you write a review, a reader is going to have an impression of the CD’s quality after reading what you have written.

    The question is whether or not they leave with an accurate impression of the product’s quality. If you neglect to mention that the singers can’t stay on pitch because their existing fans don’t mind, then you’ve done your readers a disservice.

  7. I see I have trained you well. :o)

  8. Very interesting. If we were to rate recordings, as you say, on “if the group accomplished what they set out to do,” then we’d be rating groups well just because they had th energy to get out of bed and get into the recording studio.

    When I was a kid, our church had these ladies who sang about twice a month. They were simply horrible. One flat and the other sharp. Sitll, they sung. They accomplished what they set out to do. They sang. The song was good, but the delivery was horrible.

    Thank the Good Lord for reviewers like DBM who tell it like it is!

  9. I am a little new to the SG “industry” (having concentrated my efforts in Evangelism and local church ministry the last 34 years)…but it seems to me that all my good friends in the SG world (Goodmans, Cathedrals, Johnny Minick, Gerald Williams, Roger Bennett, Lari Goss, Rick Busby, etc)… ALWAYS have done their best to produce music of the highest quality that their budgets and other resources would allow…BUT they were and are sensitve to not “over producing” (some more than others) out of respect for the SG genre & message…However, all of my
    friends have consistently demonstrated a desire for their artistry to be judged more for it’s integrity than it’s precision.
    …But to the great ones, BOTH are very important.

    It seems to me, that in their own way, both Daniel J. and David Bruce are right…an interesting exchange guys!

    I hope I have not offended anyone with my name dropping.
    I mention my friends only because I am reasonaby sure that you nor your readers know me. My longstanding joy in knowing and working with these talented people gives me a little perspetive, and my own “bias”. Thanks for listening.

  10. Hm. I think I agree with DBM that we can’t judge a recording based solely on what the fans are looking for. However, I do see Daniel’s point that we should try to think about what the group was trying to accomplish.

    For example, I might be listening to something a local group put together. Of course they can’t sing like Signature Sound, but honestly, they’re not too bad. Maybe they picked some great songs, wrote a couple good ones of their own. All in all, it’s actually a rather impressive project that I could listen to more than once. I might give it 3.5 stars.

    Now let’s say I am reviewing an EHSS project, since I mentioned them. I pick up Get Away Jordan. I listen to it all the way through. I decide it’s a good CD, but a little uneven. Vocals strong, a number of good songs, great production value, but somewhat disjointed with a few duds in the mix. I give it a four out of five.

    But wait a minute…that’s only half a star away from the local group. Does that mean the local group is almost as good as Signature Sound? No. What it does mean is that *for what the local group was trying to do* (and this is where Daniel’s point comes in), their project was worthy of 3.5 stars. Ditto for Signature Sound—a good project, but somewhat short of what it could have been given the group’s caliber.