Are the charts too slow or too fast?

Prevailing wisdom can be interesting—especially when it is contradictory.

What does Southern Gospel radio need?

Quite a few fans will answer that radio needs a chart that moves faster. The Singing News’ monthly Radio Airplay chart is widely recognized as the industry standard. Right now, a #1 hit will often take 5-7 months climbing the chart to attain the top position. Other genres’ charts are updated weekly, so songs can climb charts in 6 weeks instead of 6 months. These fans will tell you that radio needs to cycle through singles more quickly to offer more fresh content to keep audiences’ attention.

(In point of fact, Singing News does offer a weekly radio airplay chart, here, but perhaps since it’s only visible to subscribers, it hasn’t developed into an industry standard. Other publications, like AbsolutelyGospel, also offer weekly charts, but no weekly chart has overtaken Singing News’ in terms of recognition.)

But keep asking that same question to others, and quite a few other fans will give you a contradictory response. Back in the good old days, when a song hit #1, it would often stay #1 for 3-6 months. Landmark songs would stay #1 for 9 months or more. So you would see fewer songs in the top 20, but you would hear them for long enough that you would certainly remember them by the time the next #1 came along. These fans would tell you that if truly landmark songs stayed #1 for longer, radio would be all the better for it.

So who is right?

Particularly insightful responses from each side will be considered for tomorrow’s “Letters to the Editor” column.


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14 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. I’m of the school that says the charts have much less impact today than they did 20 years ago. Honestly I subscribe to Singing News but I seldom ever look at the chart anymore and I don’t look at any other charts at all. I was in radio for a few years in the late 80’s-early 90’s so I looked at it then. Now with so much instant access to songs through websites, YouTube, iTunes, social media, etc. the need for charting is lessened for the consumer. It’s still a measure for the artist of what the buying public is listening to, but I think other factors have bit into that as well.

    Services like Enlighten, iTunes Radio, Pandora, etc. have had a very positive effect in getting the music by the top groups “out there” more. Sure there are still some quality issues, but it’s still better quality than was demonstrated on much local gospel music radio before these were available. The push-back is this . . . artists are seeing that people are buying fewer and fewer CD’s. They either buy it on iTunes, with many just buying the songs they like, or due to the exposure with these web and satellite-based services, people don’t feel like they need to buy the CD’s/songs because they get to hear the top songs for free or for a monthly subscription.

    While the artists do get royalties from services like Enlighten, the impression I’m getting from the artists is it’s many times a lesser return than they used to see from CD sales just a few years ago.

    Getting back to the issue at hand, I see there being fewer “landmark” songs” today than 20 years ago. I think it’s partially because of increased exposure, partially because there are more groups who have a “national” platform than there were. The internet and it’s related venues like YouTube, social media, artist websites, e-mail lists and the like make it easier for folks to keep up with and interact with their favorite groups and really not be as interested in the industry as a whole. Used to be, Singing News was the lifeline of information – now the information is 2 months old when you receive it and it’s greater value is the behind the scenes stuff with the artists, their at home visits and the stories behind the songs. Still a great value, but much different than grabbing it out of the mailbox and seeing what song is #1 this month.

    Some may argue that there are MORE landmark songs than 20 years ago, but I would disagree. I think you get some songs with “definition” for a group from time to time but I don’t think they, overall, have the lasting impact as “Midnight Cry” or “We Shall See Jesus” or “Learning to Lean” or “Touring that City” or other songs that are instantly identified with a particular group from days gone by.

    It’s the same thing in the rest of society. There are many other options for music, for entertainment, for pretty much everything these days. Overall TV ratings are down for particular shows because there are so many other options for viewing. Shows come and go much quicker because networks will not stick with shows to let them breathe.

    The same reality exists in gospel music. The most successful groups in recent days have had a simple formula – good songs, good people skills, believability and very little personnel turnover – period. I tell people all the time, the key to being successful in gospel music comes down to 2 words “stay there”. The problem is now, economic issues are going to swallow more and more up and those who are in debt up to their eyeballs are going to be tempted to do some unethical things to try and stay afloat (some already have) and that’s a tough place to be.

    With that said, back to the issue at hand (I keep chasing my own rabbits), who can name the “landmark” song of more recent groups? It often comes down to the song you first heard them sing or the song you like the best or the song that ministers to you the best. I’m asking some hypothetical questions now because I don’t want this thread to become a list of people’s choices for “landmark” song, but what is the “Landmark” song of Triumphant Quartet? Crabb Family? Collingsworth Family? Whisnants? Mark Trammell Quartet? Booth Brothers? Greater Vision? Tribute Quartet? I’m thinking specifically off the top of my head of groups that have come to more prominence within the past 20 years, give or take. If we were to list them, we couldn’t likely come to a consensus of what those were in many cases. In some cases it’s a little clearer, to be sure.

    To summarize, I’m of the opinion that radio still has much value, but the charting impact has lessened significantly in gospel music and I don’t see it coming back.

    • Certainly some great thoughts here. For some of the groups you mentioned, it’s easy enough:

      Crabb Family – Through The Fire
      Booth Brothers – He Saw It All
      Greater Vision – My Name is Lazarus

      I agree that it’s not worth turning the whole thread into a listing of signature songs; I only mentioned this for several of them to note that some new groups do have consensus signature songs.

      • Is there not a difference between a “landmark” song and a “signature” song?? I would propose that their is…..

  2. My opinion would fall into the first category. I listen to a certain Southern Gospel radio station online. If I am hearing a particular song several times EVERY day, I know it must be one that is up toward the top of the Singing News Top 80 chart. And when I go to check it out, bingo, most of the time I am right. My thing is, and maybe it’s due to my short attention span, no matter how “good” a song is, if I keep hearing i it over & over & over & over (you get my point), I tend to get tired of it. So more songs being released to radio from each album a group produces, in my mind, would be a good thing.

    • I’m with you Darrell, I know it’s not true (I hope not) but when I hear one song or one group over and over and over it makes you wonder if payola is still around. When I hear a certain group on the radio the only songs you hear are the ones that feature a certain person (the owner/manager).

      • It’s often pretty simple: DJs and music programmers have personal favorites, and in some settings they’ll just play their personal favorites nonstop. At one point in my life, I lived within range of a radio station where the DJ’s personal favorites had to have been Carroll Roberson and Mike Blanton & Evidence. Even when neither artist was making a dent on the national charts, their songs would get played quite frequently at this station. I doubt it was payola; I’m sure it was just personal preference.

  3. The idea if a chart is very much relevant, but our methods of tracking them are undoubtedly outdated. Southern gospel tends to be too late to the party on most things (iTunes, spotify, etc.) to capitalize on it. Plus, I do believe there is a difference between a signature song and a landmark song. Signature is when that song belongs to one man (we shall see Jesus to glen Payne) verse a landmark song that several people can ding it and it doesn’t affect the response (midnight cry, Beulah land, oh what a savior.) At least two of the songs if not three were not radio smash hits. Now, if you ask me, with all of the methods of exposure, if a song stays high for multiple months, it’s probably similar to the 18 months of the past because we hear that song as much in those 3 months as they did in those 18 months.

    • Brw, that was supposed to be 8 months, not 18. Talk about an exaggeration!

  4. If we look back in history from the 50’s, 60’s and in the 70’s, all formats (country, pop, etc) had songs that dominated the #1 position on the charts for months. Now that we’ve become the instant everything culture, we see songs rise and fall in a quicker manner. I think another thing that comes into play is that we have more ‘national’ groups than we did in prior decades. With more groups clammering for airplay, I see songs coming off charts sooner because we have to make room for the new addtions to the chart.

    I like Absolutely Gospel’s weekly chart (disclosure: we are a reporting station to this chart) versus a monthly chart, but I believe the charts are for industry professionals. Nobody walks up to a product table and says, ‘well this CD has one number one song, a top ten song and a three top twenty songs, but that one had only one number one song and one top fourty song. I’ll take the first one’.

    One of the quirks I see in Singing News charts (and other charts) is that some of the reporting stations play very little music. They are filled with preacher after preacher during most of the day and only play music or pick up a network feed when that can’t sell that time to another preacher or info-mercial.

    My other concern is that if your listen to a Southern Gospel network feed, you’re hearing the same hit song every three to four hours. If I’m listening to that station everyday while I’m at work, I gonna get tired of that song or songs because I’ve heard them too many times.

    One other observation. We’ve gone from a time when you did concerts to sell your LP’s and cassettes because that where singers could make money. That has now flipped. The songs bring people into the concert. In pop and country venues, the price of concert tickets has skyrocketed and those are artists are doing very well. We still live in the love offering era where some people think $10 is too much to drop in the plate.

    Maybe we need to create bigger events and charge a set price. Weekend concerts, and Southern Gospel cruises are a good start. Maybe pairing up two or three groups and doing a national tour might be the route to go. Much like the Gaithers or Jubilee does.

  5. Is a “chart” even relevant anymore? In Ye Olden Days, it was a marketing tool – appearing on a chart directly translated to people hustling down to a record store to buy a 45. Even before the advent of downloadable music, the public’s music-buying habits had long changed, and the buy has been a full album (sorry…”project”) for decades now. I look at the SN chart every month, but just to see what’s resonating from albums (sorry…”projects”) that I already have. There are certain groups that are an automatic buy for me, and I expand those horizons by what I hear streaming via Enlighten and whatever the heck it is that I get delivered with DirecTV , then head over to iTunes and buy a new album (sor…never mind). So I guess to answer your question then, Daniel, is to make a request of my own; you tell me what the chart is “for”, and I’ll give you my take on how frequently it should be updated.

  6. Re: Landmark vs signature song
    IMHO (which probably has little weight) a landmark song is one that isn’t restricted to a particular group but rather it is more genre related. A signature song is identified with a particular group or individual.

    • Your opinion has more weight than most. 🙂

      I would agree, by the way.

    • That is what I was thinking…..but was not sure.

  7. I’ve been thinking about the difference between SG and other genres in other areas of the industry, but it has an effect here too.

    Its widely understood that a major difference between our industry and others is our motives.

    In other genres, chart success is what drives their success on the road. If you don’t have a chart-topper, its very difficult to get your foot into the industry.

    In southern gospel, while chart success is important, I’m not convinced its what drives a group to continue on the road. If it does, maybe they should check why they are in this industry to begin with. Groups will (should) continue to travel if they don’t have a chart-topper. That’s not what this industry should be based on. The importance needs to be placed less on the chart-toppers and more on the lives saved.

    Could the charting process be sped up? If its a core part of the industry and why groups continue to travel, go right ahead. But I won’t be hurt if it stays the way it is because I hope groups would realize that they don’t travel for chart-topping success or the royalties they could earn.