Audience Response

We’ve all heard a tenor or bass singing out of his natural range, a worn-out comedy routine, or a challenging song attempted by someone who isn’t able to do it justice. I cannot tell you how many things I’ve heard justified with this line: “But the audience responded well.”

Here’s a little secret: (Most) audiences are rooting for the person who is on stage to succeed. If a tenor is pushing the absolute limits of his vocal range, going for a note he probably should have left in the practice room, most audiences aren’t hoping that his voice cracks and he totally flubs the high ending. Even if an audience has heard a joke (like the “sister tenor” joke) so many times that it’s no longer funny, they’ll probably laugh to be polite.

The best emcees recognize that audiences will respond favorably to a lot of things. But they don’t use that as a crutch. Instead, they keep the big picture of what their group wants to accomplish in that concert in mind—edification, entertainment, ministry. Then, from the wide variety of things to which audiences respond positively, they utilize the ones that most effectively take them toward their desired result.


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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. Hi Daniel,

    Just want to thank you for your insights and your work in general- (Itr’s like my daily medicine when it comes into my inbox each morning.) Keep up the good work!

  2. If someone actually believed the audience responds well over completely obliterating a song then that person /group is only fooling themselves. Whether it’s today’s audience or yesterday’s most all know good harmony and music when they hear it.

  3. As one who has attended many concerts, I would offer this perspective. I am better prepared to receive the message of a song when I can relax while listening to the artist. Too many times, I have broken into a sweat because I know where the song is headed and am not sure the vocalist has the range or endurance to get there. Without a doubt, this detracts from the message being presented.
    As a vocalist, I have always viewed myself as the “presenter of a message” – not a “performer of a message”. Keeping this in perspective, I want the listener to be able to be relaxed enough to receive what is being shared. A singer that puts a listener at ease has positioned themselves where they can minister truth through their music, without distraction.

    • I love the breaking out into a sweat part David. Lol. That’s exactly what I’m talking about.

  4. Oh, preach it brother!!!! A million thank you’s for your insightful entry regarding the “out of range” both high and low. The duel between Vestal and Michael English on one of the Gaither videos is a great example. Quality musical presentation in good natured praise. (Besides that Bill was standing right there and would not let things get out of control. His money, his call.)

    If the set-up is sold as an entertainment thing and if the singer makes it he (she) makes it, great and if not he (she) makes a joke of it and moves on.

    For many years I was a 1st Tenor singing in a quartet. It doesn’t matter that I was classically trained and my range only went to B Flat on a good day and that was in a full throat tone. On occasion I would pop into a falsetto especially on quiet, contemplative endings. Being 68 years old now, a long time back I made the decision that If, I couldn’t produce a quality (and I know that’s subjective) tone I would simply take the third below or I would double on the melody.

    The same is true for Basses. There are however so many electronic enhancers like the “Big Bottoms” and gimmicks available to basses that it is possible produce a reasonable sound below the singer’s natural range, and that’s fine. You can, as a bass, pull off a sanctified belch.

    Tenors like Rosie Roselle, rest his soul, set the standard for the SG genre but, he was a gem among his peers. So was JD Sumner.

    Just this morning, I was listening to a local SG format radio station. The morning host made a couple of comments about a tremendous mixed group and the fact that they presented the loudest show of any group he had ever heard. I will adhere to the code of ethics set forth by Daniel and not name the group, but, the DJ was right.

    In my opinion, there is another aspect to this “out of range” discussion”, that being the SPL (Volume) the people running the mix are allowed to run by the promoter (if there is one). Being in the sound business I observe patrons and judge the reactions of the audience. One of the last concerts I attended the level both the tenor and the bass were so extreme that many, particularly the elderly, got up and headed to the lobby.

    SG fans are a very tolerant bunch and look past many aspects of the genre we are trying to preserve but at times it’s beyond the OSHA sound limits and a tenor attempting to break a glass with the aid of the Roadie running the mix is, again in my opinion, beyond the pale.

  5. iN REFERENCE TO ABOVE POST I AM INTERESTED IN WHAT GIMMICKS AND ELECTRONICS BASS SINGERS USE. i AM IGNORANT OF SOUND SYSTEMS BUT HAVE HEARD BASS SINGERS USE SPECIAL MIKES. aLTHOUGH IVE HEARD GEORGE YOUNCE DID NOT. DO ALL OR MOST BASS SINGERS USE A SPECIAL MIKE? ARE THERE ANY WHO DONT? I JUST WANT TO HEAR WHAT A SINGER CAN NATURALLY DO.

    • I don’t know of the equipment that you’re referring too that is used in live concerts. If you wanna hear bass singers that know how to use their tones then go listen to Jeff Chapman (Kingdom Heirs) Tim Riley (Gold City) Burman Porter (Freedom Qt) Eric Bennett (Triumphant) and Pat Barker (Mark Trammel Qt) . There are more but I can’t think we’ll at 5 AM. Anyway these guys all have low voices and know their placements with each vowel and consonant to enhance that low note. I’m almost positive that Jeff uses the same brand and model number mic that the rest of the quartet uses. Some use condenser mics but that don’t make them lower just makes it easier for them to sing and can be heard in the blend with the rest. In studio work there are things like auto tune and Mellodine which fixes flat and sharp notes by singers and really saves a person from having to sing so much they lose their voices. Anyway I’ve rambled to long. Hope this helps some.

  6. Great post Daniel. I’ll add my two cents by saying a true pro knows as much what NOT to do as what to do. No sense in proving what one is not capable of pulling off with excellence. The key to that is understanding what ones own weeknesses are. We ALL have them. No shame in that, just don’t display them for an audience.

    I’ll also add that there is plenty of free education. Get some Gaither videos and watch him. Notice what happens and when and try to understand why. I guaranty there is a reason. Just like George Younce. Watch some old Cat videos and do the same. These guys don’t blink without a reason.

    Still a student
    Michael Booth

    • Agreed. I was talking to a studio musician, about bass guitar in particular and he said “Less is more”. There’s a time and place for “showing off” but one has to realize the overall role of the instrument. Bass guitar is primarily a supportive or accompanying instrument…. I’ve always tried to remember that. Any musician has to adjust or fit in with the overall picture, or sound that is trying to be made. Kind of reminds me of some “American Idol” episodes, when they used to have “group night” competitions. You can really tell a lot about the singer when they are thrown in to a group setting, having to blend, harmonize , switch parts, etc. Some of them can’t resist the urge to draw attention to themselves, often at the expense of the group.
      Also agreed about Cathedral videos/concerts. They knew how to blend the fun with the serious. Their gimmicks were backed up with substance. I heard them numerous times in concert, and at least in my experience, there were no “breaking in to a sweat” moments. I was fortunate enough to be able to interview Glen Payne and Scott Fowler for my university music degree I was working on, and Glen said something like this: Stick with the girl you brought to the party. In other words, work within the limits of your own voice, be consistent, and faithful to what you’ve been entrusted.

  7. To Michael Booth and Daniel: Exactly!!!!!! If less is more then Michael you are a true class act. Have been to many of your concerts, purchased your tracks and have never heard an ear shattering “unreachable High H’s” that attempt. I think the comparison to WWE and the audience SG is supposed to satisfy is sort of a stretch. Is WWE remotely in the Good News business?

    For the record, there are several gimmicks easily purchased such as the Aphex Big Bottom and lots of things can be done to “enhance” the que particularly the bass and can be done @ live concerts.

    Daniel, thanks again for this open discussion and I hope many of the travelling groups read and at least consider these entries.

    • Hey Mike

      That’s cool. I never knew that there’s equipment out there for live shows. Interesting to me. I’ve never play for a full time group that had to use things like that. I’ll be watching for it now.

  8. Good article Daniel, I have sat in several concerts listened to a tenor (usually armatures) take the lead on a song and I nudge my wife and whisper he’ll never reach that high note. 99% of the time I’m right. I always say, know your limitations. On the base part, some are good a growling not singing. One other thing, Rusty Goodman is the only singer that I never heard hit a sour or sorta sour note. They all do it some time or another. I was going to stop but since I’m on my soap box I am ready for the fad or style of screaming and hollering to stop and get back to pure singing.

    • I’m pretty sure that Glenn Allred never hit a sour note in his life, unless he did it on purpose. I doubt Glen Payne or a number of the other greats of their generation did it, either.

  9. Oops, amateurs not armatures