Should I only review CDs by national groups?

Before I get to the main topic of this post, let me explain why I ask you questions like this. Some view blogs as writer-driven–that a writer should do whatever he wants. But I spent several years in traditional journalism (producing newsletters) before starting this blog, and I still hold to an old-school perspective: If you don’t provide the readers with the content they want, they won’t come back.

Therefore, when one of my regular readers emailed me a few days ago expressing a desire that I’d stick to reviewing national groups, I decided to consider his perspective seriously. The only problem is that I don’t know if his view is shared by most of you, or only a few of you.

So do you like reading reviews of projects by local groups, or would you rather I only reviewed projects by nationally known groups?

Let me say at the outset that there are a few groups discussed enough among Southern Gospel fans–such as the Diplomats, the Old Paths Quartet, and Liberty Quartet–that I’ll probably be open to reviewing their projects either way. For several of these groups, the case can be made that they’re either at a national or an almost-national status. I’ll also note that there are one or two reviews already in the works which I may post because of previous commitments; this discussion is with a long-term view in mind.

If there are differing views in this discussion, keep all comments respectful.


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27 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 agree. I can always SKIP something I’m not interested in. On the other hand, I’d prefer that the majority of the reviews to be on national group projects.

  2. I thought I’d put my own views in the comments, so as to not over-emphasize them. In my opinion, it’s easier to skip reading a local group’s review than to read one that doesn’t get posted. 🙂 But that said, I’d be happy to go either way.

  3. Personally the reason I read a review is to decide if I want to buy the CD or not. I just don’t have the desire to buy a CD of cover songs by a weekend group.

  4. I actually think you said it exactly right yourself. Most of the time I probably won’t want to buy the CD. But if you uncover something good enough, then who knows? 🙂 And it gets the name in my head … Someday I may be saying, “I know I heard that somewhere a long time ago.” Additionally, it gives the groups some free exposure that doesn’t hurt anyone. Your blog is accessible in their local area, after all, and that could help the artists. If I’m not interested, I won’t waste my time or money.

    BTW, do you consider Southern Sound national yet? I definitely appreciated that review and would like to have more of their CDs, but I am not with it enough to know whether they are charting artists or how much they travel. Who gets to decide which CDs are important enough to merit a review if you limit yourself? 🙂

  5. I say review both. If there is an exceptional CD by a local group that you think your readers might like, then by all means, review it. The group gets the profits and the free publicity; the publicity coming by that reader maybe commenting on the CD in a forum, such as SGN or Singing News. And hey, you never know who might be lurking on those forums, and that group may get a sweet deal with a national record label because of that post.

  6. How would you define a ‘national’ group? Is it a group that has traveled the nation? Is it a group on a label? There are plenty of charting groups who are ‘indie’ artists. Or is it the number of dates you sing in a year? There are a lot of local and regional groups who sing more dates than label groups. While I am new to your blog, I find that if I want to skip something, I just skip it. I enjoyed the review for the Liberty Quartet. I’ve never heard of them, but I just may buy their CD sometime. Are they a national group? Maybe I’m biased because my local weekend group has performed as many as 180 meetings a year, and has sung in 35 states for over 22 years. And yes, while we occasionally do a cover song (and of course, national groups NEVER do cover songs), we also write much of our own material. This is not to toot our own horn, but an attempt to toot the horn of some of the local and regional indie groups that have legitimate ministries and produce quality recordings. Obviously, this is your blog, Daniel, and the decision is yours to make. My thanks to you for reviewing our group by the way. My thought it that you are going to have a hard time deciding who is national and who is not. In your new rating system, you said that a CD won’t even get reviewed if it doesn’t meet the ‘enjoyable’ criteria. So, you are already weeding out CD’s and thusly groups who don’t offer a minimum standard of quality. Yes, there are lots of local weekend groups who give Southern Gospel (and music ministry in general) a bad name for several reasons. But dare I say that there are some national groups who lower the bar also….

  7. Southern Sound was on the main stage at the 2007 NQC. If “quality” was the determining factor, they would have been there several years ago.

    Now, for the matter at hand:

    Daniel, obviously some folks think you should review each and every release you receive. I know that if a review is done properly, it is a very time consuming process. Do you want to spend your valuable time writing in depth reviews for projects by these local, part time groups? If you have time to do so, by all means do it. However, one person’s review of an unknown local artist wouldn’t cause me to seek out the project to add to my collection. I can choose for myself whether to spend my time reading the review or not.

  8. John makes a good point. If your time is better spent reviewing well-known groups, and if this drives more readers to your blog, then that’s where I would invest the bulk of my time if I were you. But for groups like my family, we indeed consider it a privilege that you included us, and we don’t take your time for granted….

  9. Amy, I’d group Southern Sound along with the Old Paths, the Diplomats, and Liberty–if not in the top tier yet, they’re at least close enough that I’d review them. I don’t consider them a local group.

  10. Aaron, thus far my policy has been to review all submitted CDs, mainly because I don’t like to email someone back and say that their project wasn’t good enough for me to review. So thus far I’ve reviewed everything submitted.

  11. When you offer constructive criticism (keeping it positive in the spirit of your blog, of course), it’s true that a review of a small time group’s project benefits the group more than it does your ordinary readers. That may not seem to be worthwhile on the surface, but in the grand scheme of things, it is. I’m not saying you can make or break an artist with your opinion alone, of course, but if you can help somebody along life’s way then your living shall not be in vain.

    (Sorry…I had a JD flashback there!)

  12. Rich, Thanks for your comments. It often is a struggle for me to find the time I need to do the reviews. But I make the time anyhow, because I figure that making the time for the harder parts of the job is where I earn the privileges, like the (rare but appreciated) occasions where an artist who happens to like my website lets me “break” a story.

  13. Rich wrote: “John makes a good point. If your time is better spent reviewing well-known groups, and if this drives more readers to your blog, then that’s where I would invest the bulk of my time if I were you. But for groups like my family, we indeed consider it a privilege that you included us, and we don’t take your time for granted….”

    Rich,
    Did you learn anything from Daniel’s review of your CD that will help you make a better CD the next time? That’s even more important than feeling honored to be included, in my opinion.

    Daniel wrote: “Aaron, thus far my policy has been to review all submitted CDs, mainly because I don’t like to email someone back and say that their project wasn’t good enough for me to review. So thus far I’ve reviewed everything submitted.”

    It sounds like you’re letting the artist dictate to you that their CD is good by the mere act of sending you a copy. Your rating system doesn’t allow you to say a CD is anything less than “enjoyable.”

  14. I think Rich brings up a good point – this industry’s line between professional/full-time and regional/part-time is extremely blurred at the moment.

    Where do you draw the line? What is going to be your qualifier? Is it only artists signed to labels? Where that knocks out the Whisnants and The Freemans. What about artists in the Top 10? Well – that knocks out Dixie Melody Boys – can’t remember the last Top 10 they had. But that also includes a new, regional group – The Browders. Would you include them?

    Just something to think about.

  15. DBM, I have to admit you have a good point.

    That said, I can typically find a few enjoyable tracks on just about any Southern Gospel project. 🙂

  16. Honestly, never having heard of anything by the Browders, I wouldn’t know.

    I think what qualifies someone to be a national artist could be a discussion of its own.

  17. As a part of a parttime quartet that was recently reviewed by both Daniel and David Bruce Murray, I’d like to offer some input from our perspective. First of all I appreciate that both gentlemen took their valuable time to even communicate with us, let alone the time they gave to review our CD. We wanted some industry input to guage where we were and what we needed to do next. Opinions are just that nothing more, but having your material reviewed by folks that hear the best and worst that SG has to offer is better than just listening to your friends who wouldn’t dare hurt your feelings. I told both to do with the CD what you want and if it’s worth your time, review it and if not, fine. Either way, we got the input we were wanting. Also, we’re a young group trying to get our name/brand out in front of people. Having industry reviews will help people take our music more seriously when we have quotes on our promo material, etc. Remember, most of the pastors that will book us are not familiar with the difference between us and any other group that most SG fans would consider a household name. They simply take what we provide for them and what they have heard from other people. We don’t have any expectations of being a fulltime national artist, but that shouldn’t be an excuse for us not doing all we can to be our best. Whether it means our next recording will not have many/any cover songs, our arrangements are more creative, we don’t spend money on singling a certain song or someone reads that we had a pretty good CD, it can benefit the parttime guys. With that being said, Daniel do what you’d think is best. People will still visit if they want to. I appreciate that both and David were nice enough to give us a chance.

  18. I say include regional groups. They deserve to be noticed. If someone doesn’t want to read the review, so be it. I like to read them.

  19. Remember, Gold City, Cathedrals, Perrys, and everyone else was once a “regional group”. A lesser known group that you do an album review for may be the most popular group 5 or 10 years from now. So if the group is good, (you’ve done reviews for Colonial City and Southern Sound, for example) then yes, do the reviews. Good regional groups just need a chance to be discovered by the right people. Your review may be that break for a certain artist.

  20. I’m not sure Gold City or the Cathedrals were ever really regional groups. The Cathedrals started out with major TV exposure at Rex Humbard’s Cathedral of Tomorrow, and while they struggled for five years or so after they left, I believe they continued touring and recording nationally pretty much the whole time.

    Gold City didn’t stay regional for long, either; I think it wasn’t two years between when they took on the name Gold City and when they were on the NQC mainstage.

  21. I’d definitely recommend sticking with national groups. I basically do not buy music from artists that are not at or near NQC caliber.

  22. How will regional groups ever step up to national if we don’t give them a chance???

  23. Guys, check out Neil Enloe’s comment (if you haven’t) under the review on the CD by the Stevens. That’s a group that I believe is not at all national, but if it’s good enough for Neil Enloe it is probably good enough for me (not that I’ve heard it! 😉 )

    Slightly off-topic, to Tyler & Daniel: I think it’s really a good thing that you two can be such great friends … but what’s funny is that you disagree such a large percentage of the time, at least on music! 🙂

  24. He’ll probably disagree.

    (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

  25. Ok, so I didn’t pick the best examples. But the point was that every major group today had a somewhat humble beginning, compared to where they are now.
    Anyway, great lesser known groups deserve some exposure. But it’s your choice if you want to be the one shining the theoreticall “spotlight”.

  26. Compare us to any CCM fan, and we have a whole lot in common!

    Musically speaking (and, in fact, politically and theologically speaking as well), we tend to agree on the big picture, and usually apply the same principles just a little differently in different details. 🙂

    At least, that’s my take. I’d be interested to see Tyler’s response.

  27. I think that you should post reviews on ALL groups no matter if everyone has heard of them or not, because at some time or another EVERY group was a group that not many people had heard of b4.

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