Could a traditional label make it?

In a comment on Tuesday’s post, Susan Unthank asks:

Would there be a large enough market for a SG label that catered only to the traditional 4 guys, 2 mics and a piano sound?

Are we blaming labels because they are trying to stay in business by utilizing a more updated sound?

From everything members of traditional groups have told me about album sales, the answer is…yes.

Picture a label roster that included:

  • The Dixie Echoes
  • The Melody Boys Quartet
  • The Dixie Melody Boys
  • The Inspirations
  • The Chuck Wagon Gang
  • The Five Broke Single Boys
  • Southern Sound
  • Jimmy Blackwood’s Blackwood Brothers
  • The Blackwood Quartet (featuring John Rulapaugh and Rick Fair)
  • and perhaps one or two “development artists”

While I’m not saying that every single artist I just named is a top seller, I think a label with this roster would do quite well.

Traditional Southern Gospel is still alive and well.


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21 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. Perhaps an argument for someone to introduce a modern version of Skylite….

  2. YES YES YES And again I say Yaaauuusss.

  3. Great idea, but I doubt that Crossroads would turn loose the group that is one of their 3 best selling artists.

  4. Hidee,
    I would be thrilled to see a label like this emerge in “our music”. When you talk to the “average fan”, it is really what many of them are looking for in a recording and concert. Of course, I’m always thrilled to see The Melody Boys Quartet mentioned on a major SGM site. I simply do not think they get the credit they deserve.

  5. Might be worth a try, Daniel…certainly it would serve the musical needs of those disenfranchised by the “watering down” of their favorite music by those all too quick to jump aboard the latest trendy bandwagon.

  6. Well, if there is enough market to bear the costs of the label, why haven’t we seen the label? And why aren’t these groups above NOT with a label already?

    I have my own opinions, but I am curious as to what others think.

    Also, where are the answers to the second question?

  7. Well, I for one believe that a label of that nature would work out wonderfully. We don’t see a label of that sort because most people have that same ol’ attitude of “they need some tracks and stacks”…because that’s what SG is turning into. See who can stack the vocals more than Joe Blo Group in the next town over and drown out the vocals you do get with some drums and orchestration. I think it’s beginning to be a competition on who can out-produce who.

    I don’t know why those groups aren’t with labels. Probably because the labels want them to conform to their idea of SG music, instead of allowing the groups to be who they are.

    So yeah, you can blame the labels for the more “updated sound”. Why fix something that ain’t broke? Every one (with the exception of the FBSB who do not tour) of the aforementioned groups sells out everytime they’re near here, as I’m sure they do elsewhere. So, if the labels were using their brains, they’d be trying to recruit some of these groups to their label and let them be who they are….spectacular groups with a bright future.

  8. Been there…. done that…

    with a group that has been with many of the Major labels throughout the career, and perhaps you forget that being with a label doesn’t make or break a career.

    Unless your Gaither, you don’t have REAL distribution much less people buying your product in the stores. Most of any groups sales are going to be over the table, so why pay $4-$5 per cd when you can pay actual cost?

    Also, what is success in SG? Would you prefer to be nominated for Grammys, doves, have singing news #1’s, or like us play most major events, working when and where you want and be debt free? and very very happy with what God has provided.

  9. Been there…. done that…

    with a group that has been with many of the Major labels throughout the career, and perhaps you forget that being with a label doesn’t make or break a career.

    Unless your Gaither, you don’t have REAL distribution much less people buying your product in the stores. Most of any groups sales are going to be over the table, so why pay $4-$5 per cd when you can pay actual cost?

    Also, what is success in SG? Would you prefer to be nominated for Grammys, doves, have singing news #1’s, or like us play most major events, working when and where you want and be debt free? and very very happy with what God has provided.

    So, in answer to your question Susan… Not all groups are seeking for a label. I absolutely assure you that if Daywind called today, the answer would be a FIRM NO from us!

  10. SV,

    So are you saying that you HAVE been approached by a label but just said no? Or are you saying, you would say no if approached. Because my question is, if there is enough of a market for a label that catered only to that traditional sound, why aren’t all these groups being scooped up by a label?

  11. Didn’t he say that they had been with a label? If you remember correctly, it hasn’t been that long ago that the Echoes were with Crossroads.

    Labels make you conform to what they want. Traditional groups aren’t going to conform. They’re traditional for a reason. You don’t know if the groups haven’t been contacted by labels. They could have just as easily told a label they weren’t interested.

    A label isn’t going to make or break a group.

  12. #11, You have a good point. A traditional label would have an advantage with the traditional groups that other labels might not have–they would be content to let the traditional groups stay traditional. This would tend to leave the traditional groups happier with the label.

  13. My point was that a label doesn’t make or break a group. Traditional or not. How can you be scooped up if you don’t want to go? There’s no way of knowing real numbers of all SG groups based on table sales, and I’ll admit that Gaither and his product from his label are outselling everyone, but for the rest of us, I know that we sell a large amount of product, and for argument sake… would you prefer to sell 30,000 cds and pay $1 each for manufacturing, or pay a label $5 each for the cd?

    A great example of a non-traditional/non-quartet act was Tony Gore and Majesty. He used his own label, and was extremely successful. Do you not think he was offered record deals? It is possible to be offered and turn down deals.

    Not to knock the suggestion of this thread, but what would a traditional label even do? I’ve not seen any label with excellent distribution at the stores where I shop at (walmart, target, etc). and I can put an ad in the singing news just as easily as a record company, but in the long run spend less by just buying the ad rather than payin for it by paying the upcharge of cd prices.

    I wish that SG were bigger than it is, and I do my best to promote it, but in some fans eyes, if it isn’t modern or progressive they think it hurts the industry and people are tired of it… Well, tell that to the packed houses we had EVERY night this weekend.

  14. To answer Susan’s question…..there is no such thing as a southern gospel label. It does not exist. There are some custom houses which will gladly put you on “their label” for a price. Then sell you CD’s at a huge profit, do that you can market their product for them, again for a price. Then promote your product to radio, which actually means your single will be one of 15 songs sent out on a total of about 300 comp cd’s to SG radio. Then once a month they will call a portion of those radio stations, and ask if they are playing your single. Again, for a price. (This is promotion?)Then if your product finally begins to sell, your label will sell soundtracks of your latest CD to everyone who wants one so that the next time your in Rome GA at the 2nd and 3rd Baptist Church, dear Aunt Martha and her two friends will sing your songs for you, badly I might add, just before you get up to sing. Of course in this case, the label kept the profits from the soundtracks, did not play the musicians that palyed on the original for its re-packaging, and your left with a free will offering from the church that may if your lucky, cover the fuel costs.

    We have been with a few labels, and have had the opportunity to be with several others. Until someone in Southern Gospel gets serious and actually starts a SG label, we are likely not interested.

    Now as to progressive versus traditional, I would ask everyone to look at your audience. Ask them what they want. Don’t ask the labels, they don’t have the foggiest idea what the people out there who warm the seats really want. Their idea is we need more young people, of course at the cost of driving away our core audience. Remember them, those dear gray haired people who buy the tickets and then take home some product? It is an industry intent on shooting itself in the foot. Even the wonderful success of Bill Gaither has not been example enough for people to realize what the people want. It is simply astonishing to me to see the utter incompetence and lack of vision in SG circles.

  15. As I have heard, back in the era of Blackwood-Statesmen popularity, the major lables (RCA Victor and others) wanted what the groups offered, and didn’t try to change them. The label executives realized that they would benefit from having groups of top quallity and professionalism.

    Another thing to keep in mind is that record lables morphing groups isn’t a new pratice. Yesterday I was listening to a Blackwood record which was made in 1972 , “This Could Be The Dawning”. The music on that record, for the day, was Contemporary/ Country/ Progressive/ whatever else you want to call it. I’m sure many Blackwood Brothers fans of the day would have thought the world was ending when that LP came out. This sure wasn’t the music the group recorded with Bill Liles and RW Blackwood. Not even remotley simillar to what they did in JD’s days with the group.
    The humerous thing of it was this: I really enjoyed the project because it would fall into the cataory of solid, traditional southern gospel quartet singing.
    I guess my point is this: Sometimes the lables are right, sometimes they are not. Do what God wants for you, and present that with absolute top quallity and professionalism and you’re bound to have a following. Make your performance as perfected as humanly (not mechanically) possiable, and who knows, some top label may want your group just as you are. without changing you.

  16. Ben, again I agree with you! Don’t mince words, just tell it like it is.
    I can’t wait to hear your group. Hope you’re comming to Ohio soon.

  17. There are only 2 labels that even remotely qualify as a label in southern gospel at this time. In that I agree with Ben Harris. I also think that one should sing their own style. Build a fan base for their style and not worry about whether they SHOULD be traditional or progressive. Both can exist in the same genre as long as both are GOOD at what they do.

    My question though, is why do we need a label that only caters to one style? Daywind and Crossroads both carry groups that are traditional to progressive and it seems to work.

    SV, I agree about your rationale on why sign with a label. My question (though it wasn’t posed clearly) had more to do with, was not signing with a label due to the labels dictating to you what your sound could be? Or more of a financial decision for you?

  18. Susan,

    In answer to your question. Our reasoning for not signing really has nothing to do with a label dictating our style. I don’t think we really need a label to cater to a certain style either. If there were a legitimate label, ie. Sony, Curb, MCA, etc. offering us or any Gospel group a real record deal and marketing campaign, who wouldn’t take something like that. But to my knowledge nobody in SG has anything similar, except Gaither who has built his own thing.

    So to us, it is mainly a financial decision. and by that I’m not saying that we are hurting and need to cut corners. I’m saying that we feel that we can do better on our on.

    We’re not fighting for a small piece of the tiny pie. We’re just doing our thing and being happy. What can a Fan Award and a number one song really get you?

    btw. Ben.. great post with #15

  19. It would be very interesting to see what a label like this could do. If these groups mentioned could have the distribution of say a Daywind or Crossroads, I think we’d see that the traditionl groups have as big a fan base as anybody else.

    In my mind, a REAL record deal consists of having someone believe in the music you are doing, putting your group’s face in every magazine, commercial, Wal Mart, or whatever, and paying all studio costs and production costs for the project. The artist shouldn’t have to pay 4 and 5 bucks a peice to a company, they shouldn’t have to pay jack squat really. It should be the labels job to re-coop the money that was spent in production, not the artists. I mean, do you think Vince Gill is paying MCA 5 bucks a peice on cd re-orders? I think not. And I think if the label got the product in front of a mass audience (that is, if its quality) I believe they could easily make the money back, and then some.

  20. When I was with Ronnie Milsap he was not allowed to sell record product at his concerts. The only concessions he was allowed to sell were tee shirt types. The record sales were strictly the realm of the retailer stores. If SG took that approach nothing would ever be marketed, for the labels don’t know how to market to retail anymore. Not since the early days of RCA, Camden, Skylite, and Canaan has that even remotely been possible. Again, SG does not have a label. I am watching with great interest the new Canaan label to see where it will go. They have the capability of doing it right with the parent company behind them. If they do get it right we would be interested. Time will tell.

  21. Thanks SV! I respect your decision and absolutely agree with your reasons.

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