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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Commercial Success vs. Staying True to the Vision

From time to time, I talk to artists popular enough that they could easily land a label deal, but have chosen not to do so. One of the most common reasons given is that they want to stay true to their artistic vision for the group. They recognize that label execs tend to have a good feel for what will be commercially successful; they know that if they do the songs the label wants them to do, in the way the label wants them to do them, they will probably become more successful. But they have a specific concept of the direction they want their group to go, and they would rather go in that direction with less commercial success than (in a term I’ve heard several use) “sell out.”

In my view, if an artist’s concept of the artistic path they want their group to take is sound enough that I have become a fan of the group in the first place, then I have no problem with them taking the path less traveled toward success as an indie artist.

What do you think?

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The Predictablility of Fan Awards Nominations

Several weeks ago, I promised an analysis of your guesses about who would get top 10 nominations in the Singing News Fan Awards. Examining the guesses, I did notice several interesting things.

  • The most accurate guess (Toshiba) averaged 7.45 correct guesses per category. Interestingly enough, the least accurate was surprisingly high, too, at 6.05. The accuracy of the nine entries, in posting order, were 7.45, 7.3, 7.2, 7.05 (me), 7.3, 6.05, 6.55, 6.55, and 6.8. The average accuracy was just under 7 per category (6.92). Probably just about anyone who follows the industry closely can guess, on average, over half the nominees in each category. I was also surprised that all the guesses were within a 15% (1.5 guesses/category range), with most being within a 10% range (6.5-7.5).
  • The most predictable category seems to be bass. Donna and I both guessed all ten nominees correctly, and all(!) the other posters correctly guessed nine of the ten, for an average of 9.22 correct guesses.
  • The top ten most accurately guessed categories were Bass (9.22 average correct guesses), Male Quartet (8.67), Tenor (8.33), Lead (8.11), Trio (8.11), Mixed Group (7.78), Alto (7.78), Album (7.67), Baritone (7.56), and Female Singer (7.56).
  • The five least accurately guessed categories were Horizon Individual (2.33), Soloist (5.11), Horizon Group (5.22), Soprano (5.78), and Song (5.78). Of course, with song, “I Can Pray” being disqualified took just about everyone’s guess down 1 point.
  • Remarkable guesses: Donna and I guessed all 10 bass singers correctly, Seaton got a perfect score in the tenor category, and Donna also guessed all 10 male quartets correctly. (Not bad for a trio fan–a category in which she didn’t do too badly, either, guessing eight.)

It was a fascinating project, and thanks to all who provided guesses for the analysis.

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Key Personnel

Jonathan Wilburn’s departure from Gold City several weeks ago got me thinking about key personnel. After Jason Waldroup’s departure yesterday, I revisited the topic. What group members, not part of the ownership / management of the group, are so identified with a group that their departure would be felt as much as Wilburn’s with Gold City, or Waldroup’s with Greater Vision?

Ironically, my initial top five draft included Jason Waldroup (as well as Rodney Griffin).

  1. Kim Hopper – Hoppers
  2. Mike Holcomb – Inspirations (I’m not sure if he’s technically part of the group management or not)
  3. Rodney Griffin – Greater Vision
  4. Eric Phillips – Mark Trammell Trio
  5. Arthur Rice – Kingdom Heirs

Try naming a top five or ten. It will be interesting to see who we come up with.

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“I Can Pray” Disqualified from 2008 Fan Awards

When the top 10 Singing News Fan Awards Song of the Year nominees were posted, Crossroads executive Mickey Gamble was as surprised as anyone else to see that last year’s Dove Brothers hit song “I Can Pray” didn’t make the list.

Of course, there was a wide variety of opinions as to why this was the case. The more recent Dove Brothers’ hit “I’m Gonna Make It” could have split the votes. Or, everyone could have just assumed it would make the top 10 and nominated other songs, intending to return to “I Can Pray” in a later round. Or, the song’s support could have been an inch wide and a mile deep–i.e, not as many people as expected liked the song, but those who did liked it so much and talked about it so much that they made up for all the rest in buzz.

But it seems everyone overlooked the real reason. Even if more people nominated the song than any other, it appears to have been disqualified on a technicality. Whenever a song actually becomes a hit, it has to be released between April 1 of the preceding year and March 31 of the year in which the nominations take place. “I Can Pray” was sent to radio in January 2007, though it didn’t peak on the charts until spring/summer 2007.

In the future, it might make more sense if the rules were revised to allow songs which released and / or peaked on the charts during the eligibility period to be nominated. But in the end, this story does have a moral: Always read the fine print.

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From time to time, industry observers will discuss the weight of Southern Gospel performers in various blogs and forums. This typically takes the form of a complaint that a good number of Southern Gospel’s marquee performers are overweight, some dramatically so.

This is not ideal, but the alternative is worse.

In other genres of music, including some other Christian genres, record deals with major labels are determined as much (and, I suspect, sometimes more) by a singer’s appearance than by their vocal abilities. Top artists wear clothing to publicity and photo shoots (and all too often to concerts) that is form-fitting and revealing, meant to emphasize their appearance. The singers backed by big promotional budgets are often teens and twenty-somethings in peak appearance, never minding the fact that they won’t peak vocally for years. Contemporary labels today would turn down George Younce, Vestal Goodman, and Bill Gaither for recording contracts, no matter their voices, because they aren’t skinny 25-year-olds.

That, of course is the other extreme. A happy medium is undoubtedly possible, but until then, I for one would rather my favorite singers spend more time with vocal coaches than with attractiveness consultants.

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Singing News goes Digital

Singing News posted on their home page today that they are now offering a digital version of the magazine to print subscribers. They are also offering digital-only subscriptions for $5 less per year ($15 instead of $20). [EDIT, 11/6/10: Regrettably, the link seems to be broken, so it has been removed.]

This is a fascinating move that could have long-term significance for the genre. Singing News was purchased by Salem Communications several years ago. [EDIT, 11/6/10: Regrettably, the link seems to be broken, so it has been removed.] Salem is a Christian media conglomerate that owns and publishes, among other magazines, CCM Magazine and Gaither’s Homecoming Magazine.

Why does any of this matter?

It matters because Salem has been shifting its focus to web-based content. In fact, CCM Magazine, the flagship magazine in its genre, just mailed its final issue. Could the same fate be in store for Singing News?

I doubt that it will happen in the immediate future. Too many Southern Gospel fans are older and either (a) have no Internet access or (b) only know how to use email to get the emails and pictures from the grandkids. Singing News and Salem have to know this fact, and I doubt that they would phase the print magazine out precipitously. That said, offering digital downloads of the magazine to print subscribers, as well as web-only subscriptions, marks the first two steps in that direction.

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New Gold City lineup receives positive reviews

Ever since Jonathan Wilburn left Gold City, numerous Gold City fans have been waiting for reports from the frontlines to see how his replacement, Bruce Taliferro, is doing. Though there have been brief comments here and there, we have our first detailed report, and it’s positive. The reviewer, DeeAnn Bailey, has been a committed Southern Gospel fan for decades, long enough to know what she’s talking about, so the review is definitely worth reading.

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What is news?

As some of you may have suspected, I posted a fairly routine press release yesterday for a reason. I’ve been wondering what exactly constitutes news, or, more precisely, what makes an item in our genre newsworthy.

The standard press releases–website re-designs, label signings, publicity deals, et cetera–form quite a bit of the news material on some websites. But are they newsworthy? Are they stories relevant to the average Southern Gospel fan, or are they just industry minutiae that only insiders care about?

What should constitute news in the genre, and if we apply that standard, how often does something happen that is truly newsworthy?

I’m not going to pretend to have all the answers. I’m just proposing the question and opening the floor. Sometimes blog posts resolve a dispute or answer a question, but often they are most useful when they start a discussion.

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Thinking outside the box

It’s fairly well-known that the first major rendition of a song typically defines it…until someone thinks outside the box. Let’s think outside the box today and re-define some songs that we think we know.

  • “Plan of Salvation.” George Younce’s definitive version has tagged this song as a standard bass solo–but picture tenor David Sutton (Triumphant Quartet) doing it.
  • “I’ve Just Started Living” . . . by the Inspirations?
  • “I Know I’m Going There.”  This song was originally done by the Kingdom Heirs; imagine a Hoppers rendition.
  • “My Name is Lazarus.” Picture this as a fast trio song no more once the McKameys record a slightly slower mid-tempo rendition.
  • “Mary for a While.” If you don’t see the incongruity in an Oak Ridge Boys version of this Perrys song, it’s too early in the morning. Get another cup of coffee.

Your turn.

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