From Young Southern Gospel Fans to the Artists

From Young Southern Gospel Fans to the Artists May 19, 2011

Daniel Mount has written an open letter to southern gospel artists from young fans of the genre. Like him, I am a young fan, and I’ve addressed and will continue to address the points he made  here on this blog. They are good points, and I will gladly be one of the co-signers he has called for.
I thought that I would elaborate on some of them in my own post, if my readers don’t mind. This was Daniel’s first point: “Recognize and retain what makes Southern Gospel unique musically.” I agree. Could we imagine southern gospel without the male quartet? The family harmony? The distinctive southern gospel piano?

At the same time (and I don’t know whether or not Daniel would agree with me here), I happen to like a lot of different kinds of music. I love southern gospel, but I also love CCM, country, jazz, etc… when it’s good, of course! So even while I heartily agree that it would be a disaster for southern gospel to lose its identity, I also think that an artist’s repertoire can be enriched by incorporating a wide range of sounds. Signature Sound provides a very good example of this. Much of their work isn’t really southern gospel, but guess what? It’s good music, and it works in a southern gospel setting. Ditto for Brian Free & Assurance’s forays into what I would call classic CCM. Their version of CCM isn’t what I got sick of on the radio a couple years ago. It brings back memories of the kind of CCM my radio used to play, which I actually liked.
So I’m grateful for what the traditional groups are doing, and I think we need them. At the same time, I enjoy the variety. But I think at heart, Daniel and I agree on this point.
His next point was “Recognize and retain what makes Southern Gospel unique lyrically.” I would modify this just a little to say “what makes southern gospel unique lyrically today.” Sadly, Daniel is right that other Christian music is increasingly fluffy while southern gospel is more or less holding the fort where biblical doctrine is concerned. I actually have a couple posts I have been working on to illustrate this very point, completely independently of Daniel’s post. However, in fairness, we can find a lot of CCM songs with very good lyrics. (For that matter, we can find secular songs with very good lyrics, but at the moment we’re staying in the context of Christian music.) But once again, Daniel’s core point is one I agree with, namely that CCM is becoming much more generic much faster than southern gospel, and southern gospel writers should do all they can to keep that gap.
His third point was “Recognize and retain what makes your group unique. Master and perfect it.” I couldn’t agree more. We all get tired of groups that sound the same, and that’s probably not just true for young fans. In fairness, we can find a lot of similar groups in southern gospel, but there are plenty of groups that are distinct from each other as well. Daniel went on to say to the smaller groups that they shouldn’t try to “be” a big group. This is simply good practical advice. If you want to be noticed, don’t blend in with the crowd. At the same time of course, there’s nothing wrong with a smaller group’s trying to learn from a bigger group. It could be argued that this is what happened with Signature Sound and the Gaither Vocal Band. Ernie said they learned a lot from the GVB, yet nobody can deny that they emerged with a distinctive style of their own!
“Talk to us” was Daniel’s next point, encouraging artists to take full advantage of social media. I know that I personally am drawn to artists who keep a steady line of communication with the fans, and I don’t know whether this is specifically because I am young or not. But either way, it makes sense, and it probably is especially important for young fans.
His last point stings a little: “Live the life offstage that you portray on stage.” I think that pretty much speaks for itself. But of course, it’s something that should extend to all who claim to be ministers of the gospel, southern gospel or not.
Your thoughts are welcome.

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  • I agree that groups can incorporate other influences while retaining what makes them – and Southern Gospel – unique.

  • Thanks for the comment! We’ve missed you around here…

  • Great post!!

  • donsands

    I would love to see Christian artists, from all genres, come out of the shallow end of the pool. Seems marketing just the right sound and words is a requirement today in the CCM industry. Must be positive, and no negative for sure, and singing about a nice guy upstairs, who loves me no matter what, because it’s all about loving me for me, is the theme in CCM for the most part. Bad theology from our pulpits is the reason.
    I don’t mind a portion of songs being simple and positive, but man, am I tired of my local Christian Radio. It’s sad. Oh well. And they have a huge audience I guess, becuase they are trying to make money you know. I could go on and on.
    I wish I had my own radio station. Hey, maybe I can have Harold Campings! That would be sweet!
    have a great weekend, and especially Lord’s day!

  • John S

    Well spoken donsands. I couldn’t agree more. There is surprisingly little variety in CCM in terms of the message. SG is a well that never runs dry of messages. I think there are a lot of things to sing about other than ” You love me Lord and I love you back” and ” I worship you.” If anyone knows a song under CCM with a different message please let me know. Regarding Campings, I’d rather he left me his credit card, wallet. I’m sure he won’t be needing them. 😉

  • John, try some of Mark Schultz’s ballads (“He’s My Son,” “Remember Me”), some Steven Curtis Chapman, especially his old stuff (“For the Sake of the Call,” “I Will Be Here,” “My Redeemer is Faithful and True”), but also some of his new stuff (“Cinderella,” “Be Still and Know,” “When Love Takes You In,” “Yours”), try Andrew Peterson who writes stuff with a really poetic bent if you like deep lyrics (“Holy Is the Lord,” “Invisible God,” “The Reckoning”), check out Michael Card and Steve Green and Twila Paris and Fernando Ortega and…
    Well, suffice it to say that there is good CCM out there, but you just have to look for it. And it’s probably not on the radio. 😉

  • donsands

    There’s a small portion of good music, like Chapman, and Casting Crowns, and MercMe, but it’s very small.

  • John S

    Well there are a few exceptions, but the majority of CCM is praise and worship. There are SG songs of praise but they are few. The majority contain various spiritual lessons mainly drawn from scripture.

  • I think it depends on what era of CCM you’re discussing. Probably today you’re right.

  • donsands

    I was thinking about the whole CCM atmosphere, and it really is a huge subject. There’s a lot to it. There are all kinds of personalities in the Body of Christ, and there are varying maturities as well. So, it’s not a cut and dry subject by any means.
    But i like to come here and read your heart’s thoughts, and share, and listen, and learn, and hopefully grow in our Lord’s grace and love.
    Thanks for a great blog my sister.

  • Thank YOU for reading. 🙂
    And we would probably agree, actually. I have similar concerns. Granted, I’m not one of those people who thinks that just because you’re successful, you must be “of the world.” However, I do get a sense of, for lack of a better word, cheapness, when I look at how CCM is packaged and marketed today. That’s not to say there aren’t exceptions, but so much of it just seems so surface and shallow.

  • I see what you are saying. I think concert experience is a perfect example. I’d say if you go to a SG concert, a majority of groups have an authentic feeling to them. I don’t think you get that same feeling from a lot of CCM artists.

  • I should confess something: I can stand so little of the music coming out of CCM today that I have trouble even finding out much about today’s artists, because I can only bear to listen to so much of their stuff!
    However, what little I have seen indicates that there are a lot of singers out there who mean well at heart, but who are probably confused about some things. I would bet that you can find many singers who seem like really nice people, yet they don’t have a very clear understanding of Scripture, and they don’t have good “sniffers” for nonsense, be it in the theological realm or the political realm. I think that will spill over into their ministry to a large extent. If you’re fuzzy, you’ll probably end up with fuzzy fans, and that’s a problem, even though it may seem harmless.