Whither AGM?

The American Gospel Music rebranding of southern gospel seems to be going …. very quietly. The big news about AGM seems to be the lack of news, big or small. According to Clarke Beasley, whom I asked to give me an update on AGM, “all our efforts right now are focused on the AGM Festival in Dallas.” We last heard of this event, you’ll recall, at NQC, and then only faintly (though Beasley did wish to note that all the “media,” including me, I guess, who complained about the absense of Q&A at the AGM NQC press conference did not show up the second NQC event where, evidently, questions were taken). The Dallas thing is a joint venture with a smallish business unit of Lifeway (a Southern Baptist Convention retail division) that produces worship materials.

More Beasley:

LifeWay and CMP are finishing the planning of the AGMF Minister of Music Conference and the conference schedule will be posted on the AGM site within the next week to 10 days. LifeWay has scheduled the direct mail promotion of their conference at the AGM Festival to 6,000 of its buyers(churches)in the region.

In addition to LifeWay’s promotion, we are also reaching out to the churches by assembling three different mass choirs to perform during the evening concerts. They will perform featured numbers as well as accompany artists during certain songs. The recruiting of these mass choirs will hopefully generate participation from their respective churches.

The evening AGM concerts at the Dallas conference are just an element of a larger program that’s part of the seminar. It seems unlikely AGM will sell (or even try to sell) many tickets to the general gospel music fan, at least not directly, but I’ll let you decide how to interpret the AGM promotional strategy as articulated by Beasley:

In terms of promotion to core Southern Gospel fans, we have secured partnerships with Harold Marshall, Frank Arnold and the Dallas based group Shiloh to promote to their individual customer bases. Success in Dallas is key to the future success of the AGM brand, and success will be very much dependent upon the success of all of the partnerships we have formed.

Beasley goes on to talk about some unmentionable opportunities in the future, and briefly brings up the Carnegie Hall possibility that has was floated back in the summer and fall. But for all the tone of certainty with which AGMers talk about it, the whole thing still strikes me as probably more of a hope at this point that may or may not come true. But no matter, didn’t Gaither already pluck the gospel blossom off the Carnegie Hall bouquet?

Trying to a get a feel for whether or not my sense of the emergence of AGM was at all accurate or not, I asked a friend of mine who knows what he’s talking about to reflect on the state of the AGM union, and here’s what he said:

As you know, the event [in Dallas] will be billed (after the fact) as the biggest thing in Christendom since Luther posted his research notes on the door, but in reality, the future for AGM is — best case — way less than billed at NQC. I have heard of no artist support other than the Hoppers and Pfeiffers. As far as I can tell, the concept of AGM will become a branded concert concept for which they’ll use “approved” artists. But then again, this is not at all different from a “branded” Bill Bailey event. He creates an identity for an event, invites groups that meets his standards, etc.

The NQC clearly needs to get creative. [The Canadia Convention] and [The Great Western Convention] didn’t pan out, Louisville attendance is declining at a rate faster than anyone would admit, and popular artists are taking a hard look at continued participation. Accordingly, I ascribe no fault to developing alternative sources of business. My beef all along was with the notion of paid-for spiritual certification and industry participation tax.

I’ll leave it at that, except to say AGM really ought to find a way to for its official website (here) to dominate the Google hits returned for an “american gospel music” search. As it is, this site shows up way above the official AGM homepage, which I can’t imagine is good for the brand or for AGM bidness.

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  1. CVH wrote:

    Everyone has favorite groups, regardless of quality, style or spirituality, so I seriously doubt the rank-and-file SG fan is going to care about some self-created ‘brand’ within the genre like an AGM. Unless the organizers can come up with some demonstrable, tangible ‘product’ that is noticeably different or better, why would anyone care?

    I could see it being targeted at niche groups within the overall SG fanbase, but howso and why? It seems the first two questions should be, what’s in it for a group to join and what’s in it for the fans?

    The marketing geniuses at Coca Cola gave us ‘new’ Coke 21 years ago and retreated to the original formula less than three months later. Why? Because nobody liked new Coke. Even if they get it launched successfully, SG fans are going to have to like AGM for it to succeed. So far, I haven’t seen any credible evidence to think they would.

  2. Damon from KY wrote:

    So I visited the “official” AGM site following the link. WARNING: Turn down your speakers or make sure that involuntary noise is okay before visiting. The site has music that automatically plays when you load the site. There is a place to click to turn the sound off, but the music reloads every time you go to a different page on the site forcing you to click it off again.

    I know the site is just getting off the ground, but this is pretty annoying for someone who is just surfing with others around (and woe to anyone who tries to check it at work :))

  3. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I agree that AGM will probably remain largely irrelevant to SG fans. I have a feeling that Clarke Beasley would agree as well, though he might not use those exact words.

    Being relevant to existing fans really isn’t the point, after all. The point is to put SG in a package that will attract fresh fans. Of course, it may not work out, but it will be good for SG as a whole if it does. At least a somewhat reasonable attempt is being made.

    The Homecoming video series and subsequent tour essentially did the same thing AGM is attempting to do, and it worked out great.

    Some parts of AGM are over the top. The spiritual certification thing with CMP and the section of the AGM proposal that expects media outlets like radio will be lining up to pay a fee in order to become official AGM mouthpieces are somewhat off the wall. If AGM begins with a shotgun approach, though, and then narrows their focus to the areas that work over the next couple of years, I think they have a shot at bringing new fans to a style of music we all want to succeed and thrive.

  4. Rhonda Berry wrote:

    The AGM in Dallas event is overpriced and overblown. Is the talent good-yes, but that doesn’t mean I want to spend $35 for a ticket. This is definitely not geared to the average SG fan. This appears to be a part of that thing that is not going on between Gaither and NQC to me. Living here I can verify that Dallas itself is a very hard nut to crack for SG. I won’t go into all the reasons, but it has to do with the perception in people’s minds of what SG is. Also the biggest Christian station in this area is Salem-owned and will not play SG. The other Christian stations have been approached with this licensing thing and what it really means is that they can only play “approved” artists. So, what station would want to limit itself to the few artists AGM has and never play any others? That would be like the top country stations picking the top 30 artists and only playing their stuff over and over. Talk about loss of ad revenue and listeners.
    IMHO, AGM will not succeed because it’s basis is in the wrong thing-money.

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