GMA Week: rethinking the SGMG showcase

Zane King, this year’s SGMG president, sassily offers that familiar critique that I’m all carp and no constructive help:

[I]n the future, I would love to hear your wonderfully expressed dialogue about the “problems” of our genre followed by a carefully outlined strategy that helps to us overcome the hurdles that we face. I’m sure with your constant use of the dictionary and thesaurus that will be a delightful pleasure to read.

Setting aside for the moment the baselessness of the charge, you don’t have to wait for someone like me to channel a (thesaurus alert!) soothsayer if you’re a new Guild president wondering how to put the Tuesday concert together under your watch. There’s a long, long history of successful SGMG Showcases at GMA to fall back on. Just ask one of the past presidents like, say, Judy Nelon. Her 2006 concert was packed with first rate talent – the Crabb Family, Ernie Haase and Signature Sound, Kingdom Heirs, the Isaacs, the Booth Brothers, the Talley Trio, the Lesters – and the Pfeifers. New artists made an appearance or four: what was at the time the Mike Bowling Group, Hope’s Call, JBIF and Crystal River.

But ok, let’s say you’ve decided to reinvent the wheel (anyone so hostile to reference materials as King seems to be might have some kind of congenital aversion to looking other things up, too, like phone numbers of colleagues). Right off the top of my head, I can think of several ways to organize the showcase thematically: Southern gospel says farewell to the Crabbs (in this their goodbye year as a family act); a whole string of artists could cover a Crabb classic, culminating in a Crabb finale (and of course any number of other “tribute to …” themes could work well). Or, piggybacking on the recent Shawnee Press publication of The World’s 50 Greatest Southern Gospel Songs (yeah yeah the title’s a little hyperbolic), the Tuesday night event could easily be an evening of southern gospel classics, wherein top-shelf artists each perform three great songs from the songbook. Conversely, artists could sing three new songs they’re recording or have just recorded. Most artists do this anyway at the showcase but what I’m driving at here is branding and promoting the concert. In this case, “the best new sg” or “songs of sg’s 2007 Dove nominees” or whatever the theme helps give the showcase a sense of immediacy and relevance that it was clearly lacking this year.

I’m just making this stuff up on the couch in my hotel room. It’s not cold fusion. But it is an event that requires its organizers to think of their task within the broader context of GMA week and to see sg as not only a close-knit subculture of aritsts and industry insiders who want to stand in the back of the ballroom and chat it up but also as the founding musical tradition of the GMA. The Tuesday night showcase should live up to the genre’s history.

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  1. gc wrote:

    AMEN..It could be that this years event was handled by the wrong person…Oh but wait–it’s a volunteer group….and you have to pay to be on the event..what was the promotion budget? As I said, this site gives great progressive thoughts on every subject but you got to get passed getting your feelings hurt to read them and appreciate them..

  2. MB wrote:

    Keep up the great constructive writing Avery. I wouldn’t take ZK too seriously…not many people do. That is people that can make a difference.

  3. Quinn wrote:

    It’s true, gc. Whether or not anyone profited from this one particular event, these are people who are regularly compensated for their professions. (If you want to cry “ministry,” see James 3:1.) Receiving such compensation elevates them to a level at which they open themselves up to the type of examination that goes on here in this blog. It would behoove them each to develop thick skin now, because they’re all fair game for being scrutinized. The only way to escape is to find a different day job… one that doesn’t thrive substantially on little blue-haired ladies and their husbands who live on fixed incomes.

  4. Practical Fellow wrote:

    I think another great idea for a SG showcase theme would be to cover/reinvent some CCM classics in the southern gospel tradition. Songs like “Redeemer” by Nicole C. Mullen, a 4HIM classic or anything from the Casting Crowns catalog. Believe it or not, there are some great CCM songs out there. It could introduce some great songs to the SG crowd, invite creativity from some of SG’s best and might even draw a curious audience member or two to take a peak at the talent level stil present in SG.

    And let’s be fair: I know Zane King and he’s not a villain. You may not appreciate his leadership in the event this year, but come on, MB (post #2) - don’t hit below the belt. Be a man… Or a woman. Whatever you are.

  5. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Zane King is a good producer. We (Carolina Quartet) use tracks he has produced every time we sing, so yes, there are some of us out here who do take him seriously…maybe we just have no potential for making any sort of a difference from MB’s POV.

    That being said, I fully agree that SG’s only showcase during GMA should feature the cream of the crop. Theme or no theme, this should be like a mini-NQC main stage event, not the afternoon showcase that King hosts each year at NQC.

    Tribute Quartet and the Skyline Boys are pretty good up and coming groups, but they don’t exactly pack the wallop or drawing power of a Gold City, Dove Brothers, or Legacy Five.

  6. Lest We Forget wrote:

    I really like the idea of paying tribute to the history of the GMA, for were it not for SG, there would be NO GMA. Let’s take a look back at the first Dove Awards in 1969:
    SONG OF THE YEAR: “JESUS IS COMING SOON”; R. E. Winsett; R. E. Winsett Music (SESAC)






    ALBUM OF THE YEAR: IT’S HAPPENING; Oak Ridge Boys; Bob MacKenzie; HeartWarming


    ALBUM JACKET: IT’S HAPPENING; Oak Ridge Boys; HeartWarming



    Looks strangely like the SN Fan Awards doesn’t it? If you browse through the history of the Dove Awards its purely SG until “Inspirational” music, the predecessor of modern contemporary, comes into popularity around the mid-80’s. All artists of which got their start in SG music, mainly at the feet of Bill Gaither. So why has SG gotten pushed to the back burner by the GMA? Several possible reasons pop into my head immediately. One, the folks now running the show know nothing of their history, Zane King included. Secondly, maybe we just sat around and let it slip out of our hands. Thirdly, perhaps the quality of music we began to offer dropped below par. Fourth, the contemporary, inspirational, style is more “mainstream” and probably brings in more money to the GMA. So sacrifice you history for money.

    Many people who are in touch with the GMA today and the Dove Awards know nothing of its history. I for one believe we need to educate them on where the GMA came from. You’ve heard it said, “Show me a man who doesn’t know where he’s been and I’ll show you a man who doesn’t know where he’s going.” I honestly believe that if presented in a classy manner they(those who aren’t familier with SG) will love it. Gaither has certainly proven that. Our fan base is not dying away in the sense that folks are headed to the grave, its dying away because so many are tired of the crap thats being presented as SG. Once again, Gaither has proven that the crowd is still there that loves what this industry was founded on. But we MUST put our best foot forward and be commited wholeheartedly to presenting our music at its highest level. Lets quit the piddly whining about why no one pays any attention to SG and start giving them a reason to notice it again.

    Present SG in a professional, classy manner that reflects proudly where we came from, but shows a quality of craftsmanship that lets people know, we’re not dead and not going anywhere. We have a message to share and we’re going to do it to our utmost perfection, sincerity, and ability.

  7. Daniel Britt wrote:

    Here, here, post #6! You’re absolutely right.

    Why do you think the “Hymns” and “Favorite Gospel Songs” albums are so common…and probably decent sellers? With the exception of an undertaking like Janet Paschal is doing, most of these are “quick, easy productions” because the songs are familiar. Even the artists have heard and sung these tunes so much that they don’t have to work as hard to make it sound good. I bet most of us, singer and non-singers alike, could do a better job at singing Amazing Grace right now than we could an original like “Four Days Late” or “Don’t Let the Sandals Fool Ya.” That is…unless we work really hard and focus our energy on perfecting every aspect of the newer songs. It’s easier (and cheaper) to keep the arrangements simple, and sing the easy four part harmony of Amazing Grace than it is to pull off a newer, just-learned song in the same amount of time.

    Long way around to say the BEST QUALITY usually wins the MOST ATTENTION and subsequently the MOST MONEY.

    I think it goes back to the same mentality of “you can’t make money unless you spend money.” In our case, you have to spend “money” on time, dedication, and creativity to take it a step further. Shouldn’t an artist’s career be based on his material rather than his material be based on his career?

    People in today’s society want the next greatest thing faster and sooner than ever before.

    We’re still driving 55 even though the speed limit of change has been increased to 70.

  8. Joe wrote:

    Once again, Doug has hit upon a brilliant thought. His idea of top-line groups each doing their own new and unique versions of instantly recognized and long-time beloved SG classics, is a tremendous one.

    If the top groups mentioned did a concert that included Redemption Draweth Nigh, The Statue of Liberty, Hand in Hand With Jesus, The Lighthouse, Jesus is Coming Soon, Lazarus Come Forth, Tears Will Never Stain the Streets of That City, When He Reached Down His Hand for Me, A Sinner Saved by Grace, The Old Rugged Cross Made the Difference, It Made News in Heaven, God on the Mountain, Child of the King and so on, everyone leaving would no doubt, be thrilled for a number of reasons.

    This is simply a great idea.

  9. quartet-man wrote:

    On top of that many of the songs could be in public domain, so royalties would not be required. Wait a second. from my understanding, many SG singers probably don’t pay royalties to begin with.

  10. Trent wrote:

    I disagree with the idea of singing songs from the past on this particular program. I think the perception of SG is that it’s stuck in the past. Such a concert would affirm that belief to many outside SG. It would look like we can’t come up with anything new.

  11. Rod wrote:

    I AGREE TRENT…SAME OLE SONGS, SOME OLE (BAD) GROUPS…SAME OLE RESULT…I’ve said it before. How about out of the box productions and great vocals. Unfortunately people still think the McKameys, Inspirations and the like are A-list or top shelf groups…And before I get blitzed by this comment I do think they are “nice” people…But they can’t Sing nor can half of what we call “SOUTHERN GOSPEL MUSIC”.

  12. thom wrote:

    I tend to agree with Rod and Trent on this one. Until the industry starts demanding better quality and higher standards nothing will change.

    How many young groups do YOU know that are aspiring to be the next McKameys or the next Inspirations? Sure, they are nice people and they have some loyal fans, but are they setting the standard for future generations?

    imo the SG showcase at GMA should not be a new artist showcase but rather should parade the BEST we have to offer.

    but according to a previous comment many top groups boycott GMA so what are you to do? quite a challenge to put on a top notch show if you can’t get top notch groups to participate.

  13. Practical Fellow wrote:

    I’m going to probably get blasted for this, so I’m prepared to take it on the chin. After reading posts #6 and #7 on this thread (so much like a gazillion posts before), it occurs to me that the reason SG is no longer popular and valid to most of the world at large (including the GMA) is because THEY HAVE MOVED ON. I like SG for the sentimentality and because I have deep roots in it. But the form is largely performed by regional, part-time groups and the musical style hasn’t ventured far from it’s original structure fifty years ago. Gaither made a fortune memorializing the genre and all our ‘old friends’ but even his hey day seems to have passed. Maybe it’s simply time to stop debating why this style of music is not as popular as Chris Tomlin and the David Crowder Band. There is a season for everything and perhaps SG’s winter has come. Can’t we just enjoy our old age instead of the constant debates on why we have wrinkles?

  14. PG wrote:

    Recently I was instructed by a friend to take a few minutes and “check out” this blog site. At times I have found my self in agreement to your harsh and circumlocutory ” that is synonymous to wordy so you don’t have to look it up” critiques. However, I find your vain and abraisive opinions about the GMA showcase to be devoid of any merit. Let’s discuss the issue of “Crappy songs” as you so eloquently put it. I agree that there are some songs in the Southern Gospel genre that lack substance, but what #1 songs have you written lately. One of the characteristics that has been engrained in SG is its simplicity. Your critique of Tribute was somewhat grievous and unfounded. I see no similarities in Tribute’s presentation to that of the Kingsmen, except for the traditional quartet sound. You my friend are reaching in this comparison and that gives me the impression that you are just a needy person searching for something to bellyache about. You compared Three Bridges’ song “In the Valley There’s a Rock” to three other song titles. Do you really believe that the song writer just tried to intermingle titles to get a song? You then decided to lecture the readers on two “theories” for singing to other industry insiders. Unless you have credentials that would lend some worth to what you are saying, then “back off.”
    “But mostly these artists came in three piece suits of High Holiness and Piety. My tolerance for Jesusiness is abnormally low as southern gospel fans go, and anyway I want to be clear I’m not suggesting expressions of religious belief or conviction were inappropriate in last night’s setting. But these displays can go too far more quickly with peers than fans. ”
    I had to include this whole phrase for a couple of reasons. First of all, I find it hillarious that you would be able to use such words as “lyrically derivative” or “melodically formulaic” in earlier sections of this blog and not know what an incomplete sentence is. For future reference, just leave “but” off the front of it and you will not have that problem. The third point to your rampage had to do with Compassion. I agree that there are other effective ways of promoting a worthy cause like Compassion, but your disdain for the approach is probably because of your lack of education. Organizations like Compassion help make an event like GMA week possible. In return, a very worthy cause is presented in hopes of making a difference in a life that has no hope on its own. If you don’t like Compassion and other organizations like it, then stay away from GMA week because those organizations are not just presented at the SGMG showcase. I think your criticism of Zane King’s handling of the showcase was plainly based on ignorance. You offer some ideas in the follow up blog to this that you feel would be a way to help in the presentation of a showcase. You suggested “several ways to organize the showcase thematically.” You even suggested a “tribute” to other groups that have made some history in SG. That is probably the most laughable idea I have ever heard. The whole point of the showcase is to present what SG is today, not yesterday. This makes it easy for one to see new artists and to get an idea of who may be the front runners of the future. One would also experience a few industry leaders of today to see where SG is currently. “I’m just making this stuff up on the couch in my hotel room.” Well now we know that you really do not have an original thought to offer. If I may offer a word of advice, when you decide to criticise an event or person in SG, be ready to offer some insightful suggestions that show some sense of originality instead of a rambling of words that echo a sense of bitterness.

  15. thom wrote:

    I believe there will always be a market for SG music if the quality is there. Big IF. I don’t agree with practical fellow that winter has come for the SG genre.

    The problem now is the flood of “me-too” groups that have no originality, little talent or musical ability, poor material and unprofressional stage antics.

    The good news is there are still a few groups out there delivering quality and professionalism. Among them, Booth Brothers, The Perrys, BFA, Gold City, Crossway, and Greater Vision, (although RG playing the idiot bit is overdone).

    Who will the next great group be? Who will have the originality, talent, polish, and material to make a lasting impact and carry the torch?

  16. CG wrote:

    thom wrote:

    “Who will the next great group be? Who will have the originality, talent, polish, and material to make a lasting impact and carry the torch?”

    ummm…Signature Sound?

  17. Practical Fellow wrote:

    Regarding post #16: CG - I’m mulling over your suggestion that SSQ is the future of SG. I think they’ve got a good career for now, but long-term? I don’t know if they are solid enough to lead an industry into the iPods of a new generation.

    All in all, I’m willing to stay open-minded that SG can be a viable genre. I’m just of the opinion that if an entire industry can’t seem to organize and build a growing audience again, maybe it’s simply because they can’t.

  18. Rod wrote:

    thom wrote:

    “Who will the next great group be? Who will have the originality, talent, polish, and material to make a lasting impact and carry the torch?”

    ummm…Signature Sound?

    Ernie Haase and signature sound couldn’t sing their way out of a wet paper bag…Without the “BIG” stacks and choreagraphy they are absolutely “AWFUL”. Ernie sounds like he’s screaming half the time, the lead singer is fair at best, the baritone is about as bad as legacy 5’s baritone, and the bass singer…Well he’s not too bad…Over all I could record all 4 parts myself and be better than those guys…This is exactly why SG music is where it is…We think SSQ is at the top when I can name at least 5 not so well known quartets that are way better…If I had the push of Gaither I would be a star also but it still wouldn’t make me the best singer by far. This industry should be really thinking about new talent and quality…Let’s get over the ministry thing here…If a group is “real” and willing to serve the ministry will automatically come…However if we allow every Tom, Dick and Harry that can buy a bus and record a record to advertise in “THE VOICE OF GOSPEL MUSIC”, and be played on the “TOP” radio stations then we will never reach the audience that we are capable of reaching…Not to mention SG just going away.

  19. thom wrote:

    Rod - I posed the question. “CG” - offered the answer of ehssq..

  20. gc wrote:

    I agree and disagree with Rod…The problem with the debate? Define success in SG…

  21. te wrote:

    Hey Rod…
    Its not all about being a great singer. You could have the greatest voice and still be a bore. Its entertainment. The McKameys entertain, EHSS entertains, Mark Bishop entertains, Willie Nelson entertains, Bob Dylan entertains, Mick Jagger, Vestal Goodman, Bono, ABBA…none of them have stellar voices but they sell/sold big time because they could connect with and entertain an audience. SG is Christian entertainment. Entertain me. Vocal talent is needed to get in the door, and indeed there are many groups that lack in this area, but a great voice will only get you so far - it takes more.

    Am I saying that the McKameys should be the poster child of SG music, no. But they do play a vital role.

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