Canaan Records

I was on my quasi-sabbatical from avfl when the Canaan Record deal was announced, but I’ve wanted to get around to commenting on it even if it’s later rather than sooner.

I’ve been thinking about this a while (the news has been an open secret for a few months now), and the first thing to say of course is that there’s nothing much of consequence to say at this point in a recently launched venture that has only the echo of an established name for a track record. The Canaan records of yore, with all those great groups and wonderful music behind it, is practically speaking, dead. The real measure of the new Canaan’s viability and seriousness will be the talent it signs, not the talent it had. And in that line, there are some first-rate catches out there to be had, probably chief among them, the Booth Brothers, which would be a serious score for Canaan.

But in the meantime, the main thing that stands out in all this is Canaan’s head honcho, Dave Clark. He brings with him an impressive record of creative accomplishment in Christian music and entertainment that bodes well for the label. He got his start as a bass player and songwriter for The Speers, and then went on to have considerable success writing for CCM: “Mercy Said No,” “A Strange Way to Save The World,” and “Crucified With Christ,” to name a few of the biggest. But he’s always kept a foot in southern gospel world, and it’s not only reassuring but also promising to see someone at this stage in his career investing heavily in southern gospel.

Specifically, Clark and Co. represent the best chance out there right now to return artistically serious A&R direction to a major southern gospel label. I won’t rehash what I have already recently said about A&R direction in sg. Suffice it here to say that there is a deep crisis of creative responsibility at most major labels in southern gospel these days.

I’ve just finished listening to three new releases from prime talent at Daywind, just to take one example, and the mind would reel from the sheer lack of imagination that pervades these albums, if they weren’t so boring so much of the time. It’s as though a robo-producer program was booted up and put on auto-pilot, producing super-slick (but thoroughly predictable) tracks and equally professional mixes for material that is largely lumpish and creatively impoverished. Judgment day rhymes with time to pay and your times’ runnin out so I’ll ask again and again … Hey, hey … (repeat as many times as necessary).

Judging from this kind of work, one gets the impression that “A&R” has come to mean “Affirm & Reinforce” whatever the artist already thinks, wants, likes or prefers. How else to account, for instance, for an album full of songs from a very young new group’s very young new leader, songs that are of the earnest but nevertheless half-inspired sort one would expect to come from the pen of your averagely gifted young adult songwriter still in the early stages of professional development? Your A&R guy should be warning you away from projects like this that early on establish professionally self-indulgent habits (of course you’re the most brilliant thing in Christian music since Michael W. Smith!absolutely let’s record eight of your songs for your debut album), not steering you toward them and taking credit for the missed opportunities.

If Canaan can disrupt this pervasive habit of substituting uncritical encouragement and joyful noising for responsible creative direction and resist cattle calling as many artists as possible early on in favor of investing long-term only in artists who A)have the goods (by the standards of “A Strange Way to Save the World” or The Speers in their heyday) and B)want to do more than let go and let inertia, then the label has a real shot at building something exciting. There are, for sure, a lot of groups out there ready to do something different than the typical label deal. But of course (say it with me now), only time will tell.

Update: David Bruce Murray offers his own take on the Canaan possibilities. It’s worth reading.

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  1. Realistic wrote:

    In response to the 3 new releases Doug critiqued:

    Always follow the money trail.

    In today’s climate, a record label will always cut the songs of their signed writers or artist/writers, even if better, more substantive songs are pitched to the project.

    The logic?

    “If we can produce sub-par songs well enough, fans won’t know the difference. They will be just as happy when we send these songs to radio, and we’ll make more money.”

    The nightmarish little secret?

    Record labels actually lose money in the long run. Even if a sub-par song does well on the radio chart, it doesn’t have the staying power or emotional impact to sell the CD.

    And we all lose.

  2. Trent wrote:

    The recent trend for many big-name groups is to part ways with SG record labels in favor of making independent, custom projects. It’s an interesting cycle, because most of them started out that way, went with a label, and are now once again out on their own. Some examples are the Hoppers and the Florida Boys (I think the FBs are independent now). There are others. Group owners are thinking, “I can make more money out on my own without the record label taking a big chunk of it.”

    So…the opportunity here for Canaan is big, but they MUST offer something different from today’s labels. As Avery stated, Canaan needs to demonstrate something other than a big name with past successes. They must be innovative in enabling groups to increase profitability.

  3. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    If a group like the Hoppers can create great music on their own, that’s well and good, but the reality is they have no decent distribution plan in place. You either get _The Ride_ from the Hoppers or you don’t get it at all. Maybe they can make just as much profit from direct sales, but are their songs being heard? And if a person in Michigan hears one of their songs by chance and wants to buy a copy, how persistent are they likely to be in chasing down the one website where they can order it?

    To the credit of Goss and the Hoppers, they are pursuing some avenues that other groups aren’t. Word Music just released a choral book of songs recorded by the Hoppers with the Hoppers’ name on the front cover to help sell it, arranged and orchestrated by Lari Goss. Several songs from the Ride CD are included.

    It seems if Word Music was going to go to all that effort, Word Distribution would have worked out some deal to distribute the independent Ride project as well.

    I’m not so sure independent is the best way to go. I think a better solution would be to create music independently, but then use some sort of distribution machine that’s already in place.

    As for the Florida Boys, they’ve been needing a guiding hand in the studio for many years. As much as I liked Gene McDonald’s singing and as much as I like Josh Garner’s singing, the group didn’t/hasn’t made a really good recording in terms of production quality since either guy has been with the group. The Homeland stuff had a cheap sound…fake strings on “I’m Forgiven”…and the two Cathedral projects were just about as low budget as you could go. This is not a group that makes particularly good recordings WITH a label’s help, so I’d expect even less if they go it alone.

  4. Trent wrote:

    David, you make a valid point about distribution. I have visited several Lifeway Christian Bookstores looking for the Hoppers recording “The Ride”, and have not yet found it. It simply was not distributed nationally. Their absence from the public eye in Christian bookstores isn’t all that big a deal in the short term, but as they progress through another recording or two, people might begin to forget the Hoppers, at least to a degree. And that would be a shame.

  5. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    Drop by my blog for an update on the Hoppers and Canaan.

    The long and short of it is that a Canaan labeled Ride CD will be distributed by Word Distribution in the future.

  6. Big Ken 54 wrote:

    I notice that Bill Traylor is resurrecting Homeland Entertainment, and that part of that organization includes some famous name labels from the past, including Riversong and Heartwarming. Has there been any announcement about this activity, as there has been for Canaan?

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