AGM and Carnegie Hall

Not too long ago, I got a note from Roy Hayes, president of Vivici Inc., an affiliate of Christian Music Presenters, which is a big player in the American Gospel Music boondoggle enterprise we’ve talked about from time to time here. Hayes was writing about the AGM Carnegie Hall event in late November and how much of a success it had been, yet very few people, he complained, are interested in “commenting positively” about it.

Now, this is an interesting complaint to send my way. No one who recalls any of my thoughts about AGM (see here, here, here, here, here, and here, among other places) should be surprised to find that I have not been a big booster of the AGM Carnegie Hall event. Nor would I be the first (or third, or tenth) person to whom it would make sense to lodge such a complaint. But the truth of the matter is, I mostly forgot it about, and Hayes’s email piqued my interested sufficiently that I did a little looking around and question asking. So I guess the email worked after all.

No matter. Even after only what I admit were modest inquiries, I can say with a certain degree of confidence that the Carnegie Hall event got little attention in sg because very few people in a position to be “commenting positively” see little value in what happened (though the SN’s publication schedule is such that they may yet be planning a big blowout on it; I simply don’t know). And I must say, I can’t entirely disagree with the skeptics.

Why? Well, here’s how I think the Carnegie Hall event worked (though please correct where you know I’m wrong):

There are many music “schools’ in New York City. So CMP invites several choirs to pay to be a part of a multi-day seminar at a music school. At the end of the seminar, there’s a chance to perform at Carnegie on the last day. What choir could pass that up? The school makes money and Carnegie gets an event it doesn’t have to pay for and yet gets to keep maybe half the take at the door.

Add a “name” like Babbie Mason and maybe pay her to help the draw. Get your “partner” company (Vivici, Inc.) to promote the event and pay them. Maybe add a token sg group like Triumphity or The Imperials. And voila. One Carnegie Hall event (in the smaller Isaac Stern Hall), coming right up.

CMP looks good. Vivici makes money. An artist get paid, the quartets and their labels have reason to be happy with the exposure (because my guess is Triumphant and the Imperials got little more than travel expenses), and NQC, Inc. is somewhat vindicated. Translation: Everybody involved is either happy, paid, or both.

 

But the question is: How did this help sg (or any “g”)? The room, which seats about 2,800, was “nearly” full, whatever that means, but it’s not at all clear who comprised this crowd. Family and friends of all those choirs? Seat fillers? Did 2000+ diehard sgers spontaneously take to their RVs and descend upon Manhattan? If this was about promoting sg, why were Triumphant and the Imperials the quartets representing and genre (which gets us back to spiritual certification and the pay-to-play set up of the entire AGM structure), and more important, why were the sg groups, whoever they may be, singing downbill to an inspo soloist? As per usual, I’m actually asking, because the answer to some of those questions might help clarify the concert’s achievement. As it is, I’m rather at a loss to say. I guess it’s all well and good that “Carnegie Hall is better and holier place because of the American Gospel Music Concert,” as Clemente D’Alessio says in the press release Hayes sent me, but that’s pretty thin soup as claims to fame for an event go.

Reading some of the and other quotes in the press release (example: from Nyhl Henson, Founder - MTV Networks and former CEO of Country Music Television: “The fusion of Southern Gospel music with Black-Gospel music was masterfully orchestrated by Christian Music Presenters at the Carnegie Hall premier concert of American Gospel Music”), one gets the feeling the primary purpose of the Carnegie event was to burnish the image of CMP/AGM, which is … well … what exactly? I’m still not entirely sure in general. But in this case, it seems to be a rather bizarre mix of acts performing to a crowd of people that must still be wondering, “What was that, anyway?”

Update: I’d draw your attention to this response from AGM. Among other things, it sets right some of the structural details of the event that I got wrong (I stand corrected) and counters some of the arguments I made about AGM generally. I should say, the use of live instrumentation is of course a commendable thing that I should have highlighted earlier. And everybody got paid, great. I’m all for redistributing the wealth. Seriously.

At the end of the day, this AGM things comes down to what you perceive as the best way to invest in good music. The AGM approach is clearly one way to go about it. But I continue to remain skeptical of the bloated administrative overhead (NQC, Vivici, CMP, AGM), the spiritual certification silliness, and the immediate emphasis on big visuals and press releasable productions that have so far defined AGM. Instead of dressing everyone up in evening wear and hiring an orchestra, the Carnegie Hall money would have been better spent in the far less glamorous but also far more proven work of genuine artistic development: finding bankable talent and spending the time and resources it takes to turn them into marquis performers.

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Comments

  1. Oldtimer wrote:

    There was an artilce in last months ( or the month before) SN whereupon Kirksey opines about a 1963 trip that the Dixie echoes, Couriers, et.al. made to Carnegie Hall for a J G Whitfield promotion. I have a notion that J G Whitfield in 1963 was a far more legitimate Southern Gospel Carnegie Hall moment than this more recent event. This more recent Carnegie SG moment reminds me of a lot of the benefit singings I was dragged to as a child - you know the ones where 6 - 8 groups or more were invited. It was never implicitly stated but everybody knew that the reason so many goups were invited was so there would be a big crowd to raise money for the beneficiary of the evening. Of course the groups that sang not only filled the seats but they gave in the offering so they could then varnish their resume with reports of how much money they raised. Kind of like Triumphant ( who I like very much as a quartet by the way) and the Imperials (good guys but a pale imitation of the real thing) and all the other proud participants filling up Carnegie at their own expense ( I truly don’t believe they even got traveling expenses) so they could varnish their resumes. Same act, different stage.

  2. Rod wrote:

    Ever heard the term “SMOKE AND MIRRORS”?

  3. Practical Fellow wrote:

    I think the AGM made the mistake of proclaiming an industry revolution. I don’t disagree with all their goals, but a grassroots approach where you build momentum could have worked more effectively. If you declare you’re going to change the gospel world, then you’ve put a lot of pressure on yourself to produce. By declaring this whole structure, they have set themselves up for criticism and cynacism before they started. I’m afraid this thing was dead from the beginning because the folks in charge forgot (or didn’t know) how to start small and work up to the big time. You cannot get out of paying your dues. No matter who you are.

  4. Videoguy wrote:

    AGM: SG’s version of “mission accomplished”.

  5. Chuck Peters wrote:

    another.. “Next Best Thing in Southrn Gospel”.. How many have we seen,.. that never deliver on their promises. Can you name one? Here are a few:

    1. It’s “A First Ever” For Southern Gospel Music: The Gospel Truth

    2. Real Southern Gospel Radio

    3. enlighten on XM

    4. worldofgospelmusic.com

  6. Tim wrote:

    I would venture to say that if there is not a Country station in New York, you probably won’t find one that plays Southern Gospel. I would like to see us be more grateful for the music that was presented because in NYC. If 2,000 people that don’t hear Southern Gospel as often in New York as we do in the South were exposed to quality music, then we are that much farther down the road to advancing the genre.

  7. Tim wrote:

    Pardon the typo in the previous post.

  8. SM wrote:

    I guess I get the point of it all but it seems like the approach is off. AGM looks to be trying to delve into every market it can. When it blends traditional southern gospel, black gospel and contemporary gospel (which what is contemporary gospel–urban gospel, progressive southern, inspo?) and then proclaims to be the “music of the church” (as per on the agm website), are we talking about singing for TD Jakes one Sunday and Charles Stanley the next? If so, then why move outside of your target into Carnegie Hall instead of a place like the Brooklyn Tabernacle or First Baptist Atlanta where there’s already been a southern gospel presence? Right now, the “church” slant is the only perceived branding difference between AGM and Gaither anyway, because Bill’s been doing things of this sort (Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center) for ages.

    Definitely agree with #3–grassroots and in churches, unless the whole purpose of AGM is to dethrone Bill.

  9. Revpaul wrote:

    Re: #1, Oldtimer. — Whoa, back up a minute! I’m sure you got the Carnegie Hall thing pretty well right. But The Imperials? You said “good guys but a pale imitation of the real thing”? Wow, have you listened to their newest “Back To The Roots”? I’ve never heard a more beautiful song than “More” and then I nearly jumped out of my skin when I heard “Water Grave.” I’d sure like to read an AVFL review of their album because, IMHO, musically they are near perfection. Of course, that’s just me.

  10. RF wrote:

    Dethroning Bill. Interesting. SM may be right for a number of reasons, I don’t know. But I do know one sg promoter (One I’ve known for 20 years) who simply bristles at the mention of Gaither’s name. His complaint is that every concert he promotes is always followed by comments like, “Gaither would have done this or that.” It drives him nuts. Thus, it gives credence to what SM is saying.

  11. SM wrote:

    Upon further reflection (when less busy and not typing off cuff), it may not be dethroning so much as it will be to either take part of the Gaither market or to take the Gaither business model to a different market. I believe it’s more of the former, though the latter should prove to be easier and–potentially–more successful.

    I was reminded of the whole situation last night when watching the “Simpson’s Did It” episode of South Park (gasp!), where the whole running gag is that any attempt to disrupt South Park Elementary and bring disarray to the town was already attempted on the Simpsons. In looking at the Triumphity press release (which I gather is close to what Doug received), a case can be made that Gaither has already accomplished the AGM checklist. Bridge different gospel styles? Check. Use a massive choir to back up artists? Check (though he’s straying away from that now, I think). Mixing in artist from other genres? Check. Playing high-profile venues? Duh.

    Where AGM can really set them apart from Gaither is focusing on their slogan or branding identity “music of the church.” And, if its any indication, it will stray toward the black/urban/charismatic church rather than the traditional or rural congregations. Considering that the Crabbs and now Brian Free (“Long as I’ve Got King Jesus” plays on the AGM website) have used the “black southern” or “choir gospel” sound to get into places like the Brooklyn Tabernacle, it would behoove AGM to leave Carnegie and such places to Gaither & Co and concentrate on the Brooklyn Tabs, the First Baptist of Jackonvilles, the Lakewood Churches, the Willow Creeks, so on and so forth. Rather than try to break up the Gaither monopoly of the arena shows, try to open a new market to the large megachurch congregations that fit the demographic and—more appropriately—psychographic (worship style) make up of the music that’s being marketed. Whether that notion is feasible, practical, or one AGM wishes to pursue remains to be seen, especially considering that AGM’s current marketing strategy lacks any and all sense of brand identity.

  12. Leebob wrote:

    You know, there is a saying in sports that once you get about 1/2 - 2/3rds of the way into the season, “you are what you are”. If you are 2-6 at the half-way point, you just aren’t that good.

    If you continue to get the same crowds (or less in some instances) then you are what you are. It sounds to me like AGM doesn’t understand what they are yet. If they are among the best in the business then why ride the coattails of other genres. It says more about where we are with SG than most of us would care to admit. Even in Dallas, country stations abounding, SG cannot get a grip into the market place (see AGM Dallas last May).

    SG will continue to beat it’s head against the wall as long as groups, promoters, radio dj’s, and labels are simply interested in the bottom line rather than going back to the real purpose of the music (see Matt. 6:33). I am staunch SG with a hint of Praise and Worship in me so understand where I am coming from. Some of the CCM groups that I have witnessed appear to be genuinely interested in praising and not bottom line. In the end, their bottom line is fine. Is it the music? Possibly. But what I have seen is when groups allow their audience to get a glimpse of their spirit and heart then the groups are drawn in and welcomed.

    Your crowds are staying home because Pastors are tired of the antics (butt pinchin’, same lame joke tellin’, canned actin’) and you have lost their support. Pastors used ot be huge supporters of the national SG but they feel as if SG on a national level lacks purpose apart from the bottom line. If AGM and others would take the time to talk to the pastors they might understand what has happened. But like most people we are bent on doing what we want to do and blame everybody else. Get the support of the pastors and your crowds will come back. Perhaps only 10 or so from each church but if you get a bunch of those churches together you have a crowd along with what you are already drawing.

  13. Gradie Hartley wrote:

    Why don’t groups like AGM and others who have means to pool resources together spend more time and money putting SG music in front of the general public. To establish validity with today’s pastors, music ministers, churched and mostly unchurched society, SG should be put in outlets for the general public to see it. Sure, AGM played in NY at Carnegie Hall, but how many people knew about it until after it happened. That’s why to most of us, it looks like something that was just staged to pad a resume. The SG industry needs to stop existing within its own walls. It can be compared with a church that never grows because people are never invited to attend. Most of the younger people involved in SG music were raised on the stuff and it’s very rare to find a young person, or anyone for that matter that actually keeps up with southern gospel who hasn’t been around it for most of their lives.

    Gaither’s popularity can be attributed to one thing…TV. If he had made the videos and only sold them to a SG market (like everything else is done) they would have died out a long time ago. Instead, his infomercials reminded the general public or introduced them to the viable talent that sings gospel music. His TV presence allowed him not only to have huge video sales, but also took him to be one of the hottest touring acts in the US. I’ve seen several news stories on the Internet, tv and in newspapers listing the top touring acts over the last few years and it was always news that Gaither made it among the ranks of rock and country superstars. Most of us in any level of SG music don’t have the money to advertise in many of the mainstream media outlets, but an organization like AGM could. Back in June, evangelist Greg Laurie was in Raleigh, NC for a 4 or 5 night crusade at the RBC Center (huge 18,000+ seat arena). It was packed everynight. I, like most people in the area, hadn’t ever heard of Greg Laurie until this past spring when signs and posters started appearing everywhere. The group of area churches sponsoring the event pooled all their resources and made it a huge event. The local TV & radio stations mentioned the buzz and activity surrounding the religious event. It was placed in front of the general public and was highly successful. Do I think that this could happen in SG music. Sure, maybe not overnight, but I wonder how many people actually know that quartet music, southern gospel (or whatever you want to call it) even has an industry. How many people know that NQC is coming to Louisville? How many NQC tickets are sold to people living within 50 miles of Louisville? When AGM went to Dallas or New York, did they advertise anywhere outside of the Singing News or SG media? No matter if you’re a gospel group, gospel industry or any industry, it’s all about marketing. If people don’t know you exist, how can you expect to reach them. I sing in a local quartet in NC where gospel groups seem to be a dime a dozen. But when I explain to a lot of people (such as coworkers) that our group actually sings at places outside of our local church, they are really surprised that anyone does that. If you keep up with SG in our area, you know that the market (the churches who have SG groups) is almost saturated, yet most of the general public don’t even know that we’re even here. I love SG music with a passion because it’s entertaining and constantly reminds be of the love that Jesus Christ has for me. I think many (me included) can be guilty of treating SG like their salvation…enjoying for our own pleasure, yet forgetting to share it with others.

    Excuse please, while I get off my soapbox.

  14. dkd wrote:

    #13-Gradie H. Good Post!

  15. Roy J Hayes wrote:

    This response is provided collectively from the producers of this AGM event (Dr. Roy J Hayes and Dr. Randall A Bayne) at CMP/Vivici.

    We assure you that the artists who performed in this event will never refer to the AGM movement as a “boondoggle”…they most likely would call it a blessing; just ask them rather than making assumptions about what took place for them.
    It seems that there is much confusion about the mission of AGM. AGM was launched to help expand the awareness of the quality represented in SG to others outside of the SG fan base. The Carnegie Hall event was not designed to attract SG fans. Some believe that the SG fan base is on the decline and needs proactive measures to ensure a future of growth for this music we love. We (CMP) involved ourself with AGM because we “know” there is a large segment of the mainstream church that is not paying attention to SG for a variety of reasons. We feel they are missing out. Our goal is to help SG (and all Christian Music) by raising awareness and credibility of what is happening in SG that is really good. We wish more SG artists at the highest levels would join this effort, but currently we are working the artists that have caught this vision. We can assure you that all the artists performances at Carnegie were phenomenal and stood on their own excellence. That stage demands it. All performances were live with with full symphony orchestra and chorus accompaniment ( no tracks/no stacks) and there was not a flaw to be found.

    Many new fans were created that night for these artists and for the music they represented. The feedback clearly showed that this music has appeal to the mainstream church and to general society who appreciates gospel music performed excellently. We hope to place AGM on every important stage in the world. This is our “grass roots” approach to letting the world know that SG music has something they should hear. We don’t care if we “change the gospel world”, but we do hope to change the world with some gospel.

    Here are some facts that should help:
    1.No “music schools” in NYC participated in the chorus. The public press release ( ) clearly states who made up the chorus from prominent churches and choral societies around the country.
    2. Carnegie did not keep half of the ticket sales; the presenting group (CMP/Vivici) took all of it minus CC transaction fees.
    3.The Isaac Stern Hall is the largest hall at Carnegie housing the famous Perelman stage, which the greatest artists in history have now shared with some of our SG brothers.
    4. Everyone was very “happy and paid.” The groups received their stated “flat fee” plus some expenses and they and their family members were taken good care of and enjoyed some nice extras while in NYC.
    5. The crowd was not made up of “die-hard” SGers. Maybe 5% of the audience had any affiliation with the artists or chorus members. CMP/Vivici worked hard to bring an audience that did not know these artists-remember the goal is not to just siphon more revenue off of SG fans - it is to make new fans and use an event like this to draw attention to the quality in SG/Christian music.
    6. Many new fans were created when these chorus members went back to their churches and began spreading the word about their amazing experience with Triumphant and The Imperials.
    7. All of the groups who have “paid-to-play” in AGM have been “paid back” much more as they participated in the Dallas event and events like the Carnegie performance.
    8. The SG artists did not sing downbill to an Inspo artist. All the artist were billed equally and collectively, Triumphant and Imperials were onstage 70% of the concert.
    9. This collective grouping of artists was not confusing to those in attendance…they loved it and the product represented in this concert will play all over America - and it will be good in the end for SG because people will learn about something they have, for the most part, ignored. It was clear that a mix like this is appealing to the church at large.
    10. No one attending this concert left saying, “What was that, anyway?” This inflammatory comment may increase readership of this blog, but if you were not there, you just don’t know what people experienced. They new exactly what it was…a sacred and significant moment for themselves; we know it was a significant moment for the artists involved, for the cause of AGM (and SG), for the cause of Christ, and yes, for CMP/Vivici. We are pleased that this effort succeeded wildly-we believe this mission matters for the future of all SG artists and we feel blessed to make a small contribution and join others who are taking the risks and making sacrifices to that end.

    We sense that deep down most you are really grateful that people are out there trying to do something to make a difference, so we say thanks for creating this platform for the truth to be told and invite more dialogue about the future rise of American Gospel Music.

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