Really: Park the bus, permanently

Regular reader NG asks a good question:

So what’s the solution to the problem … especially with costs becoming more of an issue these days?

I have no idea. But I can’t believe the answer is to start passing along your costs to your most reliable consumers in such lopsided ways (unless you’re American Airlines). It would be one thing if DBQ was unilaterally raising the price of their product across the board – Crossroad’s website, retail, table etc - but they’re not.

They’re clearly grasping at the nearest, quickest revenue source at hand, which is understandable. But it also looks like pretty bad business, whether it raises real meaningful revenue for the group or whether it drives people away from the DBQ product table. Why? Because in either case it’s not addressing the long-term reality facing a group like DBQ and so many others - namely, the sg market is way past its saturation point in terms of supply, and what demand there is tends to favor amateurs and paraprofessionals. And this was long before fuel prices and other economic pressures of late began impinging on an already unstable market.

We’ve known about saturation for years, but up until now it’s been possible for full-time groups to scrimp by in this difficult environment thanks to a variety of related factors, not least of all: the willingness of so many professional sg types to work for near-poverty wages, often without healthcare and other benefits whose absence directly erodes quality of life.

Energy prices are upsetting that already delicate and precarious balance and unlike other business models, where wages can be cut, people can be laid off or let go, and resources can be reallocated, your average full time sg group (like DBQ) was already cut pretty much to the bare bone in terms of salary, staff, and resource allocation — having cut almost everything possible in the last recession (cf the early 90s, when the species Liveium Bandicus went more or less extinct in sg) and ensuing years, all of which have been lean by historical comparison.

So, in DBQ’s case, if it were my hard call to make and parking the bus (and I mean permanently) wasn’t an option, I’d actually recommend canning their piano player. At least if I were a management consultant looking to cut overhead in places that wouldn’t completely collapse the core product, that’s what where I’d look. Because let’s be honest: sg long ago gave up it’s right to claim that live music is essential and that live musicians aren’t expendable. Even for a (faux) classic quartet like DBQ, a live pianist is not a necessity. It would cramp their style a bit for the more raucous and free-form encores, but they’d get used to it. And we know from so many other examples, audiences just really don’t care if the instrumentation is live.

Beyond that, they could hike their flats (if they’re getting much of one to begin with), but that’d probably only end up being another way of idling the bus (if no one’s willing to pay) or buying more fuel (if they have to do a lot of chicken feed dates to make up for the loss of flat-paying gigs). They could leave their flat alone and consciously cut back dates and focus on high-volume, wide-margin gigs, but a like some many full-time sg groups, DBQ simply doesn’t have a sufficient following or a distinct enough act for that to be a viable option.

Which leaves: hanging it up (cdguy says something similar here). No one, of course, wants their favorite group to go under, but I don’t see how the economic pressures roiling the music industry all the way down to the gospel sector don’t force some significant contractions in the slate of full time groups on the road in the traditional sense.

As a selfish fan and unobligated observer, I would honestly prefer some contraction and thinning. Leave the love-offering circuit and that tier of cover-tune quality to the regional groups increasingly filling the gap in the Appalachia region already. Fewer full-time groups means higher demand for something better than cover-tune quality, and theoretically at least that forces creativity and pushes quality up. Instead of competing to sing karaoke for 125 people at Pisgah Heights next Sunday night, full time groups could (and should) be thinking about how to actually be nationally competitive acts and not glorified weekend warriors. Unless that’s what they really want to be, in which case they should scrap their bus, buy a hybrid, throw their equipment in a pull-along, and work as many love-offering dates within a day’s drive of their home base as they want. You don’t need a bus, live musicians, or expensive product for that.

You just need to be honest with yourself, and skyrocketing fuel prices could be just the truth serum southern gospel needs.

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  1. Don’t Park the Bus: Keeping SG Afloat | on 03 Aug 2011 at 10:04 pm

    […] Rising gas prices lead some to wonder whether the solution is throwing in the towel and parking the bus permanently. […]


  1. Bari-Tone-Def wrote:

    Or …… Stop paying the “Record Labels” to do work that you can do for yourself and stuff that “Record Label” money into a cushion on the bus for a rainy day, AKA high gas prices.
    I know for a fact that this is achievable. Your quartet may not chart as many songs as someone on a “Record Label”, but you wont be talking about parking the bus either. There are several areas that have fat to be trimmed, you just have to be willing to do the work yourself.

  2. Leebob wrote:

    #1 Bari-Tone-Def I couldn’t have said it better.

    I have said this before and I will say it again…hopefully somebody who gives the south end of a north bound rodent will be listening. Most of the national groups will soon have to start travelling more regionally (due to fuel prices) with an occassional extended tour. Passing it on to your fan base is one option but see how far this gets you. Have the secular genres really gone to $23 cds?

    Two reasons for my thinking:

    1) Consider your fan base. Your SG fan base is a different breed than your country, rock-n-roll, CCM crowd altogether. They tend to be older, more conservative, and for the most part, on a limited income. They are not going to spend the same amount of money that these other crowds will fork over because they have different values, they may actually tithe, and do not overspend unless absolutely necessary. What I have found with this bunch is that if they see a genuineness within the group they are very gracious and extremely sensitive in their giving.

    2) The weekend warriors that are getting closer to quality of many of the national groups (yes they are out there) and willing to be travel for less. Even larger churches are beginning to see the wisdom of paying A LOT less for slightly less quality than the relatively higher dollar of a national group. The pastor or music minister doesn’t have to talk to a booking agent but actually get to address a real member of the group. When the group arrives they are gracious and appreciative of any and all accomodations made by the host church.

    The weekend warriors are not taking away from the national groups for those of you who think that way. National groups will not, dare I say cannot, go to churches that run 50-200. We provide a ministry and service that the genre has long since forgotten because we got too big in our own eyes. So please dispense with “the weekend warrior ruining SG” talk.

  3. mark forester wrote:

    I find it strange that so many are talking about going under right now. I have found the exact oppisite to be true. I am finding it easier to get churches to pay my modest flat demands. They are more aware of costs. Cd sales have been up about 40% the last 8 months.
    (We have a great package deal!)

    I think if most groups would tell the record companies (cough-cough) goodbye they would find they could produce the same recording by
    themselves and save a lot of money. Anybody heard the Booth Brothers last 2 CD’s? Sure they have Daywind doing their new CD, but trust me, theirs is not the typical “deal” that these companies usually offer.

    Did you read the Singing News A few months ago when Michael Booth was talking about Busses and Savings accounts? I bet most Qyartet managers messed their pants to read that the BB’s have the money in an account to replace and engine and transmission.

    Another option is to sell the bus and buy a new vehicle that gets a lot better mileage. Most groups wind up getting a motel for a clean up room anyways. What a waste to have a bus.Sell it if you need to. Why should you spend the majority of your money to sit on your can and ride around?

    Sure you may have to change in the green room or church bathroom but you could cut your gas costs by 2/3 and actually have health insurance and that one little thing that almost no one in SG has……..what was it……


    I’m not dreaming, I am speaking from experience. A good living can be made in SG. Just quit giving Labels, Radio Promoters, Publicity firms,Booking agents and the like all of your money. You have 4-5 guys riding down the road with nothing to do. Get them a cell phone and let them do some of that work.

    The SG pool is small. That is fine. While we try to grow it, we should also make sure we operate finacially within the parmeters that it gives us. If you do that , you can make some money and need a benefit concert every time someone in your family gets sick!

  4. Al Locke wrote:

    Bari-Tone-Def….Right on!
    If anyone heard the Daniel Britt/Bill and Gloria interview on XM, the big thing I got out of it was they (BG) do ALL their own promo stuff both local and national. They contact the local press/radio where they are appearing, etc. True, they have the staff to do that. It can be done on a smaller scale, as well.
    We just want to get a phone call, book the date, show up with our product table, have a crowd of a thousand or so, knock em dead with our “great” music, collect our $10K flat plus $5K product sales, roadies pack us up and we drive off in our Prevost, which stays full of fuel automatically……………. That ain’t SG….
    Bottom line, we are going to have to work harder and smarter.

  5. oldtimer wrote:

    According to Dan Keeton (formerly of the Dixie Melody Boys and now of his Dan Keeton Quartet) Ed O’Neal has done precisely this (parked the bus) and is traveling in a SPrint Charger Van. (Dan writes this in the “journal” part of his website which deals very honestly with many of the unspoken issues of SGM, finances among them.) I traveled 200+ dates a year with a group for 6+ years and I honestly do not see how any group that is not among the top 5 - 10 out there can make it now with fuel prices and other rising costs as well. It may be that this is supply and demand finally making a long awaited appearance in SGM. The few groups whose demand can merit flats that will support them will continue to prosper. Those who can’t won’t. (Frankly the group I was in would have been squarely in the latter bunch.) It’s not pretty but is is reality and in a convoluter sort of way it may end up helping the SGM industry.


  6. Harry Peters wrote:

    You guys are sure making a lot of broad, over-reaching generalizations about the industry getting rid of busses. Fact is, many groups never should have had them to start with. It was more a vanity issue than a necessity. I think everyone who can keep them should. As for charging higher prices. Go for it! Christians shouldn’t expect a free ride when they pay secular prices for everything else. Why don’t you folks raise holy hell with the politicians for the high fuel prices instead of trying to correct it through debasing SG music?

  7. mark forester wrote:


    Honestly….have you ever called a politician to “talk?” I have and it won’t work.

    I agree that most don’t need busses. What SG groups should do is book their dates a lot closer geographically and do 3-4 tours a year to farther away states. For those tours they could lease a bus to avoid motels. This would also let them eat meals on the bus. That is how you save money. It is how I run my ministry and still put money in the bank.

    Most groups would rather run themselves out of business than make a sandwich on the bus or pull up to a church in a van.

  8. Dan Keeton wrote:

    Since my name was brought up I guess I’ll chime in.

    When I started my new quartet I did purchase a bus, but not for driving the group across the country. I planned on converting into a RV and using it on a limited basis.

    Simply put, I now own a $20,000 yard ornament. I can only hope I learned enough from Mr O’Neal to do this as long as he has. Another friend (who you would know) said, “the best advice I can give you is keep your overhead as low as possible”.

    So, I cannot drive a big bus, pay for fuel and stay in business very long, even getting a decent flat. I pray that all of us who desire to carry on, can do so. But it will only happen if we use our brains.

  9. Cliff Cerce wrote:

    I always like to go back to the origin of things - in order to get some perspective.

    Much has been said about JD Sumner and Cecil talking James into purchasing the first bus used for a Gospel Quartet.

    But remember - it was always the “B” plan.

    The “A” plan was to fly to the engagements, but that was abandoned the year before The Blackwoods went to the bus - for obvious and tragic reasons.

    After the plane crash, they went from the luxury of the plane back to the cramped automobile - with 5 grown men - 2 in the front and 3 in the back.

    Remember - at first the bus cost James an arm and a leg - and the costs only got under control when he put JD in charge of the expenditures - with an ultimatum to quickly get the costs reasonable - or they were going back to the automobile.

    JD eventually made it work - but realize they would not have quit if they had to go back to the Cadillac.

    I once knew the luxury of riding with 3 other guys in a 12 year old well-maintained tour bus, back in the days of 55 cents for a gallon of diesel fuel. We were ready to update to a newer 4107 (from our 4106), but we stopped dead in our tracks when we learned of the wet-clutch problems many were having with the 4107’s.

    Can I find a way to get us out of our conversion van today and into the comfort of a bus? Sure - but I’m not interested. I’m more interested in our longevity.

    I think Ed O’Neal is smart for making the change. That is the spirit of The Blackwoods, who didn’t have the choice of the vehicle Ed has gone to - or even a conversion van, for that matter.

    But - if being a Gospel group meant they would have to go back to squeezing 5 men back into a car with a shoehorn - I believe The Blackwoods would have done it - rather than quit.

    So - maybe the attitude they had can be added to the list of the many reasons Gospel music flourished so much in those days.

  10. philip elwood wrote:

    The first time i attended the NQC was 1996.Arriving from the UK i naturally took notice of fuel prices, which, i believe was $1.20 a gallon. Back home it was 75p a litre or $6 a gallon.Today it is £1.25 a litre or $10 a gallon! Needless to say there are no tour buses doing the rounds.

  11. Smarter than you! wrote:

    Mark, you have got to be kidding. Who do you think you are fooling? You don’t leave MI much simply because no one wants you outside of MI. Not very many in MI do. We have been in concert with you and you are way not getting any flats. You have no following, I mean except your families that you don’t give an option of coming or not coming. Take a second and get off of your high horse, realize you that you are on one that isn’t even plugged in. Stop acting as though you have it all together. We are all smarter than that!

  12. Dennis Gwizdala wrote:

    I agree with Mark(#3 and #7). I’m a soloist-musician/singer in SG. I’ve been doing this for the past 7 years(relatively new compared to many of you). I average about 140-160 dates a year. I’ve NOW learned to work the majority of the year regionally(I’m in Michigan, so that means the Midwest). I average 1 or 2 NC/SC/GA tours a year and they average 12 days in length. I spend 1 month in the FL/AL areas, but that’s only because I can live with my in-laws in FL while I do the “tour”. I cut back from pulling a trailer to loading all my sound equipment/product in a Chevy Tahoe. Now, of course, that only leaves room for one extra person, my sound man, but even then, he is part time. I’ve found that I can get 400 miles to the tank(that is an extra 100 miles by NOT pulling the trailer). And even that isn’t the best gas mileage. On those overnight trips, I stay at Motel 6’s and Super 8’s. If I feel like splurging, I stay at Comfort Inn’s and Holidy Inn Express’s. I remember when I attended the Steve Hurst School of Music back in 2001, Steve took us all aside and shared the “business” side of Gospel Music. Steve shared that there are VERY FEW groups in SG who TRULY NEED a bus. The most highly compensated member of any group is THE BUS. Alot of the times, it is a pride issue. If you ride in a bus, you have “arrived”. It’s funny(but not really) that when I talk to singers at NQC each year, how often they want to bring up in the conversation about “their bus” and “riding in style”. The bottom line is THE BOTTOM LINE. If we are to continue in this ministry, we need to seriously take a look at all expenses in our respective ministries. Do I enjoy driving a Tahoe full of sound equipment and product? NO. But does it make me feel better knowing I can drive another 100 miles by not pulling a trailer especially as I drive past gas stations on the highway looking at their price signs? YES. And as MF pointed out, that’s just the travel costs and issue. We could discuss the other areas of “the business” regarding the other people who want a “piece of your pie”.

  13. Harry Peters wrote:

    Mark, in regard to #7, you make excellent points. I have been on my congressman and two senators for months on a weekly basis about fuel prices and all I get are excuses about today and lofty plans for tomorrow. I’m still staying on them, though.

    In regard to the bus issue, more people should be like my friends, Crossway, when they started out. Even after Ed Harper started booking them, they traveled in a 12 passenger van and pulled their equipment in a trailer. The van was not even converted.

    It seems to me that a key to making it in this economy and with these fuel prices is to use a booking agent. They can arrange dates in such a way as to maximize efficiency and minimizing travel. I believe that even smaller groups could benefit from this.

  14. Tony Watson wrote:

    At this point, it certainly is about survival of the fittest. I’ve said for years and years that there are far too many groups trying to make it full-time to be supported. With the economy going the way it is, we’re already seeing the fallout with several group disbandings and surely more to come if others who need to go the way of Ed O’Neal and park the bus. It’s supply and demand and the demand hasn’t gone up enough to merit the cost of the supply.

    I predict now that the “top tier” of gospel music groups will begin to be a much more recognizable and smaller group. Then the quality regional groups, after a period of time, may actually see their ministries prosper because less national groups coming further away from the southeast will create more demand.

    I never have really understood the “status” part of the bus thing. For many in the congregation, it actually turns them off to see the big tour bus because they figure they are only in it for the money. With a van and trailer, I think that in many places, the love offerings would go up. Sometimes we forget that humility is a very endearing quality.

  15. mark forester wrote:

    Smarter than you……..

    Sure whatever. If you really know me than you know we did a 13 week tour this year to states all across the south. And you can say I am not getting flats if you want , fine, whatever. I just wonder then how I have been able to be full time for 14 years and sing in 21 states across the US. Not to mention Scotland and Canada. Never said the flats were 5 grand but most of our dates our flats nonetheless.

    Never claimed to be a household name. Funny how you claim to know so much about me and how I run my buisness yet you didn’t have the stones to sign your name. Man up dude.

    As far as being on a horse that is not plugged in…….at least my mommy does not make me wear one of those stupid training helmets like your mom does. hahahaha.

    Why are you so bitter? Did we outsell you last week in concert?

  16. mark forester wrote:

    Ok…I should not have responded that way. Wasn’t the most Christian thing I’ve done today. I just don’t like it when people go off for no reason and then don’t sign their name. I should not have felt the need to justify my ministry or prove something.

    Sorry to everyone else!

  17. Joe wrote:


    Good that you apologized…but, I was stunned at the attack that prompted your response. I know of none of the particulars, and know neither of you guys…but what “smarter than you” said about you, and how it was said, was pretty rough and unkind.

    Neat you apologized. But I think if we were honest, most of us would have responded exactly as you did…

  18. Mike McIlwain wrote:

    Mark #16,
    Don’t sweat it, man. Apology accepted. I was wondering how to respond to the heckler myself, but figured that what he or she had to say wasn’t worth a response. Keep serving the Lord and don’t let the naysayers get you down.

    I attended a Simple Church conference that I think promotes some principles that would help SG or, for that matter, any ministry. Keep in mind what your purpose is and your process for getting there, then let others talk you into adding other things to make your ministry “go.” The bus illustration is one that helps explain this concept. Get a bus if you need it, but if it is not necessary to help you do your job then ditch it. Many churches are cutting ministries that duplicate other ministries and are beginning to see overall growth because they have regained their focus.

  19. mark forester wrote:


    I read the book Simple Church….good book that can apply to many areas of life.

    Yeah, I wished I was calmer on my response but it was shocking to see myself singled out for saying what everyone else was saying.

    The thing about SG is that there are so many people who have great ministries, make a living, and are very busy ….but they are unknown in the “industry.” As I said , choose not to play the industry game and you can actually do well.

    Whoever “smartr than you” is must have an axe to grind with me. I never knew I had an enemy so maybe he should come to me so we could work (whatever it is) out.

  20. Aaron Fox wrote:

    I almost fell out of my chair laughing when I read post #11 from “Smarter than you!” until I saw that this not-so-witty little feller decided not to post his name. Then it wasn’t funny anymore. I like to bust on Mark as much as the next guy, but sheesh, if you are going to write it, you should at least be man enough to own it!

    Mark Forester and I have been friends since grade school, and I’ve always been jealous of his success in Gospel Music. NOTE: The first person who tells me jealousy is a sin is going to win the “Captain Obvious” award, so save the faux religious speak for someone who cares. I was (and still am…a little) jealous and regretful that I took the corporate route while he successfully followed through with our childhood aspirations.

    Anyhoo, I suspect “Smarter than you!” is a no-talent local quartet wannabe who drags $40,000 worth of equipment around in an old Ford Pinto (that he childishly referrers to as “the bus”) and sets it up in a 10-seat auditorium while dressed like a 1997 version of Ernie Haase. To hide behind a computer like a preteen girl and post something so vile without a name shows a lack of ethics and statesmanship that emphasizes this guy’s risibly low IQ as well as woeful lack of knowledge of Mark’s ministry. I don’t claim to have a ministry, so I’m free to sling it like I see it…

    I’m not going to defend Mark; he’s a grown man and can take care of himself. I’m simply writing to call out “Smarter than you!” and challenge him to man up, post again and own these ridiculous comments.

    Mark, I was surprised to see that you posted an apology. To be side-swiped in a public forum by an anonymous coward warranted your original response! You’re a much better Christian than I am, because I would have relied on my “saved by grace” clause to light a fire under this moron…and repent later, of course.

    Well, that’s a wrap for me. I can’t believe I am writing a post praising Mark Forester. I prefer my modus operandi of taking cheap shots at him…out of a curious mixture of admiration, friendship and the aforementioned jealousy of course!

    Aaron Fox
    Better baritone than Mark
    Dallas, Texas

  21. Dennis Gwizdala wrote:

    RE: Mark Forester, it appears that Smarter than you has caused Mark to get some mileage out of that post ! Some people say that “there is no such thing as “bad” publicity” ! Mark needs no defending, but let me just say that I am proud to call Mark Forester my friend. Anyone who will look into his family ministry(his ministry includes his wife and son) will see just how busy Mark is. He does far more dates than I do. So he must be doing something right. He sells more product than I do, so people must continue to enjoy his Gospel music. Mark is a straight shooter when it comes to what he believes. I’ve used Mark Forester as a sounding board when I have had questions regarding making business decisions in my music ministry. Mark, keep on “keeping on” and doing what you and your family were called to do.

  22. sockpuppet wrote:

    Please spare me the macho posturing.
    This site has a long (founding member, anyone?) tradition in support of anonymity (the concept, not the recent poster). It’s not about cowardice, and in many cases it IS about humility. (if gc revealed true identity, 43% of readers would fall down in worship) Face it, many that post here using their full name and hyperlink are hoping against hope that somehow, some way, of all the thousands of hits this site gets everyday, someone will click your link and double your hits for the week.
    Just admit that it is self interest, not your imaginary “stones” that causes you to use your “genuine monicker”
    There’s no shame in self aggrandizement, I use MY real name when I post something that benefits me, but when I’m just tweaking y’all, “sockpuppet” suits me to a “T”
    Happy weekend!

  23. Definitely Not Aaron wrote:

    To sockpuppet:

    Anonymity is fine until you bring someone’s family into it. Then it IS cowardly. “Tweaking” someone as you call it is a ton of fun, and I do it all the time without my real name. But there is a difference between a tweak and an attack. Requesting someone muster up the man grapes to own an attack isn’t machismo, it’s just good fun…or tweaking. Ok when you do it, but not when I do it? For shame, my furry little friend.

    By the way, no one looks at my website…ever. I only had about 25 hits in the whole month of May, and I doubt I’ll get any off this post.

    I’m out. Y’all take care.


    Definitely Not Aaron Fox
    But if I were, I’d still be better than Mark
    Nowhere near Dallas, Texas

  24. Blueboy wrote:

    In response to Comment 1, I do not think big name groups like DBQ pay the record labels to produce a project like some local groups do. I think most labels for the big name groups pay the cost to produce the album and then sell the product to the group at a low wholesale price, which the group then in turn marks up to sell across the product table to their fans.

  25. Rita Stacy wrote:

    Mark Forester—You have arrived, to
    get such a nasty post!!!!! We love ya
    in Metamora,IN!!!! See ya same time
    this year as always Nov 16!!!!!!!!

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