Downmarket Derangement Syndrome

Ricky Atkinson, TK&McCrae, HisSong, Naomi & the Segos … what do these names have in common? Perhaps a lot of things I can’t think of, but for the purposes of today’s class discussion, two things.

First, they’re all at best second- (or third- or fourth- or shoe-) string presences in gospel music. And second, as topics of posts here, they generated by far the site’s most acrimonious discussion threads, full of invective and acrimony that burn with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.

So what’s up with that? Why do marginal or “boutique” acts in southern gospel seem to have cult-of-personality followings that engender such partisan viciousness? Even the Joseph Habedank thread, which got pretty nasty, was a birthday party at Chuck-E-Cheese compared to the comments that these downmarket groups and personalities give rise to.

Just to use the most recent example: commenters to the Segos thread, a cartoonish festival of idiocy that mainly attracts, as far as I can tell, drama queens and hysterics, have made threats of physical violence against one another and the principles involved (deleted), alleged Class A felonies (deleted), and imputed all kinds of other libelous things about whoever is deemed to be the enemy (delete, delete, delete). It’s not that these things are offensive to me, and anyway, I’m not easily offended. But it’s just that the general quality of these discussions is soooo childish and tedious.

Is there some law of the sg universe that says fanatic obsessions intensify in inverse proportion to the performer’s market share? If there isn’t, there should be. Call it Downmarket Derangement Syndrome or something like that.

All of which puts me in mind of Mark Noll’s comment about the level of discourse in evangelical culture: “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.”

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  1. quartet-man wrote:

    Wow. What we see gets wild enough. Who knew there was more we didn’t see. Although there is some talent in the names you mentioned, I don’t follow them really. Many SG fans tend to consider groups friends and will fight for them. The sad part is the unchristian way that some do it.

  2. Revpaul wrote:

    I have always been polite and kind when responding to this blog. I mean, after all, I am a pastor and all, ya know. But y’all are on thin ice with me when you start calling HisSong second- or third-string anything! (And there ain’t nothin’ “boutique” about them boys.) Fanatic obsession? Not me, buddy. We have ‘em back every year!

  3. FKL wrote:

    Well, no offense to Miss Naomi, but she hasn’t received this much attention since her last two husbands died.

    If everyone that rushed to her defense on here, actually bought a new CD, she’ll sell more than she’s sold in 20 years.

    Is ANY publicity really good publicity, as the old saying goes?

  4. wackythinker wrote:

    Revpaul — you may continue to have HisSong and any other 2nd or 3rd tier group at your church every year, but that doesn’t make them 1st string. I’ve see a lot of 2nd- 3rd- and 4th string groups who did as good of a concert or church service as any top-tier group, but the fact remained, their not first string.

    They don’t draw the crowds or the honorarium the top-tier artists can. That’s not to say they are not as talented or as annointed.

    This verbage has to do more with business than talent or presentation.

    I don’t know why some artists make it big, while others just as talented and sincere don’t. Maybe the Lord has some folks in mind for the bigger spotlight, and other for the smaller one. Maybe He knows who can take the pressure and/or “glamour” (yeah, right) of the big time, and who can’t. Maybe He knows who can be the best stewards of the finances associated with top, and who can’t.

    Maybe he knows who to send to bless Sister Sophie at Salmon Street Baptist, and who to send to stir thousands on nationwide television.

    That doesn’t dimenish the validity of anyone’s work. Some are called to different places for different reasons, just as some are called as missionaries to Africa or China, while others to Appalachia.

    Maybe . . . just maybe . . . God knows what he’s doing?

    Just another wacky thought. Thanks for indulging my verbocity.

  5. quartet-man wrote:

    #4 Wackythinker, not so wacky at all. Another comparison would we Revpaul vs. Billy Graham. Not everyone is called to be a Bill and Gloria Gaither or a Dottie Rambo, but that doesn’t diminish the songs they do write, the people they do touch, the business sense they have etc. As far as who gets placed where, some of your reasons might be valid or it might just be perseverance, being at the right place at the right time, the people who can help you etc.

  6. not a grammarian wrote:

    “… and to one He gave 10 talents, and to one He gave 5.” Both invested the money (in this case) and returned value for what the Master had invested. Just hope we are all out for the “Well Done”

  7. JM wrote:

    Perhaps the very core of all this animosity and ill feeling is that we are generally aware that SGM is on the edge of a major paradigm shift. Let’s look at the evidence: 1) The vast majority of the grand old men and ladies of SGM have passed on to their eternal reward. This is also true for major preachers and speakers in the American evangelical movement. 2) While television networks, publishing houses, singing groups and later day Billy Grahams scramble to take up the 21st century mantle of leadership, there is no clear cut successor in this movement. 3) While wannabee’s jockey for position in our Evangelical world, we are left with one unerring fact: While their intention may be good and true, they are not prepared to suffer in a economically disadvantaged position to communicate the gospel. Multiple studio sessions, stadium rentals, air travel and custom equipped buses all cost serious money. This is a reality. It also is a reality that FEW of these individuals suffer in a financial manner to communicate the gospel. This does not make them bad or evil. I would suggest that it simply makes them Evangelical citizens of 21st century America.

    Back in the day, ministers labored in relative obscurity, with little hope of Florida retirement homes, driving expensive cars or having 401Ks. Gospel quartets “hit the road”, in part, to pry themselves out of a a bleak future of dirt-poor country life. Most did not retire to lavish lifestyles and some even left this life in true poverty. Today, everyone expects to be compensated in a fair manner. They want a reasonable salary, full benefits, money for a retirement fund, etc. They seem to believe that God’s calling should include an assurance of a sufficient bottom line income. A heavenly reward doesn’t seem to hold the same value it used to.

    So, just as we now seem to accept professional athletes who perform their feats while benefitting from drugs, steroids and HGH, we seemed destined to accept Evangelical and SGM leaders who will never know the realities of want or deprevation. They will sing songs of suffering and heartache, woe and want. But, they will then retreat to their million dollar bus and plan their next Carribean SGM cruise. Once again, this does not make them wrong; however, it may make them suspect in communicating the gospel that was brought to earth in the form of a suffering servant. Food for thought. God bless.

  8. CDB wrote:

    I have went back and read some the threads you (Avery) referred to in the original posts. The ones you described as “..acrimonious discussion threads, full of invective and acrimony that burn with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns.” Wow! You were right! There are certainly some who really get wound up when their “favorite talent” is being discussed.
    I don’t know much if anything about the fans motivation but I would like to comment on JM’s #7 post.
    I applaud what you said and how you said it. I think you bring up some very valid points. It is true in our culture that as a rule we don’t want to suffer and we Expect to rise quickly and have all the acclaim we feel we are due.
    However if we look beyond the 1st, 2nd and 3rd string groups as Avery put it, you will find some families still laboring “in relative obscurity, with little hope of Florida retirement homes, driving expensive cars or having 401Ks.”
    Some of them travel in motorhomes, some pull 5th wheels and some even travel in buses.
    They live on the road 48-50 weeks a year singing and preaching in churches of 25-150 people.
    They still sing and preach for freewill offerings and make no demands.
    They tithe and give offerings and spend the rest on food, payments and diesel.
    Most of them I know don’t even have a home. Just a home church that prays for them.
    In short, out here in the heartland you will still find men and women traveling because they love God and they love the lost and they love the church.
    Thank God for every 1st Tier group tearing up the road and singing their way to success, but thank God as well for the one horse preacher that is still riding.

  9. Dexter wrote:

    Hey, if you have enough money, anybody can be first string…is there anyone left foolish enough to think it’s TALENT that gets you to the top of the charts?? PUHLEEZZZ! It’s the almighty $$$$$$$….who at the top of radio can I pay to play my songs…which big promoter can put me on his huge show and how much can I pay him….Money money MONEY!

  10. LuckyDog wrote:

    Just curious…Ricky Atkinson has been heavily involved in SGM for many years now.

    Ricky is a prolific song-writer. He has numerous songs recorded by artists of different calibers, with many top-ten hits and at least one “SN Song of The Year.”

    He has been nominated for several industry awards over the years.

    His own singing ministry has had numerous Top-Ten songs and he has a successful publishing company and artist development agency.

    I would be curious to know what else Ricky would need to do to be considered “Top-Tier?”

    Yes, I consider myself a friend of Ricky Atkinson. But when I look at his track record in SGM, I would consider him “Top-Tier”, regardless of whether or not I know him.

    I guess I would ask, what constitutes “Top-Tier” in SGM? Magazine ads? Chart success? Appearance fees? Concert attendance?
    CD sales? Blog opinion?

  11. Janet wrote:

    Whoa there, chickens! We are ALL guilty, at some point or another, of sliding past simply sharing an opinion right into being downright judgmental - which, I believe, is rooted in plain, ole jealousy.
    Why is an individual or group more successful than the next? Money? Inspiration? Ambition? Luck? Annointing? I don’t know, but I do suspect that it is wrong to point to another’s success and/or blessings & attribute it to something sinister or less-than-holy. When I find myself falling into this trap, (which is more often than I like to admit to), I remind myself that I am just a worker. I don’t own the vineyard. The Lord rewards & blesses as He sees fit to. And, He sends the rain upon the just as well as upon the unjust.
    I, too, cry out against injustice. What has happened to Naomi Sego is so very wrong, whether she has sold a single CD or not.
    Ok, now I think I’m rambling, so it’s time for the invitation hymn…

  12. Norm Graham wrote:

    I once talked to a booking agent for secular acts and he said he could make a fortune if he only knew why some artists become stars and more talented artists, in his view, don’t really make it.

    I decided years ago to make it simple for me. In any field of music or entertainment, I just accept the fact that the cream rises to the top. You might not agree the top tier acts in SGM are the cream but the majority of fans disagree with you.

    It’s the same in sports. I simply accept the fact that the best always wins even if I hate the best team.

  13. Scott wrote:

    Now, honestly, things haven’t been this exciting since Pamela Farr got nasty with the fat people….

  14. FormerDJ wrote:

    I think it’s a simple situation where the lower tiered groups have fewer fans, so what fans they do have can get closer to them. The closer a fan gets, the more they become a fanatic. The fanatic will become a pit bull for their artist.

    It’s either that or they recognize that their favorite artist really isn’t that great and they are overcompensating. Both are plausible theories in my mind.

  15. Leebob wrote:

    SOooooooooo, the pastor who labors for a congregation of 200 in a town the size of 1700 would not be considered “top tier” simply because he never made it out of obscurity? Perhaps the pastor of the big city church running 2000 has “made it”? Is not the small town pastor reaching a greater percentage than the large town pastor? Would to God that even one SG group could get that kind of market share.

    The same God that cares for the city folk also cares for the country folk. The same God who calls the small town pastor who labors in obscurity also calls the better known big city pastor who’s church may be thriving. The same God will be waiting at the finish line to tell both, “well done good and faithful servant”.

    Is it not just a small possibility that since the better known groups can no longer afford to go to the smaller churches, the “so-called” 2nd tier groups are now stepping in where the larger groups are, dare I say, falling short? Incidentally, I used to say that Ransomed needed to go to some large churches occassionally to help pay the cost for going to the smaller churches. Now, from observing the offerings from the larger churches vs. the smaller churches…I say that we need to go to the smaller churches so when the larger churches call we can afford to go to them.

    To tie a bow on things….the same God who calls the top tier group (if in fact He has done so) is the same God that calls the so-called 2nd, 3rd, or 4th tier group because His people are in need of ministry, not necessarily a show.

  16. wackythinker wrote:

    Leebob — Hmm! 1st, 2nd, 3rd tier preachers? New phrasiology to me.

    I realize that most analogies are not perfect, but I think you’re making a similar point to what many of us have on here have been trying to say.

  17. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Leebob’s post #15 should be the mission statement of all believers
    Play it again over and over.
    We heard the message many times that God honors everyone at their level of ministry.
    It is a message that never grows old.

  18. Alan wrote:

    Maybe it’s just me, but this has been the most fascinating and positive thread that I’ve read here in a long time. And I agree - Leebob’s post was exceptional. So were many others. I’m a soloist…have been for many years. I know who I am, and know what my few strengths and many weaknesses are. I was on the road for 271 days last year, and made 11 trips out of the country. God has been very kind - we have two beautiful homes, and great cars. Our 39′ diesel motor home was bought with cash, including everything we’ve added to it. I only say this to say that I also realize that few of you have ever heard of me, and that’s fine. And yet, working alone much of the time, God has given us a great life, wonderful friends, and best of all, an avenue of ministry. I don’t need to be famous down here. Maybe God knows that I wouldn’t have handled
    it well. None of that is my concern, as several posters have eloquently stated. We’ve only been asked to be faithful and obedient; to work for coming rewards, and not awards. Again, for that “Well Done!” Anything else will be burned up one day. And maybe - just maybe - the Judgment Seat will show that the missionary who labored in near-obscurity, and the preacher who preached to mere dozens, will receive a greater reward than some far more famous than they. Contentment is a fairly rare commodity these days; but the truly contented Christian is the one who knows that they are Who they are, exactly Where God has placed them, and find great delight in doing exactly What God has given them to do. My two cents, for whatever they’re worth.

  19. Leebob wrote:

    Thanks for the 2 1/2 kudos 16 - 18. After reading further and a little more time to think, the principle that comes to mind in regards to ALL of ministry is that if we want to be great then we must first be a servant.

    I see the groups out there spending money to be great but forget the mantra the way up is down. We have steadily built our ministry and are continuing to see it grow not because of our greatness but because of our willingness to ask, “Pastor, how can we best minister to your congregation today?” It isn’t about us and how high we can go.

  20. wackythinker wrote:

    It’s like John the Baptist said, “I must decrease, that He may increase.”

  21. Alan wrote:

    You’re welcome, Leebob, and your posts have been tremendous. You’ve captured both the spirit and the principles that the Lord Jesus Himself said - “I didn’t come to be served, but to serve”, and, “If anyone wishes to be great, let him first become a servant.” Every single Christian - whether in ministry or secular service - needs to get back to those maxims today. If we did, there would be a lot fewer problems in our churches, marriages, families, etc. None of this negates the added necessity that any of us in ministry must also strive, with His help, to be the very best that we can be in and for His service. Thanks again for a really neat thread; positive and very necessary for all of us. Too much of the last few weeks has been incendiary and (to me, anyway) really unnecessary. I read these posts, have been benefited by them, and don’t feel like I need to take another shower!

  22. Just a thought wrote:

    To be considered top-tier, it’s not so much about what you accomplish or nominations you get. Some groups try to spin that to a degree that is just unreal.

    So you are an artist that goes around putting out press releases (in third person) and getting your “faithful few” to brag about how you have had chart success, songs recorded by other groups that charted, and nominated for a few categories - great, but SO WHAT!

    What the artist does during his own program can make or break him / her. For instance, some artists claim to be top-tier even though they use borrowed performance tracks or play with a computer or PA on stage while trying to figure out which song to perform next. No matter what you claim and spin as being top-tier, your own actions says otherwise.

    Even more important is what the artist does off stage that can make him top-tier or not. What I mean by that is exactly what avery is saying. Those who act childish and make threats and show themselves. Some want to act like an idiot and bully people around and then tell us they are top-tier in SG.

    Actions speak louder than words - even the actions that some “artists” think they have hid so well.

  23. not a grammarian wrote:

    Our church lost a longtime pastor (20 years) to cancer last year and we were told that the “search” would take up to 2 years - so maybe there are “tiers” out there in that field as well.
    Leebob, I appreciate your points - It seems to me that humility (or willingness to serve) goes a long way to an individual or group’s contentment factor. A firm grasp on who God is and who he has called you to minister is definitely an asset. Some of the discord in groups is when different folks see that aspect in different ways.

  24. Cliff Cerce wrote:

    Wow, Leebob. I’m impressed! Seriously.

    You may just be too practical to be in Southern Gospel.

  25. Ron F wrote:

    Wow this is a good topic. I am a DJ at a 100,00 watt FM country station. We play 4hrs. of Southern Gospel music on Sunday Morning. My PD says our SG show better line up as close as possible to the quality of the Country Music. He means business so I try and stick to the Singing News Top 40, Not the SN Top 80.

  26. Leebob wrote:

    Ron #25 - might I suggest that you are simply caving into what other radio stations are already doing and so when I pass through your town I will not be able to recognize your radio station because it will not be unique and I will be forced to listen to what is sadly already being over played.

    Might I suggest a theme by hour approach, tossing in some of the top 40 that coincide with the theme, and finding quality material not already being played to death along with a couple of classics. It is time we step out of the box, trust the Holy Spirit and see what He can accomplish rather than use the same tried and over used and abused methods.

    This is the other side of Leebob that is still extremely interested in the overall good of SG but not at the expense of trusting the leading of the Holy Spirit. BTW - that involves faith and a little extra work in the area of preparation rather than reading from a chart. This side of Leebob can get fiesty (yes the fire still burns). I am conservative in my theology and a radical, yet very practical, in my approach to how we carry out our ministry.

  27. Ron F wrote:

    #26 I do play a few of the quality calassics of days gone by. But remember its only a 4hr. show. But we must be doing something right because we are in a Large Market and we have been #1 in the arbitron, for the last 2 books, with an 11.6 share. And I have found that people are starving for quality SG Music on an FM station, with no static sound.

  28. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Upper tier, lower tier or just in the middle tier!
    This event is just for you in your little corner:

  29. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Corrected link:
    Wildfire Music Festival

  30. Leebob wrote:

    Ron, even country music doesn’t get it. While working the other day with a co-worker who listens to country religiously, I counted how many times they played “I Saw God Today”, I’m Just A Guy”, and the “tying the kids to the back of the limousine” song and they managed to play those three songs among a couple of others 21 times in a 10 1/2 hour day. Gospel music has done the exact same thing. I don’t care what the numbers say because I am forced to listen to the same few songs endlessly while missing out on a host of other material. The numbers only mean something to the advertisers, nothing to the listener. Perhaps it is by industry design so I have to go buy the cd so I don’t have to listen to those same songs ad nausium and find out what else the artist is singing.

    Nothing personal but this is my pet peeve with radio stations in general and why I continue to play my cd’s and avoid the radio stations altogether.

  31. jbb wrote:

    To Janet and Leebob: Wonderful posts! Janet, your statement “I am just a worker, I don’t own the vineyard” is a great statement and one that every christian should live by.
    Leebob: Thanks for the reminder of Gods calling.
    We do not have a live band, or any songwriters for us, but, God is still using us. We are willing vessels and that is all God expects.

  32. Robert wrote:

    I don’t know about the other threads, but the one about Naomi (sure she is 2nd string now but at one time she was 1st string and certainly a legend in SG) should have brought about animosity. What happened to her (but was then taken back) was just plain wrong. I didn’t comment on it in the thread but I still don’t think my comment in my blog about the issue were “idiocy”.

  33. Scott Holmann wrote:

    TIER 1 Group definition is very simple and is concrete (not subjective to opinion):

    This clears the deck and wipes away all the fat…..cutting straight to the bone:

    Groups that sell in excess of 40,000 units of product anually qualify as TIER 1 …. no smoke or mirrors, no heavy-handed advertising, no press releases, no good ‘ole boy clubs, no jockeying and cutting deals to put stations in your pocket for a Chart-Buster (you’d be shocked @ the top charting artists who make personal calls to stations and make deals with other radio promoters to help “manufacture” a chart #, especially when their brother owns one of the charting stations)

    The playing field is entirely level when it comes to defining what groups are actually TIER 1: Just simply verify the receipts for purchases from the manufacturer of product (CD/DVDs) for that group.

    Wouldn’t it be interesting to actually know how many of the performers at NQC do not even come close to being TIER 1, including the members of the Board of Directors who own their own groups.

    If I would chance a guess at who in reality actually qualifies as TIER 1, it would be:

    The Booth Brothers
    Signature Sound
    Gaither Vocal Band
    Greater Vision
    The Hoppers
    Legacy Five
    The Talley Trio
    The Collingsworth Family
    The Perrys
    The Kingdom Heirs
    The Inspirations
    The McKameys
    The Isaacs
    Jeff & Sherri Easter

    Basically, the Gaither Homecoming crowd + a hand full of extras not used by Gaither (Greater Vision/Perrys/L5/Kingdom Heirs/Inspos/McKameys/Triumphant)

  34. Leebob wrote:

    Look at the dollar and you get tier 1. Bottom line is money then? “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also…” I am not saying anything about their desire for ministry as much as I am saying about your basis for tier 1 groups.

  35. cynical one wrote:

    Scott #33 — I’d venture to say more than one of the groups you listed don’t meet that 40,000 unit threshold annually. I don’t have hard numbers to prove it, nor would it be appropriate to share those numbers if I did, but probably half your list wouldn’t qualify under that criteria.

    And, by the way, Gaither HAS used about half folks on the list you gave as “not used by Gaither”. Maybe not as regularly as some of us might like, but he has used some of them.

    Now, can most of the artists you listed fill (or nearly so) auditoriums or churches on a regular basis? Yeah, probably. Can they collect the highest honorariums? (that may not be the correct plural) Yeah, probably. But 40,000 units/year? Probably not.

    But you are correct that units-sold is a prime consideration in who’s top-tier, and who isn’t. Just not that high of a number IMHO.

  36. not a grammarian wrote:

    Maybe not necessarily the $$$, but the # of fans willing to support that kind of sales

  37. Brian wrote:

    Lets say the groups above do an average of 250 dates per year, my simple math tells me they would have to sell, on average, 160 units per date. I know that there are internet sales and such but 160 per date…doubt it. Even at 275 dates, thats 145 units per date.

  38. GospelMusicFan wrote:

    Gaither Homecoming crowd is the best example of branding a name.

    Tier 1 could be called solo branding at its best.

    Tier 2 is mix between almost Tier 1 mix in with the generic version of southern gospel music.

    Tier 3 is for all those regional artists faithfully singing unto the Lord week after week to audiences who are appreciative of the opportunity to hear some southern gospel music in their hometown.

    I would not venture a guess who’s who in what level. Let the parking lots outside the venues and churches tell the rest of the story.

  39. CDB wrote:

    These are some great posts. I think it all comes down to knowing where God has placed you and being content to labor there. God will make us useful in the field to which He has called us. Any place besides we might be completely useless.
    This old illustration says it well…
    In his book The Burden of the Lord, Ian Macpherson retold Joseph Parker’s fable about the ambitious watch.
    According to Parker, there was once a beautiful watch suspended by a gold chain from the neck of a sophisticated lady. One day as the lady’s carriage was crossing Westminster Bridge, the little watch looked up at Big Ben in his tower high above the Thames and said to himself:
    “Oh, if I could only be up there where Big Ben is, everybody would see me and I would be so happy telling all the passers-by the time.”
    According to Parker’s fable, the wish was granted. One day a very thin thread was attached to the little watch and it was carefully hoisted to the Parliament tower where Big Ben has chimed the hours for decades.
    But, the higher the little watch was hoisted, the harder it was for anybody to see it. Finally, when it was by the side of Big Ben, not a soul in London could see the watch. Its life was very lonely because it was of no good to anyone.

  40. Pamela wrote:

    Touché, Mr. Harrison!
    You have, once more, succeeded in increasing the popularity and participation in your self-proclaimed “reviews, criticism, commentary, and observation focused on the world of southern gospel music” by referencing your commentaries to such “second- (or third- or fourth- or shoe-) string presences [presence] in gospel music” (Avery, 2008).
    As a peer educator, fellow Christian, and Southern Gospel fan, I feel it is my responsibility to address your readers’. I have, but recently, been made aware of your little blog. Yes, this was through several disgruntled southern gospel fans. As I am sure you are aware, nothing sparks participation and interest like a controversial commentary. I am also sure you are not making personal critiques regarding monetary value, popularity, commercial status or southern gospel backing. Therefore, I can only assume you are considering, talent, conviction, Spirit, and oh yes, Calling. Now exactly how do the proceeding values factor into your assignment of ordinals which indicate first, second, third or even shoestring (?) ranking and respect associated with the industry and the ‘legitimate’ Southern Gospel community, not including the “cult-of-personality followings” which earned your diagnostic title, “Downmarket Derangement Syndrome.” (Avery, 2008)
    Now, I have just one more question regarding your determinations and tiers of respect. Where, in God’s Word, does He give instructions in regard to rating His servants importance, both professional and Spiritual, and repect within the Southern Gospel industry or more important, His Service? That was not meant to be rhetorical.
    “Acts 10:34 Then Peter opened his mouth, and said, Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons.” (The Bible)

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