The death of Christian music

Thanks to reader pedantic, I draw your attention to this summary of a Charlie Peacock article about the death of Christian music as we know it and what the future may look like. Money quote:

Christian music that matters won’t have any affiliation with the Christian music industry but instead will be written, recorded, and released in the mainstream.

The big names from CCM’s glory days (Michael W. Smith, Amy Grant, Steven Curtis Chapman, etc.) will survive, but many artists from the last decade will be left looking for a reason, roaming through the night to find their place in this world.

Peacock’s full article is here.

I’m not sure what, if any, is the corollary truth for southern gospel. Unlike CCM, sg is not mainstreamable for the most part, which changes the dynamic and requires a different analysis.

My own sense, though, is as more and more contemporary Christian music goes mainstream (Switchfoot, Mat Kearney, etc) and “Christian music” as a category for consumer goods dissolves, subcultural music traditions like southern gospel will become boutique genres that will not necessarily die and may even thrive in some cases, but only after a contraction among top-tier artists and a continuation in the downmarket explosion of amateurs, hacks, part-timers, weekend warriors, and other paraprofessionals.

The top-tier survivors of erstwhile “southern” gospel will be the ones who figure out how to create the conditions for their own success: maybe that means they find shelter in theaters (Kingdom Heirs, Triumphant, Fake Florida Boys), or as the house entertainment for religious cruises and conferences (Greater Vision does some of this now, as do others), or generate demand for themselves as a kind of all-purpose traveling variety show with a wide enough appeal that they can carve out a niche market for themselves from within the wider whole of evangelical Protestantism (Gaither, of course, but also Mark Lowry and, to a lesser extent, the Memorial and Labor Day events Legacy 5 work at OpryMills).

I say “erstwhile” because at some point the idea of “southern” gospel will probably either break down entirely (one could argue it already has beyond the insider world of the GMA) or survive as the designator of a nostalgic throwback style kept alive by a few deadenders or cult-like figures of folk art (the Inspirations seemed to have shown the way in this latter respect). Don’t believe me? Look at what Charlie Waller said about the FFB’s theater gig (h/t, Kyle):

This is a tremendous opportunity for a quartet to get a chance to entertain for the receptive audiences that visit the Smokies. We are going to bring folks a little bit of everything, hand clappers, tear jerkers, and songs that will leave a smile on their faces and joy in their hearts. How else can you leave them when you are singing about Jesus?

Notice how he doesn’t bother to blow any dog-whistles for the pure-bred southern gospelites (the words “southern” and “gospel” don’t’ even appear anywhere in this quote). Now granted, there is a great deal of overlap between the kind of “audiences that visit the Smokies” and your typical southern gospel crowd, and Waller does mention Jesus. But still … this could theoretically describe just about any Christian music show.

I have no idea if this approach will work for Waller. In the first place, theater gigs are nice work if you can get them, but they’re difficult for southern gospel acts to make a go of (in case you missed it, we’ve been talking about this issue more over here). Then there’s Waller’s track record. He’s had or been integrally involved in good Big Ideas before (Grand Ole Gospel Reunion; SGMA Hall of Fame), which has earned him a reputation as a wheeler-dealer in sg circles, but the ideas themselves haven’t really ever broken free of the small-time confines of the industry’s most insular cliques. And finally, my gut says the Florida Boys will work much better at the GOGR than as the headliner at a theater, but what do I know.

In any case, I’m less concerned about the outcome of this particular venture than what its launch may indicate about the prevailing winds of the industry’s economic weather patterns.

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  1. seen it all, twice! wrote:

    But, Southern Gospel is bigger than ever, mostly thanks to Gaither. Unsurpassed growth in the last 10 to 15 years. A major release in the 60s was 20K units. Gaither sells more than that the first day of every relase, and a great number of artists sell more than 20K of their releases.

    The bonafide path to failure is to try to combine Contemporary and Southern. Praise Gathering bit the dust, because of the Contemporary side. Artist Retreat in Estes Park will have it’s last hoorah tomorrow night. Heard of any CCM Festivals? Yet, NQC plods along, and the annual sings keep singing, and the quartets and family groups keep doing three heaven songs, 2 bloods and an altar call song, year after year.

    A true picture of SG shows it (though small) constant, with very slow growth.

    Charlie was right about CCM, but I don’t see SG following suit at all.

  2. Leebob wrote:

    This idea just popped into my head while reading this. Someone else probably already thought of this but…does this mean that there is soon going to be a CCM Reunion tour perhaps spearheaded by Dallas Holm attended by flower children born of the 60s?

    Everybody is trying to change how they market SG, as they should. AGM was attempting this. I don’t care what you call it as long as it remains with a consistent message. Potential new listeners are reluctant to attend anything resembling SG simply based on what they know from the past. It has taken the Booth Brothers way to long to attain some stature in the industry, alot of it due to having to overcome the stereotype of the past. The biggest problem for us is getting into church doors, primarily due to pastors being burnt. Once in we usually don’t have any issues getting invited back.

  3. Joe wrote:

    This isn’t so much news. Last 50 years or so, and this is just more of same. Nietsche’s famous “God is dead” may have begun this in recent years…then prayer and the reading of Scripture was removed from our public schools; next, a continuing trend to remove any mention of God on our currency, courthouses, or in our courtrooms. Now we are facing blatant discrimination against Christians and Christianity as never before in this country…and what we face, is mild compared to what our missionaries face in Muslim countries.

    It’s easier to startup a Muslim school in America these days, than a Christian one.

    The rapture will be the day Christian music “dies”. From all appearances, it’s not far off.

  4. cdguy wrote:

    Doug — Just a couple of minor comments.

    First, the Charlie Peacock quote is not new. He wrote that in a magazine article several months (or more) ago. I don’t recall he said how soon it would be, but it is an interesting thought.

    Second, L5’s celebrations are not at Opry Mills. That’s a shopping/entertainment mall. Their celebration is held in a hotel — Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center.

    And I think I saw an ad for a similar celebration with Greater Vision at Gaylord Grapevine (TX). Maybe Gaylord hotels have seen the crowd L5 has drawn on holiday weekends (ie the number of room-nights they’ve sold, as that’s all hotels care about) and decided to expand the franchise.

    Good Lord!

  5. Janet wrote:

    Dallas Holm?! Just tell me when & where!

  6. Jim2 wrote:

    Dallas is still doing quite a bit, but it is mostly men’s events - whether you call them “Wild Game Dinners” or “Beast Feasts”
    I see Amarill TX, Albuquerque or Farmington NM and Bayfield CO this weekend. Looks like November before he gets to Georgia or Mississippi.
    Here’s a link to buy that “Beginnings” Concert that was held in San Antonio
    Steve Archer, Don Francisco, Chuck Girard, Janny Grein, Dallas Holm, Barry McGuire, Dony McGuire, Reba Rambo McGuire, David Meece and Leon Patillo are all included

  7. Jim2 wrote:


  8. Leebob wrote:

    1st Baptist Dallas and several other churches in the area. The mid-life crisis video was from about 2001.

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