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.