Sonic Maximization and the sg arms race

In the course of a discussion going on here about BFA’s failure to launch, reader SE diagnoses the group’s problem this way.

I think their last few projects are so pitch perfect and so sonically maximized that they leave the listener aurally tired after listening to an entire project. They electronically tweak the vocals to the point that they are pitch perfect and in some spots sound subtly robotic or mechanical. … Also, they mix and/or master the project with no headroom in the waveform so that there is very little or no difference between the “soft” and “loud” parts of the songs. Everything is pushed up to just before the point of distortion. … After listening to this pitch-perfect, sonically-maximized recording, when people go see BF&A in concert they leave disappointed. Why? Because even with stacks, they can’t reproduce that exact pitch-perfect sound that is on the CD. And unless they have the sound system cranked WAY up, it’s not going to sound as “loud” as the sonically-maximized CD. The end result is that people subconsciously walk away thinking BF&A aren’t as good as they thought they would be.

Very insightful. You should read the whole comment before rushing to conclusions about the reader’s point. As SE says later on in his post, this is not just a problem confined to BFA (though they are a particularly unfortunate example of it). Southern gospel is overrun with groups trying to create Special Spiritual Moments (SSMs) with music whose effectiveness decreases in inverse proportion to its digitally perfection technological enhancements. Which is to say, though it may seem counter-intuitive, technology has  in some key, subtle ways, made it more (not less) difficult to connect with audiences.

SSMs are a difficult enough thing to achieve under ordinary circumstances, and the decline of the live band (or any live instrumentation whatsoever in a lot of cases, including BFA’s) has only exacerbated it. Sure, stacks, tracks, and other technological enhancements have made it much easier for almost any group to sound better.

But as SE notes, it also subtly and permanently reshapes the sonic (and, I’d argue, psychospiritual) expectations we bring to the live concert. Ever since, through the miracle of technology, almost any group can sound like a million bucks on stage, a million bucks suddenly doesn’t seem like much money, and everybody just sounds cheap. In turn, you have try to sound more and more expensive (without spending any more money) to make your musical point. Welcome to the southern gospel arms race for bigger, showier, more flamboyant music.

I have long thought the lush orchestral tracks that are the norm in sg these days have created a low-grade cognitive dissonance that is too subtle to seem like much to worry over in any particular moment, but across time exerts an enormous, reshaping pressure on how we hear music and understand its effects on us. And about halfway through the Mark Trammell Trio’s set at NQC last year, I had something close to an epiphany in this regard.

MTT was following not too far behind The Dixie Echoes, who had just put on an astonishingly impressive set, entirely unsupported by tracks, stacks, or other canned components. It was the kind of experience you know immediately will be one of The Moments (as opposed to ginned up SSMs) that stands out from among the rest. Then MTT comes on, poorly mixed tracks ablaze. And the artificiality of the accompaniment seemed achingly obvious, all the more so for the stark way in which it contrasted with the urgent presence of the Dixie Echoes.

In isolation, MTT’s set would have seemed pretty normal by sg standards. But with the memory and sensation of what genuinely live music sounds like in that particular auditory space still fresh, the artificiality of MTT’s sound stood in stark, stale contrast the Echoes immediacy and vitality.

And here’s what I realized: tracks aren’t a problem because they import sounds into the live setting that aren’t being created in the live space itself (Gaither’s a good example of how to use tracks in ways that seem perfectly natural). They’re a problem when they draw attention to themselves and their artificiality. Sometimes, this happens when the track sounds artificial, as with MTT (or the Dixie Melody Boys, who are the worst at this; I swear Ed O’Neil uses the same secondhand cassette tape for all his instrumental tracks).

Other times, and more commonly though, the track sounds all too real in the wrong space, so real that the mind can’t cognitively reconcile the sound of a 50-piece orchestra and a celestial choir coming from the front of a rural church whose stage is barely big enough for three or four singers and their equipment to stand without bumping into each other.

The ear hears something out of proportion to the information provided by the other senses … the size and scope of the room (very small room, way too large sound); the location itself (one is not prepared to expect the Prague Symphony Orchestra at Mt. Pisgah); and the context of the moment (if you just put five dollars in a chicken bucket, it is not immediately clear or logical that the next thing you should expect to hear will be cinematic strings and brass fanfare in crystal clear digital sound).

So with the rise of accessible technological enhancements to live music, there’s this tacky arms race to create ever more fantabulous (which means, increasingly artificial) experiences.

Sometimes it can work – the right space (Freedom Hall, for instance, is big enough to trick the mind into not noticing there isn’t an orchestra actually in the room, if the track is of sufficient quality not to draw attention to itself); the right moment (a group of show(wo)men who know how to convincingly act like they - and you - are in bigger, better experiential space … think the Cathedrals or the Goodmans); and finally the right – which doesn’t necessarily mean the best –  music (The Perrys, as everyone has been noticing lately, have the market cornered in this regard right now; more on that in a few days when I get around to reviewing their new cd).

But more often than not these stars don’t line up, and we’re left with preposterously outsized performances that beggar the most willing suspension of disbelief. Even Sister Bertha Better Than  You can’t really convince herself in her heart of hearts (or ear of ears) that those sangers were really doing all, or even the better part, of what she heard. And once you start down that road in a culture that insists on ministerial authenticity as non-negotiable part of the SSM, then the jig is well nigh up.

PS: I apologize to my friends B and A, who had to hear me test drive this idea inarticulately already at a fabulous hole-in-the-wall Thai joint in Nashville a few weeks ago.

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  1. thom wrote:

    I totally agree about the overly compressed, digitized tracks and vocals that some producers put out. I don’t know how much creative control the artists have with most labels. It probably varies by contract. But, I think the producer chooses how everything is processed, tuned, tweaked, compressed etc. and the Artist may or may not have much voice in it.

    Some Record labels and some artists have chosen to work with guys who overproduce things on purpose. While others choose to work with a producer who prefers a much warmer, authentic sound.

    The Dixie Echoes produce their own stuff and have kept the sound pure and authentic to the thrill of live audiences everywhere. If you don’t buy their CD after hearing them live you are officially tone deaf.

    Other producers that are tops in my opinion are Arthur Rice, and Wayne Haun. These men grew up in the business and produce the best SG around these days.
    Arthur refuses to use stacks and his recent work on the Kingdom Heirs’ last few projects was superb. Wayne has long been a favorite of mine for many of the same reasons, but I prefer the mix that Arthur ends up with.

    There are other producers that some labels have hired in an attempt to get a more updated sound and sometimes it works, but in the case of the “overly digitized” it falls flat. I’ve never heard it explained quite the way you did. You were a lot more technical in explaining it than I can be. But when it sounds like a robot its overly worked for my ear.

    I agree with the “female SG soloist” who called her record company after she first listened to her new project and said “there is something wrong with this. It sounds funny! THERE IS JUST SOMETHING WRONG WITH THIS.”

  2. Wade wrote:

    I like Brian Free & Assurance and heard them recently and was blown away because they BROUGHT IT ALL off the bus on a Thursday Night Church Date.

    But if you have ever heard them in person you will know IT IS LOUD!! lol… But I am not complaining or a hater and don’t blame them. But they always have enough gain to have PUNCH!!

    Brian is just a perfectionist that is how he wants it… just listen to some of their table projects… they are usually pretty perfect too!!

    As far as MC work… it probably is a factor in HOLDING them back… BF is without a doubt the BEST tenor singer in SGM… just the LONGEVITY Factor earns my respect… he was smart enough during his brief sabbatical from GCQ to start going to Leroy Abernathy to LEARN how to sing PROPERLY… one of the last REAL disciples of LA is Jean Bradford (Widow of Shorty)… & she is not in the BESt of Health. Anybody REALLY wanting to learn how to sing should look her up… she is in the book in Dade Co. Georgia.

    I would bet Brian will be around a while… but I said all of that to say… NO Male with a HIGH PITCHED voice will ever be respected as an MC…

    The Best Female MC is Peg and she has a deep voice for a female… the only male exception I can think of is Kirk Talley!! He was good and was one of the best on the money pitch right before the OFFERING!!

    What do y’all think???

  3. Casual Observer wrote:

    I don’t necessarily disagree with the premise of Avery’s post - I suppose it has become a technological “arms race” of sorts, but when I listen to our friends on the Country side of the fence, I hear the same thing. No one uses more digital gear to pump-up their sound than Rascal Flats - and it sure hasn’t hurt their record sales or concert attendance. At some point, the digital “refinement” becomes just another sound effect itself - not unlike reverb or delay. It unashamedly alters the sound for the effect’s sake - not to deceive the listener. That’s neither good nor bad - it is what it is and they don’t pretend it’s something it’s not. I personally love the latest BF&A album. I like the crisp EQ’s and the hotter levels. Makes me sit up and take note of what they’re sharing - THE GOSPEL! It sounds more like a high-dollar Country project and, in so doing, makes it seem more relevant. This is 2009 folks. If we’re going to reach the people who love Rascal Flats and Little Big Town, we’ve got to play by their rules (at least sonically). And even if you don’t like the digital enhancements, you’ve got to hand it to Brian Free - there is no project on the market with better song choices and more dead-on lyrical content. This album was obviously a meticulous effort of love and dedication. I can’t recommend it enough.

  4. Chaser3 wrote:

    While relatively new to SGM and not familiar enough with the artists to respond about specific projects, I must admit I have been disappointed, bordering on embarrassed at several concerts I’ve attended.

    The artificial nature of the tracks seemed so counterproductive, diverting attention from very talented people to the overdone symphonic accompaniment or those that instantly transformed 3 country voices into an angelic choir.

    An exception recently was my first Isaac’s concert that was both fun and inspiring and seemed to be track free. I’d be interested to know if they in fact are.

    Perhaps someone could publish a list of those SGM artists whose concerts are track free. At this point in my life I’m really craving authenticity.

    Never thought there’d be an asterisk issue in SGM. Hope we don’t have to refer to artists as those on or off trackoids.

  5. GrandmaPam wrote:

    Casual Observer, I agree completely with your post in #3. I just love BF&A’s Worth It CD.

  6. SNL wrote:

    It probably had as much to do with the arrangements as the production, but I remember Glen Payne saying once, when Lari Goss was producing one of the Cathedrals hymns and classics albums, that Lari was so good it was often difficult to recognize the old classic song when he was finished with it.

  7. Charles Brady wrote:

    As someone who looks at wave forms on a daily basis there is very little “wave” in most wave forms today. Most look like a square box… Sometimes it makes you want to shout “Just let them turn up the volume!” Are we so lazy that we must have “Full Volume” at 1? Oh for the days of “Quadraphonic Sound..” LOL!!

    I think some of our folks need to learn that mastering a file doesn’t always mean filling up the “entire” waveform. Leaving some headroom is a “good” thing… But as someone else posted this is an issue in all music.. (except bluegrass.)

  8. Kyle Boreing wrote:

    That’s to account for lack of headroom in the mastering. As for the pitch-perfect tuning….perhaps part of it has to do with budgets. Why would an artist spend months working on vocals when they can record an entire album’s worth of vocals in two or three days and just slap on the Antares to bring it all up to speed? Talk about a money saver.

    What I don’t get is that you can make Antares sound a LOT more natural than some of the records I’ve heard recently. There are two reasons for the “robotic” sound: 1) The sensitivity is cranked to 11, which is what Cher did on purpose in “Believe,” and started the whole autotuning craze, or 2) The original vocal is so far off pitch that Anatres has to actually edit the tone itself to get it where it needs to be.

    One group I joined, my first job was to replace lead vocals on an existing (but not yet released) project. I recorded 11 songs worth of vocals in three hours. I’m not saying I’m that good….that’s all we could really afford to do. The rest was up to the engineers.

  9. Casual Observer wrote:

    Chaser3, welcome to SGM. There was a time in our history when singing to tracks was unheard of, and selling 100,000 copies of an album was not surprising. There were a select handful of professional touring groups who packed churches and concert halls and their names were household words outside the Bible Belt. But, as is often the case, there were those who wanted to tap into the success of the market and make a quick buck. So they printed up letterhead and business cards that proclaimed them to be “record labels,” and they set up booths at the Quartet Convention where they could lure every wannabe group with promises of radio success and the accompanying credibility. Didn’t matter if they had talent - as long as they had a check book. So at some point, not too long ago, the SGM market became saturated with lesser talented “artists” who bought every available ad space in The Singing News and flooded the airwaves with cheaply produced, poorly executed albums of knock-off material. And amazing, SG radio gobbled it up. That was the beginning of the end of SGM. The remnant of true artists that remains is still struggling to recapture a portion of the audience SG once enjoyed. So many groups don’t travel with a live band because they can’t afford to do so. The genre no longer supports such an entourage. It’s all mathematics. The Isaacs are a family group with the good fortune of being both singers and players - they don’t have to hire musicians. So, for now, this is what we’ve got. There are those, like BF&A, who are trying to create recordings that rival anything on secular radio, and in so doing, increase the fan base and maybe….one day, make traveling with a band feasible again. But ours is an industry weened on mediocrity and bound by nostalgia. And we all know the 7 Last Words of The Church: “We’ve never done it that way before”

  10. Janet B wrote:

    I recently attended a Gaither HC concert; loved it all, but my favorite moments of the evening were these: EHSS singing “Wonderful Grace of Jesus” a cappella; the new, acoustic arrangement of “Lord, Feed Your Children” by the GVB (Michael is better than ever & the harmonies…sigh); and the Collingsworth girls’ violin duet of “No One Ever Cared for Me Like Jesus,” accompianied by Kim (the ending was so exquisite, the entire crowd sighed in satisfaction). I’m not a “track-hater” by any means, but it turns out I’m just a purist at heart! lol
    I’m not a big bluegrass fan, but I’m really looking forward to the Isaacs’ upcoming release, “Almost A Cappella.” I’m sure there’ll be more than enough on there to thrill the soul!

  11. Yeah... wrote:

    Personally, I agree with the majority of the essay and comments. Too much of a good thing is still too much. And when it comes to autotuning and stacks, while they may have their places, enough is enough, folks.

    But, as for BF&A, like Wade, I heard them recently, and was blown away by their sound and stage presence. If indeed they haven’t broken into the A list groups - as some have suggested - then something just has to be desperately wrong. They were awesome. And, their new CD is incredible.

  12. Mickey Gamble wrote:

    I totally agree with most of what’s been said here about “sonic maximization.” I, too believe that it changes the emotional dynamics of what “our” music is all about. And, of course, when an artist uses “maximized” tracks for performance, there is a further disconnect in that the live vocals DO have dynamics while the track does not. They almost never match at any point during the song. Avery here “complains” about the overproduced orchestrations. Such orchestrations are often called for by the song but their subtle and dynamic effects are also destroyed by compression. The result often “feels” like a wall of noise.

    That all said, don’t look for it to change. And don’t blame the record labels.

    This all began way back when secular “pop” music producers were attempting to get their singles to sound louder on the radio than their competitors. Motown was, I believe, the first to use the method.

    Usage of the “tool” was limited during the cassette era because the thin oxide on the tapes allowed for analog distortion at the drop of a hat. But CD’s changed all that. The race to make “my” CD louder than “yours” was on. Radio liked it (demanded it) and retailers got complaints from customers about “something being wrong” with CD’s that had “low volume” and had to be turned up to sound the same as those that had been “maximized.”
    Artists, too, complained to record companies when their CD wasn’t as loud as others.

    Once this became standard in the secular music world, it spread into SG. “My CD doesn’t play as loud as “country” CD’s.” We heard it often. And SG “radio” didn’t want “low volume” singles mixed in with their others. And, sometimes, retailers would want to return low volume CD’s as “defective” because their customers were complaining. As record labels, ALL our constituencies want LOUD, COMPRESSED, music.

  13. JEB wrote:

    I am not in the business - but I know what I like… I do not like over-produced orchestrations in SGM. In fact - I’ve purchased all of BF&A’s recordings for years - but did not purchase “Worth It” and recently took their CD’s out of my car - thus out of circulation. Ballads are one thing - but plain jane SG songs do not need heavy orchestrations.

    One other comment on BF&A - I have long been impressed with BF’s quartet singing (when all four are singing) - but I cringe when he sings alone. I find his voice unpleasant. Doesn’t mean he is not talented…he is! Remember, I am not in the business; but know what I like.

    There is nothing any better these days than an evening with the Dixie Echoes!!!


  14. youngartist wrote:

    #3 Casual Observer, right on.

  15. weber wrote:

    Groups whos sing with tracks and stacks are nothing more than glorified karaoke singers.

  16. Wade wrote:

    Casual Observer… Great Quote… the last 7 words of the Church!! lol…

    “We’ve never done it that way before”…that is really good and they wonder WHY attendance is DOWN and so is GIVING!!!

    Many seem to want to set around doing the same ole thing the same ole way and wonder what is going on??? They have themselves a PRIVATE CLUB!!

    I heard a Pastor recently state when ask what he was doing to try and GROW his church???…”Oh we are about as big as we want to get… we have enough money ppl giving to keep the doors open!!”

    Now this is a church of less than 50 ppl literally adjoining the property of a 1st Baptist type church…most of the cars at The Small Club church are late model imports and SUV’s

    I think this church has the same illness that SGM is dieing from!!!

  17. Nashville Phil wrote:


    Ditto on the Dixie Echoes. If you look up the word “WOW” you’ll see a picture of Randy and the boys.

    I totally agree with you regarding BF’s ear-bursting schreeech! Couldn’t stand it w/GC (It Hurt) and it certainly hasn’t improved.

    Oh, I better not get started on the Label honches and what some “Bean Counter” thinks is gooood stuff.

    This Industry is ran by NERDS folks!

    The artistry in the Studio is…all but gone. And now the Songwriting is waay sub-par. The Label says “well, we own it”, just amp er up fellas it’ll sell.

    I crave the days of yore, when we had several genius Producers. Now, there may be less than a handful.

    It ain’t just the Industry suffering from these ideas.

    The Fans are tired of spending cash to help make payments on Coach that totes tone-deaf, lip-sync-ers and a guy with good credit. No wonder there are more seats than butts at the “shows”. Most fans are burnt-out on the garbage!

    Good Day

  18. CVH wrote:

    Great post and comments, especially Casual Observer (#9) and Mickey Gamble (#12).

    Having worked all sides of the street (as a player, producer and in radio) what Doug is describing is a looming ‘perfect storm’ that will probably result in a slow, fundamental change in how records are produced. I don’t think the over-orchestrated and over-produced projects will completely disappear because those behind them know that today’s media and music culture (including SG) demand it. Life itself is overly compressed these days.

    But what I think (hope) may happen is a backlash against it from the consumer and concert-goer. Like any trend, the current methodology will have to end sometime - and it may end badly for those groups that are overreliant on the technology to make up for their lack of natural skill and chops.

    One of the first lessons I learned in the recording studio 30 years ago (yes Wade, when I was in my 20s) was, “You can’t polish a turd.” Unfortunately, that’s no longer true. It’s Photoshop for audio.

    The incongruity of the psychoacoustics in the live setting and the overcompressed nature of so much recorded SG music these days will eventually lead to its own demise. The pendulum will swing back in the other direction to simpler production values. It all starts with a great song - perhaps simpler production will lead to a better connection with people and better communication through those songs.

  19. jbb wrote:

    #15: Then I guess I’m a glorified karaoke singer and proud of it. We don’t use stacks, but, we use trax. So do you think everyone who does should stop singing?
    Not everyone has the privilege of being able to have a piano player or a band and I don’t think God only calls those who do have that privilege. I normally laugh at all of this “jibber”, but, today it struck a nerve. Guess it’s the 100 degree weather.

  20. thom wrote:

    I have always been a fan of Brian Free, but I must admit when I heard the last 2 projects I was surpised at the sound dynamics, and not in a good way. I don’t know if it’s the way it’s EQ’d or compressed or whatever, but the sound is odd to me. When you have 4 voices compressed into one wall of sound with over the top instrumentations, etc., it’s just “different.” Once I got past that and was able to just appreciate it for what it was, without comparing to previous releases, I did, and do, enjoy many of the songs. And I still like Brian and his guys.

    to #8 Kyle - you are exactly right - that sort of clipped robotic sound like Cher used on “Believe” is exactly what Im hearing.

    to Mickey Gamble - you are a pro that has been in this business for a long time, and very successful at it. I don’t think it’s as much a matter of volume as it is the “wall of noise.” If it were only an issue of CD volume, then Acoustic recordings would have the same scrunched and compressed sound. Would they not? Maybe I don’t know what Im asking about, really.

    I have told more than one group owner/leader and I will tell the rest of you in the for what it’s worth department - I want to hear a SG Quartet do an acoustic album. No stacks, no tracks, just 4 voices and ALL acoustic instruments. Maybe even try with no piano..(gasp)… yeah, try it. Just acoustic guitars and such.

    I think it would sell.

    And I know that the people who attend my concerts LOVE IT when a group does something accapella or with just light accompaniment.

    The other night we went to hear Gold City here in Nashville. I think the best thing they did all evening, as far as sound goes, was when they gathered around and sang “Happy Birthday” accapella! I started to tease them by going to the table and asking if they had it on CD.

  21. Kyle Boreing wrote:


    I never thought about it before, but I can see your point in regards to cassettes. As long as cassettes were still on the market, CD’s were still sounding relatively dynamic. After they went away, CD’s went overboard. Just listen to a CD produced in 1990 compared to 2000.

    I have a Billy Ray Cyrus CD from 1993, “Storm In The Heartland,” that actually had a disclaimer on the back saying, “This album was made loud to be played loud.” It’s laughable now, compared to his latest project, which is compressed to hell and back.

  22. thom wrote:

    p.s. - some of you have expressed an objection to “symphonics.” I have no such objections, per se, to strings and orchestrations to compliment or highlight the arrangement. A classic example of doing it right was the Gold City Pillars of Faith CD. Lots of strings and horns, etc, BUT you still hear the Vocals - all 4 parts distinctly.

    Can this be entirely contributed to the technology today versus then as some of you have suggested?

    I think its more a matter of some producers trying to make an edgy contemporary sounding group out of a Southern Gospel quartet.

  23. LaShay wrote:

    The Dixie Echoes are the real deal. What you see is what you get. If they’re having a bad night, or if one of the guys is below par due to illness…you know it. But, 98% of the time, they’re on the very top of their game, and I dare you to find anyone who can out perform or out sing or out play any of them. They’re the best that you’ll find at any of the 5 positions. World class men who love what they do…and who work hard at what they do.

    Go see them. You won’t leave disappointed. You’ll just leave wondering what in the world is going on with the rest of the SG world who has to stack it up so much.

  24. Infavoroftrax wrote:

    May I say as a consumer–that I like an artists using trax better than a band. The reason being that when I hear a song that I like-on the CD it will sound the same as it was sung. IT will not have a different sound and I for one like that. I have purchased many albums in the past from the Cathedrals, to Gold City, to the Dixie Echoes and found that the live song, was much different than what I “bought.” In fact I stopped buying for years because of that, and too many times there were songs recorded that were not good, just put on for like “fillers.”

  25. Casual Observer wrote:

    I think a lot of the symphonic movement in SG began, in ernest, when the Cathedrals, along with producer Lari Goss, travelled to London to create their landmark project “Symphony of Praise.” This album gave us “Champion of Love.” Few songs have ever come close to matching its grandeur, but that became the standard by which so many others aspired to. Was it the song itself? Maybe. Was it the soaring orchestra? Perhaps. I personally believe it was a magical marriage of the two that couldn’t not have been imagined before or duplicated after. But it certainly set the stage for all who follow. Enter Sandi Patty in the early 80’s with an ambitious young maestro at her side (David Clydesdale) whose orchestrations were as much a part of the spectacle as were Sandi’s high notes and sign language. I suppose that, subconsciously, we might have thought we needed an orchestra to lend an air of sophistication and credibility to a form of music that suffered from an inferiority complex for far too long. Or maybe we were/are trying to create music on the grandest scale possible - imagining that, though earthly, it is at least closer to what we’ll one day hear in heaven. Certainly The Gospel deserves our highest praise. And if that’s true, should we not be on a constant quest to heighten that offering. Nothing wrong with those motives. But having said all of that….there comes a time when the masses determine that less is more. If there’s anything we should know by now, it’s that trends and musical tastes are cyclical. They shift constantly. Elvis was bumped out of the spotlight by The Beatles. The Beatles were overtaken by disco. The 80’s hair bands were single-handedly silenced by the release of Extreme’s “More Than Words” - a stripped down acoustic coffee-house sort of ballad that people were apparently starving for - who knew? But the mellow mood only lasted until the era of the angry white women - led by Alanis Morrisette. Then Cher resurrected her career by returning to disco/dance. Forgive all the secular references, but that world is so easy to track because of the break-neck speed at which they change. SG may not change as dramatically or as frequently, but time marches on and the world we need to be singing our songs TO is not sitting still. This is not the same world that enjoyed The Statesmen and The Blackwood Brothers. So - leaders and laymen - we can recognize the times in which we live and adjust what we do to remain relevant, or we can resign ourselves to be little more than a curious relic from another time or a mere novelty act.

  26. quartet-man wrote:

    #24, there is something to that and it works in reverse too. My preference for tracks is mixed. Sometimes it is better than it could be done live (say Cathedrals Champion Of Love) and sometimes the tracks aren’t as good (like the Cathedrals Because He Lives)

    However, there are different thoughts on that. Some want to hear what they do in person and if they want to hear the CD version, they will stay home and listen to it. Others want to hear it the way they like it best (as heard on CD.)

    On the other hand, if someone hears a song like they like in concert and they don’t have the CD, if they like the live version, the studio can be disappointing because it isn’t the same. So, there is no easy answer.

    This isn’t about tracks, but a similar thing. I loved the “live” “in concert” versions of the Oak Ridge Boys songs like “King Jesus” and “Jesus Is Coming Soon” but never really cared for the studio versions.

    So, with me, it just depends on the songs, the arrangements, the proficiency of the band etc.

  27. AnnD wrote:

    I don’t know, but it kinda seems to me that it oughta be ok for a group, soloist or whatever configuration to use whatever accompaniment they feel is right for them to use, shouldn’t it, since it’s THEIR group or vocal presentation???

  28. Jim2 wrote:

    Preach it, Ann!

  29. Tim wrote:

    It’s sure not like it was “back in the day”, when you could hmmm………..go to a Hinson’s concert with their Kick A band and get a better show live than any “technology ridden” studio recording. Of course, Kenny Hinson didn’t need any “tweaks” in the studio and who cares of Yvonne was off pitch… they still NAILED it.

  30. cynical one wrote:

    Ann, I’m with you. And if the listener doesn’t care for whatever that artist choses (or is able) to use, then shut up and stay at home.

    My opinion is that, if you have a really good sound person, and the singer’s a great communicator, it really won’t matter to 95% of the audience, whether they’re using tracks or live instruments.

    There will always be some who think there something inherently wrong with using tracks, just as there will always thing there’s something satanic about using drums and/or bass guitar.

    And q-man’s right about the Oaks’ recordings in those days. Before I got to that paragraph, I had already thought about their recording of “I Know”, in the same vein.

    Personally, I especially enjoy artists who can mix tracks with live instruments, but not every artist or group has that luxury. And for most, in today’s economy, a band is a luxury.

  31. wanderer wrote:

    #30. Oh I disagree. I think the majority would love to see a live band. They may not realize it, but trust me they would. I go to SG concerts, CCM concerts…I like it all. I’ve seen Zoegirl, Big Daddy Weave, Newsboys and just this weekend I saw what’s left of Audio Adrenaline. All had live bands (except Zoegirl). Also have been to see Gaither, Lumber River Quartet, Kevin Spencer and Friends, Ann D and the Oaks recently. Years ago remember the Speers with a band, The Goffs and others. Concerts with live music is always better, but I understand that not everyone can afford a band. As I watched Audio A this past weekend and the band was putting the big endings on their songs, I remember that kind of excitement when I went to a SG concert. I will still go to the SG concert, because that is my first love. I love the harmony…the tradition.

  32. quartet-man wrote:

    #27 Ann, that is just crazy talk. ;-)

    #30 Cynical One, and if I am correct, I believe our very own Ann Downing and the Downings were the background singers on the “in-concert” version of King Jesus. :)

  33. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    #20 Thom,
    Mickey’s company already has a CD out like you’re talking about. The Cumberland Quartet recorded an acoustic hymns CD a few years ago. I don’t think they got much mileage out of it, though. I thought it would make a good series of concept recordings. It looks like that was what they were going for with the packaging. Didn’t seem to catch on, though…


  34. cdguy wrote:

    #20 Thom and DBM,
    Don’t the Primitives do that about every year or so?

  35. RK wrote:

    On recent BF&A recordings, the voices do sound very “digitized” or “sonically maximized”. You are correct that they take such enhancements to very limit and, sometimes, beyond.

    I’ve downloaded several of their recent tracks from iTunes; when I listen to them on my Bose SoundDock, the extreme clarity of the audio speakers makes the voices sound very mechanical. While the same speakers can make many southern gospel mp3’s sound almost sound live and in person, BFA’s sound less natural and more out of place with the accompaniment.

  36. metoo wrote:

    RK - you are right. “sounds less natural and out of place with the accompaniment.”

  37. Producer groupie wrote:

    Key quote on original post:

    “I think their last few projects are so pitch perfect and so sonically maximized that they leave the listener aurally tired after listening to an entire project.”

    This is the “wall of sound” used by some producers.

    Some listeners like it, and some don’t.

    Barry Weeks produced the last few Brian Free projects, and with him, more is more. He’s going to push it sonically and fill every nook and cranny. He grew up with SG, but he also writes and produces many different genres. So his production style is informed by more progressive types of music.

    Become an educated listener. Compare the sonic qualities of different CDs for different artists (for example, the quality for ease of long sessions of listening with headphones), and see what wears well. Then tell the artists which producers (as well as the engineer and mastering specialist they use) you enjoy most. Maybe on the next project, they’ll try a new producer and you’ll see a difference.

    In some cases, it’s great that artists are attached at the hip to certain producers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But in other cases, it can keep the artists from seeing themselves in new ways and finding a fresh take on their style.

    And some artists have such long-standing patterns with their producers that it is impossible for them to see they’re in a rut. If the song choices and sources have slipped, the pattern has become too set in stone to change. Sometimes a new producer can have more leverage to tell a group the truth about their bad choices and help them make better choices. (Of course, if the producer doesn’t know a great song from a mediocre one, then it’s a lost cause.)

  38. weber wrote:

    Yes, stay home till you find a piano player. This has nothing to do with Gods call on your life as a singer, im puzzled by that remark. Piano players, musicians, are not luxurys, in Southern Gospel Music, they should be required. I will put a good quartet with a live three piece band up against any group traveling today using tracks. I have seen groups that are part-time, with good four part harmony along with a band absolutely smoke and blow off the stage many of the top tier groups traveling today. It really makes a difference. Like I said, where God leads, He provides, let Him provide you with a piano player.

  39. Ed wrote:

    Ok, Webb, the fulltime top tier groups will hire a piano player when people like you will get off of their pocket books and stop putting $2.00 in the offering plate.
    It comes down to basic math. If the people aren’t giving, then it’s either keep costs down or shut the whole thing down.

  40. Casual Observer wrote:

    Very few producers produce…in the way that “Producer Groupie” describes them. And for that matter, very few A&R Directors perform what their title suggests - “Artists & Repertoire.” If choosing the right songs is not paramount, then nothing else matters. A producer may be able to create blinding arrangements and sonic marvels, but it’s all “lipstick on a pig” if the song, itself, is weak. And most A&R Directors should drop the “R” from their title. They either wouldn’t know a solid, marketable, song if it slapped the toupe off their head, or they don’t have the guts to stand up to artists and demand excellence. More often than not, no one’s steering the ship.

  41. weber wrote:

    #39 I think your math is a little fuzzy. People put 2.00 in the plate when a group fails to do the job, and if the group showed up with tracks, their paying for exactly what your giving them. Besides this, its really silly to depend on the fans to subsidize the group. Why? because they will not do it, never have. Putting all ones eggs in Southern Gospel Music is stupidity in its highest form. Let me put it this way, if your group cant afford a piano player, get a part time job, working Mon-Wed, 10 hr. days and that may create some cash flow for that much needed piano player. I can tell you from MUCH experience when you offer more to the people, they will respond.

  42. Barry Weeks wrote:

    I’m actually glad that you guys are commenting on the mastering and production of Southern Gospel records. I agree that the Mixes and Mastering needs to breath a bit more in stead of being so squashed and perfect. I am a big fan of southern Gospel music and I’m always trying to improve what I do so I will for work harder to make records sound more natural in the future. Thanks again for your thoughts. Blessings

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