Where great music comes from

A friend of mine who sings with a prominent southern gospel group was talking to me the other day in email about finding good/great songs. In the course of the back and forth, he wrote:

One thing we’re focusing on is to find and hit (really good) songs. It’s a consistent theme. The problem is….good from who’s perspective. It’s like no one can seem to agree on what is a good song. Obviously, what we’re doing is not working in that regard. We have only had one number one song in [many] years. So…I will work on that.

It’s a fair point: Good songs are tough. You can’t throw a free “Jesus Got R Done” t-shirt through the Freedom Hall Expo Center without hitting an artist bugging a writer for great songs, man, we’re looking for your best stuff … I mean, the next “Champion of Love” or “The Lighthouse.” Well, yeah. Who isn’t.

I’m sure some important music has emerged from this kind of solicitation. But as much as anything else, artists need a gut check on this kinda thing. If an artist is struggling to find and record great songs, the problem isn’t going to get solved by relying on songwriters to give you their best stuff. Most songwriters have a catalog of songs ready to pitch to artists at any given time. They’re  holding back what they think is their best stuff for artists who have proven an ability to take ownership of the music they record.

For the downmarket groups, this means your energy would be better spent working on imprinting your own style on songs rather than harassing songwriters who aren’t going to give their best stuff to a b-list group anyway. But for the established groups of the sort my correspondent is a part of, the salient point here is that you not only need access to songwriters’ best stuff - is this a good song in general? - but also an instinct for song selection: is this song good for us, can my guys and I sell it, can we make it good, bring it to life, give people a reason to care about it and us? (Insert old chestnut here about George Younce adding that “step … in .. to … the water” bass lick to Talley’s original song and thereby illustrating the difference between finding good songs and making great music).

Or, if you don’t have that sense or don’t trust it, find someone who does.

Or (and this is increasingly the more common path for most groups), create the impression or the appearance in the fans’ eyes that you have someone whose instincts on “good” music you and they can trust. This is what Rodney Griffin has given Gerald Wolfe, especially now that Griffin’s well’s started running dry. The conspicuous drop-off in the quality of his output since, say, the Quartets project (their last really fine album with some good Griffin pieces on it) doesn’t matter that much. Why? Because it became settled law years ago that Rodney Griffin writes Great Songs and Gerald Wolfe and Greater Vision support Great Songs from a Great Writer.

The Perrys are trying something similar, I gather, with Joseph Habedank. His writing has promise but so far has been marked by creative indiscipline and conceptual underdevelopment, but the Perrys are going all over God’s green gospel earth telling folks that this boy can write as well as he sings … just listen here to our new song. And off they go. Expect to see Habedank’s name on the favorite songwriters ballot any year now.

Ernie Haase has taken a slightly different route, surrounding himself with superb writers in Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun, and – as far as I can tell from reading liner notes and song credits – appending his name on the co-write line in several instances. How much he does or doesn’t contribute to the creation of the song is immaterial (and I have no reason to think he doesn’t contribute something, however out of proportion it may be to what Lindsey and Haun are bringing to the writer’s table). He’s got bankable writers helping him create bankable songs that he can stage around the idea and image of his own ongoing quest for the divine musical light, both as a singer and a writer, as gospel artist and faithful scribe to movings of the spirit in southern gospel.

All these examples make me think that No. 1 songs aren’t really the best metric for good music. The SN chart measures plenty of things (primarily how much you pay your radio promoter) but not really great songs. There’s no accounting for taste and all that, but I’d say less than a quarter of the songs that go No. 1 are really “good” songs, if good is taken to mean performatively engaging, creatively influential, and historically lasting both in their appeal and performance.

People don’t remember a song because it went No. 1; they remember it because it makes an abiding impression in some original yet recognizable or familiar way (here we might note that the definition of a good song also overlaps with the definition of style: easy to recognize, difficult to define, and impossible to imitate). What that “way” means for any given artist … well, there’s your $64K question, and usually the answer has less to do with the formal features of the song itself and more with the atmospherics, optics, and style unique to the artist or group.

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  1. MusicScribe BLOG » Blog Archive » Too Same Same on 06 Mar 2010 at 3:09 pm

    […] Harrison made some valid observations yesterday on what makes or breaks a song. What qualifies one song as “great” and another as […]


  1. RF wrote:

    I gave this No. 1 song thing some thought. I was a big fan of John Stewart. You’ll say “who?”, but he was a tremendous songwriter. He wrote “Daydream Believer” and so many others that were so good and he was a great performer with the Kingston Trio and as a solo artist. His best work was never heard because he got no radio play and the labels he was with just did nothing to promote him.

    Same with gospel songs. If you hold your mouth right and say all the right (conservative) things, you become the darling of the genre. You get radio time and lots of promotion. And No 1 songs. I somehow find this troubling.

  2. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    I have more questions than answers when it comes to recognizing or even defining what is a hit song. I tend to think that all the stars have to align for the magic to come forth. I’ve heard many incredible demos of new songs that have gone on to be recorded and at some point in the production process the “magic” has been lost….sometimes something as simple as the choice of tempo can radically alter a song’s appeal. Other times it’s the choice of key, or the instrumentation, or the arrangement, or the producer’s sensibilities. I’ve often wondered how Champion of Love would have fared had Lari Goss not launched it into the stratosphere with his soaring orchestrations and arrangement. The perfect song was found by the perfect group who hired the perfect arranger to bring it all to life at the perfect time…the stars did indeed aligned.

    Then there’s the issue of the vocals themselves. Many times a great song is relegated to the ranks of mediocrity by the vocal production (often the artists bite off more than they can believably chew). I have a few songs that have been demoed with lackluster vocals and I’m convinced that artists can’t get beyond the boring singer to hear the actual nuts and bolts of the song itself. So a great song sung by a not-so-great singer is automatically downgraded.

    But more than all of this - I’m convinced that a song will never be a hit if it’s not heard. Artists and A&R Directors routinely second-guess what the radio listening audience wants to hear and, in so doing, often single the fluffiest material on the project so that drive-time listeners don’t fall asleep at the wheel. That means that, with less and less fans purchasing CD’s these days, there are 7 or 8 songs on any given project that the Southern Gospel masses are totally unaware of - unless they are die-hard fans. Often the “red meat” on the project never sees the light of day.

    There will likely never again be songs that achieve the popularity of The Lighthouse, I’ll Fly Away or He Touched Me. Back when those songs were written several major groups would record them in the same year and all of them would release their version to radio. I could be argued that those songs, and others of that era, are cemented into our collective consciousness by shear repetition. Those days are passed. Now artists demand exclusivity. Add to that the shortened cycle of radio singles and you’ve got to have, what amounts to, a song factory to keep up. So the SG Music Machine spits out ditties as fast as its fingers can write them. It’s no wonder the quality, along with much of the inspiration and incentive to improve, has suffered. But occasionally, the stars still align.

  3. Extra Ink wrote:

    What is “good” is always subjective and particular to a person’s given tastes, experiences, and biases.

    My belief is that most A-level artists aren’t good connoisseurs of terrific songs. They are so influenced & enamored by the name writers, i.e. Rodney, Kyla, Joel, Wayne, etc (all certainly wonderful writers at times) that if John Doe gave them a CD most of them would smile to his face, smirk after he left the table, and more than likely throw the demo in the trashcan either before listening to it or after half-heartedly listening to a verse & chorus…..”This can’t be any good. It’s not written by anybody I know who has had success.” Conversely, if one of the “big name” writers hands them a song, it must be great…they record it. The truth is that even these guys and gals have stinky songs, though admittedly not as often as most unknown writers.

    Also, there is a certain amount of pressure for label artists to record label stable writers’ songs to keep more money coming in for the label and to keep the stable writers’ songs active. That’s a shame, too, because a great song is a great song whether it came from the label stable or from Jane Doe in Freeport, TX.

    That said, and to be evenhanded, the majority of songs submitted by unknown writers is incredibly bad. I know this from experience by soliciting submissions. So as an artist, you have to be willing to sift through a lot of chaff to get some great wheat. But mostly, you have to be able to tell the difference.

  4. NonInsider wrote:

    Great post Doug… That may be the best blog post you have written in a while IMO… I think I may know the group the person that sent you that email is… I also could not agree more about rating a groups success, or lack thereof solely on chart success… I sometimes… Well alot of times sit and scratch my head at some of the songs that make it to #1… Some of the songs that make it there are some of the most shallow cookie cutter type songs I have ever heard… And other songs that have true meat and have an amazing message sits mired in the lower part of the chart… I suppose it is not how good you sing, it is how well you pay… But there is another angle that people seem to trip over, it is not about chart success or sales or popularity it should be about putting out the best quality music possible to the radio… And about spreading the right message… I get sick and tired of groups making a huge deal about how well they did on the chart this month or that… They seem to miss the real reason they are or should be in this business…

  5. Irishlad wrote:

    I gather by a #1 song you all mean a SN #1?If so is that really a good litmus test?

  6. Sam wrote:

    I am not a formally trained musician or artist but I do have some understanding of music and a pretty good ear for harmony etc, etc. In my opinion many current offerings to the market are, both in terms of song composition and presentation, lacking. While I won’t go down the nostaligia highway, I believe a lot of this is due to a huge lack of musical training, formal or otherwise, to even understand the rudiments of the craft, especially in the performance realm. I don’t buy into the notion that because you view this as your “calling” (ministry or whatever) that you then have a pass to go out and promote a less than quality product. In essence I guess I lay most of the “blame” in the performance or artists realm, especially noting the comments that #2 put forth.

    As has been debated here and elsewhere ad nauseum lately, this is also a possible reason for the downturn in SG that many have noted.

  7. quartet-man wrote:

    Some good points above. I went into this some in the previous threads about the awards and writers. Joel is correct about different things coming into play and I also touched upon that before. Each ingredient works together for the final product. If one is lacking, there may be SOME success because a great artist, performer, arrangement etc. can SOMEWHAT compensate for a less than great song. A great song can also shine to SOME degree for a less than great artist. However, when all come together then the magic can happen. There is no guarantee on the charts though.

    When the Oak Ridge Boys found Elvira it became to this day their most successful song. The song, their arrangement, their performance, the time it was released etc. all met at the right time. Kenny Rogers and the First Edition as well as Dallas Frazier (the writer) had recorded it prior, but neither version had more than modest success. Now, as catchy as that song was back at the time, they have had many, many better songs (many of which have not been heard by the masses.) On their song American Made, Duane decided that each person should sing a line of the verses. That makes the song a lot more interesting than if one had sung each. When you strip the song down, it really is a simple song. However, they did it well and had great success with it. Although I like many of their singles, often I thought some of their album cuts were better than their singles. Same thing with the Gaither Vocal Band and Cathedrals etc. Part of that might be my taste and certainly that isn’t true in every case.

    Part of it too is promotion, the artist’s standing in the eyes of the powers to be etc. Using the Oaks again, they recorded a great song in the nineties called “Change My Mind.” Every aspect of it (the song, their performance, the arrangement) was superb, but it never went past 70. John Berry released a nowhere nearly good version a bit later and I think it soared to #1 Part of that I think was his popularity at the time (more radio was willing to play him), part was that his label was behind him more, and perhaps more was what other songs were on the charts at the time to compete, BUT, the Oaks version was better than a lot, if not all of what else was out back then (I would have to check to see what else was competing at the time.) However, at times a great song has failed to make #1 and maybe stayed at #2 due to its competition even if the #2 song is better. (At times a song stays at #1 for some time because like Elvira it picks up steam and becomes a bit of a phenomenon.

    Champion of Love is a great example. The Cathedrals (with Wolfe on lead) and Goss on production with the London Philharmonic all combined to make a monster song. However, as great as the song and Cathedrals were (and make no mistake they were), had the arrangement not been added I really don’t think it would have done as well. Face it, the orchestration really communicates the majesty of the lyric and supplements the message. Imagine it done only with piano. It wouldn’t have the power to really make the message soar. On the other hand. i
    imagine had it been done with the Cats arrangement, but sung by Charlotte Ritchie or Kelly Nelon Thompson. Now, both of these ladies have lovely voices, are among my favorite female singers, and with the right material really shine. However, their voices are not powerful enough from a volume standpoint to take the song where it needed to be. That is why the Gaithers passed along Let Freedom Ring to Larnelle and the Cathedrals when it was written, and other of their songs to Sandi Patty such. The trio simply couldn’t pull them off as they needed to be done. It wasn’t until the Vocal Band that they were able to do them the way they needed done. Even many of their great songs they HAD done such as I Believe In A Hill Called Mount Calvary, The Old Rugged Cross Made The Difference, Worthy The Lamb and He Touched Me (although successful) were so much better when done by the Vocal Band and the right members. The arrangements also aided these songs.

    Although no examples immediately come to mind, sometimes the times make a difference. It seems there have been songs released that never took off and then the exact performance and recording took off and succeeded due to perhaps a current event, some radio station getting behind the song and pushing it, another song leaving the charts and people tiring of it etc.

    Now, back to the Oaks, even in their heyday and with Duane’s and others success in picking great songs, and with their great production and their great talent, had some songs that never really combined together well. Perhaps it was the song itself. Or maybe some other ingredient. In fact, Joe mentioned once that they did a song (I believe She Is His Only Need) that just didn’t happen for whatever reason. They just didn’t nail it. However, later another artist had great success with it (Wyonna if that was the song he was talking about.)

    So, there really is a combination. The more parts that nail it, the better the chance. A great song, performed by great artists who nail it, great production, great accompaniment, promotion, timing, videos (sometimes at least in the past, but not really in SG), support by the industry etc. work together.

  8. quartet-man wrote:

    A few more things I meant to get to. The Oaks “She Is His Only Need” was never released (or the song I was talking about.) That too is why I think sometimes artists record more songs than they need because some just don’t happen even with great performers and songs. In fact, sometimes whole albums can go like this. The Imperials Lost album is one example. As interesting as it was to hear (and although one song on there did have some success released separately from the album), it just never happened. (Perhaps due to production or maybe even song selection.)

    Some of the Oaks other ones I mentioned (even back in their gospel days) were either released as B sides (although sometimes there were good B sides that were non album cuts) or even on a compilation (like the LightHouse lp which consisted mostly of material cut for previous albums that had not been used.) The Gaither Trio had an album with McSpadden that had not been released. It finally was made available through them (but not mainstream) I believe after McSpadden left. I was fortunate to get one or two copies at the time.

    For that matter, they also released an album with McSpadden (Then He Said Sing) by another name (I believe one of the better known songs on the album) and with a picture of the group with Michael. MCA released some of the Oaks previous country albums under new names and titled with successful singles titles to try to sell more. They thought more people would by them by a title of a song they recognized, than by the original album titles.

    Speaking on the status of writers, there certainly is truth to that too. I know of more than one artist who pushed “we just recorded a song by X writer) as if it were a status thing. Instead of finding a great song that fit their vocals and style, they were convinced that if Crabb wrote it (he was one I remember seeing this with) that it had to be good and would be successful. The great writers (or even artists) don’t have everything they do be great or successful no matter how talented they are.

    By the same token, like I mentioned above the great artists might not be the right ones for the song either. I wonder how many writers have missed opportunities holding out for big named artists to cut a song. Granted with writers and performers alike, there may be more chance of it happening with those with proven track records. But not always. Sometimes a new writer or artist manage to be just what is needed and manage to make names for themselves when they do nail it. I am pretty sure that Kenny Rogers and The First Edition were more popular when they recorded Elvira than the Oaks were when they did (but maybe not. I was only barely a teen when the Oaks version was done.) That song alone, made them a household name. They had had success before (Y’all Come Back Saloon, You’re The One, Come On In, I’ll Be True To You etc.) but I don’t know who all but their diehard fans who knew their names in combination with their songs. I suppose by that time several might have, but the general populace “discovered” them with Elvira.

    Joel mentioned back in the day how the same song was done by several of the same artists. Back then the songs were more of the hits (many times more than one version on the chart at the same time). Then you could more easily see how an artist or arrangement could make a difference. However, recently The Talleys, Legacy Five and Gold City all did Truth Is Marching On. Although I like all three groups, I much preferred Gold City’s. Before that the Perrys and Signature Sound both did “Calvary Answers For Me.” I liked both groups, but I prefer the Perrys.

    We sort of see this even on Joel’s beautiful song Heaven’s Child. The Martins did a great job, but I know I have heard it semi recently by someone else. I have also heard a female who has redone the Crabbs song “Please Forgive Me” (but not as well.) Of course many artists have brought back songs which is different than releasing them at the same time such as the examples in the preceding paragraph.

  9. quartet-man wrote:

    Oh, my I thought of something else that Joel mentioned. Tempo too can make a difference. Mosie Lister once mentioned how he had written Feeling Fine with a particular crooner in mind and meant for it be that style. However the Lefevres (I believe) did it very up tempo.) He was pretty surprised when he heard it, but later thought it probably wouldn’t have had success like it did if they hadn’t.

  10. Michael McIlwain wrote:

    Doug said, “People don’t remember a song because it went No. 1; they remember it because it makes an abiding impression in some original yet recognizable or familiar way (here we might note that the definition of a good song also overlaps with the definition of style: easy to recognize, difficult to define, and impossible to imitate).”

    I agree. I have listened to oldies radio and the classic hits radio stations that are prevalent here in the “gray hair” belt of SW Florida. I will hear certain classic songs that keeps making the rotation on these stations and have gone to the internet and researched its chart history only to be surprised to find out that the song was only barely a top 20 or top 10 song.

  11. markp wrote:

    Good thread. This is the type of esteemed thought and discussion I wish this sight had more of.

  12. quartet-man wrote:

    My apologies, Doug, you also mentioned some of the very things that I attributed to others exclusively. I did read your initial post before the others, but when doing the lengthy replies and then looking back to see who had said what, I never gave you any of the credit.

    Marty, sorry for calling you Joel too. I had the wrong songwriter on the brain too I guess. :-) Besides a horrific lack of sleep for a while and trying to get a lot of points made, I guess I really blew it in the credit department. :-)

  13. Extra Ink wrote:

    Another caveat in this discussion is that an artist or a label usually doesn’t know if a particular song will “take” at radio. The golden example is the song “Jesus and John Wayne” by Gaither Vocal Band. The thunderous sound you heard when the comp disc arrived at radio stations was the song hitting File 13. It was one of those tunes that you either loved or hated, and more radio people hated it than loved it. This was especially surprising given the fact that almost everything Gaither sends to radio will ultimately hit the Top 20. Not “Jesus and John Wayne”. So even Gaither can miscalculate what will spin at radio sometimes.

    As an artist (especially an independent artist without the sounding board of a label), you put a CD out and you think to yourself “this particular song..track #3…it’s our radio song, and it’s going to smoke at radio”. Then you release the song and it peaks at #78 and you are left scratching your head. Then the song that you liked least on the record, but that people seem to really like when you sing it in concert (and that you wrote in 30 minutes one night before you fell asleep) goes to radio and peaks at #19. Scratch your head some more.

  14. copperhill wrote:

    # 8–Regarding your comment about “a female” who has redone the Crabb’s song “Please Forgive Me” . . . I assume you are referring to Terah Crabb Penhollow’s version from Crabb Revival’s Live at Oak Tree CD.

    Personally, I love this fresh and updated version of her dad’s song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=prXNyb8fiYI

  15. Troy wrote:

    This has been an interesting thread. Some of the factors that have been mentioned are arrangement, tempo, vocal power, etc. But since gospel music is largely about the words, I’m wondering if the inherent message of a great song can transcend performance factors. Some of the classics have been done in different styles (slow, fast, bluegrass, honkytonk, etc.) while still retaining their impact. Is there something about a great song that makes it more adaptable to different styles?

  16. 4Given wrote:

    2. Marty you make some great points… I love your song “When They Found Nothing.”(The producer/orchestrator of the song was Lari Goss) I am assuming that you Marty… Arranged it. Quite superbly I might add. It happens to be one of the best lyrics written in a long time… It is the perfect example of a song that gets blown under the radar on the radio charts… It is number 45 after 3 months on the charts. And there are other songs that are not nearly as well written and sung. That are much higher on the charts after the same amount of time…

  17. Irishlad wrote:

    #8 et al, nice post Q-man,i love it when you talk secular lol.Btw the oaks 1st all non-gospel album as mentioned(Y’all come back saloon)has to be among the best of the very best imho.

  18. quartet-man wrote:

    #14 Could be. I heard part of it on radio and was surprised. I didn’t dislike the new version, but felt like the original wasn’t quite old enough and also well enough done that I didn’t really see the need to redo it. :D I’ll have to listen to the one on the link.

  19. quartet-man wrote:

    #14 I do have to say I never realized Terah had that singing in her. I had heard her before, and not just relegated to harmony / backup, but I don’t know that I ever heard her sing as well as she does there. She seems to have a new dimension or maybe it is just having the right material and key. I still think I prefer the original, but she does stand on her own for sure and that version does have some merit. It would be difficult IMHO to recut some of the Crabb’s bigger hits that had Jason on them, but she pulled it off.

  20. David wrote:

    Re: The Oaks, surprised no one has mentioned them rushing out “Bobbie Sue” in hopes, I suppose, of giving Sterban another signature bass line of “buh bah buh bah Bobbie Sue” to complement “oom papa oom papa mow mow.” I heard them sing both on the Opry last month and “Bobbie Sue” was just as weak then as in the 80’s.

  21. Brett wrote:

    Here is a better version of Terah singing “Please Forgive Me” with Adam Crabb. She was sick when she recorded that version in Oak Tree Studio so her voice there is more raspy.


  22. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    4Given (#16) “When They Found Nothing” is a great example of exactly what I was talking about…how a song can become two different animals - depending on how it’s treated. That title was given to me by Bev Lowry (Mark’s mother) 6 or 7 years ago. I knew it was a great concept but it seemed incredibly daunting to write. So I tucked it away for a more creative day. Through the years I offered it to several cowriters but none of them wanted to tackle it either. A new writer named Melissa Bishop and I finally wrestled with the concept for 3 hours a couple of years ago but never completed it. Then, Daywind and LifeWay asked me to write an Easter musical this past year. I knew that would be the perfect opportunity for the song, so I convinced James Isaac Elliott to help me finish it. We did and it became the big song in the musical “Reign Jesus Reign” (which was just nominated for a Dove Award - Musical of the Year - shameless promotion here!)

    We never imagined this song as an artist cut. It seemed relegated to the choral market. Of course, we were pleasantly surprised when Legacy V not only cut it, but also singled it to radio. I doubted its chances in the SG market from the outset - simply because it was weightier fare than the traditional offerings on SG radio, but I cheered it on nonetheless. For anyone who would like to hear the original version of the song, you can check out my Facebook page and click on the “My Band” tab. There are subtle differences in the versions that illustrate what I mentioned in my earlier post. There are so many factors that either propel a song or limit its possibilities. If producing a hit song was a measurable science, we’d all tap into the formula with each release - but alas, it is not. Variables abound.

    Oh…and “quartet-man” - if you were referring to Joel Lindsey, you can call me by that name any time! Wish I had a tenth of his talent.

  23. DMP wrote:

    There are those mysterious, successful songs. I really, really dislike the song Christmas Shoes. Bad vocals, bad lyrics, and bizarre story…When the childrens choir starts singing, it might as well be an SNL skit. But people eat it up.

  24. christy wrote:

    I just received Weston Hinson’s new cd yesterday. He has a wonderful voice and I hope that the “stars will align” for him. You can hear demos of the songs on his website.

  25. quartet-man wrote:

    #22 Marty, that is exactly who I was calling you. You are talented as well though. I am glad to hear you mention the song When They Found Nothing. I am a church music director and both the Administrative Assistant and a choir member mentioned the song (the choir member called and left the title for me and the Administrative Assistant had heard it too.) This was months ago. I am glad you told where to find it, because I figured the chances of it being published for choir at least this year was slim. I don’t suppose there is an Octavo? :-)

  26. 4Given wrote:

    22. Marty, I have heard the choral version and it is quite stirring! That entire “Reign Jesus Reign” production is breathtaking… It deserves to win the dove award… I hope it will eventually do very well in the Southern Gospel Market… I have been to several L5 concerts since they cut the song, and they stage it as their closing song 9 times out of 10… It always receives a great response…

  27. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    “When They Found Nothing” has not been released as an octavo, yet, but there’s a good possibility of it being a “pull out” from the Easter musical and offered next year. If so, it will be distributed by LifeWay. Daywind recently teamed with LifeWay to bring the best of Southern Gospel music to the choral market. They introduced their initial offerings at the “Fire in the Choir” event during this past year’s NQC. The response was incredible. I really think churches, and church choir directors, are just now discovering the wealth of great songs that come from our little corner of the Christian music world.

  28. Alan wrote:

    First, I agree with those who wrote that this is the best post on here in a long time. I also agree with Marty about those great songs where all the planets seem to align.

    And, I’m also one of those who are only surprised with some fluff songs that make it to #1, while certain songs with timeless lyrics, a strong tune, etc., languish way down the chart. It has been fascinating to read here why that might be. For me, it’s 75% about the lyrical content, and 25% the tune. How many great sets of lyrics have lousy tunes? And how many super tunes have shallow, vapid lyrics? Given the two, if the lyrics are strong, meaningful, and prompt me to varying emotions, even if the tunes are sub-par, I’ll go for lyrics every time. But, again, there are those times when everything comes together in a glorious moment, and that magic is a beautiful thing to be a part of.

  29. quartet-man wrote:

    Marty, I have used Southern Gospel nearly exclusively since I have had the job for nearly 7 years. I either do my own arrangements or get music from Lilenas, Brentwood Benson, Prism (in the past) and Word (as well as other publishers sometimes.)

  30. the old gospel man wrote:

    These days radio is artist driven and not song driven.
    Years ago an unknown artist with a great song got played a lot and a lot of times made the SN chart. Back then the song ruled.
    Now it seems that radio responds mostly to recognized artists regardless of the song.
    Some radio people would not know a great song if they heard it.

  31. Soli Deo Gloria wrote:

    Where does great music come from in southern gospel music? I think the answer is obvious: it comes from somebody else.

    Whether an A-list act or a local group singing at a potluck, southern gospel is a genre built on plagiarism and copying. The genre is so devoid of an original thought it almost makes this entire subject moot.

    When Solomon wrote that there is nothing new under the sun, he had to have had southern gospel in the back of his mind…

  32. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    #31 - Coloring outside the lines is widely frowned upon in Southern Gospel…probably because there’s comfort in the familiar. So we work within the parameters that exist - good or bad - and try to bring about incremental change. Don’t expect to hear the latest cutting edge material coming from this side of the isle. There are other genres that market themselves as “Contemporary” and they pride themselves on continually pushing the limits. That’s not what Southern Gospel is all about. I agree that too much of our music is derivative of other material, but some of that is unavoidable when you work with a limited palet.

  33. Bones wrote:

    It is really entertaining to have song writers hopeful pushing their songs at NQC. some of them need to be taken back to where they found them. One is Nashville was crazy.

  34. Jeff Crews wrote:

    My experience with songwriters is always interesting. There are particular songwriters who like certain groups and give them good material regardless of their status in the industry. When I was with Paid In Full, I became fast friends with Woody Wright, who was producing our records, and Diane Wilkinson, who happened to be at the very first concert my group ever performed. Diane and Woody both gave us their A material, knowing we would never sell the quantity of records other groups would. They just liked what we did with their songs. Diane gave me a song called “Work of Grace” that would have been a number 1 for anybody else, but she wanted me to sing it. One interesting thing I learned about songwriters is that, in general, most are incapable of recognizing which songs are great and which are not. Because the songs are personal to them, and the stories behind them are inspirational to them, they are a bit blinded in that regard. Most songwriters I know talk about their songs like they are their children - each one different, no one is better. There are other factors that determine whether the song becomes great or not, and they have already been talked about on this post. The demo, the tempo, the group, the soloist, the album production, the arrangement all play an important role. If even one element is missing, the song falls flat. My daddy used to say that two drops of urine ruins the peach ice cream. It doesn’t matter if you drive to Clanton, Alabama to buy the world’s best peaches in the peak of ripeness, use your great grandmother’s prize winning ice cream recipe and the freshest ingredients. if you drop some pee in it - it’s garbage. sometimes the smallest mistakes ruin the whole deal. This is the case with songs. If one element is screwed up, the whole thing is just another song from a Gospel group.

  35. David Grant wrote:

    I believe a group needs to earn the respect of song writers before they have a right to ask for the “good stuff”. That includes several things. One is presenting yourself in a professional manner on and off the stage. That means running an organized and serious business. Learn to write a proper business letter (on letterhead). Get involved in the industry when you have a chance. I guess what I’m saying is act like you have some level of manners and common sense. And, by all means, PAY ROYALTIES!!!! Here is a perfect example: My former group, The Journeymen Qt, was not the biggest name or most talented quartet on the road. There was no reason for song writers to notice us based on those factors. BUT, Stacey Murphy, our owner and manager was a highly eduated (Masters in Engineering) and business savy man. He found opportunities to get involved in the industry. He began attending Southern Gospel Music Guild meetings (which was open to anyone wishing to be a part, no connections needed). Then he became a professional member of the Guild. There were no other groups at our level taking an active role in the Guild. Very strong professional and personal relationships were made between a “regional” group owner and the industry’s top professionals. Stacy eventually became a part of the NQC Advisory board. Although the business side of things were taken very seriously, the public side of things were taken even more seriously. We PRACTICED our craft. We may not have been the most talented group, but we were one of the most prepared groups on the road. The bus was washed every week before we left on a trip. It was washed again if it got dirty during the trip. We wore slacks and shirts with collars when we arrived at a church, concert hall, or county fair. We were respectfull. We sent thank you notes to everyone trusting us with their congregation. We worked hard to earn everyone’s respect, whether they be a record company exec or the sweet little lady who put a dollor in the offering plate.

    I said all that to say this. When it came to “asking” writers and publishing companies for good song, we knew we could ask with confidence because the writers and publishing companies knew they could trust us with their product. They knew we would represent them in the right way. I remember sitting in the office of a publishing company president with Stacy and listening to songs for a couple hours. We were listening to some pretty good songs. Then he reached in his top desk drawer and pulled out a song that he said he was saving for the right group. That song was “Go Forth”. I think it reached 24 on the SN chart and was the #1 song played on Solid Gospel for a couple months. My point is that this was definetly a song for an A group and he trusted us, a B group, with it.

    My advice to every group trying to get any writer or publishing company to allow them to record their songs is this: Do all things (ministry, performance, business) the right way. Act like you have some sense. Don’t hound every writer walking through the east wing at NQC for songs while you are using a fake southern accent and wearing a horrible suit. Do your homework, get involved, develope relationships based on trust and hard work, AND….PAY YOUR ROYALTIES!!!!!!!!!!

  36. Marty Funderburk wrote:

    Just thought of another song that might never have launched without the ideal producer, arranger and singer…”We Shall Behold Him.” You have to be in awe of a producer who could hear the song in its original form (Dottie Rambo’s) and imagine what it COULD be (Sandi Patty’s). But even with that kind of imagination, had a young arranger named David Clydesdale not been brought into the equation, I seriously doubt that this song, and THAT career, would have taken Christian music by storm like it did.

  37. Clarence Grigsby wrote:

    David, the Journeymen were an “A Group” in my eyes.

  38. David Grant wrote:

    Thanks Clarence. I appreciate that. I think The Journeymen became better and better after I left. There is no doubt they were at the top of their game when they retired.

  39. David Bruce Murray wrote:

    I’m conducting a survey at my blog in an attempt to determine the most memorable song from the past ten years. The first round of voting runs through March 25.

    Everyone (artists, industry types, ordinary fans) is invited to participate…one vote per household, please.


    There will be three rounds of voting to ultimately determine the top Song Of The Decade

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