Doves in Atlanta, Cont’d
I suspect that most sg types could really not care less than they already do about the Doves (the SN hasn’t even bothered to post a link to the story on its site). If you’re one of those people, this is probably not the post for you. Otherwise, here we go:
If you want a round up the cross section of opinion about the Doves’ move to Atlanta, check out the comments section on the Tennesseean’s story (h/t, SS). There’s race-baiting, some Sister Bertha Better than Youing, some praise and excitement, some inside baseball critiques of the GMA and its utility and function, and one gloaty post about NQC’s success compared to the Doves’ perpetual self-embattlement and constant attempts to reinvent itself, to not much avail. You can almost see that last commenter giving the raspberry while typing. But the most insightful take might well be the theory that the GMA’s alliance with the Gospel Music Channel is as much behind this as any attempt to shore up the black (”traditional” in the GMA’s parlance) gospel audience. At least this seems among the more plausible things I’ve heard.
I don’t know CCM that well and have only a cursory knowledge of the GMA, so I’ll stick to what I know and say that the comparison to NQC seems to me both right and wrong. Right, in that, while it has its problems and faces some structural challenges to its sustainability, NQC obviously knows how to maintain a strong bond with its base in a way and to an extent that the GMA obviously has not, and probably can’t.
Which gets us to the wrong part. NQC is a niche event. Probably any one of the major genres included under the GMA heading could draw a similar crowd by itself (and of course a few of the major CCM artists can draw as big a crowd as any single night at NQC alone), but put them all together under one umbrella organization and you’ve got an impossibly diverse range of sounds and (sub)cultures intermixing in a way that inevitably tries, as one commenter notes, to be everything to everyone … and so leaves nobody terribly satisfied.
Not every genre within GMA has southern gospel’s fractious history with the organization (David Bruce Murray provides a useful summary if you’re just joining us; I have a lot more to say about this sordid past but I’ll save for it the book). But with the exception of the reigning pop Christian kings and queens who always get plenty of face time on the Doves, I’m sure fans and artists from most subcategories represented in the televised portion of the show have beefs with how “their” music is treated.
I don’t have a beef with how southern gospel is treated. If it sold more, it’d get better treatment. It’s that simple (plus, so much of the sg industry acting like southern gospel is owed something by the GMA because James and J.D. were founders of the organization half a century ago doesn’t really help, I’m sure).
No, my beef with the show is that it’s the Christian music equivalent of what would happen if you tried to combine the MTV Awards, the Country Music Association Awards, the Tonys, the Delilah Show (she actually has been a presenter at the Doves!), and a Sunday morning service at Joel Osteen’s church all into one two-hour broadcast of awards and performances and hosty chatter. In other words, the Doves are weirdly but reliably dissatisfying, and I say that as someone who always goes ready to be blown away or at least entertained by whatever … and yet I always leave feeling glad I got my overpriced tickets comped. That is, if you were someone not really sure what Christian music is about or wondering if you might like all or some of it, the Dove Awards would probably be a great introduction. But since the Doves’ audience is actually people who already have established tastes and allegiances within Christian entertainment, it’s almost destined to fail for the same reason that southern gospel artists consider a Singing News Fan Award more important than a Dove Award.
Moving to Atlanta will not change any of this. But it may make some sponsors and a core fan constituency of the GMA happy, and that’s not nothing if you care about that little gold pigeony statuette.
Update: Jim Cumbee, former big wig at Salem Communications (Singing News’ parent company) and a former NQC board member (among other things), writes with some salient insights on this issue:
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Your instinct is right, in part. The GMA does not have an “alliance” with the Gospel Music Channel, the Gospel Music Channel is — right now, anyway — the LIFELINE of the GMA. The CCM industry has been absorbed in getting the Dove Awards on TV, otherwise the record companies wouldn’t force the artists to appear, and with no star power there can be no ridiculously high ticket price, and with no high ticket prices, the show loses even more money. It’s a vicious cycle from which the GMA could never extricate itself. Bottom line, getting the show on TV has always been the prerequisite to even having a show. So when GMC says jump the GMA has to say “how high?” The costs to tape in Nashville are ridiculously high and GMC is moving its programming away from music, so GMC has less financial incentive to stretch to make it work. I imagine the message was something like this “if you want us to broadcast the Doves on GMC, you have to come to Atlanta where our cost to tape the show are much less.” I am a huge fan of Ed Leonard; he’s the smartest guy in the SG business and he’s built a very fine company over at Daywind. But, I can’t figure why he didn’t just say we are accommodating our TV partner. In that context, going to Atlanta makes perfect sense.