What we have here is a music industry that’s lost its way somehow, spitting out albums they hope will appease an increasingly disinterested audience, while doing, apparently, nothing of significance to expand that audience. Expanding the audience for gospel music requires the industry to create more Christians. If the gospel music began functioning like a ministry instead of a business, putting their dollars into evangelism instead of into their own pockets, God would breathe on it. Absent such a change, we’ll remain where we are: with a industry business model at odds with the very Gospel it allegedly represents.
I can’t say, for certain, that it’s been a slow year because
the music hasn’t been great or if it’s because we just haven’t
been terribly excited about it. It’s possibly both. Most people
I know are simply not excited about gospel music, are not
turning cartwheels over the new releases, are not blowing up my
phone with news and info about the new artists. In my circle of
acquaintance, people are, literally, not talking about Gospel
music. Oh, they’re buying it—mostly the WOW-style compilations,
but nobody’s having much fun. I myself have heard only two
albums this year I believe are worth buying. Everything else is
a selective iTunes download, or possibly a full purchase pending
a session at a Circuit City listening station. What we have here
is a music industry that’s lost its way somehow, spitting out
albums they hope will appease an increasingly disinterested
audience, while doing, apparently, nothing of significance to
expand that audience.
Expanding the audience for gospel music requires the industry to, well, create more Christians. To my observation, it is the rare black church that is interested in creating more Christians. Most black churches are aggressively pursuing more members, but that’s more about money than about souls. The black church’s concern over souls has been, to my personal observation, tepid at best, as compared to their zest for collecting members—usually church folk from other churches. It would seem to me that the record industry’s interests would be best served by their banding together and spending money—a lot of money—promoting Jesus instead of promoting their stuck-up, self-absorbed artists. If the companies invested in outreach, invested in evangelism, aggressively supported churches’ efforts in those areas—wouldn’t that increase the audience for their product?
Instead, the gospel music industry continues to do what it has always done—mimic the secular industry. The same slick ads, the same “star” treatment, the same promotion and glamorization of self. Money spent in the same ways, the same basic business model, which puts a lie to the notion that gospel music is a “ministry.” It is a business. It is about promotion, it is about airplay, it is about revenue.
If the gospel music industry threw out the secular business model and began functioning like a ministry instead of a business, God would breathe on it. Those efforts would find success and blossom as never before. If the gospel record biz put their dollars into evangelism instead of into their own pockets (or, just as commonly, up their nose), we might just see a renaissance and industry surge that would return tens of dollars for every dollar spent. But, first, two things need to happen: record executives need to have vision beyond the corner of their desks, and black pastors have to start caring about souls again. Absent those two events, we’ll remain where we are: with a business model at odds with the very Gospel it allegedly represents.
Which leaves us with some brief observations on what was an at best lackluster year:
There’s just nothing new out there. I'm just bored out of my mind. Adding insult to injury, most Gospel CD’s here are priced at $16.99 and up, while most R&B releases are $9.99 or less as new releases at chains like Circuit City and Best Buy. It’s probably an economy of scale thing, the secular stuff sells ten times as many units as the gospel stuff, with even the poorest selling secular albums often outselling top gospel sellers.
This time around, I figured we’d dispense with my usual disclaimer—we don’t cover the gospel music industry because it’s mostly about profiting off of the greatest gift of all—the free gift of salvation through Jesus Christ. The industry is full of ego and avarice, the music is, by and large, pretty lame, artists ripping each other off and retreading same old riffs (albeit with lame Timabland rip-off beats), etc. There are lots of websites out there that cover gospel music, and are probably better equipped to appreciate the various goings on and who’s the big star now and all of that.
But, every once in awhile we come across some happening, some song, some artist, in the gospel field that we feel is worth noting for their contribution to the actual ministry of the Gospel (as opposed to the entertainment of gospel music). Over the years, that has evolved into this, our annual look at the gospel music biz, at what’s good, what’s not, what’s happening.
I’ll try not to repeat myself too much here. It’s worth your time to check out our original God & Music article, which pretty much says everything I’m interested in saying about the biz, and the 2006 edition, which more or less reiterates what we said. For good news about Gospel artists, check out our article on Tonéx’s brilliant Oak Park: 92105, and our interview with Adrianne Archie, newly expanded and remixed for this Music essentials issue.
A friend made the observation that church folk don’t listen to Gospel music. They’re driving around in the cars with Jay-Z and Beyoncé on the stereo. I don’t have either, but I also don’t buy a lot of gospel CD’s because, frankly, most of it is just bad music. Of the music that’s actually good, a lot of times I get stopped by the cover art, which usually reveals the character of the artist. Any artist who signs off on some photo of himself scowling egotistically or seemingly pompously is not getting my money, period. Any artist that signs off on cover art that presents himself or herself in such a way as I could not imagine Jesus Christ presenting Himself is not getting my money. These are the Bush Years, and money is extremely tight. I won’t be wasting it on people who are using the shed blood of an Innocent Man to line their pockets with cash and feed their egos.
Much of what's out there is simply derivative of, well, everything we've already heard. Jonathan Butler’s Brand New Day should more aptly be called Same Old Beats, Sound Of The New Breed’s Freedom should likewise be called Sound Of Inbreeding. Dr. Charles G. Hayes & The Warriors’ Remix should be retitled Unmixed—same old Old Old Old School Mighty Clouds beats, and I’m not sure why Charles Hayes needs the long, formal name—again, it’s all this ego tripping, all this Me. Men of Standard’s I Will sounds an awful lot like Kiki’s You, same key and everything, just conveniently re-written lyrics.