Commentary: The Digital Resistance

Commentary: The Digital Resistance

Nearly every album released today, whether it be via record labels or independently, is made available in some form of digital distribution, whether it be streaming services such as Spotify or download purchases such as iTunes. Some artists will do digital downloads directly (and exclusively) from their websites. It’s as common now as cassettes were in the 1980’s.

Some SG artists, however, are refusing to follow the trend. Greater Vision’s latest release, Still, has not been released digitally to date. The Mark Trammell Quartet hasn’t released any of their recent projects digitally (the last one available is 2015’s Rewind). The MTQ/GV hybrid group, the Second Half Quartet, likewise hasn’t released their second album digitally yet, either. There are other, rather prominent artists, who are also resisting any digital releases, preferring instead to either rely on concert sales and/or online & mail order fulfillment (Legacy Five’s latest table release, Faith & Freedom, appears to fall into this category).

While the MTQ is now distributed by their own independent label, and L5’s latest project is not (yet) distributed by a major label, the SHQ and GV albums have been released by Daywind Records, which has nearly all of their recent releases distributed digitally via Orchard Enterprises, so it appears that the digital resistance is not a record label decision, but an artist decision.

So I gotta ask – why the resistance? In the case of mainstream secular artists such as Prince or even Garth Brooks, I can understand the desire to control your distribution, with sales in the millions of units, but in SG music, I just don’t see the advantage to blocking folks from getting access to your music. Are physical product sales REALLY that much better? Are digital sales really hurting your overall numbers?

I’m not the only one to ask this question, either. Steve Eaton has brought up the topic on multiple album reviews, although his concern is more of being able to skip over the more mediocre songs in favor of the stronger cuts.

Now don’t get me wrong – I’m not oblivious to the impact that digital (and in particular, streaming) services have had on the music industry. It is not, however, something that is going to go away anytime soon. If anything, it’s getting more pronounced. If this report is to be believed, there are more folks streaming music than purchasing physical copies. So why would an artist shut out at least 51% of their potential audience?

Then again, this IS southern gospel music we’re talking about here. Cassettes were still made available well into the first decade of the 2000’s. The SG audience isn’t necessarily indicative of the music industry’s wider audience as a whole. The question probably should probably be, “How many SG consumers even purchase/stream music rather than buy a CD?” That 51% most likely is way lower in the southern gospel genre (I’d estimate roughly around 25%).

So that means that acts like ones mentioned above aren’t really shutting out half of their potential audience. They’re still reaching a pretty good chunk who would still purchase a CD. And in reality, the amount of money received from digital sales would be so low, comparatively speaking, that it wouldn’t be that much of an impact, financially.

That does bring up the OTHER question, though….what about the OUTREACH? Are artists potentially ignoring a ministry opportunity by not allowing their music to be heard on digital platforms? Granted, this is a bit of a cop-out, as an artist could just as easily give away physical product, or charge next to nothing for them, so while this may be a POTENTIAL argument for digital sales, I wouldn’t say it’s necessarily a LEGITIMATE one.

Now, I have brought up the idea of releasing EP’s or partial albums to digital market, with additional material or “bonus tracks” only made available on physical product. This essentially would work as a “preview” of a larger project, enticing streaming listeners to want to purchase a full album. Some artists are jumping on the EP trend lately, but I’ve yet to see a digital-only EP, with a full-album physical companion release, although to be fair, Greater Vision DID make the title track from Still available as a digital single, so….baby steps…?

A more pressing issue, however, is the lack of retail availability for SG music. Family Christian Store, once the nation’s largest Christian retail chain, has shut down entirely. LifeWay is still open in some areas, but their SG selection is now known simply as “Gaither,” with one 4′ section of shelf space, so unless you find a mom-and-pop store in town, you’re pretty limited on finding SG music on demand (another reason that digital sales have been rising – the ability to get the music you want when you want it).

At the end of the day, I guess, if someone wants to hear the latest music from some SG artists, they’re just gonna have to go the old fashioned route of either going to a concert or ordering the CD directly from the artist. They may fork out more money than if they simply found it on Spotify or purchased it on iTunes, but if you want to hear it bad enough, that’s a financial sacrifice (and wait for shipping) you’ll be willing to make. And in a few instances, I have gone that route myself when I had no other choice.

And the artists, apparently, are aware of that.

Kyle Boreing

Kyle has been writing for MusicScribe since 2008. He is a gospel music soloist, occasional quartet singer, and church music director who pays way too much attention to recordings. He is an alumni of Stamps-Baxter School of Music and has shared the stage with artists such as Mercy's Mark, the Dove Brothers Band, and The Oak Ridge Boys. Visit his website at www.kyleboreing.com, or follow him on Twitter @kyleboreing.

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16 Comments

  1. scottysearan
    Reply November 02, 14:42 #1 scottysearan

    My 2 cents worth may not be worth much.
    I have quit going to most SGM concerts, because it is like going to here a cd played or DVD played.
    I know it’s economics with most groups, but if the veteran would have never started the practice, they could still have a live band.
    That means I am limited to who I go see. I do go see those groups who have a live band.
    Singers, It’s your money and your option to do as you please. But it is my money and I will enjoy the groups with live bands.
    Two or three songs with a piano, don’t cut it with me.
    I can understand that if a group is retired and comes out of retirement to do a concert or two, a band is not feasible. I can understand using soundtracks.
    When I was younger, before the days of credit cards, I would save up my money and go to concerts and I would stock up on the concert specials.
    One of my big concerts to go to was the Bonifay All-Nite Sing.. When I left that sing I would have so much product, that if it was now, I would need a Hand truck to help me carry them.
    Imagine spending $100.00 on 4for$10 specials. I have done it at Bonifay. I actually got two record boxes from a group to put them in.
    Harold Timmons, an avid record collector, would have a tent set up and I could find some good buys in that tent also.
    I am retired now. I have to stretch a dollar onion skin thin sometimes, but I still save up my money to go see the groups that have bands and I love.
    I do love to hear a lot of the groups that don’t have a band. I will purchase their music as I can afford.
    It would be nice that groups to offer multiple order discounts if you order from them. Some do and it is appreciated.
    Yes they should make all their product available by downloading.
    I would like DVDS even offered for downloading.
    I REMEMBER THE GLORY DAYS.

    Scotty Searan




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  2. Darrell
    Reply November 02, 16:19 #2 Darrell

    “so it appears that the digital resistance is not a record label decision, but an artist decision….” I believe you’re on to something here. Somebody like the Ball Brothers, who are a younger group and on the cutting edge of technology, have their music available for download. I also think they do a lot with Facebook and Twitter. On the flip side, I think it’s noteworthy that all the artists you mentioned you have a digital resistance have ties to the Cathedrals. Apparently their owners have an old school mentality when it comes to music sales.




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  3. Ron Adams
    Reply November 02, 18:55 #3 Ron Adams

    The last cd I bought was from Michael English, “Some People Change”. I ordered from him because he autographed it. Other than that, I only use iTunes. I don’t have the time or space to carry cds in my car. Instead, I have over 4,000 songs on my phone with plenty more space to add. The only thing I miss about a cd is the insert. But it’s not enough to get me to purchase a cd. I wish groups would put ALL of their music on iTunes or something comparable.




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    • scottysearan
      Reply November 02, 20:31 scottysearan

      Ron:
      Us ole timers remember the big album covers and actually they are what becomes collectors items.
      When I was younger I didn’t think about records becoming collectors items, bu t I’ve lived long enough to realize.it and see it and I have over 2000 vinyl albums plus cassettes and cds.
      Singers keep making those cds and make some good inserts. You could charge for the insert if they want top download.




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      • Ron Adams
        Reply November 02, 22:30 Ron Adams

        I’d pay for the insert font was downloadable. I’d just rather have it in digital format. A lot of the cds I’ve collected over the years (about 300) are scratched, broken, etc.. I have around 200 albums and enjoy them. But I have more projects on iTunes than those formats combined. It’s easier to listen to. I totally understand the value of having something in your hand to hold and look at, though. So why not make projects available in every format? They lose a sale from me when they don’t.




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  4. William R. Boen
    Reply November 03, 06:06 #4 William R. Boen

    I have collected music all my life. My collection consist of record albums And Cd’s. Combined I have over 100,000. I will not change formats again. When you download music, you basically are leasing the product instead of owning it. If I chose to , I could sell my used copies of my records and CD,s. Try to sell your download and you are breaking the law. If CD,s are phased out I will no longer buy music.




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    • Kyle Boreing
      Reply November 03, 06:26 Kyle Boreing Author

      Do they have to be mutually exclusive? Why can’t both be offered?




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  5. Tony Watson
    Reply November 03, 09:35 #5 Tony Watson

    I would encourage you to reach out to Gerald Wolfe in regard to the answer to this question. I’ve talked about it with him but I wouldn’t want to speak out of school. He would be glad to share with you why they don’t pursue digital distribution.




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    • Kyle Boreing
      Reply November 03, 09:41 Kyle Boreing Author

      I was kinda hoping he would stop by and give some insight, but since he admittedly doesn’t read blogs (and is apparently not a fan of much of my writing), someone might have to direct him to this site.




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  6. Quartet-man
    Reply November 03, 11:13 #6 Quartet-man

    I still want the CD. I can rip my own mp3s if desired. The best scenario for me is some albums on Amazon that have autorip. I can get the hard copy, but download / and or stream and listen right away if I can’t wait 2 days.




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  7. Quartet-man
    Reply November 03, 11:29 #7 Quartet-man

    Darrell: “On the flip side, I think it’s noteworthy that all the artists you mentioned you have a digital resistance have ties to the Cathedrals. Apparently their owners have an old school mentality when it comes to music sales.”

    That brings to mind another topic. There are Mark Trammell quartet and Trio CDs (for instance) I am looking for because they did not offer online payments for several years ( they do now). That has indirectly kept me from buying merchandise over the years when artists do that. I’m horrible about writing checks and mailing off, (and have trouble getting around to it if I do at all.) I realize there is a little bit extra expense with offering that, that has cost several people sales with me. I would even be willing to pay an extra percent or two for the convenience.




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  8. David Bruce Murray
    Reply November 06, 20:22 #8 David Bruce Murray

    When buying at concerts, I would be happy if they just handed me the CD insert and provided me with a download code. I don’t need the physical CD, but I do want the artwork.

    When buying downloads online, it’s the same issue. You can get the music from many artists, but you can hardly ever get the artwork. I guess most fans don’t care about studio musician names, songwriters, producers, and so forth, but that’s the kind of stuff I like to know.




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    • scottysearan
      Reply November 06, 21:09 scottysearan

      You know why that is? We are musicians. I find that musicians like to read the credits and reviews of songs on the projects.
      David: To me the Happy Goodmans had 3 of the best backliner notes on their 1st album ‘I’M TOO NEAR HOME’ and ‘WHAT A HAPPY TIME” and ‘BIGGER ‘N’ BETTER. There was a lot of good liner notes out there.
      Marvin Norcross’ wife Cecilia Norcross could write some good liner notes. Marvin was the producer for Canaan Records for many years.
      But I do agree with you, we need to be able to have the liner notes.




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  9. John Situmbeko
    Reply November 08, 03:44 #9 John Situmbeko

    Has anyone ever thought of selling their music on a flash disc? I would do that, especially if I were just getting started in music. A lot of multimedia content can be included apart from the music, including offline web pages and whatever info I’d like my fans to know. Music may also be provided in various formats. CDs won’t last, and if a physical packaging entity is to replace them, flash drives would be a better replacement.

    Here in Africa, only Gaither music makes it in stores, and very rarely. South Africa has Gaither, Zambia (where I live) doesn’t. But I have the latest Gaither Album thanks to the Miracle of the internet, and that’s more money in Gaither’s account.

    I also have Collingsworth music, the Erwins, and much more music by several Southern Gospel artists. I can only get the music through digital downloads, and if I were to purchase a physical copy, I’d rather have it sent on a flash, not on CD. CDs are so fragile and delicate, and yet they carry such little content on them that to some extent it makes no financial sense to ship them off to hot and humid Africa at a high cost when they can be made available online.

    In this day and age piracy is unavoidable, and if through fear of it artists withhold their music, I fear it may be to their own detriment.




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    • David Bruce Murray
      Reply November 08, 11:44 David Bruce Murray

      The cost of a flash drive is still a great deal more than the cost of a blank CD. They are an alternative worth considering for distributing 25+ songs for $25 or more, but not so practical for distributing 10-12 songs for $15 or less.




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  10. Johann
    Reply November 17, 14:44 #10 Johann

    I live in Germany and here it is hard to get any southern gospel CDs except a few gaither releases. This year I attended my first southern gospel concert (ehss). At first I was sceptical about the price but in fact I cannot remember that I ever spent 25€ better than this :-)
    I would gladly go to more concerts like that (2 to 3 a year, I am dreaming…) And would gladly spent the money.
    Currently I am a real Spotify person because I can listen to many southern gospel CDs. But I can also understand that some groups don’t want their CDs on Spotify because they get not enough money from them. I will be very happy if all my Spotify money will be split only for the interprets I am really listening to – and not to the average music interprets. So what about a southern gospel Spotify? I would gladly pay 10€ per month to get the music I like. It could be possible to include all(!) Old releases that came out before I was born (cathedrals, gold city, kingsmen and many others) maybe it is necessary that the newest albums cannot not be in instantly but maybe after some months? Maybe one big label have to start and other will follow?




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