Southern Gospel’s history can be divided into three eras.
Songbook Era (1910-1950)
For the first forty years or so of Southern Gospel, fans primarily bought songbooks. Songbook publishers hired quartets to tour and promote the songbooks.
To an extent, it didn’t matter who might show up on stage with a particular quartet; the songbooks and their songs were the focus.
Recording Era (1950-2010)
After World War II, fans primarily bought albums. It helped that several groups signed with the biggest record companies of the era—the Blackwood Brothers and the Statesmen with RCA Victor, and the Chuck Wagon Gang with Columbia.
Now it did matter who showed up on stage with a particular quartet. Singers became celebrities, largely observed by fans from a distance.
Social Era (2010-today)
Record sales have declined (across all genres, not just Southern Gospel) to the point where the music industry can no longer rely completely on them. This is due to a broad variety of factors, such as the free availability of virtually any song on YouTube, and access to current and back-catalog releases from Daywind and Crossroads on services like Spotify. (Services like Spotify do pay royalties, but it sure isn’t much.)
Meanwhile, Southern Gospel’s social media presence reached critical mass by 2009 or 2010. Virtually all major groups maintain a consistent social media presence on Facebook and other social sites. This has decreased the artist-as-celebrity distance between singers and fans.
What does the future hold for Southern Gospel?
Nobody knows for sure. But it’s likely that live concerts will be central, and that artists’ skills converting curious onlookers into committed fans will be more important than ever.
Post inspired by a conversation with Daniel Ball.