What I Learned at GMA Week
First of all, thanks to everyone who responded to my last post. The comments were way more positive, encouraging, humbling, and flattering than I expected. Now, on to what I've been up to the past few days...
A while ago Roger had invited me to accompany him to GMA week. This wasn't really the best time for me. We're super-busy getting ready for camp, and I'm really behind in some things. So, the night before we left, I was just dreading it. But I didn't want to back out, and now I'm actually kinda glad I went. It was quite an experience.
For those of you who don't know, GMA stands for "Gospel Music Association." What we're talking about here is the Christian music industry. GMA week culminates in the Dove awards, which were tonight and which we didn't attend. Throughtout the week there are tons of industry people everywhere doing all kinds of stuff. One thing is that agencies and labels hosts various showcases of their acts so that promoters and radio stations can see them and then book them or play their music. We're there to look for new, up-and-coming worship guys as well as people that would be good for our concert slots. It was tiring, loud and a bit overwhelming, but good too. In case you didn't know, I was once in a Christian rock band myself (long live Public Announcement). So, I could really relate to everyone. Plus, I got to see Michael Kelley, and that's always a highlight for me.
So... now... without further ado...
THE 21 THINGS I LEARNED AT GMA WEEK
1. The look for 2008 is… VESTS! – Seriously, I can’t tell you how many people had on vests. Like, suit vests. Girls. Guys. Young. Old. Everyone had them on. It was ridiculous. It’s like there was a meeting a few weeks ago where all of the bands and “inside” industry people got together, and a spokesman asked of the group, “what trend should we embrace this week?” Some, young emo kid in the back said, “let’s do vests.” A bleach blond rocker chick exclaimed, “like, suit vests! I love those!” Then the spokesman inquired, “so, we’re decided then?” Everyone nodded their heads and then dispersed to all go purchase their vests in either black or shades of grey. The most absurd was when we walked around a corner to see the one and only Louie Giglio standing there in… you guessed it… a vest. 2. Everyone is in a band (or at least thinks they are) – You can tell this is true by the way that everyone dresses, acts, and talks. In addition to the vests, most people share a generally trendy look to the point where it sometimes becomes indistinguishable to tell who is in a band, who is a tech, who is a friend of the band, who is a groupie, who is a Christian celebrity gossip blogger (I realize that’s an oxymoron), and who just happened to wander in off the street but because they’re from Nashville, they just happen to look like they might be in a band. People who aren’t in a band can also act and talk like they are because they want everyone to know how important they are (even if they’re not).
3. Only one dude in each band really knows what’s going on – Even if a band is huge and has a top notch agent, manager, and label handling all the details for them, there is one member who took care of all those details back in the day. This is the member of the band who actually know what’s going on, like what venue they are playing, what time is sound check, who are the important contacts, what dates and shows they have coming up and where the car, van or bus is parked. This dude is never the lead and is rarely a drummer.
4. Few people actually “get it” – I understand that defining “it” is really difficult. I’m not even necessarily claiming to get “it” myself. However, I am claiming that I think I’m aware enough to realize when people don’t get “it.” This is based much more on feeling than anything else, and maybe it’s a bit judgmental. So, you can ignore this one if you want. Still, I stand by my assertion. The majority (maybe not a large majority, but a majority nonetheless) of people at GMA week don’t get “it.”
5. It’s extremely difficult to maintain a balanced perspective on things – Most people at GMA (seriously, I would say, like, 98.3%) fall into one of two categories. The first group consists of those who can’t get enough of it. They love networking, talking a big game, selling themselves, looking and acting awesome, rewarding themselves and their peers, having lobby meetings, and eating overpriced hotel food. The second group is made up of those who are completely cynical and jaded about everything that defines the first group. The other 1.7% of people somehow, in the words of Johnny Cash, walk the line. I’ll let you discern from this post which group I happen to belong to.
6. If you want to be a GMA artist, you should consider auditioning for American Idol – Seriously, American Idol is evidently a great source of talent for the Christian music industry. You don’t even really have to get that far. Just a golden ticket to Hollywood pretty much solidifies your chances of being a part of a showcase. For examples of this phenomena see Mandisa, George Huff, Phil Stacey, Chris Sligh, Brooke Barretsmith and others.
7. Every band, regardless of genre and concert style, is actually a worship band – You see, they have to be. The Christian music industry is an oversaturated market. Plus, it’s like a Hydra. For every band that calls it quits, there’s two more to take its place. There’s only so many song slots on a radio station’s playlist and available concert dates, venues, and interest. However, there is a huge demand for awesome worship leaders. So, in order to make ends meet, Fireflight, Group 1 Crew, The Fisk Family Singers, T-Bone, Trin-I-tee 5:7, Pure NRG, and even classics like Geoff Moore all have to learn Chris Tomlin songs.
8. Most Christian bands really do sound the same – Well, they at least sound relatively the same. What sound is this? Go back in time three years and listen to a half hour of any Top 40 pop/rock station and you’ll have a pretty good idea.
9. Just because it’s Nashville doesn’t mean that there aren’t technical difficulties – Because there are. Pretty much every showcase I attended experienced some kind of technical problems. This could be mics not working, signals being crossed, mics not being turned on, monitor mixes getting mixed up, lighting cues being off, cords coming unplugged, or random acts of feedback. For a further example, see #12. The list could go on. In fact, the production quality overall really isn’t that impressive. Makes you feel like maybe you’re not doing that bad of a job. You would think this wouldn’t be the case in Nashville. At least I would. I (and you) would be wrong.
10. Everyone has a cause, and if they don’t, a cause is courting them for their representation and advocacy – Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Discuss.
11. If a lead thinks they personally have a cool name, then they’ll probably use it as their band name too – Sure, having names like The Michael Gungor Band, The Phil Colman Trio or the Jonas Brothers isn’t that new and really isn’t what I’m talking about. For examples of this principle see Leeland, Chasen, Ruth, Fee, etc. Aaron, I wonder if I’ll ever see Ivey some years in the future. Sorry, Bush, Gavin Rossdale took your name already.
12. At most showcases the lighting design consists of two monkeys randomly pushing buttons – At least I think that’s what was going on back there.
13. The Christian music industry is self-replicating – Here’s what I mean. You start with a band. They give it a go for a number of years, but eventually, they move on. Some of them become agents. Some become managers. Some become road managers. Some work for labels. Some go to work in a church. All end up encouraging younger dudes to become a band and give it a go. The cycle continues.
14. Everyone wants you to know that, even though they want you to love them, cheer them, book them, buy their album, and generally recognize their greatness, it’s really all about Jesus – They make sure to tell you this, just so you know. If you’re in a showcase with 19 acts, you’ll be reassured of this 19 times. If it’s a worship band now wanting to be a concert act, you might hear it more than that. After all, they want you to know they remember their roots. Are they genuine? I don’t know. I think that they think they are. I like to think that most are. I fear that more than I would like aren’t.
15. Princess Rock is an insult to Christian girls everywhere – I don’t know if “Princess Rock” is an actual genre or if I just made it up. What I’m using it to refer to is a sub-genre of Christian pop/rock made up entirely of female (or at least female-fronted) bands whose schtick is that they are girls. This means that they often talk about things like clothes, boys, chocolate, hair, and their hips. They giggle a lot and act like they don’t possess a great deal of intelligence. Obviously, this isn’t representative of all Christian acts that are female, but there’s enough to make it a problem. These bands often use some synonym for “female” in their name, like Barlowgirl or Superchick. Many of them can be found on the Revolve Tour. Get over it!
16. The Downtown Nashville Hilton charges too much for food – I know that it cost Roger $5 to get an 8 oz. Coke. We heard that some of the agencies were charged $25 for the lunches served at their showcases. Trust me. It wasn’t worth it. They can charge whatever they want, but what does it say that they (we) gladly paid it?
17. If you want to spice up your act a little bit add some unexpected instruments – Just in case you don’t know a typical band consists of some combination of the following: rhythm guitar, lead guitar, bass, drums and keyboard. Some “unexpected” instruments we saw used were organ, violin, slide whistle, toy piano, cowbell, mouth harp, miniature trap set, train whistle, melodica, and a television featuring a static channel.
18. There is a real life Zorro out there, and he’s a rock star and a Christian – Actually his name is Zoro. He’s a drummer and also known as the "Minister of Groove." We noticed him at the Compassion dinner where Roger saw him and wondered aloud, “who’s the cat in the hat?” The next day we ran into him in the elevator (ironically, dressed the same as he was the night before; I’ve since learned that’s pretty much how he dresses all the time; see his myspace and you’ll know what I’m talking about). Roger struck up a brief conversation with him about Compassion and then introduced himself as “Roger Davis with Student Life.” He then replied, “hi, I’m Zoro.” That was it. He didn’t skip a beat.
19. Pretty much anyone can get their shot in the GMA – It seems “they” are so desperate for the next big thing, that they’ll give pretty much anyone a try. They’ll spend a little money, put their name out there, and see what happens. If nothing happens, then you can one day tell your grandkids (or the readers of your blog) that you were once in a band.
20. I’m thankful for all the people we get to work with (or have gotten to work with) – You guys aren’t perfect. You’ve got your own things going on. You aren’t always easy to work with. You can just as easily get caught up in all this stuff as anyone else. But, man you guys are great. So, thanks to Todd Agnew, Chris Tomlin, Charlie Hall, Spur 58, Unhindered, Billy and Cindy Foote, Stephen and Starr Smith, Brett and Emily Mills, Steve Fee, Kristian Stanfill, Stephen Miller, downhere, Rush of Fools, Jason Wallis, Michael John Clement, Matt Papa, Chris Orr, Joel Engle, Jeff Johnson, Chris White, Chuck Hooten, Jeremy Riddle, Aaron Keyes, Addison Road, Leeland, Desperation Band, Vicki Beeching, David Crowder* Band, and all the rest that have done stuff with us but that I don’t really know
21. Public Announcement should totally launch a comeback tour - Stay tuned for more information.