My Thoughts On enLighten

First let me say this: We are XM subscribers solely because of enLighten.  That is the one and only reason we subscribed to the service.  A little back story: Back in November, our little family SUV finally gave up the ghost (it WAS 8 years old), and we’d finally outgrown it with 3 kids.  So we ended up purchasing a minivan.  While I knew the van had XM capability, what I did not know until we got a phone call from Sirius XM in January was that we had a 3 month free preview of their service.  We missed out on 2 of the 3 months, but we were able to listen for the month of January.  Obviously, I immediately tuned the station to enLighten, and we never changed it for any appreciable amount of time (my wife revolted when I tried to turn on the classic jazz or smooth jazz channels).  When our preview ended, we went about 2 weeks without the XM service again.  Then one day my wife called me and said “I miss having my enLighten in the car.”  So we subscribed.  That was mid February.  We’ve now had service for 2 or 3 months.

enLighten overall does a good job.  They do play a fairly good mix of recent songs and classics, and their classics even go back to the 50s and 60s.  That’s a nice plus, it’s good to hear the Blackwood Brothers and the Speers and other great groups from SG’s early days.  They play a lot of current hit songs as well, it’s fairly easy to hear Gold City’s “Peter, James, and John” or the Booth Brothers’ “She Still Remembers Jesus’ Name.”  I’ve finally gotten to hear songs and artists that due to the lack of SG radio in this area, I’ve only heard about via blogs.  Again, we liked the station enough to spend the money to subscribe, and we are very picky about adding on any additional monthly bills.  So obviously it has made a good impression on us.

There is one area though that I feel the station can improve on, and that still has to do with airplay selection.  Some of the songs we hear on there just aren’t up to snuff in quality.  While I’ve heard very little of what I would consider to be poor quality recordings, I’ve heard a significant amount of what would be considered mediocre to average.  I’ve heard many songs by artists that we’ve never heard of, and while introducing new artists is a good thing, I’ve frequently cringed at what’s come on the radio.  Another blogger shared his thoughts a while back, and I don’t remember for sure who it was (DBM maybe?), but made the point that enLighten, with the explosion of satellite radio, is in a position to be a flagship of sorts for the SG genre, and because of that they should only play the highest quality music.  I agree wholeheartedly with this sentiment.  Playing up and coming artists is great, and we have a lot of good ones, with groups like Tribute, the Crist Family, the Dills, Freedom, and others.  Those groups, while not as widely known or popular, put out recordings that are of sufficient quality as to represent SG well to a wide audience.  I’ve heard other groups on the channel that aren’t there yet.

So to Marlin and the enLighten crew, keep up the good work, and please consider the above as the purely constructive criticism that it is.  We enjoy our enLighten, and want it to be the best representation of Southern Gospel music that it could possibly be.  Thanks for your efforts, and we’ll keep listening!

 

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About Wes Burke
I'm a .NET developer and Southern Gospel music fan. Married with a wonderful family.

15 Responses to My Thoughts On enLighten

  1. Josh says:

    A couple of weeks ago, my family went on vacation to Puerto Rico. The rental van had Sirius satellite radio. In the van was my parents and my sister and her wife. My dad and sister are the two people who first got me interested in SG (though my interest level is far greater now than theirs is), so I was happy when they found the enLighten station and kept it there for most of the week.

    It was my first elongated experience with enLighten, so I was curious about what the quality of the station was like. A lot of songs were good, but then thee were a few selections that were simply head-scratchers. There are so many more good ones out there that would b better than some of the ones they played.

  2. Andrew says:

    I am an everyday listener to Enlighten (I also listen to MLB and NBA games…) and have been for 3 years now (maybe 4?). When Enlightened was pulled from the new lineup, it was Mark Trammell wrote an “open letter” to Marlin about raising the bar with quality songs. http://blog.musicscribe.com/?p=5429

  3. I don’t think my car radio can even pick up Enlighten, so it’s interesting to have this window into the thoughts of others who listen. My radio = one ipod + one cassette adapter. :D I’m sorry to hear that Enlighten’s quality is a mixed bag, since this seems to be such a good potential opportunity for our music to reach a wider audience. Sadly, from what I’m gathering, it sounds like some of the material merely confirms the general stereotypes most people have of the genre.

  4. Dean Adkins says:

    My thoughts on Enlighten mirror those already made. I like to think that I am relatively knowledgeable of the SG field but artists are played that I have never heard, and many I wish I hadn’t.
    Also, Marlin would be wise not to make announcements; a true announcer/DJ with a better voice would add more credibility to the station.
    Song selection, however, is the biggest problem that I see.

  5. dbmurray says:

    Wes,
    Thanks for remembering my earlier post about how enLighten ought to be the industry leader in terms of song selection.

    After that close brush with going off the “air,” I volunteered my services and they accepted. It took some time, but I went through their entire playlist (circa June/July 2011) making recommendations on what song titles should be retained and what titles should be removed.

    At that time, the channel’s programmer said he was going to implement all of my suggestions.

    Of course, no two definitions of quality are going to be exactly the same, so some of the songs I suggested retaining may have been songs another person wouldn’t want to hear and vice versa.

    Because I don’t subscribe to XM myself, I only get to hear it from time to time when I’m riding in a friend’s car. I don’t drive enough to justify the monthly cost.

    From what you’ve said, it seems that some songs may have been added since last summer that don’t measure up. I really wish there was some way I could become more directly involved with their programming choices, but I don’t think there’s a great deal of $$$ available for them to hire consultants. The program director was gracious enough to send me a check after the fact, though I wasn’t asking for anything. I’d just really like to see that channel set the standard on an ongoing basis.

    • david says:

      I hope they don’t hire you or someone else as a consultant. Then all we have is there view point. Marlin got it so (to speak enlighten) going, it’s his brain storm. Let him run it the way he wants. After all Db there is no other competition. There is no other xm/sirus available. There are some groups he plays that i like, even if they don’t meet (your standards). There are groups i have bought music from that would have never even gotten to hear if he hadn’t played them. Leave it alone.

      • dbmurray says:

        Wow. I never thought someone would argue that keeping a lower than possible standard is the best way for enLighten to go. That’s a new one.

        Having a consultant doesn’t mean the consultant would control everything that’s played. It would still be Marlin’s call on whether or not to put songs on the air.

        When one of the most prominent artists in the industry takes the time to say in an open letter that the quality standards should be improved, getting a few more opinions on airplay choices just might possibly be a smart move. Yes, Marlin should absolutely be commended for getting the station on the air in the first place, and for rallying the troops to keep it on the air when it was threatened with removal. But if he picks all the songs as a reaction to the Top 80, following the trends rather than setting them, the station is not as good as it should be.

        1. enLighten should be the industry leader. Playing the hits before they become hits.
        2. enLighten should sound so good that it should attract non-SG fans when they’re scrolling through the stations…not turn them away. That doesn’t happen if certain standards of production quality aren’t considered. Does it mean some groups won’t be heard? Yes, but the goal of everyone, even independent artists, should be to expand the audience. You have to catch their ears before you can touch their hearts.

        That’s all I’m saying.

  6. david says:

    MARLIN,

    Just leave it the way it is, your doing fine. There is always someone trying to fix something that ain’t broke. It’s not broke.

  7. Ben Harris says:

    As a member of a SG group whom Enlighten plays on a fairly regular basis, I am pleased to be included in their lineup. However, I don’t believe it is fair to single out Enlighten for playing questionable SG Music when SG music as a whole has its share of questionable music. One must understand that SG labels, promotion companies, etc, push a wide variety of music style and substance to radio. MOst in SG radio pretty much play it all, some have a bit of bar to reach, and a rare few have a very high mantle. I think SG radio as a whole needs to be overhauled, but to do so would require labels to quit being SG custom record houses and begin being a true label. The same could be said of SG promoters. There is a mind set that “They are singing for the Lord, we should sponsor their minsitry”. And of course that is the nature of our genre, but radio should be about professionalism as well as ministry, and in that arena we fall way short. When I was working in the Nashville Country Music scene it was not uncommon to have a recording budget of several hundreds of thousands of dollars for a single project. In SG, groups would cringe at a $20k budget, and most budgets are less than $10k. It is difficult for our music to compete when the dollar available is so very low. Don’t be too quick to judge Enlighten or any other SG radio, for they are working within the confines that our genre makes available. If you want that to change, tell the labels yo’re tired of less than quality fare. Personally, I would love to see a more strict set of guidelines that would encourage quality and discourage the musically challenged from being presented to a national audience as the best we have to offer, but I think that sentiment would be met with very stiff resistance..

    • That’s one of the saddest things. Because this is such a niche genre, it’s so hard to turn a profit, which results in artists understandably putting less money into their records. However, I am of the opinion that money can’t buy quality. It seems like if you have great songs and great singing, you should be able put together a great project on a modest budget. Lots of glossy production value minus the great songs and singing = a lesser project in my view.

      • Ben Harris says:

        Yankee, you are very correct in saying we need great songs. That is very true! However, there are not many Mosie Lister’s and Dianne Wilkinson’s being found these days. It is increasingly difficult to find good quality songs. I know we turn down countless songs per year because they simply don’t meet our needs or they are poorly written. I find myself going back 50 or so years trying to find a gem that others have not already beat to death. As to recording budgets, when I was with Ronnie Milsap (14 years as his engineer) he would book star musicians for an all day recording just to record one song. Then we would take additional days assembling the best of 20-30 versions of that song to present what would eventually be the one that made the album. Add another 3 days for his vocal, several more days for background singers, orchestrations, and other overdubs and then probably 3 days to mix that one song. Multiply that by 10 for a 10 song album and you begin to see the magnitude of difference between SG and secular main stream. We simply do not have the funds to record in such a manner, not even Gaither. Being frugal and wise with our studio time is a must. I have a studio in my home where I record vocals and do mixing, but I cannot cut tracks here as I don’t have the space to do so. So, in that regard we maybe a bit better off than many groups, but still, budgets are a healthy concern.

      • True! There are some good reliable writers like the Smith sisters, Jim Brady, Lee Black, Kenna West, etc., but at a certain point you just run out of names.

        The other thing I’ve thought about is that southern gospel groups can’t afford to take several years off between projects, and that results in pressure to put something out quickly (meaning less time spent making it as good as possible). We complain when a project doesn’t meet our standards of quality, but it’s worth considering the difficulties an artist in this field faces. Whereas by comparison, you look at mainstream artists who have time to kill and say, “Yeah, I just didn’t get inspired for five years, and I wanted to wait until I had something worth saying, etc….” Well, easy for THEM to say!

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