I had such a great time sharing some of my favorite picks with you earlier this year. I've since decided to make this an ongoing series. With that being said, here's what's got my ear:
Michael Portley, Jr. & Students of DAvid
More goodness from my Stellar Awards goodie bag...looking at the cd cover, I was very unsure if I'd like the project. It didn't take me 30 seconds to dive headlong into this album. I was dancing in the drivers seat around town as the album opened up with "Blessed Be" following an opening interlude. From there, the album thrusts forward with some stellar choir music that most choirs can actually sing at church! The album comes complete with a track dedicated to a shout and you know every good album needs a dance! I was enjoying the album and ready to pop in the next cd when my listening experience ground to a halt...I heard a dramatic introduction reminiscent of "The Passion of the Christ" coupled with Pastor Portley's exhortation. Then it happened..."Thank you for the blood...thank you for the blood..." A new favorite song gripped my musical palate.
I was done! I stopped just short of pulling over, but I did sing as loud as I could with the choir: "Calvary, Calvary! Calvary, without it where would we be?" This song right here has changed me. I wish I'd discovered it sooner, I would've taught it to my church choir as we celebrated Resurrection Sunday. Don't worry about that...this song works ANY GIVEN SUNDAY! Calvary comes with a reprise and is followed up with a declaration that says all the doors of negativity "Have Been Closed".
The album has some seriously creative songs like the title track: "Roof is on Fi'Yah" and "3-D Praise" which sings the message of due season and it's varying homonyms (Due/Do.)
All in all, it's a great album and you should definitely add it to your music collection!
Vincent Tharpe & Kenosis
I heard VTK sing "The Sound" twice during Stellar weekend and not once did I fight the urge to MOVE!!! This song is a number of things: 1) Crazy GREAT and 2) My workout soundtrack. At one showcase, the group was nearly run off stage when their rounds and rounds of key changes bled into the next artist's time. As if that wasn't enough, watching them close Wanda Bell's event on Sunday night sealed it for me and I begged Vincent and Zantino Kimmons to please hurry up and release this to the masses!
I'm not sure when it was released, but I GOT IT! I didn't hesitate and got it that weekend. I have been Tae-Bo'ing my way all the way through the house, since! "Halle-lujah, Thank You Jesus...Lord I...Love You...creaaaaaatttteeee" (in falsetto soprano, nonetheless). You have to hear the song to understand. I love the song and I'm sure you will, too. For me, I fast forward to the vamp, it's all about the vamp! Trust me on that. Since, you can't slice a song in half, I will tell you that the song is constructed in such a way that the entire song is palatable, but the vamp, the vamp is gonna make you dance!
While I'm on the vamp, it's worth noting the different genres they take you through with each key change. It's a wild ride, and I'm thrilled for the release of "The Sound". Go get it, and dance!!!
Thurman B. Thornton II (TBII)
Even though he's totally gonna hate me for this, I love TBII's music because I feel like I'm listening to New Edition or Troop singing gospel music! No, really...when he sent me this song, I wanted to go grab a velvet track suit and shoot the concept video that day! All MTV Jamz references aside, his music is honest and that's what's refreshing about TBII. For the longest, I heard all this chatter about "TB2" and had no idea who he was until the 2014 Rhythm of Gospel Awards in Birmingham. After hearing " Fresh Start" I'd found my newest favorite indie artist.
We talked about his follow up single: "Save Me" and the deep, personal story it told and then his EP which he released after that which features a heart wrenching arrangement of Fantasia's Bittersweet dedicated to his late mother (seriously, you really gotta hear that.)
Back to "Fall Into You"...dude brought it on this song! You'll definitely get with the vibe on this one and do as the song says and "fall into" the Lord.
Ronnie Rucker & La Praise
It was 2013 when I met Ron Rucker playing a Hammond B-3 in a music store in Shibuya, Tokyo. We talked briefly and exchanged pleasantries and compliments before discussing what he does in Japan. In a way, Ron Rucker is a gospel music ambassador for the Tokyo area and beyond. Yeah, really. GMWA in Japan...a soulful gospel choir in Japan actually connected to a church...yep, Ron Rucker's responsible for it.
I have a few of Mr. Rucker's tunes with the Bright Lights Choir in the SoulProsper Radio rotation already, but when I heard his latest release "Lift Him Up" I was blown away. Those folks are singin' yall! This was some really good singing, too. Most often, we're plagued with finding songs any choir can sing and all five of the songs on this EP are singable on Sunday. Since I've traveled quite a bit, I've always tried to discover the gospel scene where I am and I must say Mr. Rucker and his choir are the bees knees! They have a genuine connection to not only the music, but God Himself, which is lacking internationally at times.
He has brought gospel music to Japan and Japanese gospel music to America, namely the GMWA. He's got a GMWA chapter there now and had one years ago as well. He's the real deal and the way he's gotten this choir to not only sing, but minister is beyond incredible! "Lift Him Up" is a high energy hand clapping foot stomping choir favorite that will get Sunday morning off to a running start whether you have a mass choir or only a few.
"Until We Meet Again" is reminiscent of gospel music glory days and you're halfway through the song before you remember this choir is from Japan. Another good service closer. The EP features one song completely in Japanese and if you're clueless as to what they're saying, let the music speak to you. It's the universal language, right? Well, of the five, three are on repeat and that's good enough for me to recommend to you!
Tony Bush & The Deacs ft. Lisa Knowles-Smith
I'm fresh out of descriptive words for this song. To sum it up easily, it's a powder keg of praise! I was just recovering from "Wonderful Feeling" when this one reached me at SoulProsper Radio. From the first down beat, this song takes you by your ears and drags you to the front of the church to dance!!! This is quartet gold and has everything going for it you love in quartet gospel. Speaking of quartet gospel, the 'drive' will send you into overdrive!
By the time Bush adlibs "just in cae you don't see me no mo...'!" it's over but the song keeps driving! For Bush this is a bit of a testimony, considering his medical struggles earlier this year. So do like Tony Bush if you're glad to 'see another day'. Maybe even, you're glad about another opportunity...whatever the case may be, join Tony Bush, the Deacs and Lisa Knowles-Smith who can literally sing anything and SHOUT FOR JESUS!
The Rance Allen Group
Bishop Rance Allen and his brothers are often thrust into the world of quartet but I think it's time we re-consider that. Not because they're a trio but because their innovation far exceeds one sub-genre of gospel music. That's been the case since their days on Stax records and their first gospel release "He'll Make It Alright".
With their new release: "Live From San Francisco" they're back with new music and another go round of classic covers. "All Day Long" was the first single from the album and it is good! It's smooth, it's fresh and it's the Rance Allen group like you like it! He says it in the song and it's a good song to take to your church, considering their footloose like that! It's a good number for your male chorus, praise team or even choir of any size.
You'll want to add this one to your collection as well and as the song says, you very well may be singing the Lord's praise in this song 'all day long'.
Monica Lisa Stevenson
Two words...New & Fresh! I could end it right there...but you're like: "Gimme the deets!" Aren't you?!? I know, so here goes. It's MLS like you've NEVER heard her before! If you think she's bad singing traditional gospel...you ain't heard nothing yet and I mean it! At radio currently, you can request "Speechless" featuring Lisa Knowles-Smith and "He's the One" featuring Pastor Walter Ellis.
These two singles are good enough BUT...this EP features 7 songs and you definitely want to hear all of them! This music is smooth and Stevenson and Knowles-Smith are quite the tandem. The song will leave you speechless, it's so fresh! Teaming up with Pastor Ellis, Stevenson revisits a gospel classic and it's safe enough for gospel fans who are cautious about 'this new stuff'. It's still good and still smooth...give KAINOS a spin!!!!
While you're at it, go grab the MLS single "Testimony" featuring Doobie Powell and The Williams Singers.
*Melvin Williams* (bonus)
Where I Started From
This album will be released soon and I love it but I won't spoil it for you! I will give it high praise not only for the content but the spirit behind the album. Melvin Williams keeps root music alive in this great album and pays homage to those that paved the way for gospel music. He covers songs like: "How I Got Over", and the late great Willie Banks': "Lord You Been Good". The most impressive track for me was a track produced by Harvey Watkins, Jr., another quartet gem: "Don't Let Jesus Down". The shuffle on the drive is out of this world! It's got a mean bass drop and the drummer let loose something serious on this cut.
Check it out when it drops. In the meantime, you can go to radio to request his perfect remake of The Williams Brothers classic "So Good" and the smooth ballad "Claim It Now."
A few weeks ago, I hosted an experiment on my personal page. I simply asked: "WHo has recorded music for sale?" The response was overwhelming and some of the artists even interacted with each other on the thread. What I didn't see was a translation of that post onto their walls...why would nearly 100 artists let a radio announcer know they have music for sale and not their immediate audience, their facebook friends list...let's talk about that, today! -Fred
Before we get started I feel the need to qualify what I'm about to say. I have studied the music business for years, even before I went back to college in 2008. Many of our textbooks were already in my personal library before I began classes at Cedar Valley College. Many don't me beyond articles or a radio show/station but I'm going to be a lot more vocal in the very near future. This is the first of many pieces in this style, enjoy and please share with others!
I'm not selling you anything or starting a sign up to another conference call or mailing list. What I want to do is encourage you! Yep, that's all. The music industry has experienced a seismic shift as of late and gospel music was situated squarely on a fault line. As the industry as a whole shifted, gospel music sort of well...sunk...is sinking...something like that. But you love gospel music and so do I so what's there to do?
Many of you have recorded music because you felt as if you were called to do so. Some of you do it full time and some of you don't. Either way is cool and whatever keeps the lights on, gas in the car and food on the table, right? AMEN!!! Until then, pray for release AND provisions. I have observed many of you on Facebook and over the past six months, I've seen your posts about your music diminish. Why though? If it's old to you, surely it's old to people, right? Not necessarily.
How many new friends have you made within the past six months? How many of them know that you have a project for sale? What about your latest single? See, we've fallen for the market trap but Facebook isn't the market. It's your life, compiled on a single web space. Don't believe me, fast from Facebook for a day. Some of you didn't even think about it! The reason many of you have chosen not to make people aware of your project may be that you're living a comparative life on Facebook. Comparing yourself to everyone else and trying to make the moves their making. Any truth to that?
Artists...why have you put a shelf date on your music? Consider this: You have a product that is collecting dust and for no good reason. It's just sitting there, waiting on you to compel somebody to come buy it. How many NEW friends have you made on Facebook within the last six months? Do they know you have product and where to get it?
Change that, you may have prematurely ended your career when you shelved your viable product...
A few weeks ago, Anita Wilson (yes that Anita Wilson) put up a song from her first album and you know what? It still jams! It was a cover but it's great music. If you follow her on Facebook, you'll see posts about "Keep Doing What You're Doing" here lately. Music doesn't die! This is proven when artists literally die, there's a spike in sales the moment their death is announced.
What I'm saying to you is this...as an indie artist, you drive your music sales. It goes way beyond flooding your timeline and posting in every gospel music/artist group on the site. Honestly, don't you know how annoying that is to other people? I'm in many groups and there are some artists that do nothing but post ads (singing engagements and where to download their music). But think about it, if you have music and I have music, what makes you think I'm going to blindly support yours with no guarantee of you supporting me? It's the same with radio announcers that spam these groups with announcements of their shows...you want me to do what exactly...turn my station/show off and tune into yours?
Be very cautious with groups, you could very well be wasting time, unless you create an interest group of your own and post to your bonafide fan base. Do you have a like page? If so, how is your engagement there? Do you have promo material/giveaways? Consider that. Do a giveaway, create some fresh, new engagement! I'm on the way to my PO Box today to pick up some promo material from an artist and I can't wait to give them all away! Of course, the end game here is drive CD SALES!!! Never stop marketing yourself, EVER!
CD sales are dipping everywhere, even the Grammy's made a move to include streaming music in their consideration for awards. The industry has adjusted to consumer behavior! Do you even know what that means? YES...! Take a minute, let that sink in...the industry has adjusted to consumer behavior! Have you?
So here's the deal, you've got a song or project...what are you doing with it? If your base audience has yielded little to no results, create a new audience and drive new engagement. You've gotta do what works and not what's comfortable. READERS ARE LEADERS! Take some time and discover how to successfully market yourself and your product. There is a plethora of educational material online for the independent artist.
That includes spending some money, not always a lot but at least some! Check Vistaprint for promo materials like postcards and other paper products. You even have the option to design pens, clothing, cups and more. For what it's worth, wristbands are a great idea! Do you have business cards? What do they say? Are they two sided, is your picture on it? If you have a business card, it should literally be your calling card. People should be able to tell what you do by looking at the card. They should also be able to contact you using your card. Current numbers, address and electronic contact info should be prominently displayed on the card.
Also, freshen up your social media space. Also, print up some promo materials and send them to churches. Let the churches know you're available for bookings. Let local businesses know the same, get yourself out there but don't be drab! To get noticed, you must be noticeable! Also, you should consider a graphic designer to spruce up a new promo picture for summer. Think about it...It's summer, do you have a summer look? Nothing's wrong with changing with the seasons! It lets people know you're still around! (LOL)
What about hashtags? How are you identifying your brand online? Recording artist and musician Tony Bush uses: #BushBrand and you could do something similar. You know Everette Drake, his catch phrase is: "Amen Goes Right There" and he's known as "Mr. Amen Goes Right There" which is his debut single. His album contains numerous gospel gems, but it's the #AGRT branding that has traveled with him to bookings all over the country.
DO THE MATH
Alright, got it? Some of you had NO sales this week and some of you no sales all month! Do you want to change that? You should want to change it, even if you're currently in studio working on new music! The grind never stops and neither should the marketing of your music. What if you decided to personally sell 5 cd's a day? That's 150 units from you. Of those 150, how many people would tell somebody about the cd they got from you and get them to buy their own copy? At least check you out online?
I know you want to sell more than 150 units each month, but what have you sold so far? If you're doing better than that, great-this is exactly what we want! Get great music in the hands of listeners!
The top CCM album last week sold somewhere around 6,359 copies. The top gospel album sold somewhere around 2,291 copies. Hmm...that already seems dismal and these are major, national artists. Can you imagine selling a copy of your cd to at least half of the people on your friends list? Maybe not everyone is a gospel music lover so, let's be realistic and say maybe 30%. What's that number looking like? Some of you reading this are already at 5K friends and some of them have NO interest in buying your product.
NETWORKING YOUR NET WORTH
Earlier this year, I posted the inaugural blog: "Here's What's Got My Ear". Of all the artists, there were only about five of the artists named in the blog that engaged or responded. I know we're all busy but what if that blog post came from a more well known entity and they ignored it? You can never afford to ignore free, positive publicity! Some of you reading this post will be named in my next installment or one to follow. When you see it, share it! Make people aware of what's being said about your project...your ministry! Not doing so is costing you sales, whether you believe it or not!
Make connections! I can't spend all day on my computer or phone but there are times during the day that social media interaction is my MO. The same goes for other station owners, PD, publicists, journalists, bloggers and artists. NETWORKING STILL WORKS! Bishop Hezekiah Walker said when asked about the timing of pitching a product to your contemporaries: "It's all about relationship!" He further stated that you need to get to know people before dropping the weight of product on them. This applies to industry contacts and not potential customers. Some of you are struggling with the repercussions of 'too much too soon' when dealing with industry people. "Hi, I'm Fred. Please listen to SoulProsper Radio!" is NOT the way you want things to go!
You need to find out who is who and what they do inside the industry. Are they an actual outsider? Can they help you? Have they tried to help somebody else and what were the results? Are they just somebody good to know (with no expectations)? Know this when you deal with industry people on social media or meet them face to face.
There are way too many fractured relationships within the industry based on social media suppositions. Think about it, I don't actually know Don Jackson from the Stellar Awards, even though he's my friend on social media or personally approves my post in the Stellar Gospel Music Group on Facebook. When I see Mr. Jackson at the Stellar Awards, I greet him and introduce myself, even if I have to do it each time.
Furthermore, I don't actually know Phil Thornton, even if I regularly comment on his success at eOne on Facebook or LinkedIn and even write articles about him. Not until I have personally exchanged information with an understanding can I count someone an actual associate or even friend. I did see him at the Virtue listening party at the Stellars but he left before I could speak to him, still doesn't count!
I have met some Facebook friends and artists who I didn't recognize in person! LOL It happens but be gracious either way! I love meeting people so yes, I'm actually looking forward to meeting ALL OF YOU VERY SOON!
This is why you must take great care and concern of those you're connected to on social media. There is a fine line between social media contact and professional contact. Many of us do our business on Facebook but it is merely an extension of our business dealings. Handle real business outside of Facebook (what's your email address, where can I send you a copy, may I call you to discuss...?)
Your friends list is exclusive to you. Your taste in music, fashion, comedy, religion, regional interests and much more. You have an opportunity to introduce your music to those different markets within your friends list. Some have bought it already (YAY). But, some haven't because they haven't been compelled to. You have good music, don't you? Well stop depriving your most remote audience of it! You wouldn't imagine outselling a top national artist, now would you? It's quite possible, when you take care of business!
To reach beyond Facebook, Mr. Henry Harris posted this just this morning and I had to add it, you can read it below.
Read MAry Meeker's annual Report on Internet Trends
In this blog, you will hear from Fred directly about a broad variety of subjects. Though Fred normally expresses his thoughts in his columns, he has created this space to share his most intimate thoughts concerning everyday life!