Tyscot Records: Standing the Test of Time

Tyscot Records co-founded in 1976 by Dr. Leonard Scott is the oldest Black-owned Gospel recording label in the nation.  Initially operated from offices in his dental practice, today Tyscot Records is home to some of the biggest names in the gospel industry including Anthony Brown & Group Therapy, the Rance Allen Group, VaShawn Mitchell, Shirley Murdock and many others including Bishop Scott himself.

Pastor Bryant Scott, who is Bishop Scott’s son serves as President & General Manager and is the interviewee for this article.

CFU: What makes an independent label independent?

Tyscot: There are three remaining major music conglomerates (Sony, Universal, & Warner).  An independent label is a label that is not owned by one of these majors.  You also have some large independent music companies, i.e. E-One Entertainment.  Many independent labels are distributed by the majors.

Tyscot Records Difference

In the current gospel music space you have RCA Inspirational (aka Verity Records) which is owned by Sony, Motown Gospel which is owned by Universal, and then your larger independent labels (Tyscot, Light (E-One), Malaco, Central South), and an array of up-and-coming independent labels.  Tyscot is a little unique in that our distribution for the majority of our catalog is through the major Warner Music Group, but we also have and have had licensing and co-branding arrangements with other majors and independents for various artists and products.

CFU: Generally, what do labels look for when deciding upon a new artist?

Tyscot: Although all labels must look at the sales potential and overall talent of a new artists, labels have varying individual criteria they consider for a new artist to fit their company culture and goals.

Social Media Footprint

Tyscot is ministry-focused, and we select artists based on their ability to effectively minister to a large segment of the African-American population.  These days, in addition to their musical talent and ministry presentation, we also look at their social media footprint and effectiveness in engaging via those platforms.

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CFU: What’s one of the most common mistakes would-be artists make?

Tyscot: The most common mistake I’ve witnessed during my 30-year tenure is that many artists simply do not efficiently utilize their number one asset (their number one stake-holder), which is THEMSELVES.  The number one promoter, salesman, producer, and even fan of any artist MUST BE THEM.  And even after being signed to a label, they must continue to work harder than anyone else for their career.

CFU: What is the general protocol for new artists to approach a label they are interested in? Or is it usually invite only?

Tyscot: Most artists get signed because of some connection (introduced by another artist or industry person seen performing at some venue, etc.).  Very few artists get signed from just submitting a demo package to a label.  Companies have even started using social media and YouTube to find new artists.

Artist Promotion

Therefore, my suggestion for a new artist is to promote themselves to the best of their ability, utilizing industry conferences, church conferences, and social media.  They must make sure that their package (songs, production, performance, look) is superior to the gluttony of available noise competing for the consumer’s time and ears.

The cream always rises to the top, and labels are in the business of partnering with the cream.

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Finding Success As An Independent Gospel Artist

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Success does not look the same for everyone. It is almost impossible to compare your experience as an independent artist to that of another. Each person’s journey takes a different path. There are no hard and fast rules to follow but there’s a lot to be said about being a humble and teachable spirit. When you show humility, people will feel compelled to help you and not even know why. God’s favor will always open unimaginable doors.

But the time it can take to see tangible results definitely is not for the faint of heart. Patience is not only a virtue it is a necessity for anyone seeking a career as an independent gospel artist.

They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their Strength…They shall mount up with wings as Eagles…. Isaiah 40:31

In 2011, Javon Inman released his debut album HEART OF A WORSHIPER earning him 13 music awards. Having written over 200 songs with his music playing on over 50 stations across the U.S., the U.K, Africa and Caribbean islands, Javon is clear about his Kingdom purpose. He is ecstatic for the world to hear his latest single “Love Covers [ft. Music Society]” from his sophomore album AGAPE EROS.

 “Love Covers” featuring Music Society introduced simply as “his brothers” demonstrates Javon’s willingness to put God first and others in the forefront.  Just watch how he positions himself to be in the background of his own project.

Matthew 5:5 (NLT) God blesses those who are humble for they will inherit the whole earth.

CFU: How long have you been writing music?

JI: I have been writing songs for over 20 years.  I wrote my first song for a singing group I was in when I was 16.

CFU: What do you consider your big break?

JI: In full transparency, I am not sure if I can point to one particular moment in my journey as a “big break,” but rather a series of true God-moments that have sharpened and led me to this place. The first time I ministered on The Word Network in March 2013 was incredible. Placing 3rd at the Radio One, Praise 103.9 FM “Best Inspirational Singer in America” national competition in Philadelphia, PA in front of judges James FortuneFred Hammond, Kurt Carr and Kerry Douglas was a moment I’ll treasure forever.
Having my first gospel album Heart of a Worshiper win a distribution contract with Central South Distribution was mind-blowing. And most recently, performing my new single ‘Love Covers’ LIVE at Sirius XM with an Easter Resurrection Weekend Special Guest Takeover on Kirk Franklin’s Praise Channel 64 was astounding!

CFU: How do you sustain yourself in between “gigs?”

JI: Spiritually, I spend a lot of time in God’s presence, reading the Word and in prayer.  Financially, I am an IT Professional and have been for over 20 years. My music purpose is to write the music in God’s heart for the world. However, until I am able to provide for my family on income received solely from music, I will use Godly wisdom, pay my mortgage, and feed my family by remaining in my IT career!

CFU: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

JI: The best piece of advice I received was from my grandmother who is resting with Jesus now. She told me, “Stay in God’s Word.” The rollercoaster of life has definitely taken me on a few rides that left me dazed, broken and scarred. It was the scriptures and God’s presence that brought me through each time.

CFU: As an indie artist what cautionary piece of advice would you share with would-be artists?

JI: Wait patiently on the Lord! Promotion comes from the Lord and His timing (and His process) is always perfect. Being an independent artist is awesome, but it is a lot of work.  You have to be willing to sacrifice resources and your time. I would caution artists to be wary of any platform or individual that promises instant success.

Unfortunately, music business professionals often prey upon artists who are “thirsty” and will seek to take advantage of them. If an artist doesn’t have a relationship with the Holy Spirit, and can’t discern truth from manipulation, they’ll end up getting duped.

 

 

What’s the “Big Deal”? Indie Artists vs. Major Label Artists

“I sing because I’m happy I sing because I’m free His eye is on the sparrow and I know He’s watching me” – Civilia Martin (1905)

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Gospel music is a ministry. One that should make you happy whether you are singing or playing an instrument. The opportunity to use your gift as to make a joyful noise is truly a blessing. But how it is presented to the masses is ultimately your choice.

To Be or Not to Be…

Now that you’ve made up your mind to pursue a career as a gospel artist. There are many things you’ll need to consider. Among these decisions, one of the biggest you’ll have to make is whether or not you will be an independent artist or work for a record label. Either way, prayer should help you decide path you will take to manage your career.

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 Ms. Anita Wilson is an artist who has seen both sides of the gospel industry as both an independent artist and as a signed artist for a major recording label. As a GRAMMY and Stellar nominated artist she has been a celebrated member of the gospel music industry since her solo debut of “Speechless” in 2011. Anita is a businesswoman and founder of both Melody Green Music Group and Reflection Media Inc.

CFU: You are an artist who has been signed by a major record label and also found work as an independent artist. You started on a record label. What are the major differences between being on a label and being an independent artist?

MAW: Yes I’ve had the experience of being signed to a record label and being an independent artist and label. I’d say the major differences are when you’re signed to a label – you’re not in control. When you are independent, you’re in control. For someone like me, since my day one, I have been very aware of who I am as an artist and my mind has always been drawn to more than just the music but also the business of music. So being independent is definitely the best route for me.

CFU: What are the pros and cons of being signed to a major label vs being an independent artist/label?

MAW: Having experienced both sides of the coin I’d say the pros of being signed to record label are (ideally) you now have a team of people who will work together to create a vision and plan for your music and for you as an artist. Now that’s an awesome advantage IF that team of people actually has a vision for you that you are comfortable with if they actually come up with a plan that specifically fits your artistry. So, the responsibility of creating that plan doesn’t fall totally on you, you have a team to handle that.

Cons

The cons of that are….you and that team of people may not work very well together. Perhaps you don’t like their ideas, you’d rather implement some of your thoughts on how to market your music or how to reach your demographic etc. Depending on the temperament of those you’re working with, you MAY have some input but more than likely your voice and input may be minimal when you’re signed to a label for the duration of the deal term. (And sometimes, those terms may last a very long time last the deal term). BE CAREFUL ABOUT WITH WHOM YOU SIGN.

Pros

The pros of being independent are that you call the shots. You make the decisions from A-Z. You have Creative control. Many labels don’t want to extend this to an artist because if you have creative control and make decisions then….what do you need them for? It’s great to have the final say in how your art is handled, what songs you record, what the radio single will be, how the marketing campaign looks and will roll out etc.

But this can be expensive & comes with several areas of responsibility. You have to assemble your own team of professionals who can assist in these areas. (Marketing, Budget, Legal, Digital Presence, Accounting, etc.) and be sure your I’s are dotted and your t’s are crossed. And oh yeah – YOU MUST HAVE MONEY SAVED & IN PLACE to support your indie journey. All responsibility is yours.

Signing with a Record Label

Now if you’re an artist who is solely interested in just the music side of things and you want to be a performing artist but not worry with the details and the business, then being signed to a record label is for you. If you’re someone (like me) whose attention goes to not only the music but you’re also invested in how the business & details are handled, then you’re better off being an independent artist/label.

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CFU:  How important are connections in the business. Did you have a mentor? 

MAW: I believe having relationships in the music business can play a key role. When starting out (2010) I was blessed to not only have Sir Donald Lawrence as a mentor (as I was a member of DL & Company for almost 10 years) but also my then best friend, now husband Rick Robinson, who had been writing and producing since 2001, was a key voice when I began as well. It’s important to either have personal connections who you trust that will honestly answer questions for you (even the really small “silly” questions).

Social Media

Even if you don’t yet have personal lines of communication, through social media and the internet you can research and observe those who you admire or look up to. I believe in having mentors from afar as well. Always be a student and a sponge. There’s a lot to learn so remain teachable and humble as you walk along your journey. And always be authentic! Know who you are, be creative and fearless!

CFU: For people trying to enter into the gospel music industry, what advice would you give a newbie who is trying to attract the attention of a record label.

MAW: Well…in light of my previous answers I must say, first off, really weigh your options, consider what “being signed” means and decide if attracting the attention of a record company the best route for you. Whether your journey will be independent or with a label, I think your initial steps remain the same.

Develop Your Identity

Learn and develop your identity (unique artistry), utilize the internet and social media to build your audience, attend events that offer information or showcase opportunities (but don’t spend all your money entering showcases) and be patient on your journey. Eventually you will either build your own following and not need the assistance of a label or you will build in a such a way that labels begin to seek you out. Just remember, don’t allow a label to offer you something that you can do yourself!

 

Breaking into the Gospel Music Industry

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Like a Thief in the Night

Breaking into the gospel music industry is something a lot of singers and musicians aspire to do. People ask me about it all the time, wanting to know how they can “break into” the gospel music industry.  What does that even mean? When I think about someone “breaking in” I immediately imagine someone with a half-baked plan for a theft or some other felonious act.

In that respect, why would anyone want to break in anywhere? Is there no other way to be welcomed?  Let’s say you do break in.  If you didn’t belong there in the first place how long do you really expect to remain there? Truth is, only few people become an instantaneous success in the gospel.

God’s Perfect Plan

So, let’s forget the break in aspect. Concentrate on what it takes to “pursue” a career in the gospel industry.  To pursue means going after something with intent.  You have to get a true understanding of the process. At very least, the process requires focus, thoughtful planning and yes talent! A systematic approach to developing a career requires serious discipline. You have to be patient and most importantly seek godly counsel. God already knows the plans He has for you AND your musical career.

Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV) For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future”

What Does It Mean to be an Indie Artist?

Becoming an independent artist is definitely one way of making a legitimate entry into the gospel industry. It’s the DIY (Do-It-Yourself) approach.  But even as an independent artist, you still won’t be able to climb the ranks entirely on your own.

What are the Responsibilities of an Indie Artist?

As an indie artist, you are essentially responsible for producing, recording, publishing and sometimes distributing your own music apart from any commercial companies record labels or their subsidiaries.

If you truly believe you have what it takes to become a gospel artist, pursue your dream wholeheartedly. But never forget, although it is our Father’s business, it is an earthly business as well and one that hopeful can lead you to a profitable career.

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At age 21, Jekalyn Carr is a powerhouse in the gospel industry known for songs like “You’re Bigger” and “You Will Win”. She has received numerous awards and nominations including her first Stellar Gospel Music Award at age 16 followed by GRAMMY and Billboard Music Awards nominations. She has also appeared on OWN’s TV series “Greenleaf” and is an evangelist whose spirit-filled inspiration is embodied in her new book “You Will Win”. Jekalyn who began her professional career at age 15, is an independent recording artist for her family-owned label Lunjeal Music Group.

CFU: What do you think the biggest misconceptions are for indie artists?

I think sometimes people feel as though they don’t have to work to get to where they want to be. They think things are going to happen overnight, but within this day and age you have to make sacrifices and put time in if you desire to be successful within your music career or any career you have. You have to have patience. When you are patient you can think and manage better. Also, some fail to get the right information to make sure they’re on the right track; Because if you don’t have knowledge about the area/field you’re in, you’ll constantly find yourself where you were 2 or 3 years ago. Ask God to place you amongst the right company that’ll provide helpful information to you to make sure that everything even down to the business part is in place. 

CFU: How should indie artists go about deciding which “gigs” they should take?

Well, I think if you come across an event that has you pondering and second guessing it, that may be the time for you to seek/ask God for direction. One thing you don’t want, is to end up somewhere where God hadn’t instructed you to be. This helps protects your name and integrity as well. A lot of offers may sound good, but it may not LOOK good for you to be there. 

CFU: How would you define your brand? How would you recommend others going about how to define what their brand entails?

My brand is inspiration and motivation, as well as showing people that it is possible to have a successful and longevity career without compromising. Keep in mind that whatever you show people the most even on your social media, to them that’s what you’re branding yourself as and that could either help or hurt you depending upon what you show them. You want to show them consistency with positivity because it makes it easier for people to receive you. It also helps your brand when people can feel like you’re touchable.

CFU: What is one piece of advice would you give young aspiring indie artists that they should be mindful of in the business?

Whatever you do, keep your humility and integrity because these are two components that’ll cause you to keep climbing higher within your career.