“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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!