Marketing & Self-Promotion 101

Welcome to Marketing & Self Promotion 101. Congratulations! Your music has been published and now it’s time for the people to come and be blessed. WRONG.  Creating a positive buzz around your project means mastering the fine art of marketing and self-promotion. The gospel music industry is a wealth of amazing talent with both new and old artists constantly vying for the public’s attention.

As a new artist, getting the word out about your project will require lots more than a few tweets and Facebook posts. Self-promotion and marketing of your brand has to be purposeful and well-orchestrated.

Here are just a few things to keep in mind before you “Go and Tell it on the Mountain”:

Market Yourself Spread the Word

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  • Real marketing and self-promotion begin long before your project is complete.
  • Network, network and network some more to get your name and brand familiar in the minds of your potential audience. Don’t just look for the hookup, do the homework.
  •  The gospel industry is an extremely tight-knit community. Word of your reputation can spread and quickly become “gospel” for better or WORSE.
  • Social media engagement involves more than 20 consecutive posts of you with a CD in hand reminding people to BUY…BUY!! Do this and you’ll be saying “Bye, Bye” to your audience.

Better to Give than Receive

  • Don’t pass on the opportunity to perform for F-R-E-E. Church concerts, civic events, conferences and even weddings are perfect opportunities to not just be seen, but most importantly heard as well.
  • Emailing industry leaders to say “I want to send you something to listen to that will bless you” is not a good opener. It’s cliché and most music professionals already have more music than they have time to listen.
  • Get sound advice from as many industry professionals as you can. Established artists, managers and consultants with a proven current track record. If you are blessed with an opportunity to meet someone significant please don’t pounce. The objective should not be to get your CD in their hands as fast as you can.

My Sheep Listen to My Voice, I Know Them, and They Follow Me…EVERYWHERE!

  • Get rid of the glam squads, the “slay all day” stylists, praise posse and all other non-essential persons to your brand NOW. Representing yourself as a serious artist should be your focus right now.  Lest not forget, “the crew” helped cause tragic downfall of M.C. Hammer.
  • Your Pastor, family members and friends as dear and well-meaning as they may be may not be experienced enough in the industry to act as professional business managers and publicists. Running a church doesn’t count as artist management experience.

Gerard Bonner is Founder and CEO of the Stellar award-winning 24/7 internet radio station Bonnerfide Radio and Co-founder of Gospelflava.com.  Gerard is a well-respected gospel industry veteran with over 20+ years in the business. He is a fountain of knowledge and is an expert consultant working to help shape and define the careers of indie artists nationwide.

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CFU: What’s one of the biggest mistakes you’ve seen indie artists make in terms of marketing themselves?

GB: Let me give you two big mistakes that indie artists make relative to marketing themselves. First, they usually forget to budget for marketing. They tend to put more budget into production, recording, and styling than they do marketing. There’s little planning and strategy put into effectively marketing an independent artist. As a result, the independent artist drops a project with an even steeper uphill climb.

Secondly, independent artists have a tendency to over inflate their reach. Only Beyonce can drop an album unannounced and have the world react significantly. Mary Mary once said “We treat every record as is we are new artists. We never assume that people know who we are.”

A strong social media following doesn’t always equate to great sales. Independent artists have to be ready and willing to put in the work behind creating awareness for their new efforts and it requires more than a lone social media post.

CFU: Have you witnessed any recent major shifts in the gospel industry that indies should be aware of?

GB: There are several major shifts that have happened in the last few years. At the top of the list is the way in which listeners consume music. People are streaming more than buying. It makes more sense economically for the consumer.

We went through a period where the gospel community was trying to push buying over streaming. However, the independent artist needs to embrace streaming because this is where consumers are. Artists have given streaming a bad name because the payout is vastly different than purchases. However, long term, streaming can be better for artists.

Because listeners consume music differently, independent artists need to prepare for multiple sources of revenue. Gone are the days where merely releasing an album will pay the bills. Indie artists need to tap into multiple ways to use their art to make a living. That includes streaming, teaching, workshops, and perhaps even keeping their 9-5 corporate jobs.

CFU: What sort of consultation services do you offer indie artists?

GB: We offer a number of services to assist independent artists. Our consultations cover a wide variety of topics ranging from marketing and advertising to artist development and management. We look forward to working with artists to really establish individualized paths to achieve long term career success.

You can sign up for our consultation services and be sure to mention the special Church Folks United code “INDIE” in your message:  BonnerfideRadio.com/consultation/

Are there better times than others for an indie artist to approach the market with their product?

GB: Traditionally, it’s best to avoid releasing music during the 4th quarter of the year, as consumers tend to be focused on Holiday purchases.

However, the BEST time for an independent artist to release product is after they’ve created a demand for the effort. That means their needs to be intentional work to create awareness and a need for their product and their voice. People are no longer randomly supporting artists in general principle. Time and money are valuable to consumers. They need to know they are investing in something that fills a need for them.

Create the demand and the support will soon follow.

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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.

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!