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A Look

Inside The Detroit Gospel Music Business
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Dateline: October 7, 2005, Detroit, MI.

"A Look Inside The Detroit Gospel Music Business" - Hosted by the Chicago Chapter of The Recording Academy

By: Mary Crosby

Panel for "A Look Inside The Detroit Gospel Music Business"

Marvin SappGospel Artist, Pastor Marvin Sapp

The National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc., also known as the Recording Academy, is probably best known for the annual GRAMMY Awards, but there is much more to the Academy than that. The Academy is responsible for numerous outreach, professional development, cultural enrichment, and education and human service programs.

On a balmy Friday evening in early October, The Chicago Chapter of The Recording Academy, which covers the Midwest region of the country, reached out to the Detroit gospel music community and presented "A Look Inside The Detroit Gospel Music Business," at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History. The well-attended event featured a panel discussion covering a variety of topics including marketing and promotion, artist development, caring for your voice, and copyright and legal issues.

Jamillah MuhammedMix 92.3's Jamillah Muhammed

A live music showcase, with some of the top names in gospel music, followed the panel. Mix 92.3's Jamillah Muhammed was the M.C. for this intimate setting with electrifying performances from local and national artists including, Derrick Milan and the Crew, Witness, Pastor Marvin Sapp, Pastor Marvin Winans, J Moss, 2103, and a surprise performance by Vanessa Bell Armstrong. These artists left no doubt that gospel music is alive and well in Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The evening went from talking business to "having church" with a quickness.

Witness performs during the live music showcase

Donald Lawrencegospel artist/host Donald Lawrence

The panel was moderated by Donald Lawrence (artist / producer / songwriter, Quiet Water Entertainment /Verity /Zomba and member of the Board of Governors of the Midwest Chapter of the Recording Academy) and included Brian Spears (President Crystal Rose Records); Clyde Duffie (director of promotions, Zomba Label Group); Deborah Smith Pollard (FM 98 WJLB); Howard Hertz (entertainment lawyer with Hertz, Schram & Saretski, PC and member of the Board of Governors of the Midwest Chapter of the Recording Academy); Jamillah Muhammed (Mix 92.3 WMXD); Cheryl Potts (CEO, Crystal Clear Music, Inc.) J Moss (artist/producer-PAJAM/songwriter), Paul Allen (producer-PAJAM/songwriter), Walter Kearney (producer-PAJAM), and H. Steven Sims, M.D. (Director of the Chicago Institute for Voice Care).

J Moss, Walter Kearney, Deborah Smith Pollard, Clyde Duffie
J. Moss, Walter Kearney, Deborah Smith-Pollard, and Clyde Duffie

The information presented was strong on practicality and sprinkled liberally with the hard-fought experiences of those on the panel. Some of the practical suggestions, recommendations, and advice included:

  • Industry execs don't have time to listen to hour-long demos. Donald Lawrence suggested that artists put together a 10 minute demo package with 5 or 6 songs of 2 minutes each that flow into each other.
  • Don't send cassette tapes as demos!
  • Brian Spears noted that presentation is key. The songs, song selection, artistic sense, and business sense are important. Again, industry personnel have very little time to listen to demos, so your submission has to be impactful.
  • Walter Kearney noted that it's important to have a concept that comes across for today's listeners.
  • Donald Lawrence followed up with the importance of leveraging your concept into a brand, sticking with your brand, and repackaging it as time goes by.
  • Networking, establishing relationships, and following up with people in the industry is key.
  • With regards to getting your project played on the radio, both Deborah Smith-Pollard and Jamillah Muhammed talked about the many, many projects they receive on a daily basis, most of which are sitting in piles on their desks. Both stressed the importance of "creating your story" outside of radio and thereby making radio pay attention to you. Marvin Winans piggy-backed on this by noting that he heard Darwin Hobbs sing "Great Is Your Mercy" at a musical in Cincinnati, long before he was a mainstream gospel artist or receiving radio air play. Pastor Winans took the song back to Perfecting Church where Donnie McClurkin was minister of music at the time, and Pastor McClurkin went on to record that song and turn it into a hit.

Donald Lawrence, Brian Spears, Cheryl Potts, H. Steven Sims, M.D., and Jamillah Muhammed

Almost every panelist noted that while gospel music is a ministry, it is also a business and you have to be business-minded. Do your research, learn as much as you can about the industry by going to conferences, attending events (such as this one), and networking with others in the industry. Because this is a business, you're going to have to invest in it like you would a business. In other words, you're going to have to spend some money (sow some seed) to see any growth. It is also important to get your ministry out there in front of people by performing at your church, gospel showcases, conferences, or wherever, and whenever you can.

On this topic, Pastor Winans provided one of the memorable quotes of the evening, "Church is 'the club' for gospel music." He later went on to hammer it home when he said if you want to hone your craft, "Go to church!"

Pastor Marvin WinansPastor Marvin Winans

Rounding out the panel discussion, Pastor Winans provided some advice that is of paramount importance to all gospel artists and those who desire to be gospel artists. He noted that there is no shortage of talent in gospel music and that gospel artists used to be second class citizens...an R&B group waiting to be discovered.., but no more. He said, "The depth is there, the money is there. So, all I ask is that you be true to what it is we do. Not for our prosperity, it's for our posterity. Gospel is not a second-class music."

Pastor Winans went on to break it down by saying, "You can't sell sex and gospel. You just can't turn Jesus on." Donald Lawrence added, "Sexy for Jesus is just not going to happen."

Derrick Milan and The Crew
Derrick Milan and The Crew

During the question and answer period, David Whitfield of The Whitfield Music Group asked, "How powerful is the Internet?"

The panel was unanimous in its response that it is very powerful and not just the wave of the future, it's the here and now.

Darius Twyman
Detroit Gospel.com reporter, Brenda Underwood; gospel artist, Darius Twyman; and Detroit Gospel.com editor, Mary Crosby

Notables among the estimated 150 attendants from Detroit's gospel music community included Darius Twyman, Larry and David Whitfield of The Whitfield Music Group, Charles Curry, Dorgan Needom (Minister of Music at Unity Baptist Church), Carl B. Phillips, and Larry Robinson (owner of God's World).

Vanessa Bell ArmstrongGospel artist, Vanessa Bell Armstrong and DG.com editor, Mary Crosby

Throughout the evening Donald Lawrence (who is a member of the Board of Governors of the Chicago Chapter of the Recording Academy) stressed the importance of Detroit's gospel music community becoming members of the Recording Academy. It is only by being a member, that those involved in gospel can have a voting voice in the awarding of GRAMMYs in the gospel music categories. Donald noted that past GRAMMY awards in the gospel categories have not always been representative of what's really going on in the gospel music community. He went on to say that while this event was part of the Chicago Chapter's membership drive, it was also designed to empower gospel artists and encourage them to have a say in the future of gospel music.

Tyrone DavenportTyrone Davenport

Tyrone Davenport, COO of the Charles H. Wright African American Museum also encouraged those in attendance to support the museum by obtaining a museum membership.

To find out more about becoming a member of the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History go to www.maah-detroit.org.

To find out more about becoming a member of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences, Inc. (Recording Academy) go to:



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