Like any genre of music, an independent Christian artist can find it difficult to navigate the industry having their style outshine the many others. Getting one’s message heard is not always a matter of what the people need to hear, but rather what people want to hear. An independent artist must properly balance the desire to package and present the uniqueness of their brand, sound, message, and style while remaining somewhat mainstream. The recent influx of talent shows proves it takes more than talent to make it “big.”
Great music from all genres comes out of the Philadelphia area. Many independent artists dream big. They work for years to hone their craft making the reality of their dream more possible. Many find temporary solace in the cheers of small crowds and applause of the members of their home church. Too many artists have no idea how to be seen or heard by record label decision makers. All know one thing, they have a love for music.
In recent years, a sense of pride comes with the title “independent artist.” The title denotes an individual who is forging forward caring more about the promotion of music as an art form than the business of music as an industry. Independent artists respect the industry, partnering with signed artists, and respect the fans. Today, some artists, across all music genres, make the difficult decision to remain independent as to maintain control of their brand, sound, message, and image. Quite a few found standing as a independent was more lucrative and rewarding.
LaToya J. Boyd-Flowers (LaToya J.) is an independent artist from Bronx, New York. According to her website, “She is a hybrid child of Rock, Pop, and Soul, a genre she coins as ‘Real Talk’ music. Fans connect and are inspired as she delivers her raw, earthy vocals, coupled with her transparency and love for God in songs like ‘Soul Winner’“. Her music is definitely transparent! A very outspoken believer in God, she transformed the often used title “minister of music” to fit her passion. LaToya J. calls herself a “Minister of Transparency!” She tackles themes ranging from feelings of hopelessness and depression to the ultimate contagious celebration of God through praise and worship. She equips her listeners with tools to change, to believe in God, rather than with surface level lyrics evoking emotions which confuse temporary happiness with lasting joy. LaToya J. is unique! Her style, image, lyrics, and emerging brand are true to her personality – not created for promotional purposes. She refuses to compromise who she is by embracing the traditional gospel sound or “crossing over” to pure rock, hip hop, R & B, or pop. She is Latoya J!
There are organizations seeking to aid independent Christian artists, such as LaToya J., with understanding the music industry, how to navigate the world of entertainment, how to maintain their message, and many other tools toward success. Excellence in Christian Music Awards (ECMA) is such an organization. The ECMA site says: “The ECMA was created to ease confusion and an inability of most artists to access appropriate career development tools by providing education, motivation, and recognition within one program while simultaneously recognizing them for their achievements and hard work.” This is not just another awards program.
Administrator Henry W. Harris, former Stellar Awards Gospel Music Academy Advisory Board President, works diligently through ECMA to cultivate to artists in order to reward their integrity, dedication, and spirit of excellence as well as their sound and style of music. The organization seems to support the individual who is an artist rather than seeing them solely as a deliverer of entertainment. Understanding it is difficult to coordinate travel and associated costs, the organization offers webinars, tele-seminars, one-on-one coaching, and other methods of empowerment and training. This enables artists in the Philadelphia, New York, Dallas, Los Angeles, and all other music rich areas to connect, learn, and mature in the spirit of excellence. Independent artists do not have to be alone in their efforts.
It is important for the independent artist to understand when to be flexible and when to hold firm to their style and beliefs. The artist must be able to present their brand to the world while being true to who they are with family, friends, and God. Probably more difficult, the independent artist must understand the business of music does not always have the same agenda as the study of music and the promotion of the art form. It is up to the individual artist to forge a place, understand their purpose, be true to themselves, God, and what they want, and connect with their audience in a real and authentic way. They must ultimate answer and revisit often the question: Are you an artist, entertainer, or both?