Introducing new alternative hip-hop artist TAL
Something I often hear in Christian circles, is a common distaste for the overall sound of Christian radio. Many in the industry listen to Christian radio in short stints as a necessity for work but their personal preference is found in mainstream music. The complaints I hear are generated from college/young adult Christians, artists, producers, songwriters, record label employees and even some who work in radio. Reasons heard from those complaining include 1) the music sounds the same as what was being played ten years ago 2) every song sounds similar 3) radio plays the same handful of artists on repeat 4) the production isn’t relevant to what is being made in the mainstream. While some of those reasons may ring true, who is serving up solutions? Who feeds the music to radio?
I would argue that the radio playlists lie in the hands of the creators. If the artists, songwriters, producers and record company A&R teams refuse to feed radio the same formulaic music, wouldn’t radio be forced to change? When something new begins to work, what if creators resisted the urge to jump on the copycat bandwagon and instead chose to lead with even newer sounds? What if record companies refused to put so much stock into what radio research is asking for and instead fed radio with nothing but innovative music? Imagine radio playlists chocked full of innovative artists like Switchfoot, For King & Country, Lecrae, Future of Forestry, John Mark McMillan, Social Club and The Brilliance. Radio might just sound a bit different.
Join the conversation, share your thoughts and stay tuned for Part 2 as we explore even more.
Working as an artist manager, I’ve discovered something that holds true for most artists. If an artist is comfortable, they most likely aren’t growing. In order to continue growing an audience, the artist must continually push the boundaries of their music, imaging and marketing. The irony is that most artists don’t like to be uncomfortable but they all want to grow their audience.
Are you comfortable?
If you aren’t aware of The Gray Havens, then you should be! The husband/wife pop-folk duo have been quietly building a following amongst college students, hipsters and those who appreciate great music. With lyrics inspired by literary greats JRR Tolkien and C.S. Lewis, The Gray Havens are branding a unique style of fantasy story telling with theological undercurrents.
David and Licia Radford, The Gray Havens, recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds for a new EP which they hope to release in Spring 2016. They have been vigorously writing new songs and have lined up producer Ben Shive (Andrew Peterson, Colony House, Brandon Heath) to begin production once the funds are raised. Check out the video and join them in making the new record.
If you have ever played a festival or multi-artist event where you weren’t the headliner, then you have most likely experienced plug & play. As an artist manager, I prepare our artists for most scenarios they will encounter ahead of time. Even so, its interesting to see the stressed look on their face when they realize they aren’t getting a soundcheck.
Here is a little advise that should go a long ways in any artist career. When you are booked for a festival or multi-artist event, plan for that very scenario. Most of those scenarios only allow for shorter sets. If you can pull off your set without a stage full of musicians, then do so. Without a sound check, do you really think a five piece band will sound great? If you have some unusual piece of gear you normally play with, can you play without it? Don’t throw anything at the production crew that is out of the norm. If you do take the stage with a full band and something is whacked with the sound, are you prepared to instantly transition to an acoustic set? You should be. Making that quick transition could turn a potentially disastrous show into a great set.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. July 7, 2015 —Artist Garden Entertainment announces the signing of alternative hip hop artist, TAL (Tal Zentmeyer), to an exclusive management deal. Based in Tampa, FL, TAL shares his blend of alternative hip hop and speaking at churches, youth camps and festivals throughout the south and northeast.
“From the first video I saw on-line, I knew there was something special about TAL. His unique artful way of story telling and delivering God’s message of hope, instantly drew me in. While its difficult to put him in a specific box, TAL’s musical vision and versatility reminds me of Christian hip hop group Social Club and top selling mainstream artist, 21 Pilots.” states Artist Garden President, Keith Stancil.
TAL honed his performance skills while attending the inCharacter discipleship program and later earned both an Associates degree in Biblical studies and a Bachelor’s degree in Creative Arts of Ministry from Summit Bible College in Bakersfield, CA While serving as Interim youth leader at Van Dyke Methodist Church in Lutz, FL , TAL felt called to launch his full time music ministry.
One of the great things about being an artist manager is living life with our artists. Seeing their career grow is rewarding but watching their personal lives flourish is pretty special. This week Holly Starr announced her engagement and wedding date as the first first blog post on her new website. With both a new record on the way and the October wedding, Holly has much to be excited about. Click Here to read Holly’s wedding post.
Every musician’s dream is to play on the big stage for thousands of people. A few fortunate ones get the opportunity to play the big stage on a regular basis. Some get their shot only to blow it. Seasoned musicians know the importance of being prepared for any circumstance on the big stage. When its show time anything can and probably will go wrong. Those who are prepared will not be shaken. Those who aren’t prepared will be shaken!
Vocal Warm-Up should be done 1 hour prior to show. It puzzles me to see vocalist eschew the warm up. I would compare that to driving an automobile with no oil in it. Cars engines die with no oil. So do voices. If you have confidence that your voice is strong and sounding great, issues with monitor mixes can be easily overcome.
Always have a back-up guitar on hand. When your guitar stops working or you break a string whats your plan? With only seconds to save a show or blow a show, having a back-up enables the quick save.
Bring that extra guitar cable. Ever notice that guitar cables never go bad when they aren’t plugged in? They seem to pick the most inopportune time to cause problems which is usually during a show. Check your cables in advance and always have a back-up for a quick change.
Install Fresh Batteries. Anyone using guitar pick-ups, wireless mics, wireless instrument packs and tuners should install fresh batteries before hitting the stage. Save the old ones for rehearsals. And always have back-ups on hand.
Tracks Plan B – Anyone using tracks should have a Plan B. Either have a backup computer booted up and ready to go or be prepared to make an immediate transition into a show without tracks.
When a 911 presents itself those who are prepared are able to think a clearer and act faster. Those who aren’t prepared experience a meltdown that could potential ruin a show.
Have you experienced 911 on the stage?
Many artists hire someone to create their websites but there are many Do it Yourselfers who take advantage of the user friendly platforms like WordPress and SquareSpace to create their websites. Fortunately, I caught wind of a change the Google is rolling out that could potentially make your website invisible to those using Google Search. Google has decided to penalize websites not set up to be mobile friendly beginning April 21 which is only 7 days away.
Thankfully Google has provided a link where you can check your website to see if it measures up to the standards they will be looking for. I would encourage everyone to check your site via this link https://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/mobile-friendly/? If you website fails the test, you should put some changes in place to make your website mobile friendly. There is a free plug-in that I discovered on WordPress called WPTouch which solves the issue fairly quickly. You might also check with a website designer for additional help.
Please let me introduce you to my friend Kevin Tucker and his branding/design company Collide Creative. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to work with Kevin during my years at Word Entertainment. Kevin’s creative design and branding excellence has helped build the story for an impressive list of music artists. His design work has provided the foundation for numerous successful marketing launches from major Country & Christian record labels. Collide Creative gets our One Great Business award and I highly recommend you check them out for your design and branding needs. Kevin is based in Nashville, TN but works with clients across the US.
By Kevin Tucker
Every successful artist has found a way into the hearts and minds of those who support them. One of the major keys to engaging fans in a way that develops their loyalty, even devotion, over the course of the artist’s career. There are a lot of ingredients to the recipe for that kind of success, but a large portion of it boils down to branding. I know, you’ve heard people talk about branding so much in the music industry that it seems like it’s this nebulous, all-encompassing buzzword devoid of any definition. Does it even mean anything anymore? I’m here to tell you that it still means… everything.
But let’s set music aside for a moment. Think about your favorite consumer products or services. What makes you loyal to them? It’s likely a combination of factors, largely the promise of quality in what they offer, and the consistency in which they deliver on that promise, but there’s likely an intangible quality about the brand that you inherently connect to on an emotional level. Somehow what that brand stands for just “clicks” for you, and you sing their praises to all of your friends, even defending them to those who would criticize it. This kinship and loyalty didn’t develop through haphazard circumstance, and to accomplish that for any brand requires a great deal of expertise working together in a concerted, purposeful effort.
A brand is quite simply a reputation, and the experts in the industry who work under the umbrella of branding are those who play a part in the development and management of that reputation. That’s a big job… so it’s no wonder that the word is so prevalent. It encompasses many aspects of industry expertise in any industry, and for music it includes many fields including artist development, management, marketing, public relations, image development, photography, and design. The latter three areas are where the root of my personal expertise lies, but more on that later on. Branding requires a centralized effort in which everyone involved shares in the common goals. This is crucial for an artist’s initial launch, but it’s equally important throughout the process of promoting the artist and project. All of these areas combine to build stories around the brand and create an ongoing narrative that connects people to this brand/reputation. (As another example see Keith’s post about Nashville’s boutique jeans makers Imogene + Willie)
For the music industry, the longer-term effort is career-level brand-buildling; but the boots on the ground are typically working on one project at a time (typically an album or a tour), and usually each project has its own unique brand aspects which, though they relate to the long-term branding effort, are part of that project’s unique identity.
There are many artists out there who have leveraged branding well throughout their careers. Some contemporary examples include Mercy Me, Kanye West, Eric Church, Eminem, Katy Perry, Bruno Mars, Weird Al Yankovic, Beyonce, and Kid Rock. Odds are you find it difficult to compare that list of artists, because you don’t have an equal appreciation for their work. And that’s completely appropriate, because odds are that you’re not the intended audience for every single one of those artists. It’s crucial to know your audience… trying to be everything to everyone is a dead-end that leads to bland results that appeal to no one in a meaningful way. For example, make a list of your 5 favorite foods. Now imagine putting them all in a blender and drinking a smoothie of that every day. Yuck!
Throughout an artist’s career, they will evolve, sometimes even “reinvent” their sound and/or their look, and successful examples of this are the result of building on the established loyalty of an audience. Taylor Swift is a great current example of this – the shift she has made stylistically over her past couple albums would likely not have sustained her success without her devoted legions supporting it, and without careful attention to managing the transition and maintaining the fan base throughout the process.
Now, I haven’t talked much about design & visual brand development yet, which may come as some surprise if you know my work. But I think it’s important to talk about how visual elements work within this branding ecosystem, because there are some out there who would use “branding” and “design” as if they were synonymous, and I think that’s a mistake. Design & visual development do play a very crucial role in branding, though, for two very important reasons.
First, an artist’s image allows all of the intangible ideas about their brand to be made tangible; to provide a set of visuals that symbolize that reputation in the minds of the audience. It’s somewhat comparable to what a logo represents for a product, or umbrella brand of products, but more like the complexities of how a product is consistently represented through advertising and packaging.
Second, those visuals are frequently the first impression of an artist’s reputation, especially in this digital age. While radio still plays a big role in providing first impressions (especially in Country and CCM), more and more people are initially introduced to an artist through visuals, and this is the beginning of the relationship with each audience member. It’s often that first impression that will factor into whether the music is heard, and will accompany it when it’s shared, repeating the cycle. And these visuals, again, serve as a symbolic reminder of the artist’s brand repeatedly, throughout the development of that relationship.
In this increasingly noisy world, how can an artist stand out? In the days where music retail was one of the key first impressions for artist visuals, some would suggest that an album cover should “pop off the shelf” as compared to those around it. Even then, I would suggest that, instead, what it needs to do is connect to those to whom it’s intended to appeal in a unique, meaningful way. That may sound like a subtle distinction, but if everything on the shelf were competing with one another to jump out at you at you, we’d have nothing but screaming neon, holographic, googly-eyed product everywhere and no one would want to go into that room, let alone browse the product. But I digress… the point is that these days, there’s a drastically larger amount of visual competition, and standing out online in a world of postage-stamp-sized covers is impossible without a purposeful, targeted effort.
I’ve had the privilege through my career thus far to be charged with developing the visual branding elements for a vast variety of talented and successful artists. Each one has their own unique appeal to a particular audience. There’s no formula for success – each one is the result of understanding the goal. Speaking from my own experience, here are a few examples:
I worked with country superstars Big & Rich via Warner Music Nashville since their debut album, and have been involved in art direction & design on a total of 7 releases for them. From the beginning, these guys had a unique twist on Country music, weaving together a seemingly contradictory mixture of quirky humor and heartfelt messages into an entertainment spectacle that one can’t help compare to a circus (and who doesn’t love the circus?). As they developed and grew this reputation, I was privileged to have the opportunity to define the visuals that conveyed it and played a part in shaping it.
Big Daddy Weave are a well-established 5-piece band in Contemporary Christian Music, and their album imaging has focused on the typical rock look, with covers usually featuring conceptual artwork with less focus on recognizable imagery of the members of the band. As their popularity and relevance increased, they began to build an appeal as personalities, and on their latest album Love Come to Life, we put their faces front-and-center, and built a set of images that pair that with conceptually centric imagery that stays true to their personality and message.
Working with artists with more familiar brands has its own set of advantages and challenges. There’s no need to establish in audiences’ minds who Amy Grant and Willie Nelson are, but in the case of both Amy’s Legacy: Hymns & Faith, and Willie’s Remember Me, Vol. 1, their typical brand took a slight detour to convey the unique qualities of the project. Amy’s project took a more organic turn and a focus on worshipful music, and the value of traditions. Similarly, Willie’s project were his versions of the Country classics he most admired. Each required playing off of the respective familiarity, each with its own an artful twist.
Often I work with new artists, helping define their look and brand. As a current example, I worked with Ele – a teenage Christian pop singer with roots in the classics and a modern sensibility (and a powerful voice to boot). Her first album Your Girl helped to begin the process of building her reputation, but as her second release, an upcoming yet-to-be-titled EP, is coming together, taking a fresh look at her look to reflect her personal and professional maturity (her first album was released when she was only 13) has turned into a discussion of whether to revisit her professional name. As simple as “Ele” is (pronounced “el-ee”; short for Eleanor) is it recognizable enough to be memorable? What trade-offs would there be for alienating those who are already familiar with her as “Ele” as compared to how a new name might be a factor in building her reputation among new audiences? Tough questions, and a process we’re still discussing.
Sure, branding decisions can make or break an artist’s career, but it’s not something to be intimidated by. Any artist preparing for success is already surrounding themselves with a team of trusted experts who will guide and collaborate with them through the different aspects of this process. As the artist keeps making great music and building their reputation, the team will help manage it and introduce new people into their audience, many of whom will eventually become the devoted fans every artist seeks.
Kevin Tucker is a Creative Director in Nashville who has worked in the music industry since 1996. He helps artists, companies, and organizations bring personality to their brands in digital and traditional media through impactful art direction and strategic consulting. To see more of his work, visit CollideCreative.com.