Category Archives: Music Industry

Musings on the mainstream music scene

Put your Black life in music – NOW.

Nobody liked *Colin.

What made things particularly ironic was he was such a nice guy.

Colin was sales manager in a company I worked for in the 90s, and back then (I don’t imagine it’s any different now) sales was hard.

Horrid

Put it this way: if sales were a girl she’d be the little one from the nursery rhyme: when she was good, she was very, very good, but when she was bad, she was horrid.

Which brings me to Black Lives in Music (and, yes, you’d be quite right to ask what any of this has to do with BLiM).

To answer that question, I need to give you a bit of background for context. Here’s a quote from their website’s ‘About’ section:

‘Talent is distributed evenly, opportunities are not!

Black Lives in Music addresses the current inequality of opportunity for black people aspiring to be artists or professionals in the Jazz and Classical music industry…

Representation matters, we need to take action together and create a level playing field for everyone to have an equal chance to succeed…’

While this extract flags people working in Jazz and Classical, make no mistake: this affects every Black person working in music in the UK.

UK Gospel: Sheltered

Where you pitch your tent on this will be directly influenced by your experience and relationships in the UK music space.

I think we’re relatively sheltered in the UK Gospel music scene – because we’ve had to bootstrap our way to any successes we’ve found over the years. (Caveat: I admit this is a broad generalisation and I’m sure it’ll be challenged by many).

As a result we have an hyper-insular and comparatively self-sustaining marketplace (such as it is).

Awkward

However, that isn’t to say that there aren’t uncomfortable, inconvenient, awkward, monolithic, elephant-in-the-room questions that need asking, like:

  • How come there aren’t any Black-owned major media organisations in the UK Gospel space?
  • Why aren’t our biggest radio and TV stations in Black hands..?

Like I said: awkward.

Racism

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not suggesting there’s anything untoward or underhand going on.

The underlying structural and socioeconomic issues that brought us here are complex, and the easy draw of the racism card is the least nuanced, least intelligent answer to the question.

What gets measured…

What it does do is bring us nicely back to Black Lives in Music. And funny enough: Colin.

One of the reasons people didn’t like him was because he had this saying: ‘what gets measured gets done’.

When mid-month numbers started showing our month-end sales target was fast becoming a myth, he began by asking what everyone’s current priorities were.

And that was uncomfortable.

Why?

Well, we were all bonafide experts in our relevant spheres and could fully justify whatever projects we were working on. And typically those justifications would be sound.

  • However, the fact still remained that we were adrift of our team target
  • And if we didn’t hit it, the company didn’t make money
  • And if the company didn’t make money, we didn’t get paid, talk less of earning any bonuses

So: nobody liked Colin‘s essentially neutral, spotlight questions:

  • What are you working on?
  • Does it directly help us hit our target this month?

They were annoying, self-evident truths that required we temporarily park whatever priorities negatively impacted the bottom line, no matter how much fun or interest we might have had in them.

Allegory and parable

Don’t read too much into this story: I’m not telling it as an allegory for Black music in the UK.

  • It’s not even a parable with hidden meanings to be deciphered by the favoured few
  • What I want you to take away is this: what gets measured gets done

You need to *do something*


And that’s what Black Lives in Music is trying to do: start with a qualitative and quantitative baseline – a measurable catalyst for proper and lasting change, if you will.

  • This is about your story: hard data that reflects the reality of our shared, lived experiences in Black music here in the UK
  • You can argue with anecdotes, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore evidence that data provides

‘You can argue with anecdotes, but it’s virtually impossible to ignore evidence that data provides..’

To quote Colin:

  • What gets measured gets done

So if any of this has inspired you in some way to be part of creating a compelling narrative that will genuinely and empirically shape the future of the lived professional music experience in the UK, you need to *do something*.

  • Tell your story by taking the Black Lives in Music survey (link below)
  • Do it now
  • Get your Black life in Music
  • I’ve done it, and it doesn’t take that long to complete at all

There are only 4 days left (I’ve been meaning to write this for weeks)

*Colin is his real name 🙂

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Black Lives in Music

More from Yinka’s Head

AStepFWD Vocal Masterclass – Feb 2021

New or experienced vocalist? AStepFWD puts you in front of  the very best UK music industry  professionals this weekend

Get tips, techniques and practical information to transform your vocal game

  • Priscilla Jones, whose experience in vocal coaching includes working with celebrities such as Annie Lennox, JLS, Rita Ora, The Saturdays and flawlessly singing live in high-pressure professional situations like ‘Strictly Come Dancing’
  • Mark Delisser: if you’ve watched any major TV vocal talent show in the past 10 years you’ve seen Mark’s work: he’s worked as the vocal coach on ‘The Voice’ UK, alongside coaching the UK entries for the Eurovision.  He’s also featured as vocal coach on the BBC’s ‘Pitch Battle’, ‘This Is My Song’ and ‘The Naked Choir’
  • Lurine Cato needs no introduction to many in the scene. A multi-MOBO Award recipient and nominee, Lurine was also the official 2018 vocal coach on ITV‘s Good Morning Britain ‘Sing It To Win It’

Get your ticket

Learn more about the vocal masterclass

AStepFWD Songwriting Masterclass 2021

The best way to create songs that change the world? Get tips direct from people that have done it!

If there ever was a ‘drop everything and get your ticket‘ event, this is it.

AStepFWD have leveraged their incredible Christian music industry contact list to put on a unique gathering of top-of-their-game, world-renowned creatives for a live songwriting masterclass

Powerful line up

It’s an impressive, powerful list of artists who between them have written several mainstay songs for the global church: Noel Robinson, Matt Redman, Jake Isaac, Martin Smith, Graham Kendrick, Lou Fellingham, Wale Adenuga, Lucy Grimble, Nick Herbert, Les Moir, Nicky Brown and Donna Akodu.

Format

The Songwriting Masterclass sessions takes place online, delivered in a variety of formats from panel discussions to 1-on-1 interviews, all designed to provide opportunities to tap into the knowledge and experience of the speakers.

  • Date: Saturday 30th January 2021
  • Time: 11:00am – 4:30pm (room open from 10:45am)

UKGospel 2020 – State of Play

‘State of Play’ specials return after 4 years, celebrating landmarks and anticipating trends…

Introduction

February is the month I cast an eye over the previous year’s trends, events and general happenings in the UK Gospel scene.

The last time I did anything this extensive was in 2016, and back then there was an incredible amount to get truly excited about.

2016 Vibe for 2020

2020 already has that same exciting vibe, building on the scarcely believable heights reached by people like Karen Gibson & The Kingdom Choir‘s global exposure and Samm Henshaw‘s ‘Happy’ meme (from his song ‘Church’) being Giphy’s 4th most popular GIF of 2019.

We also saw projects involving people like Mark De-Lisser and Ken Burton become BBC TV staples, and experienced the bona fide resurgence of Grime music in the London scene (more on that in a bit).

International

2019 was also the year we saw a landmark collaboration between one of American Gospel’s living legends, Fred Hammond and one of UK Gospel’s best known (and hardest-working) female artists, Sarah Teibo on the remix of ‘Like a Child‘.

  • Even as I write this, this weekend all roads lead S.O.‘s huge homecoming concert in London, his first (and possibly only) UK concert this year since he moved to the USA back in – yes, you guessed it – 2016

Jermaine from The Sound Doctrine has an eyewitness account of the event.

  • Staying with the USA connection: while they’re not active on the UK Gospel scene it’s always good to see Brits do well over there: Harmony Samuels is making seriously big moves, and the roster of artists Mr Damention is working with since he moved to the USA is also very impressive

Europe

The African Connection

Great ‘Mainstream’ Songs from Christian Artists

The debate around whether Christian artists should create exclusively evangelical (or at least overtly Christian) content is unlikely to be resolved this side of heaven.

In the meantime I thought it’ll be interesting to launch this new series examining what actually happens when people who profess the Christian faith actually record music that – to coin a phrase – doesn’t ‘have Jesus in every line…’

No Answers

I don’t claim to have any answers – if anything I find I’ve ended up with more questions as I ponder this issue.

But one thought I keep returning to is this:

If we Christians were a bit more accommodating of our creatives who – by the very nature of what they do – bare more of their thoughts and souls than the rest of us are naturally inclined to, then perhaps many of them won’t opt to ‘go secular’.

If we’re being honest it’s fair to say we’re constantly pushing (perhaps the word should be ‘stifling’) our artists by being tacitly prescriptive and cornering them into a ‘either/or’ choice regarding the flavour of their art.

Quite often – arguably more often than we’d probably care to admit – life is grey.

Surely it makes more sense to let the gifted use their gift to articulate this experience…?

Just a thought.

Anyway: on with the series.

This time: Samm Henshaw, Jake Isaac and Happi

Samm Henshaw

From Samm’s wikipedia page:

Samm essentially found his love for music and learned to play instruments in his church pastored by his father, where he developed his abilities further.

Alongside gospel artists Helen Baylor, Fred Hammond, Israel Houghton and Alvin Slaughter, Henshaw is said to have spent his childhood devouring mainstream pop music, from Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson to Usher and N*Sync.

Henshaw pinpoints his biggest vocal inspirations as D’Angelo, Paolo Nutini, Lauryn Hill as well finding songwriting inspiration in Grammy award winner Frank Ocean.

Showcase: ‘These Hands’

Samm Henshaw Spotify profile

Happi

From Happi’s website:

Happi is one of the new and vibrant talents emerging out of the UK scene.

Hailing from the heart of North London, Happi has successfully merged his afro/urban background, trendy pop sounds and a positive message to create his own musical identity.

Showcase:The Introduction

Happi Spotify Profile

Jake Isaac

From Jake’s Facebook ‘About’ page

Born and raised in south London, UK, Jake began playing drums at the age of 3 and during his school years taught himself to play piano and bass guitar.

By the age of 16 he had completed his grade 8 drums at Trinity College London, and had begun teaching the instrument.

At 19, whilst studying marketing at university, Jake had begun to make a living as a part-time session musician playing drums and bass on various jazz and rock records for a variety of international artists, including the Grammy-award winning Duffy.

Marketing manager by day, songwriter and session musician by night, Jake began working with artists such as Cynthia Erivo, Gabrielle, and boy band Blue.

Showcase: ‘Carry You Home ft J.P. Cooper’

Jake Isaac Spotify profile

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Reasons Why Sarah Teibo’s Number 3 Chart Position is Brilliant News for UK Gospel

A couple of minutes before I started writing this I checked the top 20 Official UK Christian and Gospel album charts for this week (beginning 8 July 2018).

They Own The Place

It looked incredibly familiar in its (almost depressing) inevitablity: the usual suspects were gathered in the charts, occupying the space like they own the place.

And let’s face it – if we’re going to be honest, they kind of do: the trendy, relevant youth band (in Hillsong Young & Free) is at number 1 with III.

HYnF itself an offshoot of its mega church parent band, Hillsong Worship, in lockstep with its sibling by coming in at number 2.

Big-Name Bands

Then there are the big-name bands like Rend Collective (with one spot in the top 10, and four – yes, you read that right) in the top 20.

Skillet have three albums in the top 10, plus the perennial residency of compilation albums (always hard to ignore due to their generic, built-in mass appeal), in addition to the other big church fare from Elevation Worship and Bethel Music filling out the rest of the top 20.

Behind the Curtains

For industry geeks like me that like to peer behind the curtains, the presence of the record labels behind the releases is just as important: Hillsong Music, Warner Brothers, Atlantic Records, UMTV and Integrity Music are in the mix.

Bitter and Twisted

And before this starts to read like I’m some bitter and twisted Gospel music fan with an axe to grind, ranting about churches that have the power to leverage sheer member numbers to get their church songs into the charts – or that I’m railing against big label acts taking up valuable chart space that can go to UK gospel artists: I get it.

This is a numbers game – the only winners are those who can get as many people as possible to buy as many albums as possible.

Sarah Teibo

Which brings me to Sarah Teibo: she started back in October 2015 and is now on her second album, Keep Walking.

Over that period she’s become a multi-nominated, multi-award-winning artist, selling out her (self-organised) headline events.

She’s put the time in, working with some of the best people Gospel music has to offer both here in the UK and internationally (you can’t have missed her single ‘Like A Child (Remix) featuring Fred Hammond, right…?)

And to put this all into context:

  • She’s married, a mum of two, working full time
  • And she’s number 3 in the Official UK Christian and Gospel music charts. That’s the official music charts. The national charts
  • All this has been delivered without any major label support

And all this has happened in a niche sector like ours, arguably notorious for delivering more hyperbole than products that can genuinely trouble the charts.

Aaaaand also done in a space where you don’t get as many women as we probably should.

And the reasons why this is brilliant news…?

What? You mean apart from the fact that she actually did it??

  • Well: in the first instance, it shows our largely independent scene what’s possible
  • Everyone can rest assured that when people like me keep banging on about the fact that anyone with the right amount of knowledge, drive and tools can do this, it’s not just wishful thinking
  • Thirdly, there’s no doubt signing to a major label has huge benefits, but that should still be a significantly less attractive option for anyone who is serious about what they do
  • Fourthly: you DON’T need to belong to a church with a huge network of people to make national top 3 in the official charts (although it’s no doubt 100% helpful)
  • Fifthly: let’s have more of you lot in the charts! Find out what it takes to make it – and go for it!

P.S. (I looooooooove Hillsong Y&F, by the way)

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MOBO Announces 2017 Gospel Category Nominations

MOBO 2017 Nominees

MOBO Awards announces the 2017 Gospel category

Earlier today the MOBO Awards Gospel artist nominees were shared with the world via a Premier Gospel radio exclusive broadcast.

Nominations

Fave new video series: Rachel Kerr and her husband on Music, Business and Marriage

I love music documentaries.  I love their whole behind-the-scenes, expository vibe.

And it’s no big secret that I’m a huge fan of the UK Gospel scene too.   Plus: I’ve especially got a lot of time for Rachel Kerr and her husband, Ayo. 

Doing what they do in an industry like ours with its restrictive boxes, impossible expectations and unrealistic comparisons requires broad shoulders, tightrope navigation, thick skin and singular focus.

Pilot

So I was rather chuffed when I found these elements converged in the pilot of their new reality series: Music, Business and Marriage.

According to Ayo’s message via WhatsApp: ‘it’s meant to be insightful, inspirational and a little bit funny. Would love to get feedback’.

Well, I started watching on my phone, standing outside the station waiting for my wife to pick me up for the short ride home.

A New Favourite

I’m now sat at home, fully dressed and still watching.

It’s possible I’ve just found another fave music documentary series…

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Why You (Still) Need Radio in Your Life (By the People Who Should Know…)

Radio (Blue)

Think about it – in this age where you completely control every aspect of your audio consumption experience, why do you still need music radio..?

I’ll be honest: before I started working in radio I had very little time for the medium.

There was a perfectly valid reason for that, too: these days we’ve potentially got all the music we’ll ever need on demand. And chances are we’re not getting the vast majority of that selection via radio.

We’re completely spoilt for choice, with easy access to free (and paid) download services, and to media streaming via any number of platforms, most of which are (for the moment at least), also free.

Continue reading Why You (Still) Need Radio in Your Life (By the People Who Should Know…)

When “Christian Artist” Doesn’t Mean “Gospel”

Today’s guest post is from Jendella Benson, a photographer, filmmaker and writer, as well as member of the UKGospel Team who you may have heard previously on one of the UKGospel podcasts.

In this post she writes about finding her place as a Christian artist in a secular world.


 Cross_Image

If there is any part of the Christian life that is a dense grey area of debate and contention, it is how Christian artists should respond to the fact that they are Christian and creative.

When it comes to the realm of “the gospel” and “music” and “gospel music” in particular, a lot of people have a lot to say about it and I know many young Christian creatives who have been burdened by this expectation.

Back when I went by the name ‘Jeni Diamondz’ (I promise you, I was good!)

I was once a young idealistic Christian music artist, with zeal oozing from my pores and a world that seemed quite easily black and white.

Almost everything that I wrote was fiercely evangelistic, grime and hip hop were my pulpits and each eight bars was a Bible-thumping testament to my zealous faith.

I don’t despise those days at all as they played a big part in making me who I am today, but when life got a bit more complex and grey began to smudge the boundaries that seemed so obvious before, I found myself disillusioned with my faith and falling back bit by bit until the mic was firmly attached the stand and I was no where to be seen on stage.

I can’t even count the number of my friends who this happened to, let alone the number of young enthusiastic Christian artists in general, and it was only a year after graduating from my visual arts degree that I finally felt like I understood the intersection of my faith and my art.

Out of the Abundance of My Heart My Mouth Speaks

It was a couple years early, but I was in the depths of a quarter-life crisis. What was I going to do with my degree in design and photography? What course of action should I take?

After interning with both a photography charity and a commercial photographer’s studio I could clearly see where the money was – advertising and fashion – but I was conflicted about working within an industry that at times felt very shallow and like it contributed to a lot more of society’s problems than it solved.

As a Christian I knew that I had to do something meaningful with my life, something that would leave an impact of Grace and Love upon my world, but becoming a missionary or pastor was definitely not the answer.

After months of soul-searching the answer came to me, and not in a flash of inspiration but through a drip feed of realisations. I won’t bore you with the lengthy narratives and internal monologues, but here is the quick equation:

Christian Living = Dying To “The Flesh” = (Living) Sacrifice = (Active) Service

Now the thing about service is that we can’t all be serving in the same area, because that would be pointless and frustrating. Imagine going to a restaurant and all the waiters and waitresses are all serving the same five tables in one small section while the rest of the restaurant goes ignored – ridiculous, right?.

We already know that as a body we all fulfil different roles and functions (1 Corinthians 12) so when it comes to our service (or “ministry”, if you prefer the term…) surely this is obviously the case as well?

While some may find their place of service in writing amazing worship songs to be sung in churches up and down the country, others may find their role delivering music in a more secular arena, for example. There’s nothing wrong with either approach as long as you’re in your lane and your heart is right.

A couple weeks ago presenting a film at my first solo exhibition.

For me as a (now visual) artist, dying to my flesh meant rejecting the easy cop outs (staying inside the Christian community) or the draw of money (ADV£RTI$$$ING!) and running with the social justice orientated project on young mothers that had been weighing on my soul for years.

I picked it up and ran with it and every scary decision that has come with it.

“How can such a project be Christian, or be seen as preaching the gospel?” Well, arguably it can’t and isn’t.

But Christianity is not a list of brand regulations that need to be adhered to. It is a life of faith that seeps into everything we do because it is a life lived, not a logo to be stamped.

And by that fact alone the values of the gospel, such as empathy with those who are rejected or marginalised, compassionate justice in place of wrathful judgement and everything else we know to be true, are displayed authentically in whatever industry/scene/sphere we find ourselves in, and the creative industry needs it as much as any other.

“Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” – Cesar A. Cruz


Jendella has been working on the Young Motherhood project for the past nine months. You can find out more about it here and here.