One of the big news stories of 2013 was the launch of the Motown Gospel label. The label was announced on April 2 as a joint venture between Island Def Jam/Motown & EMI Gospel. Motown Gospel officially kicked off that night with a gala press reception and artist showcase at the Arc Theatre which doubles as One Church in Los Angeles. The show was streamed to 180,000 on Yes Lord Radio featuring performances by Gospel best sellers Smokie Norful, Tasha Cobbs, Tye Tribbett and Kierra Sheard. Superstar CeCe Winans was simultaneously announced as the labels first signing and Aaron Lindsey was named VP of A&R.
The label has wasted no time in releasing music from its coveted roster. Fourth and first quarter priorities include recently-released projects from Micah Stampley, Tasha Cobbs and Tye Tribbett. 2014 will see new projects from Sheri Jones-Moffett, Anita Wilson, Paul Porter, Kierra Sheard, Smokie Norful, Myron Butler, Gene Moore, Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago, and VaShawn Mitchell. Platinum-selling/multi-Grammy-winning artist CeCe Winans’ first new album in more than five years is slated for a summer 2014 release.
According to Larry Blackwell, VP, General Manager, Motown Gospel plans to take full advantage of both the traditional and social media resources necessary to expose its artists. “For us, radio is still the number one driver for sales consumption,” he says. “It’s exciting that in January some charts will officially change to include downloads and streams to better reflect what fans are consuming. It is one thing to get a song played at radio. It’s something else to have people spend money to own it or to stream it on You Tube, Spotify, iTunes Radio, etc.”
Even with all of the digital assets currently available, building a base at Gospel radio is still a crucial piece to the campaign says Blackwell. “That still remains our core. If the song warrants crossing or spilling over to Urban Mainstream then you have a good chance to increase sales and broaden the base. A recent example is with Tasha Cobb’s hit anthem, ‘Break Every Chain,’ which was #1 on Billboard’s Hot Gospel Songs chart for seven consecutive weeks. With help from the Island Def Jam promotion staff, we are currently working the song at the Urban Adult format.”
Have Gospel buyers warmed up to digital music purchases over physical CDs? “Historically the Gospel base has been slow to change configurations but, yes, collectively we’re working that way. For example, Tye Tribbett’s new album Greater Than is selling more digitally than physically, 52% to 48%.”
Another important component for Blackwell and the label to utilize is the growing list of shows such as BET’s Sunday Best and the network’s annual Celebration of Gospel special. “Those types of show move the needle probably more than any other ‘Gospel’ shows on TV,” he says. “TV One and BET’s Centric are also creating programming for Gospel artists to reach a wider audience.
“Additionally, Universal [Music Group] was extremely helpful in presenting an opportunity to showcase Tye Tribbett on a mainstream platform,” Blackwell continues. “Tye recently did a showcase in New York City that featured new and developing Universal artists. Tye was the only Gospel artist featured and I can tell you he stole the show. Several opportunities have popped up directly as a result of that performance simply because Universal gave us a shot and Tye delivered.”
Not only have the accolades started to roll in for Tye but for many of the artists on the label. Motown Gospel artists received a total of nine GMA Dove Awards nominations for recording artists Tasha Cobbs, Anita Wilson and Charles Jenkins & Fellowship Chicago. On October 15, Tasha Cobbs won in three Dove Awards categories, including Contemporary Gospel/Urban Album for her Top 5 Billboard album Grace.
More recently, Motown Gospel received two Soul Train Award nominations for Best Gospel/Inspirational Performance for recording artists Tasha Cobbs and Tye Tribbett. Tye won the award. To top that off, Motown Gospel received 20 nominations for the upcoming 29th annual Stellar Awards in Nashville on January 18, 2014. Tye leads the way with eight, Tasha receives seven nods and VaShawn Mitchell earns two. Grammy nominations were recently announced with Tye receiving 3 nods, and Tasha getting 2. The show airs January 26.
With a dozen or so artists to manage and more releases to come, Blackwell says the transition has been busy but tolerable. “Universal Music Group has been fantastic in the transition. From day one they have embraced us with open arms. The announcement showcase certainly helped. EMI Christian Music Group, now Capitol Christian Music Group (Motown Gospel is part of CCMG), is the market share leader in Christian music. And now Universal, by way of the acquisition, immediately becomes the market share leader in Christian music.”