Sun04202014

Business

State of the music industry

Mr. Dell
Keelyn Ellis
Erika Pearson
Mr. Del, Erika Pearson and Keelyn Ellis represent some of the best that Memphis has to offer. All three are making serious moves to keep Memphis on the forefront of the entertainment business.
Carlee McCullough

With Black Music Month in mind and a desire to analyze the state of the music industry, we sought out the opinions of some of our rising stars. Mr. Del, Erika Pearson and Keelyn Ellis represent some of the best that Memphis has to offer. All three are making serious moves to keep Memphis on the forefront of the entertainment business.

Mr. Del has helped create a subgenre of music called “Holy Hip Hop” that is light years away from his beginnings as a former member of Three Six Mafia. As the president of his own label, Dedicated Music Group distributed by Universal, he calls the shots and controls his own destiny. But with other artists signed to him, he is breaking ground as a label owner.

Erika Pearson is a rising entertainment industry executive mentored by Jean Riggins, former President of Black Music at Universal Records. Having worked with Drumma Boy, MJG & Eightball, she is a mover and a shaker and one to watch.

Keelyn Ellis wrote the theme song for MTV’s “Making the Band 4,” a music reality show. The song was the first hit single for the platinum group DAY 26 and earned Ellis his first gold record. His success with Bad Boy Records has afforded him the opportunity to work with some of the music industry’s most notable artists such as Diddy, Mario Winans, Nicole Scherzenger, Loon, and Keyshia Cole. Keelyn’s music has also been featured on “So, You Think You Can Dance”.

Carlee McCullough: What is your opinion of the current state of the music industry?


Mr. Del


Keelyn Ellis


Erika Pearson

Mr. Del:
It is on life support. The industry fought against technology and now they are trying to play catch up. But it is too much, too little, too late. Now they are looking to real musicians such as Bruno Mars, BOBs and other authentic musicians to turn this thing around. A&R and Artist Development has pretty much been scrapped. The industry is looking for the artists to do it themselves before the labels will invest in an artist. This is smart on the label’s end.

Erika Pearson: It is a trailblazer’s field. Now is an exciting time. Artists like Wiz Khalifa have used technology to gain notoriety internationally without major label support. He is independent and his team has put in work in a non-traditional manner. But there are so many gaps in the technology that these kids are on point with everything.

Keelyn Ellis: Music is in a peculiar place right now. It is in transition and will be rocky while it finds its center. Overall it is good but could be better.

Carlee McCullough: What is your opinion of the current state of the music industry in Memphis?

Mr. Del: There doesn’t appear to be an industry in Memphis. It left with STAX. Because of the morality of artists here, there can’t be an industry. You need unity, camaraderie and respect and that is not here now.

Erika Pearson: Memphis is ripe for change right now. We can connect to the past with STAX but we have a new age type of producer that has come up out of the city.

Keelyn Ellis: It is the same as nationally. It is in transition and is developing. The people are growing, people are more enterprising. People want to come here for more than just Elvis. They want the soul. That’s why it is important for not only me to be here but other artists and producers as well, so that we can lay the blueprint.

Carlee McCullough: What is the current state of radio as compared to the past?

Mr. Del: On a national level, radio is literally programmed. They are programmed to give us what they think we need to hear instead of what we want to hear. That is why we will hear the same song five times in one hour. Radio should be an eclectic mix of a genre. Growing up in the 90s as a teen, hip hop was so different: NWA, Tribe called Quest, Ice Cube, KRS One.

Erika Pearson: Memphis Radio plays Atlanta artists so our local artists feel like they don’t have a chance. Our artists have to get played in Atlanta and in other markets. That definitely has to change. But on a national level, we have less radio stations that are African American controlled. So therefore the big machines control everything and push their artists and their products. Consequently that leaves us out of the mix.

Keelyn Ellis: Radio plays a major role in the music that we are trying to get out. Unfortunately, I don’t think enough of Memphis music is getting radio play in Memphis. Memphis is not getting enough of its own. But let me recognize Johnnie Walker and what she is doing with the Music Commission and exposing Memphis music on radio, television, and the Hard Rock Cafe. We need that here and more of it. If I just wrote a hot song, I want a platform to test it with my peers immediately. That is important.

Carlee McCullough: Where do you see the music industry 10 years from now?

Mr. Del: I believe independent, underground and subculture artists are going to make the industry thrive. The music industry as we know it will continue to crumble. The music will be fine but the industry itself has been on life support for the last 10 years. Music is wide open for musicians that create their music, press it up and get it to their fan base. I consider the industry to be the corporations that give loans and rob the artists of their music. The music industry is the only industry that you can pay for something and not own it. When I am on a label, I pay for my master, but I don’t own it…the label does. You pay for a house, you own it. But that concept does not transfer to the music industry.

Erika Pearson: Most artists will be independent. People will be doing their own thing and with the encryption technology it will be exciting. Because you will get to see more real art since the music will truly be in their hands rather than in the hands of the major labels. We will get to see real music again.

Keelyn Ellis: I see the industry really going back to its roots of real music. You can feel it now. Overtime, music has been “dumbed down” because the sound is produced by a robot rather than a real person. So it has lost the feeling. But people are getting tired of that and we are going back to the days of Willie Mitchell and Al Green, Otis Redding, etc.

Carlee McCullough: What does an artist/producer need to do in today’s music industry to make it independently?

Keelyn Ellis: It is more personal when you are independent because you have to take on the majority of the work load to make it happen. Instead of having the major machine behind you with marketing and advertising dollars, you have to clearly define what success means to you. You have to give 100 percent.

Mr. Del: Walk your dogs. Get it out there. You have to get the people at home to like you first. Do the local clubs, churches, talent shows. Then let word of mouth work from there. It is a growing organism.

Carlee McCullough: What does an artist/producer need to do in today’s music industry to get signed to a major deal?

Mr. Del: Have great product because the industry is starving for quality. Work the Internet.

Erika Pearson: Start in their backyards. The industry is not allowing artists to develop anymore. To be at the top of the game, they need to come already developed. So we need more programs in our city to help these artists develop. They need a community where they can communicate with established producers, publishing houses, etc. But ultimately, like my mentor Jean Riggins told me,…You have to have HOT MUSIC and HIT RECORDS! Push the single instead of an album.

Keelyn Ellis: It is all about presentation. The climate with record labels is not the same as it was 10 or 20 years ago. With this economy, many labels are downsizing because of the technology. So you have to already have your product ready. They want you to have most of the work done and a following before they take on the risk. You have to grind hard independently before they will take a chance.

NOTE: Join us next week when we discuss Music & Money.

(You may contact our participants at the following: Mr. Del: myspace.com/ mrdelholysouth; Erika Pearson: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; Keelyn Ellis: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

(Please send your questions to Carlee McCullough, Esq., Contract Compliance Officer, City of Memphis-Office of Contract Compliance, 125 N. Main St., Suite 546, Memphis, TN 38103 or e-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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