*Last week we published part one of Lee Bailey’s conversation with R&B crooner Will Downing.
The smoothed out soulful singer gave us the breakdown on how he feels the Internet has cut into the profits of artists, and he also spoke on the state of the music industry. In this offering Downing tells us about his plan to remain relevant as an independent artist, despite the modern pitfalls.
“Your project is your demo for promoters,” Will told Lee. “That’s the way you support yourself these days. The physical product that you have in your hands? All you’re doing with that is telling someone that you’re still alive, you’re still worth something (and asking) ‘Can you hire me?’ That’s it! You end up giving away more than you’re actually selling and what you do sell will not sustain or support you financially for a long period of time.”
Wow, seems pretty harsh. But, hasn’t that always been the nature of the beast called the music industry?
“I don’t know if it’s always been that way because we all knew some people who somehow sold enough records to acquire a royalty,” he explained. “If you legitimately had a smash record, 60 years from know you would still be getting a check. Now, everything is momentary. You sell what you can sell, get your hands on whatever it is you can get your hands on, and whatever you do with it that’s it. ”
The industry is a cruel, fickle beast, is it not? But, asked Lee, if the game is so jacked up why not trying something new?
“This is what I know how to do and I do Ok with it,” said Downing. “The live shows have sustained me for the last 20 so3mething years and fortunately I have a fan base and we’ve kind of grown up together. So when they come see me they know they’re going to get some quality. That’s what I’ve done for the last 20 some odd years. It’s damn near like a sing-a-long. I’m doing alright. I ain’t complaining one bit!”
Well, we’re glad he’s not complaining. For a minute there it looked like a there was some complainin’ goin’ on. Will’s not just some grizzled veteran waxing and waning for the good ol’ days. He’s actually making moves to counteract what he feels is the short attention span of the modern listening audience. Honestly? It’s not a bad idea. Check it out.
“Let me see if I can clear this up for you a little bit. Remember when I told you about the Internet and people listening then forgetting? Well, I was a victim of that on the last LP I released, which was entitled ‘Lust, Love and Lies’,” Mr. Downing explained. “I put all this work in to this album and I put about … what I considered, 12 really good songs on there and it kind of got lost. It had one single that did really, really well, then we released the second single and we did okay with it. Then people were kind of like ‘alright, well now I’m on to the next thing.’ We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on this record with promoting and all this other stuff and it just kind of got lost.
“What prompted me to make the (new project) this way is I got a phone call from a friend of mine who lives in the Baltimore/DC area. She called and said ‘Oh, I just heard your new single on the radio’ and then she prefaced it by saying ‘When’s it coming out?’ I’m looking at my telephone and I said ‘It’s off the project that you have.’ Then she says ‘You know what? I only listen to music in like 30 second increments now and then I kind of move on to the next thing.’ And it just made me think like, ‘You know what? I’m giving y’all too much music. You can’t even absorb the music that I’m giving you, It’s too much. I’m going to break this project down into a 3 part series with each part having 4 songs.”
There you have it! The solution to being lost in the media static as a recording artist? Release as music as you can, as often as you can.
“The first project came out in November and it was entitled ‘Yesterday’. ‘Yesterday’ was four remixes. There was ‘Ooh, Baby, Baby’ by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, ‘Send for Me’ by Atlantic Starr, Angela Bofill’s ‘This Time I’ll Be Sweeter’ and then I did the Delfonics ‘La La Means I Love You.’ That was part one. Every four months I’m going to release another project. In February, I released a project called ‘Today’, which is four Will Downing songs done in the style, and in the way, that you’ve known me to do what I do for the last 20 some odd years. In June, I’m going to release something called ‘Tomorrow’ and that’s going to be four original Will Downing songs with a twist to it. Something you’ve never heard me do before, or something that you haven’t heard me do in a very long time. Then, in October, I’m going to put them together and add a couple more songs and we’re going to call the whole LP ‘Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow’.”
It’s so simple, it’s genius. Pure genius! (*Wile E. Coyote voice.*) But releasing more music means Will and the fam need to hustle triple time to get the word out. A double-edge sword if we’ve ever seen one.
“You’re going to hear from me all year long,” he continued. “It’s not going to be when the single dies, the album dies. Every time you turn around ‘Damn, Will got another one out?’ I don’t care. You’re going to know that I’m alive and well. I used to complain all the time. ‘You’re not doing this and you’re not doing that’, but then when I had to do it own my own it’s like ‘Oh my gosh! This is exhausting!’ There’s so much work that sometimes you forget that you’re a recording artist. It’s like ‘Hey, I gotta work, I gotta sing.’ But it’s like ‘Make sure you be over here, make sure you call this radio station, call this promotion guy.’ It gives me a new found respect.”
Though the promotional hustle is an arduous task, Downing says it’s actually not THAT bad.
“You never get used to it because it’s ongoing. In a warped sort of way, it’s painful but a lot of fun. I’ve been singing 20 some odd years and it was basically, I record the music, we take a picture and somebody else runs with it. You never get to find out the inner workings of what you do.”
For the most part, the outlets from which Downing is able to get love are independent record stores and outlets. While he’s able to eat off those guys, it would be like Thanksgiving everyday if he were able to get a major retailer to carry his product. But, as an indepedent artist, that has proven impossible.
“I’m finding a very warm reception,” said Will of the smaller distributors. “Obviously, with your bigger chains, no. Your Walmarts and your Targets, they’re not interested in taking projects that are not major, major projects. Or, what they’re doing, is they’re doing deals exclusively with the artist. Like, the last Boys II Men record was exclusively with, I can’t remember if it was Target or Walmart. They’re doing deals now so they don’t want anyone from the outside coming in and doing deals taking away from their personal business. Did you ever think you would have a store that’s into everything that’s now in the music business making deals? It excludes everybody else. It is exclusively for Target or Walmart. You won’t find the product anywhere else but in their stores. Folks that I know, they don’t go in there to buy CDs. They go in there to buy refrigerators, stoves and microwaves and you just happen to walk by the CD or DVD section while you’re waiting for someone else.”
Well, if we might be so ignorant, what exactly is wrong with that scenario?
“It doesn’t work when you look at the numbers,” he explained. “It works for them because it doesn’t cost them anything. Hell, it’s like you buy the refrigerator and get a free CD. They throw that into the price of their refrigerator. It’s going to get so bad that they’re going to start saying ‘What is the use of having a section like that? Hell, I can put a stove over there. Why have a section like that. Nobody’s buying them. Let’s get rid of that all together. Let’s expand our computer section or our phone section’.”
Okay, so if it’s that bad then why would any artist agree to it? Well, why do most people agree to anything?
“Up front money to sweeten the deal,” he responded. “Suppose they say ‘I’ll give you a half million dollars to carry this record in our stores exclusively’. It’s sweet If you can get it, If you’re in the upper echelon and I don’t consider myself in the upper echelon. The numbers say I’m not. Talent wise? Yes, I’ll pat myself on the back. Numbers wise, no. You know how this industry works. Numbers and talent don’t necessarily go hand and hand. Just because you sold the most records doesn’t mean you’re the best artist. Let’s not get that twisted either. It’s the only industry I know where two and two don’t really add up to four.”
Color us a little confused. How aren’t the numbers working? In his hypothetical equation Downing states a hypothetical half million would be offered, that’s on top of any points from the album sales, we’re assuming. Sooooo….what’s not to love? While we contemplate that equation, and you contemplate whether Wile E. Coyote actually had a voice in the cartoon (he did), go ahead and log on to www.willdowning.com for more information on his upcoming releases, tour dates and you can listen to some snippets of his music as well. This project is sure to soothe the savage beast … and it won’t blow up in your face either.