The master singer/storyteller with the jazzy & soulful voice is releasing the new single “Turn Off The Lights” from the forthcoming album Euphoria on his independent Sophisticated Soul label.
The legendary trumpeter may have passed away in February, but his influence flows alive and well in Downing, who clearly remembers how Byrd’s appearance with his 125th Street band at a music class he took at Virginia Union University put him on the road to fulfilling a harmonious destiny.
“Back then, I was actually on the fence as to whether or not I wanted to do this for a living because it was real difficult. And they came and did a concert. He spoke, they did a concert that night and it changed my whole life,” Downing reminisced. “I was studying voice and bass, believe it or not. The bass player that was in his band was singing as well as playing bass. At that time they had a hit called…I think it was called “Love Has Come Around.” That was a big hit for them. I saw them and I said ‘Ok. [laughs] That’s what I want to do. I want to be like that guy right there.”
Byrd’s music wasn’t the only thing that swayed Downing. The jazz icon’s band was also provided the spark for the future producer to try a music career.
“I heard Donald Byrd and he spoke. I think he was teaching at North Carolina Central at the time. He spoke well. That was a big influence on me,” Downing said. “Those people in that band changed my life. The bass player whose name is Ronny Garrett and we became very, very good friends. And also a young lady who played in the band, I think her name is Myra Walker and Myra does gospel stuff now. And we became very good friends…Donald Byrd coming to my school and the band changed my whole life.”
Apparently Downing’s made the right decision as he gained a loyal following, Grammy nomination and 15 studio albums to his credit. The vocalist recently released his 16th album, “Silver,” independently on his own label.
Looking back, Downing is grateful for his success and longevity in an ever-changing industry. Especially when he had no idea he would be around as long as he has.
“I just think that certain things happen in every artists’ life that will take you or not take you to, you know, a particular place. And I’ve seen em come and go and I guess over the years, I’ve been very fortunate and I’ve made a couple of right decisions,” Downing stated as he recalled fighting “many a publicity person, many an A&R person, many a record company president to fight for what I believe musically was right.”
Now that he runs his own label, Downing is familiar with how the Internet has changed the buying habits of many listeners. In short, things have changed.
“These days you really don’t really have that much an option, to be brutally honest with you. You have about as much leverage, about as much power as any label out there. I mean that’s the joy and the pain of the Internet. You can go as far as you can endure but it’s painful. You’re competing against everything. You’re competing against everyone. You’re not just competing against companies. You’re competing against individuals,” he noted. “I think that the big picture is you can’t look at it the way we used to look at it…fortunately I came at a time and I’ve built up a career where I actually have folks that will come regardless whether or not I have a hit. They just have to know you’re still alive.”
With 25 years logged in, the singer is marking the achievement with his 16th album, “Silver.” While fans can expect “classic Will Downing,” EUR’s Lee Bailey discovered that new sounds will be present to round out the singer’s latest offering.
“This project basically is a combination of the three independent things that I’ve released over the year,” Downing admitted while alluding to his self-released “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” trilogy of four-song EPs. “I took songs from that and then recorded four other songs that are brand new. And then I took a live rehearsal, a very good sounding live rehearsal and put it on there. So I think you get the combination of some classic Will Downing and you get some brand, brand, brand new Will Downing.”
The arrival of “Silver” comes a quarter century since Downing arrived on the scene with his self-titled debut solo album. With “Silver,” the Brooklyn, NY native brings hand-picked selections from “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow.” Although die hard fans are familiar with the collection and its tune “One Step Closer,” Downing’s inclusion of the song opens a new avenue for those who may not have been aware of the song and trilogy’s initial release.
“They were collector’s items and just something to keep the name out there, let you know I’m still alive,” the entertainer stated. “I thought of releasing those when I didn’t sign the deal with my former label and I said ‘well, I gotta do something. I can’t just sit here.’ So we just started doing songs in increments. That [“One Step Closer”] was one of the songs and a lot of people didn’t get a chance to hear it. So it’s a brand new song.”
“One Step Closer” isn’t the only highlight on “Silver.” Downing’s lead single from the project, the up-tempo “Stuff That I Like,” has garnered a positive reaction among listeners as well as new place for the singer on radio.
“It sort of gave me the platform that I needed because radio is so accustomed to playing what I do in the late night hour. The quiet storm hour, if you want to use the phrase,” Downing shared. “This is probably the first opportunity in a long time where…I’m actually getting daytime play. It’s not ridiculously young. It’s not old school. So it’s right in my lane. It’s a little slight departure from what I normally do, but it’s still quality. It gave me an opportunity to sing and it’s still got a nice little beat to it. So it’s a combination of everything and it’s workin’ out.”
Known as much for his live shows as his duets, Downing decided to recreate that vibe with three live recorded rehearsals for “Silver.” As a result, the vocalist and his band made sure to go the extra mile towards injecting the same heart and quality into the recordings.
“As opposed to having let’s fake whatever happens, happens,’ I said ‘hey let’s do a rehearsal and we’ll record the rehearsal and we’ll make it real quality. But whatever happens, happens,” he said. “So we just took a performance of three songs that we all liked or loved and we went with it in a controlled atmosphere as opposed to the drunk person jumping up on the stage or the person that can’t sing in the background singing and you hearing it through my microphone.”
Will Downing’s “Silver” is available now in stores and on Amazon.com, CD Baby and iTunes.
Look for part 2 of this story later this week.
*Rewind to 1988, CDs outsold vinyl for the first time while a little known singer from Brooklyn released a self-titled debut on Island Records called Will Downing.
Fast-forward to 2013, CDs have taken a backseat to MP3s but that singer from Brooklyn has withstood the test of time. Today, Downing, the Grammy® nominated reigning “Prince of Sophisticated Soul”, celebrates an incredible 25 years of recording excellence with his16th album, “Silver.”
Silver is not a “Best of” or “Greatest Hits” collection. Silver is a personal invitation from Will Downing to his fans to jointly celebrate a quarter-century of giving his heart and soul through every song, concert and note. For loyalists that have been there from day one, it’s their Silver Anniversary.
Fittingly, Silver is a sweet combination of something “old”, something “new” and something “borrowed” – nothing “blue.” Starting with the “new,” this collection includes four fresh tracks, written by Downing and Chris “Big Dog” Davis with additional contributions from Tony Tolbert (Prof-T from LoKey?) and Gary Taylor (Anita Baker, The Whispers).
The lead single, “Stuff That I Like” – full of fun and flirty food metaphors and a beat that Steppers will find irresistible – has already been serviced to radio to great support and reviews. “What Would You Do?” rides a bouncy Caribbean feel to ask a pretty heavy question: “If you knew today was your last day…what would you do with it?” “You Were Meant Just For Me” is a sizzling duet of undeniably powerful musical chemistry with rising star Avery Sunshine, lamenting the mutual discovery of a perfect partner at a not so perfect time. “Never Find Another Love” has Downing singing through the footsteps of a man whose inner struggles force him to walk painfully yet mercifully away from an otherwise perfect relationship. Unlike 1988, songs these days rarely come from such emotional places…
Something “borrowed” comes from Downing’s self-released trilogy of 4-song EPs Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow. Today’s challenge for classic artists releasing albums independently is employing a marketing and distribution strategy that keeps your message and product in front of fans. Will hand-picked seven of those songs for Silver including “The Michael Baisden Show“ – driven hit “One Step Closer” and “The Blessing” – voted Song of the Year in the Soul Tracks 2012 Readers’ Choice Awards.
Something “old” (i.e. classic) on Silver is an exclusive “live” rehearsal recording of Will and his band performing a medley of his cover classic hits “I Go Crazy” / “Wishing on a Star” / “I Try”. Capriciously offering up playful banter and hidden flubs on this one, Will still audibly derives great pleasure from his craft.
Dreams have been fulfilled…so Happy Silver Anniversary to the “Prince of Sophisticated Soul” – WILL DOWNING!
Check out Will’s new radio single – “Stuff That I Like”:
SILVER – CD & Digital Album [WD18608] in stores February 12th.
Available on Amazon.com l CD Baby l Itunes l and indie retailers across the U.S.
*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.
Though he has never scored a platinum hit, fans can count on Downing to bring quality and craftsmanship to each release.
Recently our Lee Bailey sat down with the crooner as he gears up to perform at various venues, including JazzFest West in July. It was 1988 when he released his first album, which was self-titled, on Polygram. Fast-forward to the present and it’s been over two decades of grinding for Will. He tells us a lot has changed in that time frame.
“It’s in disarray,” said Downing of the state of the music industry. “The one thing that we thought would be around to support the industry is no longer there. People seem to not to be buying in the numbers we used to sell at. That’s very disheartening. The machine that we built is going to come back and haunt us. The music industry is so ‘disconjointed’ nowadays. People have so many different outlets to get it from that it’s suffering. Obviously, you don’t see as many gold and platinum albums as you used to. It’s almost a rarity these days to see someone’s album reach that plateau. With the advent of the internet there’s so many things for people to divert their attention to that music has almost taken a backseat.”
According to Downing, because of the Internet, and sites that cater to the crowd that loves free music, many artists are suffering.
“Years ago, when people got their checks on a Friday, they would say ‘Oh man, I gotta go to the record store and pick up that new album’,” said Downing. “The mere fact that I said record should tell you something, records don’t even exist anymore (as a dominant format). You can talk to 10 different people and they will tell you they get their music in 10 different ways or from 10 different sites. Some legally, some illegally. It’s a very interesting time.”
“I believe the internet is one of the greatest inventions ever to have been created,” he continued. “But, at the same time, it’s also one of the worst inventions ever to have been created. On the internet, everyone is in the left lane. Everyone! Everyone thinks they’re Lee Bailey, everyone think they’re a recording artist, everyone thinks they’re a know it all, everyone has a say so. Everyone is driving in the left lane, and it’s clogging up things. It’s clogging the lane for people who really have something to say, people who really have some substance to offer. There’s so much out there that you’re not even paying attention to it. Everything is momentary. 10 minutes later something else is up, and I’m probably giving it 9 minutes too many.”
Judging by Lee’s conversation with Downing, he clearly isn’t feeling the world wide web. And he has company. Especially when you consider how easy it is get free stuff on the web. stuff that’s not necessarily supposed to be free.
“For every one or two people that are successful (using the Internet as a primary business platform),” explained Downing, “I think there are 1000 people who are complete failures at it. I think I’m somewhere in the middle. I’m doing OK, but I’ve never worked this hard before in my life to sell products.”
Because he is no longer signed to a major label Downing has to do all the legwork to get the word out about his respective projects. He tells EURweb.com that he has discovered a new found respect for those behind the scenes individuals that make everything happen at major labels because now he is the “behind the scenes” individual.
“These last two EPs that I’ve released ‘Yesterday’ and ‘Today’,” said Downing. “I’ve released independently and I have a new respect for those that used to run the streets and run my records to radio stations and do the promotional end of it. Now, I’ve got my daughter and I’ve got my wife and we’re sitting here all day long either mailing things out, promoting, and trying to make something out of this thing that we have. We’re trying to make it bigger than what it is and trying to get people to pay attention to it as opposed to going to YouTube. It’s like, ‘C’mon guys and listen to the music over here! I know you can get it free on YouTube but why don’t you come over here and get the real thing?’ People can’t seem to differentiate between what they hear over there and the real thing. But they don’t really care anymore. It’s scary, and I hate to keep using that phrase, but it’s very scary and very disheartening.”
Not only is Will disheartened by the lengths to which he now has to go to promote himself and his works, but the state of the game itself. This fact was alluded to in a prior paragraph. Every so often, all industry vets are approached by a fan or aspiring musician and asked what is the secret to their success. Will tells Lee Bailey that he isn’t quite sure what to tell them anymore.
“Everywhere I go someone is asking me ‘How do you make it in the industry? How do you make it these days?’ And there used to be some kind of formula that you can say to them. But you can’t even do that anymore. There is no normal format anymore. There’s nothing. How does a person make it these days? I can’t imagine what it’s like for a young person to try to make it. People are getting found from making a YouTube video or something got streamed online. People are getting discovered that way as opposed to ‘Alright, well, let’s do a demo and send it out, have a showcase and invite people’ that stuff is almost non-existent. I don’t know how people are making it, to be honest with you.”
We’re sorry to have to do this to our dear readers, but we’re going to cut this piece short, but there’s more to come as we continue with our conversation with Will Downing. Come back for more later this week when Will tells us about his new two EPs: “Yesterday” and “Today.” In the meantime, get more info and listen to the tracks at www.WillDowning.com.