By Bob Marovich
While her friends were listening to the singing stars of the day, a young Tracy Williamson was just as interested in who was producing the music, and how they did it, as who sung it.
She charted the careers of legendary producers like Quincy Jones, Berry Gordy, Sean “P Diddy” Combs, and—closer to her Chicago home—Chicago Mass Choir producer and vocalist Percy Gray Jr. and her mother, Chicago Mass president Dr. Feranda Williamson.
Her music business education continued while serving as A&R and label director at Tyscot Records, where she gained additional wisdom and inspiration from label leadership Dr. Leonard Scott and Bryant Scott.
Then, ten years ago, Tracy launched her own company, Tre7 Entertainment, to develop, manage, promote, and launch new gospel artists. In her first book, she shares the fruits of her many years in the gospel industry.
The book, Own Your Moment and Take the Stage: Laying the Foundation for a Successful Music Career, was released September 23.
“Over the years, I came up with various tips to help artists,” Tracy told the Journal of Gospel Music. “I called them A&R 101 Tips, and I wanted to put them in one book.”
As the title suggests, taking the stage is a major metaphor in the book.
“Before you can take the stage,” Tracy explained, “you have to hold yourself accountable to what you are doing, how you are doing it, what you are finding out about the industry, and the research you are doing. A lot of things can happen once you hit the stage. Not that you can’t learn in that moment, but with accountability, you won’t fall on the stage.”
Tracy’s tips are the product of good artist decisions as well as what she‘s seen artists fail to do correctly. She believes two particular challenges to gospel artists are a lack of long-term career vision and sound financial acumen.
“Artists can step out too soon,” she reasoned. “I’ve seen artists who did not have the funds to help themselves outside of what the record company provided them. I’ve known singers who thought that a record company would pay them a full-time salary outside of the royalties!”
Tracy said that in an era of YouTube-fueled instant fame, artist development is more critical than ever. Just because a singer or musician can make waves with a video, she said, doesn’t mean they have what it takes, or the endurance, to tackle live performances and touring.
“Being an artist is really is a 24/7 job,” she said. “Hours can range from two in the morning to seven at night and into the next morning. You are always on call, whether it’s an interview, sound check, concert, rehearsal, or recording studio time.”
While Tracy believes in the importance of social media, she urges artists to not discount good old fashioned grassroots promotion and marketing. “People want to see you, feel you, touch you, know who you are, and you can’t do a lot of that through social media. It only goes so far.”
Even established artists need continued development. “We can feel comfortable that we’ve made it, we’ve arrived,” she said. “But in any industry, the moment you sit down and relax, somebody will come up and take your spot. So don’t get too relaxed. You have to stay in the game and stay relevant. I don’t mean you should settle with whatever people say, but be relevant to your audience. Kirk Franklin, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, Hezekiah Walker—they are still trying to stay relevant.”
Tracy believes the biggest challenge likely to face gospel artists in the coming years is authenticity.
“When we compare ourselves to mainstream or secular artists in terms of what they are wearing and what they are singing,” she explained, “we may lose what we have, which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is what our music is based on and, in such a rush to be like everybody else, we can’t forget that part.”
But she adds: “Just because you sing about God doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go through artist development. I don’t care what genre of music it is, you need to be driven and consistent to be successful.”
Nevertheless, Tracy remains encouraged about the future of gospel music. “The main reason is because of our foundation. If you put God first, He will do the rest, just as the Word says. Plus, we have so many new artists out. For a long time, there were just a handful of top artists, but now I can think of about 30 new artists who are doing very well.”
The response to Own Your Moment and Take the Stage thus far, Tracy said, “has been great! I recently had some people tell me they read the entire book, have taken notes, and are buying the book for people who want to be in the industry.”
She plans to continue promoting the book in Chicago, around the country, and at industry events. She also hosts the Artist Stage Radio Show on Rejoice 102.3 FM every Tuesday at 8:00 p.m.
“I didn’t write the book for someone to read it all the way through necessarily” she said, “but to take it with them along their journey. In fact, there’s an artist’s journal in the back so they can keep track of their own learning.”
To that point, Tracy urges gospel artists to not discount the journey, no matter how difficult it can be. “Don’t be embarrassed about the disappointments,” she said. “That’s what helping make you the artist you are becoming. It takes time to grow, time to mature. When things happen too quickly, you might not learn what’s going on. You might not appreciate it as much. So have patience, because you want a strong foundation so you don’t fall off the stage.”
For more information about Tracy Williamson or to purchase copies of Own Your Moment and Take the Stage, visit www.tre7inc.com. The book is also available for sale at Amazon.