of the major labels to either acquire or create distribution deals with existing independent labels. Sparrow Records (BeBe Winans) was purchased by EMI, while Word Records (Shirley Caesar and Anointed) was bought by Gaylord Entertainment. Others like B-Rite Music (God’s Property) signed distribution deals with the likes of hip-hop label Interscope Records. As a result, labels that previously had trouble getting their product into national retailers are now receiving prime placement through their relationships with larger music companies.
A LABEL OF THEIR OWN
Two entrepreneurs at the forefront of gospel’s explosion are Vicki Mack-Lataillade and husband Claude Lataillade, owners of GospoCentric and B-Rite Music. Six years ago, Mack-Lataillade, who’d worked for 15 years as an independent marketer on projects for Andre Crouch, Tramaine Hawkins and Whitney Houston, launched GospoCentric with the specific intention of bringing new sounds and voices to gospel music.
“The No. 1 music among youth is rap, and the churches tried to pretend that it didn’t exist,” says Mack-Lataillade. Unable to convince major labels that it was possible to create music that praised God while appealing to the musical inclinations of urban youth, she developed the kind of spiritual music her own children would like.
To launch the label, Mack-Lataillade pooled $10,000 from a variety of sources, including her dad’s retirement fund. “We couldn’t get loans from traditional sources because no one believed it would work,” she r
ecalls. Undeterred, she began building her label’s roster, signing Kirk Franklin, then a 22-year-old, Dallas/Ft. Worth choir director with a reputation for creating radical gospel song arrangements, as her first artist.
“Kirk was very young and he reminded me of a lot of other penned-up kids. I said, We slowly but surely have to let him be who he is,” says Mack-Lataillade. With this philosophy, the Lataillades helped Franklin shape his debut album into one of traditional gospel music that incorporated cutting-edge elements of the artist’s style. The project produced Franklin’s first hit single, “Why We Sing,” a richly layered, call-and-response ballad.
While working on Franklin’s album, Mack-Lataillade struck a distribution deal with Sparrow Records, which placed GospoCentric’s product into Christian bookstores, still the primary retail outlet for Christian music sales. When EMI bought Sparrow in 1992, it began distributing GospoCentric releases to secular music chains. “That Ideal] was really important because it happened right around the time we released Kirk’s first album,” says Mack-Lataillade. “It meant we weren’t just relegated to the Christian market,” adds Claude Lataillade, a former software engineer, now CFO of the label.
Distribution, however, was only one of many challenges faced by GospoCentric. Without the financial backing of a major music company, the Lataillades had to be extremely creative and driven about promoting their label’s product. “We put together a network of churches and pastors, and researched the market to find out who wasn’t being reached. We also read books like Economic Empowerment Through the Church [Zondervan Books, $17.99] by Gregory Reed,” adds Mack-Lataillade. The couple also talked to veteran gospel artists to learn what they did to survive.
When GospoCentric released