Gospel Rises Again

These soul-filled sounds aren't only lifting up spirits, they're raising new business opportunities

Franklin’s debut in the fall of 1993, the Lataillades knew that their Sparrow/EMI distribution deal would insure they had sufficient product at retail outlets. However, with no capital to support a major marketing campaign, they developed grassroots methods of creating awareness and demand for Franklin’s album.

Borrowing on what she learned from veteran gospel artists, Mack-Lataillade put her connections to work and sent Kirk Franklin & the Family out on a church tour, where “love offerings” were taken up by the congregations to pay the performers. Help also came in the form of staff let go from the black music divisions of major labels, who provided information and research. “A number of those [marketing, publishing and business administration] people came to work for us for free, in the evenings or on weekends,” explains Mack-Lataillade. “It took us three years to break Kirk’s first project, and by the time it hit [the urban market], we had spent a great deal of our money already,” she adds. “We began to realize, though, that our wealth wasn’t in the money, but in the knowledge and resources we had gathered.”
It may have taken a while for GospoCentric to break the group in, but they hit in a big way. “We knew something was happening when WGCI [radio] in Chicago told us they were getting more requests for Kirk Franklin than for Mary J. Blige,” says Mack-Lataillade. “An album that we estimated would sell 30,000 units ended up platinum.”

Their second album, Whatcha Lookin’4, released in 1995, went platinum in less than a year. Its success paved the way for Claude Lataillade to start B-Rite Music, a second, more youth-driven label. “Our reason for starting the second label was to have a vehicle for more cutting-edge gospel,” he explains. “To do that we needed to have a strategic partner for reaching urban youth. Interscope became that [partner].”

It was through B-Rite that Franklin realized his more radical music offerings and produced the 1997 platinum-selling album God’s Property From Kirk Franklin’s Nu Nation. It held the No. 1 spot on both Billboards gospel and R&B charts, and entered the pop chart at No. 3. Its debut single, “Stomp,” a celebratory rap, became a staple on R&B and pop radio stations, while the video went into rotation–a major marketing coup–on BET and MTV.

Starting a record label is costly. The success of the Lataillades’ labels is not typical of most gospel independents. More often, these labels have rosters with three to seven artists who’ve sold less than a million records altogether.

Some entrepreneurs have achieved success by launching businesses attached to gospel music. Shiba Freeman Haley worked as a concert and events production manager for 10 years before partnering with Louis Bond, a friend who was launching a record production and artist management company in 1990. It was through this partnership that she began working with Yolanda Adams, who signed a management contract with Bond’s company right after the 1991 release of her second album, Through the Storm

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