One of the best indie soul albums of recent years is ‘Hopes Too High’ from MARCELL AND THE TRUTH. The band are back with a new collection – ‘Symbols’ – and leader, MARCELL RUSSELL graciously invited us to discover a little about life at the sharp end of the indie soul scene. www.soulandjazzandfunk.com accepted, and started by asking how well ‘Hopes Too High’ had actually done….
Considering on that first album most of our exposure was as a result of MySpace, just building an email base and performances, we did pretty good. We sold close to 5,000 hard copies and 10,000 digital downloads. We either won or were nominated for over 12 independent music awards for ‘Hopes Too High’. But we found out that we lost easily more than $50,000 from illegal downloads, many of which was in the ‘Steppers dance’ community. We appreciate their support, but we saw endless tables at shows in Detroit, Chicago, Phoenix, Maryland, Washington DC, and LA that were selling at least 100-200 CDs at each Steppers performance and our music was on 7-8 out of 10 of the Mix CDs created. We found out our music was placed on many dance instructional/training CDs illegally with no licensing agreement drawn up or signed by me/us. So, we learned since then the need for legal support, publishing and proper licensing. Through all the good, bad and ugly we saw we had a product that was worth selling and marketing …nationally and internationally.
What happened next?
Well, we realized after meeting with several record label representatives in the US that they were not interested in signing the band, but rather just me, Marcell Russell, as a solo artist with the option of writing and performing with the band. I personally turned down some of the offers, but since then myself and the band realized it may be best to rethink our approach. I am now a solo artist, but 90% of the time I still perform with the four guys known as the “Truth”; CJ, Austin, Mike, & Gerald. I feel we have a great chemistry making music and on stage! We have easily written an average of 50-80 songs each year. This is all with full-time jobs and performing at least 35-60 shows per year. I feel I’ve gotten our production to somewhat of a science, but promotion is still a problem!
How do you finance all your work?
Production and promotions are the big costs. Each band member put up a little more than $2,000 into this new album … the bill so far is $30,000 – and counting. I am ready to resign from my day job and go after the music full time. After trial and error, we learned that we can write, produce, engineer, mix and master an entire project for less than $20,000 and radio-ready 10 to 14 quality songs – with timeless lyrics and topics – within a matter of 3-6 months or less. But funding this alone proved physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing to me especially. I am willing to do it all again, without question if needed but would rather not. I am committed to completing 10 albums before I even think of sitting down. We are already half done with the 3rd album entitled: “The Serenade & The Sermon” so we’re looking for financial support but not just with anyone, but a great fit for them and us.
Does that mean you’d sign for a major?
Yes, if that’s best and can get us the popularity, financial freedom and notoriety, we feel we are worth. Honestly, we can work with a major distribution deal, record deal, etc… as long as it works for both sides. We are even open to signing with a label overseas and doing the work here if we must as long as they can offer us the budget, we can have it finished within months & provide reports to show how we are fulfilling our obligations & responsibilities on this end.
But what about your artistic independence?
I do enjoy being an independent artist only in regards to the “freedom artistically” but I see that “freedom is not free” and the cost of freedom sometimes is extremely difficult. My only issue with a major label is I don’t want to write only “trendy music”. We want to write timeless music that will be played for years to come in folks’ homes & the radio…music that’s difficult to date, but easy to enjoy, some songs thought-provoking, some simple and playful, some heart-wrenching & some light and seemingly thoughtless but most of all songs that will be relevant throughout the ages. I hope one day to find a home that will financially support my goal and vision.
What exactly is your goal?
I am interested in being the next “Big man” in music, not just soul music but R&B, Jazz, Spiritual, Soul, Neo-Soul. What do I mean? Luther, Donny Hathaway, David Peaston, Freddie Jackson, Peabo Bryson, James Ingram, Stevie Wonder…I feel many of the “pure” voices are missing or nil. I feel the industry is looking for more of that “grown man” presence right now more than ever (not too old or too young, I’m 33yrs old). Many of the R&B pop artists are growing beards. Many of the radio station listeners of adult contemporary radio stations in the States are getting younger and younger with more of a desire for “real” songs with compositions, changes, bridges, vamps, arrangements, and relevant lyrics. It’s getting popular to grow up. I feel I have that, and with these 4 guys in my band, we can continuously bring that for at least another 10-20 years. I honestly believe that. I want to be the next “Voice” of my time.
How is the New Album – ‘Symbols’- doing?
Well, after a month, almost two now, we have been getting a cheque from CD Baby alone, weekly, sometimes twice a week from the sales. It’s been a month and we are getting ready to re-order another 1,000 CDs, hard copy. We have received 4 magazine write-ups, 3 newspaper write-ups, and 6 on-line reviews with extremely high marks and recommendations since October 2009. Our digital downloads are 3 to 1 over our hard copy sales. We have done 4 shows and sold out at each facility (the average place holding 250-400 people) in the past 2 months alone. If we sell less than 10,000 hard copies and less than 30,000 digital downloads, we will be shocked. Keep in mind we have minimal distribution, mainly CD Baby, UK stores, Facebook, and My Space for promotions. We have a new manager, actually, she was the very 1st manager I ever had and we recently reunited. I’m excited about her being back.
Find out more about MARCELL and THE TRUTH by going to www.marcellandthetruth.com.