For more than two decades, Carla Williams has worked as a gospel music executive. She’s helped manage the careers of platinum and Grammy award-winning gospel artists.
A couple of years ago, she started her own company, CW Creative, and recently returned home to Wichita to start a new initiative to help area artists.
KMUW’s Carla Eckels talked with Williams about her expertise in the industry and launching The Gathering Network.
Eckels: You know Carla you’ve worked with some of the biggest names in gospel music: Kirk Franklin who’s sold the most gospel records of anybody according to Billboard. Bishop Jakes, Yolanda Adams, Donnie McClurkin, CeCe Winans. You’ve consulted with companies such as Sony Music in New York and BET Network. How did you get your start in the music business?
Williams: I’ve really been in music all of my life. My dad was a senior pastor so the music bug bit me very, very early. So, from gospel music to music in schools to classical music, I was classically trained.
And then, I would say in the early 90s at my church here in Wichita, Kan.. a pastor launched a 24-hour FM gospel station where I was hired as a marketing director. So that was exciting, to combine this great genre and a social outreach to the community here.
And from there, I spoke at a conference and I was offered a full-time position in a record company. I think it was in 1994 and so I moved to Nashville and 20 some odd years later, it’s been a wonderful ride.
Eckels: The fact that you’ve been working in gospel music over 20 years, you’ve seen a lot of changes that have taken place. There was a time when records were just going out the door, but not so much anymore.
Williams: Well, with the advent of iTunes launch in 2001, it changed the dynamic of how people access music. So people really have a choice. So it was up to record companies, and frankly in the beginning record companies scrambled how to catch up with the consumer, because consumers began to have a choice they didn’t have to buy the entire body of work from an artist.
Now in the past, an artist that would be considered veteran acts today whether it’s pop or country, R&B or gospel their fans are pretty loyal, so they will buy the body of work. But you see now with the younger demographic, they are in to singles so they may go and cherry pick several singles from several different albums. But it does not mean that they are going to fork over $9.99 for a body of work. It just doesn’t happen.
Now we’re looking at ways that fans are accessing the music. It’s not just a music purchase, but it could be an iPod or maybe it’s a tablet, maybe it’s going to a concert. So there are many, many different ways that fans are using their discretionary dollars to support music and the artists that they love.
Eckels: Not only have you worked with John P. Kee, Richard Smallwood, Donald Lawrence and the Tri City Singers, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Shirley Caesar here in the United States, You’ve also been able to do marketing abroad.
Williams: Well, it’s been real exciting for me to see the reach of this genre across the world. In fact the Norwegian countries have a long history of celebrating gospel music, Tokyo, Japan and other Asian countries, they have delegations that come from all over the world that go to places like Harlem, New York and Chicago to get an up close and personal look of gospel music.
There are fans all over the world, gospel music has a reach and has an audience and I’m very excited about how the next 10 years, of how gospel music is going to grow internationally.
Eckels: Because of your work, Carla, there’s so many people that want to work with you and have over the years, and tell us what is that like how do you decide whom you may groom in this industry?
Williams: Well, I think there’s an important distinction to make and that is the lion share of my experience has been in the commercial lane and that is to say, artists that have viability in the commercial marketplace.
Now, there are a lot of great artists out there that can sing or can play. There are a lot of artists with whom, you know, they’re not famous but they make a great living. There are a lot of jazz artists, country artists, there are pop artists. So not all roads lead to the same outcome, so while people are fixated with Billboard and the top and who’s the best just because they’re on Billboard that doesn’t mean they are even the best. It means that they have a commercial connection with an audience. They have viability. They sell records in other words.
For me, I rate the commercial viability piece to see is there something distinct about there sound and their messaging that will connect with a group of people. So those are the factors that I look at when I look at working you know, with the talent.
Eckels: You also serve on one of the Grammy committees.
Williams: I have been honored to serve for over 10 years now on the Grammy committees for gospel and Christian music. It’s a phenomenal charge to hear all of the music that comes in on a yearly basis. What we do is confirm that it is a legitimate release and so we go through those processes, but it’s been wonderful just to see the artistic offerings from artists all over the world in this particular category.
Eckels: Carla you decided after 23 years to return home and work here. Tell us about some of your plans.
Williams: I came home because I have family members that are getting older and so when you have your own business and a computer, you can pretty much work anywhere. I’m fortunate in that way to be able to come home and still to service my clients.
Wichita has a wonderful music hub and I think in the Midwest, there’s a special appreciation for this genre. I really wanted to contribute and serve this community by launching a network where we could facilitate the talent here and give them a platform for hopefully and eventually what I want, a national stage.
Eckels: So you are starting what’s called the Gathering Network?
Williams: Absolutely, an aggregation of gospel music enthusiasts, of music enthusiasts, artists, vocalists, praise and worship leaders, musicians, promoters, sound engineers, everything that has to do with the creative and the technical aspect of music.
It will launch this quarter before the spring and so we are excited about that and then shortly after that we also are going to hold auditions for a wonderful community choir .
Eckels: And finally Carla, what advice would you give to aspiring talent?
Williams: You need great professional feedback on your talent. Because sometimes your family and friends may not want to tell you the truth and before you spend your money and spend your wheels on investing, you really want to have irrefutable confirmation that you do have talent in the music area, vocally or otherwise.
Gospel music used in the broadcast version of this story:
- Kirk Franklin - Brighter Day
- Kirk Frankin - I Smile
- Shirley Caesar – Celebration
- Blind Boys of Alabama – Freedom Road
- Donald Lawrence and the Tri-City Singers - Never Seen the Righteous Forsaken
- Richard Smallwood – Total Praise
- Heather Headley ft. Smokie Norful – Jesus Is Love
- Moses Tyson, Jr. - Pray For Me
To find out more information about the Gathering Network, drop a note to Carla Williams at firstname.lastname@example.org.