Tell me a little bit about your background. Where are you from, and how did you get started in music? I’m southern Cali, born but raised on both the east and the west coast, between Los Angeles and Washington DC. I’ve been interested in music all my life. My mother would put me in a basket as an infant and take me to various concerts. As I got older, I loved to sing and dance in front of the fireplace for my mother, sisters, cousins, and grandmother. I first picked up the bass guitar at 12 or 13. My uncle Lou got me a Fender Precision Bass for Christmas. At the same time, my cousin Gordon got a telecaster guitar and drum set, and we started a band called ‘Ace’ in junior high school.
Describe your voice. I’m a concept singer like George Clinton, Bootsy Collins or Steve Arrington, or something like that. I’m not a singer’s singer like Stevie Wonder or Anthony Hamilton (HaHa). I wish I could have an iconic vibe like them.
When did your professional career begin, and how did it happen? I’ve been in many bands over the years. I went to high school with members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers (Flea, I knew him as Michael Balzary, Jack Irons, and Hillel Slovak) at the time; they were in a group called Anthem with Alain Johannes. Anthony Kedis was around but hadn’t gotten involved yet with the fellas. I was in a group called Star with Ray “Big Blunt” Myrie (now frequent bass player with Barrington Levy). There were other bands around at that time, like Fishbone we all were interacting with each other here and there. After that experience, I knew I wanted to make music as a career.
So I started hanging out with my brother-in-law Charles Fearing (session guitar player, member of Barry White’s Love Unlimited Orchestra, and member of Ray Parker Jr and Radio). He took me to many sessions where I experienced other players of the day, like Louis Johnson, Bootsy Collins, George Duke, Ready Freddie Washington, Patrice Rushen, Tina Marie, Berry White, Freddie Perrin, etc. This experience was an eye-opener as well. I then was in a few more bands ‘O-Ace’, ‘Blue Unit, and a group called ‘Spoiled Brat’ with Bobby Womack’s nephews Binki Womack (now solo artist) and Meech Wells (now producer with Snoop Dogg). After this experience, I teamed up with my Junior High buddy DeYon Dobson (who has many movie music supervisor credits and writing/producer credits) as a Producer team under the name “DeBaddi.” We went on to produce a couple of songs for The Gap Band and remixes for various projects, including ‘Family Affair by Shabba Ranks and Patra’ for the movie ‘Adam’s Family Values. After this, I took a huge break to raise a family with my wife, Linda.
Do you face any challenges as an independent label owner? The major challenge is promoting the record with no budget and getting radio play on traditional radio stations. Thank goodness for internet radio, podcasts, etc.; without these lovely folks, I’d be completely invisible. The music industry has undergone many changes from the late 80s until now. Before, I wouldn’t have been able to put out a record unless I was signed with a major label or an indie label backed by a major label. But now, with our online distributors, creating your own destiny is a bit easier. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still a struggle if you don’t have the funds to pay for the basic stuff.
In your opinion, what does it take to “make it” in this business? You have to have a true love of music because if you're in the business just to get paid immediately, you might be wasting your time. I do this because I love to create music that I love, music I grew up on, then share my vibe with family, friends, and possibly fans. I just love music, that’s why I’m in it.
In your opinion, what's the best and worst part of being an independent artist?
The best part of being Independent is that you can do what you feel. I remember major labels telling me to do a song like this artist or that artist. Like saying can you do a song like Beyoncé or The Weekend, etc. ya dig? I’d just say to any artist, “just be you and do what YOU feel” Don’t intentionally follow others like that..and if you do, then really make it your own thing, ya know? I make songs sometimes reminiscent of other things, but I never set out to clone other people's stuff.
Have you ever released a song that you thought would be a major success but didn’t do as well as you expected? Tell me about an experience you had like that. Well, I thought the songs we did for The Gap Band would be a springboard to bigger and better things. But there were complications with the label and the artist then, and the label mixed the record on their own, so we had no real control of the outcome. So, I was very thankful for the opportunity to do the project but was disappointed with the outcome. The experience made me not wanna do music production anymore. That was around the time I took a break for a while.
Do you have a daytime job, or is music your full-time job? By day, I’m an art director for the film and television industry. Right now, music doesn’t quite cover the bills. Maybe someday. ( smile)
How important is it that your friends and family support your music by purchasing and downloading your single? How crucial is their support for the success of your career?
Support is super important. If you’re diggin’ the UnBossed album and would like me to do another, the support is very important. It pays the other musicians, engineers, mixing, mastering, distribution, promotion, etc. If artists are not supported, getting a band together and tours is difficult; musicians must be paid for rehearsals, rehearsal spots, show dates, etc. Gone are the days when you have 7 to 9 members in the group; they all live on a shoestring budget, and nothing happens. Everyone must be paid.
How do you feel about the concept of likes and dislikes on an artist's social media music-related post? Is that an accurate assessment of the artist's talent, worth, or ability? I’d say no. If you don’t like someone’s music, there is no need to trash it for someone else who may like it. I believe beauty is in the eye of the beholder. That system discourages listeners from exploring new music based on the number of likes it gets. I’d rather read a review from a reviewer I’ve ascertained who has a similar taste to mine and trust that rather than go off of likes alone. Everyone is different, and everything isn’t for everybody, ya dig?
What have people who have heard your music say about your vocal style that sets you apart from other vocalists? So far, I’ve had very positive feedback on the UnBossed album. Personally, I do not view myself as a real singer; I just like to have fun with whatever I do.
What would it be if you could speak to your fans from your heart and tell them one important thing you want them to know about being an independent artist? I’d say just be you and do it from the heart. Don’t let current styles guide you. Just be who you are.
What advice would you give to new artists entering the changing industry? I’d say get into it because you love music first. Fame is fleeting, and so I would do this just for fame. Do it for the love of music and creativity; if you get paid along the way, that’s a bonus side effect.
What would it be if you could speak to DJs from your heart and tell them one important thing you want them to know about being an independent artist? Everyone is different, even DJs…they have to be who they are and play what they like…sure they listen to their audience too, but if they are like me, they LOVE music, and they gotta go with what they feel.
How would you describe your music to those who have never heard it before? My music is Jazz-Funk-Soul with an R&B twist. I don’t think it has an exact BOX you can put it in.
Do you write and produce your own music? Yes. UnBossed was produced by DeYon Dobson and myself. We, along with others, wrote all the songs on the album.
What does it feel like to be an Independent Artist? Share your heart with our readers.
It feels empowering. I like having control over how I express myself. From my music to my videos to my image, etc. I like that I can be me instead of a major label's creation of whatever they think I should be.
How do you prepare yourself mentally for public opinion (either positive or negative) when you’re preparing for a new song release? You can’t worry about it even if you are sensitive. Some people just wanna tear everything down, but I don’t feed into that; it’s not my energy.
Have you ever felt so discouraged in this business, for whatever reason, that you just wanted to throw in the towel? That happened to me in the 90s. I did take a step back because of it. It took me a moment to realize that I just had to be me. For your greatest project is yourself…just be who you are… just be you.
How many singles/albums do you have out presently, and what is your favorite album/song to date? That is a super tough question. I love to do many different things for my listening pleasure, so I can’t answer that. My current release is the album UnBossed. My first single was ‘Fired Up!’ with an official music video. My second single is ‘Hold On’ which features Tim “TiO” Owens and has an official music video. The singles will be ‘Emotional’ and ‘Action,’ with music videos. ‘Action’ is a special song I co-wrote with my son Ryan; it’s about his mother and me.
Tell me about your latest album/ song and what was your inspiration behind it. Is it out now, and where can people buy it? UnBossed is from my heart, feel good music… good you the soul. I just did music that made me feel good. The latest single is ‘Hold On, ' available digitally everywhere. If you have a streaming service, that’s cool but be sure to download a copy too, preferably from iTunes or Amazon, and support independent artists. I love the support! Thanks! Love, happiness, and respect to everyone out there (smile)
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Photo Credit names of all photos submitted
Vernon R. Heard at The Perfectionist Creative Consulting