Chicago native, Tracy Williamson is a Gospel music veteran with over 10 years of professional music experience. Recently, the Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner had the opportunity to talk to Tracy to get her thoughts and insights on her company, Tre7 Entertainment, as well as her desire to help Gospel artists succeed!
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner- Good afternoon Tracy! It’s a pleasure to speak with you today. Tell the Baltimore Gospel community a little about yourself.
Tracy Williamson– Well, my name is Tracy Williamson and I am a music industry executive. I am also an A&R [Artist and Repertoire] consultant/specialist in Gospel music. I have worked in Gospel music for roughly 14 years or so in various areas mostly in the record company business. I worked for Tyscot Records for about 7 years in the areas of A&R Director, Marketing and also Label Director. I have also worked on different television shows as far as assisting with artists from the BET Awards. I have also worked on the Grammy Awards.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– You received your degree in Marketing back in 1999 from Northern Illinois University. Tell us a little bit about how things started to happen for you back in 2000 when you started to work with Debbie May. How did that come about?
Tracy Williamson– Well, it was right after college and it was the normal situation where you graduate and you are looking for the job. At that time, I think that the average salary was between $30-40,000 for a college grad and everyone was getting a job but me (laughs). I was getting a lot of interviews and I am sure that I was not the only one but it was a sad time for me but I knew that I had to keep pressing. The area that I wanted to go into was the music industry and gospel music was the genre that I wanted to go into. One day, on my journey, I was pressing and being driven, I reached out to Debbie May, whose information I found on the back of Kirk Franklin’s God’s Property CD. I blindly called her and expressed to her my desire and what I wanted to do in the industry and literally, just like that, she said that she would hire me to work street promotions for her. At that time, Debbie was working for Al Wash Entertainment and people may know of Al Wash who was the head of a lot of huge tours from around the country. I was working street promotions for the Fred Hammond concert tour and Iyanla Vanzant, when she first came out. [Iyanla] was doing a few tours and I was doing promotion for that. For me, at that time, it was huge because that was my first doorway into the industry and I was just grateful! So, literally, it happened with a phone call and [Debbie] not knowing me and that was how it happened!
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– Why was Gospel Music the genre that you wanted to work with?
Tracy Williamson– Well, I am saved, I am a Christian and I love Jesus Christ literally with all my heart! I grew up in a Christian home and also I was also surrounded around Gospel music from day one. My mother, she sang in the church choir every week. In fact, she is actually the president of the Chicago Mass Choir, Dr. Feranda Williamson. As a result, I watched a lot of Gospel music being developed growing up. Another reason I wanted to work in the Gospel industry is because of the message and how the message impacts lives. I have a strong belief in giving to people, by any means necessary, when it comes to knowing who Jesus is and following Him and being saved. Gospel music does that! The music not only encourages but the message in the word encourages as well. So, that’s the main reason why I have chosen to work in this genre, to make an impact and to save souls.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– How did you make the transition from working for a label to starting your own company?
Tracy Williamson– Well, honestly, it was huge step of faith! It was hard for me because it was semi sad because I loved Tyscot Records and also because I built a rapport with the label and they became my family. But, when God is tugging on you and He was letting [me] know that yes, [Tyscot] was a huge opportunity for [me] but I have so much more for you. It was hard but I knew that it was a step that I had to make and trust me, it was a lot of prayer going on. It did not happen overnight. I doubted myself. I doubted if it was God and if it was time. I also did a lot of saving of money beforehand, being practically wise, which I think we should all do. We hear God but also be wise! He doesn’t want us to do things haphazardly. A lot of doors opened but God was dealing with me and He was showing me how I was and I think that was the whole purpose for that so that I could see who I was holistically and not just basing it off of one situation that was afforded to me during my journey.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– Talk to us a little bit about your company and the struggles that you have had to face in starting your own company.
Tracy Williamson– The name of my company is Tre7 Entertainment and it is a full service Gospel music entertainment company meaning I offer services from A&R to marketing, promotions and publicity. I also provide services for artists who are looking for national distribution by branding them and building them to the point where they can link up with a major situation, whether it’s a label or a distributor, to push their music out further than where they are, than where they can go. I am a huge advocate of artist development and I would say that what makes Tre7 significant is my desire to see artists excel, totally excel! [It is not just about] selling records to sell records but to see [the artist] understand their gift and how to develop it over time how to make short term goals and long term goals so that they are not just stuck in one area of their music career but how they can make this work further down the line. Those are the things that I provide with Tre7. It hasn’t been easy. Being an entrepreneur, you actually work more and you do more things than I would say when you work for someone else because You have to make sure that the bills are being paid and that the money is coming in. Even if you have a team working with you, it still falls you and on the on the company. There have been challenges. [For example], you don’t always keep the client forever so you are constantly seeking out and gaining new clients and developing new relationships and at sometimes that can be a challenge. At the same time, however, your brand is building along with the client’s name and their brand. Being an entrepreneur is always a challenge but it is a great thing because you learn how to grow as a person and you learn how to network and find out what else is going on in the industry.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– So, tell us about the name Tre7. How did you settle on the name for your company?
Tracy Williamson– Well, Kevin, I could give you a real deep answer but I really don’t have one (laughs). My name is Tracy and in college, people called me Tre. [The company name] is just a play on words. The number 7 means completion and it is a great number and we want to be complete in everything that we do. So, [Tre7] is a combination of my name and the number 7.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– Who are some of the artists that you have worked with over the years?
Tracy Williamson– Well, I have worked with quite a few artists with Tyscot as well as with my company. From the early years at Tyscot, I was working with Vashawn Mitchell when he first started and he is doing really well right now. [I have also worked with] The Rance Allen Group, DeAndre Patterson, who was out of Chicago, the Chicago Mass Choir, Shirley Murdock, Troy Sneed, Damita Haddon, Deitrick Haddon, Jonathan McReynolds, Brian Reaves from Indianapolis among others. I also got a chance to work with Kirk Franklin and Fred Hammond on The Rance Allen Group’s Live Experience Record. I also had the opportunity to work this year’s Celebration of Gospel event! I learned a lot because I have never worked that event before.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– One of the things that I like that Tre7 does is your weekly A&R 101 tips. How did that come about?
Tracy Williamson- The A&R Director position is one that I have held in the past. In that role, I worked with an artist from their current project to their entire catalog throughout their career, whether they are on the label or not. Honestly, it kind of goes back to when I was younger, around 12 years old or so, when I found out what kind of person I was and the gift that I had which was bringing the best out of people and helping to develop people. That has helped me because I am now developing artists. Once again, I am a huge advocate of artist development. [A&R 101] came about because of the information that I have had for years and wanting to share it with artists. For one thing, there are so many independent artists out here and I see so much going on and so many projects being recorded and sometimes mistakes are made and sometimes they are not. So, it is a desire to want to get the information out there for those that are looking to start a project or are in the process of it or those that have made the project and looking to start over. The tips are trying to help those to use wisdom with recording their projects and building their careers and if that is the case, prior to, so that [the artists] do not make mistakes over and over again. I have a desire for artists to be developed holistically and not just one sided.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– Where do you see Tre7 going in the future?
Tracy Williamson– When people mention Tre7, they know that artists who have come through our company have truly made an impact, not just in Gospel music, but in the community and beyond with their music. I like to call the music of the artists who are connected to me anointed and driven. Obviously, it is anointed and ordained by God that this is what they should be doing but also creating music that is constantly growing. The overall company and even with myself, I would like to have more major connections with major events, industry events both gospel and secular. I would like to get more information out there about gospel artists and events through different speaking engagements and panel events because there are a lot of people out there who know about the gospel genre. People know certain artists like Mary Mary and Marvin Sapp but there are other artists who have been in the genre for a long time that people don’t have a clue about. There are opportunities out there for these artists to have a platform. I am not saying that they should crossover but allowing them to get in situations where they can have lives changed and people saved through their music.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– What advice would you give for those artists who are trying to break into the business or those who want to start their own company?
Tracy Williamson– For artists, they should first pray and see if this is something that you should be doing. Second, get clarity. Next, do your homework and research the Gospel music genre that you are trying to get into. I would suggest that people get some music industry knowledge so that you can make sure you know what you are talking about when people approach you or you approach them. You also need to have some drive to get out there and start building your brand. It is also important to test the market to see where they may need to make changes if you need to switch up your team or those who you are working with. Definitely, test the market before you record a record and before you put a single out on iTunes. Test the market to see if people even like you. I think that that is so important. After that, they will get a better idea of where they should go from there. I would say the same thing for someone who is looking to start their own business.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– How can people check out what you are doing?
Tracy Williamson– People can check me out live on the Atlanta Radio Station 860 AM every Thursday and Friday morning. I am also on the Gerald Montgomery Show every Friday morning live in Chicago where people can hear me do A&R101 tips. They can also follow me on Facebook and Twitter (@TracyWilliamson). I will also be in Atlanta during the 2nd week in August. So, I will be doing some travelling and building the brand to help get the word out so that people can become better artists.
Baltimore Gospel Music Examiner– Thanks so much Tracy for taking time out to talk to me today!