My career as an independent artist evolved out of my career as an entrepreneur and restaurant owner. I moved to from my hometown of Boston Atlanta in 2013 and opened my soul food restaurant Soul Delicious Grill and Buffet in Morrow, GA. I hired the gospel/soul group Joseph Wheeler and the New Praise Band to play there regularly. I would joke with the musicians that I used to sing and was thinking about getting back into it. More or less as a hobby/sideline, I started a label, Entertainment Plus, LLC, hoping to sign artists. At the same time I started working on demos with the amazing Rodney Edge of Edge Music, who has toured with Anita Baker and worked with After 7 and Kelly Price.
Each year, my restaurant hosted an employee appreciation dinner concert to showcase local artists, and I would take the stage to perform a new song I wrote. Starting in 2014, I started performing one original song each year for several years, and in 2018, when I sang “A Storm Is Coming,” I realized I had a solid catalog and contacted promoters who requested an EPK. I got back together with Rodney and we fleshed out the original track. We started all of this in May of 2018 and before I knew it, I had three albums and four singles. I have learned so much about engineering and recording music from Rodney. He calls me a sponge, and has helped me develop my ability to get inside every task in the studio and learn the process inside and out.
Early on, I would sing “off whack” and so I am grateful for what he taught me about autotuning. I also learned the importance of knowing your strengths. Mine are as a performer and executive producer, working with those who know how to bring out the best in me. When I heard Rodney’s full production, it gave me confidence in all of my talents as an artist.
Here are some things I have learned on my journey that you may find helpful:
1. No matter how good you think you are or how great your song may be, stay in your lane, keep your head on your shoulders and listen to the expertise of others who know more than you about the recording process and marketing.
2. Have respect for everyone you work with and especially for other artists. If you get into an ego driven artist battle scenario, you’ll just make yourself look bad and everyone will remember that for a long time. Relationships are everything. Once you put a bad taste in people’s mouths, that doesn’t go away. And likewise, if someone talks smack about you, that can harm your career.
3. Vocal-wise, you have to pay attention to the details and be objective about your performances. Acknowledge when you’re singing too high or too low, and learn the range you voice can handle. Don’t try to force beyond your comfortable level. Also make sure the music on the track is balanced with the vocals. If it’s not, people will listen for four seconds and turn you off. It’s important to learn the best way to maintain that balance and the level of sound.
4. Because they want to be kind, people won’t always tell you the truth about how they feel about your music. So look for signs, like if people you know, or anyone really, are adding your songs to their playlists or listening when you’re not in their presence. My 25-year-old son never talks about my music, but when I heard him listening to one of my older tracks without him knowing I was nearby, it meant everything to me. I knew my songs were having an impact.
5. Enjoy your experience in the studio but please take the music seriously and get every detail right. You have to be 100% be committed to your tracks and your career in general to get to the next level. That’s just the beginning. Once you learn to work well with a team behind the boards, you will be ready to work with promoters and others who can help take your career where you want it to go. Commit to learning and growing every step of the way.
6. Whether they’re socially conscious or personal, political or just to get people to enjoy life and party, write songs with a message that people can identify with. You never know when and how it will touch a person’s life or meet a global moment where what you sing could save lives. Pay attention to what’s happening in the world and how that touches your own heart, and use that for inspiration. And keep writing. Not every song is going to be great, but if you write a lot, you will find the ones that you know will rise to the top. With streaming, if you don’t release at least one song every 90 days, people are gonna move on.
7. If you believe in yourself and what you want to accomplish, you will invest in yourself. You may have to go broke and borrow money to make things happen, but it’s worth it – as long as you pay back what you borrow when you start making money. If you’re discouraged along the way, don’t give up. Weigh your thoughts about abandoning your dream against how much you have done and invested so far. Because you don’t want everything you’ve done to be for nothing when you have so much on the line. Also, look around for better people to work with, people who can help you and who believe in you even when you’re having a crisis in confidence.
About the author:
A true socially conscious Renaissance man for our time, Darrell Kelley has been an unstoppable creative and grooving force of nature since getting back to his first love of music and dropping his debut album Unity in 2018. Fusing his passions for gospel, pop, dance and R&B with a deep-seated voice for social justice, the ultimate multi-tasker - singer, songwriter, spiritual leader, author, entrepreneur and activist – has created a powerful platform for a unique array of messages, ranging from drawing attention to key political issues and thoughtful spirituality to simply making the most of our lives and having a good time.
For those just getting immersed in all things Darrell, the Atlanta based artist is focused on three new visually and musically compelling new videos showcasing the colorful, provocative and deeply soulful range of his artistry. Directed pointedly at the NRA’s ongoing attempts to block common sense gun laws and background checks, the searing R&B ballad “Because Of You” is a call to arms addressing the tragedy of gun violence in our schools.
He sings plaintively: “Did you hear the children screaming?/Did you hear the children crying?/Did you see the children running?/Did you see the children dying?” He follows those lines with, “Tell us what you’re going to do.” The clip intercuts images of students, gun explosions and Darrell leading a team of protesters wearing “Stop Gun Violence T-shirts.” It was inspired by an interview CNN’s Don Lemon conducted with a student who survived the 2018 Parkland High School shooting. Darrell was moved when the boy looked straight at the camera and singled out the NRA, saying, “What are you going to do about it? Wait till another person gets shot?” “Because of You” reached #13 on the Indie Worldwide chart.
The two other fresh clips Darrell is drawing our attention to show that the multi-talented performer is also a playful artist advocating for people to simply let loose and enjoy life. “Get Wild Remix,” the title track from his 2019 album Get Wild which reached #4 on the Mediabase Activator Chart, is a spirited, synth driven club tune about getting out, hanging with friends and other cool folks and having a good time. The video shows Darrell in a celebratory mood, holding a champagne bottle and partying with some sexy female pals and dudes dressed to the nines. The remixed version is a slight reworking of the original version of “Get Wild,” which featured gospel centered lyrics and appeared on his earlier album Here Ends the Lesson. Likewise, his sensual, easy grooving club tune “Turn It Up” (just released January 20) features Darrell in another upscale lounge setting, hanging at the bar and partying with upscale female buds.
Other songs reflecting the Darrell’s fascinating blend of social awareness and overall sense of lighthearted fun are “Believe in Something (Kneel),” which finds him (via rap and sung vocals) addressing the critics of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick for his silent protest during NFL pre-game activities, and his single “I’m So High,” a whimsical chill tune about marijuana that also addresses state by state inconsistencies in the legalization battle.
A native of Boston, Darrell cultivated his musical talents with the inspiration and encouragement of his uncle William Baskin (a performer, choreographer and artist manager), aunt Donna DeRosa and mother Sandra Kelley. The budding singer began emulating everyone from Michael Jackson to Luther Vandross, and started winning open talent competitions in his teens and early 20s, charming everyone with special performances like the one where he assumed both male and female roles on Michael McDonald and Patti Labelle’s “On My Own.” Other artists Darrell cites as influences are Lenny Williams (lead singer of Tower of Power in the 70’s) and Jennifer Holliday.
Setting aside his early musical dreams, Darrell became a successful entrepreneur, including opening the popular soul food restaurant Soul Delicious Grill and Buffet in Morrow, GA. Every year, he’s hosted an employee appreciation dinner concert that showcases local artists, and at each event, he took the stage to perform a new song he wrote. After several years of sharing his talents this way, culminating in his powerhouse gospel tune “A Storm Is Coming,” he realized he had enough material to create and market an electronic press kit (EPK).
As “A Storm is Coming” was being promoted to college radio and started charting, Darrell took an interest in mentoring a local up and coming male singer. When the young man failed to show up for a paid for session, Darrell used the studio time to record his song “Unity” (which became the title track to his debut release) and freestyled “Call His Name” (which would later appear on that album). Working from tracks created by his producer collaborator with his label Viral Records LLC, he also freestyled most of the melodies and lyrics for the Get Wild album as well.
“We started all this in May of 2018, and before I knew it, I had three albums and four singles,” Darrell says. “Considering my spiritual background, it made sense to start recording as a gospel artist, but as certain opportunities came forth, I realized it was just as important to tap into the R&B/soul inspirations I grew up with and develop that side of my creative expression as well.”
Darrell’s gospel music is an outgrowth of his service as bishop of spiritual leader of The Pathway Gospel Ministry Church, which is founded on his growing, grass roots UWGEAM ministry. “The Book of UWGEAM,” which he published in 2016, explains the group’s focus on love, unity and respecting one another regardless of religion. UWGEAM stands for God of the Universe, God of the World, God of all gods, God of everything, and God of anything including me. Darrell has written: “I put God first and I encourage you to do the same and believe me you will not regret it. If you are lost and confused about religion, find UWGEAM as UWGEAM has already found you. This book is the way of life and it's about maintaining a better life for everyone. When you read this book, you will feel better about yourself and each other, but most importantly, you will feel better about God.”
Learn more at darrellkelleyofficial.com; news and updates facebook.com/darrellkelleysmusic. Watch his music, performance and commentary videos at youtube.com/user/latenightwithdarrell/featured.
Listen at soundcloud.com/user-792034936, or reverbnation.com/darrellkelley, and/or darrellkelley.bandcamp.com. You can follow him on Instagram at darrellkelleyofficial.