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The Gospel According to Kelly: Doing It My Way

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We've often heard that in life two things are certain: death and taxes. I'd like to add a third to that list: the firing/hiring of record company executives right in the middle of working my record!

In the years of being an artist with a recording contract I've experienced the "Wife Swap" of music executives at every label I've been signed to and all during crucial points in my career.

While winding down from an amazing run with "Friend of Mine" and the remix (featuring R. Kelly and Ronald Isley) from my "Soul of a Woman" album, the dissolution of Island Black Records began. This, just as we were beginning the campaign for the second single. By the time the video was shot for "Secret Love" (the remix f/Jermaine Dupri and Da Brat) I was in career limbo waiting to find out if I would be moved to Def Jam or Motown Records because the birthplace for acts like me and Dru Hill, and the home of living music legend Ronald Isley (aka Mr Biggs,) Island Black Records — was now gone.

As my musical fate would have it, I landed at Def Jam Records. We had to adjust to each other and there were many challenges as we got to know each other professionally and creatively. They were a rap label and the uncertainty of how I would be handled was a great concern. The blessing in it for me was that although we were new to each other, the staff members were in it to win and genuinely loved my music. We fought. Sometimes we fought each other but even with its challenges I enjoyed my run as The First Lady of Def Soul Records the new and more musically inclined sister label to Def Jam Records.

While at Def Soul/Def Jam I released my 2nd, 3rd and 4th CDs. "Mirror Mirror" with its singles "As We Lay" and "You Should've Told Me," "One Family: A Christmas Album and Priceless."

Little did I know that during the latter of those releases there was another bubbling-under happening at the label. I would learn pretty soon that the President of Def Jam Kevin Liles would be leaving just as his predecessor Lyor Cohen had  done in recent months. Key staff members in all departments would slowly make their exits as well and new "players" were brought in to fill their spots. I was starting over again... again.

After a long "wait" for things to adjust with the new team and never really fitting in to the vision of where music was going under the umbrella during that time, my days with Def Jam ended and I started thinking about other ways of pursuing what I wanted.

While thinking about what was next I accepted an offer from Tyler Perry to hit the road in the theatrical version of "Why Did I Get Married", got nominated for a grammy for the song "He Proposed" and began looking at other record companies to further my career with.

Not really excited about what was happening with my peers in the industry and being in the unique position to choose what I wanted to do musically, I chose to record a Gospel CD. Gospel music is my foundation, I love it and I was excited at the concept of doing a Gospel album "Kelly" style so I did! In a joint venture with Zomba Gospel This is "Who I Am" became a reality. New situation, new people, new genre of music. And the Lord has my back! Surely I'd be alright this time. Right?

Well, lets just say even in the Gospel genre things move and shake when you least expect them to.

Another two bite the dust and I found myself with no day-to-day point person when not one but two label execs made exits within six weeks of the release date of "This Is Who I Am." Frozen budgets and halted marketing strategies were in my immediate future, but this record was still coming and I was gonna have to "work it" and so I did!

I along with my team "worked it" to the tune of a #1 Billboard Entry on the gospel charts. We worked it and there it sat at #1 for several weeks. We "worked it" and the first and only single "Healing" took top honors as one of the most played songs of the year at the ASCAP awards in 2007 receiving airplay on both gospel and R&B radio formats. I also had the opportunity to
record what would be a top 10 radio hit entitled "God's Gift" with Jeff Majors during that time.

In each of these instances throughout my career I had to step up, ride it out and make the adjustments when necessary. I had to do the work when no one else would do it. I had to keep it moving when everyone else stopped and I had to make sure Kelly was okay. I had to take the "L" even if it wasn't my fault. Living the reality of the music business, I knew needed to really make some hard core decisions for me. So I did. I decided that if "the buck stops here" then the buck should also stop here.

From beginning to end the process has been a great mixture of emotions, new experiences, life lessons and gaining wisdom but this is the path I chose. Did I know what to expect? Yes and No. I've seen other artists attempt to go the "my way" route and for some it really worked out well (Prince gets the honorable mention here) and for others not necessarily so well. It was a risk, but like I always say to others when they ask me about jumpstarting their dreams "if you're not willing to invest in you why should anyone else be willing to invest in you?" so I chose me.

I would be the record company and the artist this time. Risk and all. Bad market and all. Different music climate and all. If anyone was worth it for me to risk everything for it was me.

Besides I'd been doing it "their way" my whole career and it worked at that time but with things being so different now maybe "their way" wasn't the best way for me anymore. So... there started the journey of Kelly. After a career spent in the systems of "the machine" I made a bold choice to do it myself this time and its been a great challenge.

Without a doubt, I knew I was doing this with a tiny fraction of what artists on the major labels have in their budgets to make records, shoot videos and promote their music but without a doubt I was going to do it!

With all of these instances I learned that I have a real love for this music thing and it made me clear that since I'm the one who has to *publically*wear the failure or the success of my music (but specially the *failures*) then I should be the one making the final decisions about what happens with my music. And so I am.

Lately my world is a wonderful and chaotic blend of travel, promotions, meetings, deadlines, decisions, recording, producing, mixing, recalling mixes, singing, strategizing and no sleep 24 hours a day 7 days a week! I'm tweeting, Re-tweeting, updating statuses on multiple pages, reading proposals, treatments, contracts, negotiating and that's usually between 11 pm and 7 am!

This can only mean one thing. It must be time to release a new record! After five years since my last CD and an even longer eight years since my last R&B release, May 3, 2011 will end the wait for new music from me. KELLY will finally be in stores!!! By the way, thank you for waiting!!

This journey has been many things but if nothing else it has been a reason for me to hold my head up high and be proud of KELLY. Im still learning what I can do. Im still discovering new capabilities I have and I'm seeing new gifts I posses. Im a music executive "for real" and it makes me feel good about me.

Doing it my way is working this time around so far. "KELLY" with the single "Tired" led this project with a Grammy nod and without a video! The follow up "Not My Daddy" is a top ten smash at radio right now and climbing its way up the radio mountain every week.

This "little engine/record company that could" is hanging in there in a world of big locomotive record companies and we are doing it one day and one step at a time.

I don't have to be the fastest and I don't have to be the strongest but I plan to be the one whose still here when its all said and done!

Until the next one...
Kells
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