Over the past few months, I’ve gotten the opportunity to interview some pretty exciting and versatile people in the music industry, but few take on and master as many roles as CedEnough. While working his way to veteran status in the hip-hop culture as an artist himself, Ced also operates his own record label, Church Boy Entertainment. Church Boy, in turn, has helped launch or further the careers of artists like Dre Murray, Lil’ Dre, Denver Duncan, and others (download their IVM exclusive sampler here). A loving husband and father, Ced also works as a pastor in Moore, Oklahoma, and is chaplain to the OKC Thunder where he gets to rub elbows and share the Gospel with one of the best teams in the NBA today.
Somewhere between writing new rhymes and doing his part to change the world, I was able to sit down with Ced and talk about the industry, his upcoming album/documentary, working with the Thunder, and what it takes to start your own label in an industry that’s seeing more and more labels struggle to hold on.
So first of all, let’s just talk about how you ended up starting your own record label?
It started out initially in 2004. Prior to that, whenever we were in High School, we started out doing some shows and I remember myself and a guy named Matt Adair saying, “if we’re gonna do shows and sell shirts, we need to do this for real.” And so, I started out by just trademarking the name and getting all the right paperwork set up. From there, it was just… start paying taxes… everything else is just history.
We had a love for music. I grew up always listening to Hip-Hop. So, it came to a point in my walk when I was 17 where God just spoke to me that I needed to give up some of that music I was listening to. So, I started listening to CrossMovement and all that. Quickly, I was like “dude, there’s other types of music out there. You can have the beats, you can have the same feel, but you can have a good message with it, too.” For me, I wanted to write and get out as much music as I could… be legit… so we just said, look let’s start a label. Maybe it will just be us and we’ll sell it to our church, but let’s do it right. From then we’ve always had that mindset. It took a little while. It wasn’t until 2004 that the foundation was laid, paper work is done, we’re doing taxes now… then we put out our first project entitled Church Boy Mix-tape Vol. 1. That was the first one we put out and then it was like, “this is for real.”
So, was there ever a thought of trying to get signed with another label rather than start your own, or did you always have the mindset of, “let’s just do this on our own?”
Yeah, I’m not saying we had tunnel vision, but for us it was that we were already doing this, so let’s just legitimize it. It would have been an even bigger step to go on a label. I will say this; about 2006-2007 we did talk to some labels/distribution companies. Some of it was us reaching out to them, saying “we want to reach more than just Oklahoma or regionally. How do we get into Mardel and LifeWay and stuff?” So we pursued that and had a few calls. In ’06 the Strange to the World album was done through a distribution company called “Point of Grace” in Texas. I mean, it was cool, it got us some places that we wouldn’t have, but things moved so fast to online and iTunes. It was almost like… unless we had the perfect deal it was almost easier to stay independent because our main thing is that we just want to get the music out. So, if we can do that through iTunes, then let’s just stay independent until that other deal comes. That’s kinda where we’ve been. I don’t want to say that we’ve been waiting, because I feel we’ve been effective, but we would definitely listen if the right opportunity were to come along.
What challenges do you face running a music label in today’s market with the digital revolution that has hit? How did that change your focus?
I heard someone say it once, and it’s so true; more people than ever listen to music now. But the sales are not reflecting that at all. Now, it all about the free download. It’s not even about burning CD’s. People can BlueTooth or DropBox an album just as quick as they can download it and pay for it on iTunes. People are just like, “How can I get more music?” And, if you look at the global view of it, again, more people listen to it than they ever have. For us, I guess some of the challenge is; “How do you continue to make money?” That’s a real thing. “How do you continue to keep your quality at a level that is at the industry level that people are listening to, but yet you’re not really making as much money as you were off iTunes?” So, the focus becomes that you’ve gotta put more time into your live performances. Yeah, people want your music and they’ll pay for it, but if people have an experience with you… if they went to a show and it sparked an inspiration or a feeling… I think now they go back and they buy your album. Our challenge has been, that we just have to adapt. We still love music and we still love to do it, it’s just that your live show has to mean a lot more for people to want to go buy it.
Yeah. That makes sense. When I was at the show… actually that you set up for us… before I was set to interview KJ-52, there was this young up-and-coming hip-hop artist who… I don’t even know how he got in the door, but he went over and started chatting with KJ… but it was funny, because he went up to KJ and was like, “I’m so sorry I got in here to talk to you.” But KJ was like, “No you’ve got to do that. Don’t ever apologize for it.” But, one of the things he asked him was, “How do I get signed? How do I get onto a label?” And KJ’s response was, “man, don’t even let that be your focus, because in today’s day and age the record labels are struggling, they’re cutting from your merchandise, and they’re hardly even selling like they were before.” How do you respond as a record label owner to that sort of advice?
For me, I think that it depends on how someone defines the label. If the label is there to essentially make money off you, then I’d say there are so many avenues out there that you don’t need a label. I think the labels are going to look more like a management team. That’s really what it needs to be. You’re providing a management structure for the artist. There are artists out there that are really really great at what they do, but they’re not organized. There’s artists out there that are great at what they do, but they don’t know where to start as far as booking. They’ve owned their craft and they’ve made it a really great opportunity, but they need someone to say, “Hey, you need to pay taxes,” or “go get your sales permit.” So, I think that if the label is coming in with a mindset not to suck from the artist, but to elevate the artist and show them how to do it… not only better, but right… I think labels have to adjust to that.
Really, if you think about it, it’s just accountability. We all as brothers and sisters in Christ need someone who says, “Hey man, you’re doing a great job on this album, but what did you mean by this and how it comes off?” I think the label has to be more invested in that side of it than just, “hey, we’re gonna book some shows and we’re gonna take our 20%.” If you’re not making the artist better…For us as Church Boy Entertainment, we don’t just sign anybody, we sign artists that fit and where we can make them better. Because, ultimately if we’re making them better, then it’s going to make our brand better.
How do you find and develop talent when you do see that?
To KJ’s point, if someone’s focus is “I just wanna get signed,” then those are ideally the people we don’t go after. The reason why I say that is because they’ve got to be willing to do it just for the fact that they get to do it. They’ve got to be where if no one heard them, they would still be writing. If no one came to their show, they would still want to sing, or rap, or whatever. They’ve gotta be doing the shows, FaceBook, Twitter, all that. Then we look at how we can go about making it better. That’s it. You’ve gotta be doing what you love and the people on staff are just doing what they love and we come together to do what we all love.
Has it been a struggle to balance helping other people create music for the label verses working on your own stuff as CedEnough?
Yeah, it has. Essentially, I know my calling is to do management. I know that’s what God is calling me to. So there’s a lot of times I put myself on the back burner. At the end of the day, I know there are some fans that are probably disappointed in that, but I’ve got to look myself in the face and say, “God what do you have for me today?” And today, you know, it felt right to say, “Let’s get Lil’ Dre’s project out,” or “Let’s get this worship project out.” So, I’m still here. I still love music. I still love writing. It’s very hard to balance both. I don’t know that anyone has mastered that. At the same time, for us, and what I want is for good music to be put out. So if my name is not on it, then that’s fine. Good music is still getting put out. If my name is on it, and it’s getting out… I love that as well.
Do you have anything for yourself in the works right now?
Yeah. And I appreciate you and want to highlight this to everybody out there. After I put out my last project Getting the Rust Off everything was in the works for Reality Music to drop in 2011. It didn’t come out. 2012 is past now and it didn’t come out. Now we’re in 2013 and I know a lot of people are like, “Is he dead?” “What happened to him?” But for me, it was a timing thing. This project was definitely a turn for my writing style. So this year, I’m going to put it out, and I’m going to put it out in different segments. It’s gonna be all free. And so, for those that have been waiting for Reality Music to come out, it’s gonna come out this year.
I don’t care if it’s just me talking on the track, it’s gonna come out. And, it’s gonna come out for free. That’s the new idea behind that. I want to get it out because I know it’s gonna lead to something else. I want to do a documentary and its going to point to the documentary. We’re still working on the title, so you want to get the music so you know what’s happening on the documentary. That’s going to be free, as well. It’s just sort of telling my story. The real story behind the reality of music. Hopefully, people will be impacted and inspired by it.
So the documentary is your story… is it from the Church Boy perspective or your own career?
It’s everything. The whole thing that I have in Church Boy, the pastor side, the dad side, the chaplain stuff I do with the OKC Thunder. It’s all sides of Ced. And I think it will help make sense to the fans. It makes sense why he writes like this. It makes sense why it takes a little longer for that album to come out. Ultimately, that’s what people want. It’s like, “Dude, I want to hear what’s really going on in your life.” That’s how we all grow, when we’re authentic and transparent. And, it’s also gonna be for free.
So, you mentioned the OKC Thunder. How did you get set up with the NBA and how did that work out?
That’s a whole other thing. Not to get all spiritual, but it was really just me being obedient to what God wants. I grew up always wanting to be in the NBA. I got an opportunity to play football and I did that. Obviously, God didn’t have it called for me to do basketball. I was working at Council Road Baptist Church and a guy came in and said, “You know, you guys have an awesome facility. I’d love to get you into a gang prevention program.” But, I was like, “I don’t know anything about gangs, why would I do that?” He said that he thought it would be great for these kids to plug in here and have a place to play basketball and video games, and etc. So, I prayed about it and said, “OK.. I’ll do it God, if you want me to do it.”
Long story short, when the SuperSonics moved here, what I gathered is that they were looking for some out of the box ministries and my name was thrown in the hat by a guy that told them about how I was a pastor who did gang prevention. So, really it all goes back to the fact that even in the times when we don’t know what God is doing, He knows what He’s doing. So from there it was me jumping in that, going through the interview process, and… now I’m in the fifth year and seeing the team grow. It’s been awesome.
Where do you see that ministry going?
For me, honestly, it’s right here. Right now my job to those guys is just to pour into their lives all that I can. You know, you hear people talk about the ripple effect. I may not see it right away, but I think that 5, 10, 15 years from now… these guys will still be young and in their thirties, I just think about the impact these guys will have. Long story short, it’s just about the fact that man I’m in there serving and giving them a quick Word before the game. I know that these guys have a great platform to do amazing things. So any way that I can plant a seed and continue to do that, I’m just going to do that and let it all fall into place.
So, are several of them Christians? I know some of them go up to Mid-America Christian University and watch the local basketball games there.
I’m signed under a contract so I can’t say who goes and who doesn’t, but I will say this; as far as attendance, with chapel attendance being voluntary, I would say were top two… maybe top three… but, were one of the top for attendance in the league. So, a lot of guys are there getting the Word. Ultimately, its between them an God as to what they’re doing with the Word and how they’re receiving it, but one thing I do know and can judge is that they’re all character guys. They’re all there and they’re all engaged. I’ve seen the growth in them. Balancing that, I think we have a good core group in Oklahoma City that are fired up for what God’s doing.
That’s awesome. You’ve kind of addessed this in some of the other answers, but what’s next for Church Boy Entertainment? What’s the next goal along the road?
People try to categorize us as a Hip-hop label. So you have some comparisons to Reach because they’re on the top right now. But, for us, the focus isn’t on Reach or any other labels, it’s on what we can do. And, I think we have a broad platform because we have everything from worship bands, to Doug Matlock who does acoustic guitar sets, to Lil’ Dre who does Hip-Hop with that Dirty South feel… so, I think we have a wide range of artists and I think the sky is the limit.
We’re not just focused one genre. God’s given us a lot of different artists who have a ton of range. I just think there’s a lot we could be doing. I’d like to see us do some big tour stuff. You look at these successful tours like Winter Jam and they have a wide range of artists they bring on there. They’ve got Group 1 Crew or TobyMac and then they’ve got your other side of the spectrum. I think that God has given us a lot and we need to do much with what we have. Where much is given, much is required. We have a wide base and we need to do something with that.
I guess what’s next for us, though, is that we’ve got a lot of projects we still need to get out. It’s a hibernation year. Let’s just get out as much music as we can. And then from there it’s just tours. I think our tours are going to look different. We’ll have some leadership development stuff. I’ll be able to tell my story from a chaplain/pastor’s situation. Hopefully, we’ll be able to empower this culture that is coming up. Not just say, “show people your skills,” but show them how to lead others. Develop a culture that can step up to leadership levels and do even more than what we’re doing in what they’re doing.
Now, you mention Reach, but the story with Reach is sort of similar in how Lecrae started Reach and all.
Yeah, and Lecrae did that. Let me say this… I don’t want this to be a comparison at all…. Reach has done what they do and they do it incredibly well. No one can take that from them. But, I think there are so many venues they can get into because of that. I would like to see out of Reach that they expand what they do… Or, maybe God isn’t calling them to that. It’s like the model of Five Guys Burgers. They do burgers really well. That’s what they focus on. They don’t want to do shakes. They don’t want to do salads. So, I’m curious if they’re going to stick with a Five Guys model or if they’re going to go to like a Chili’s model where you’ve got everything. And I don’t think there’s a right or wrong. I just think for us that there are some other venues where we’re going to make an impact. Denver Duncan is out playing coffee shops, you know? It’s where God’s opening up doors. I think the style that we have has opened up these doors to get in these venues and we need to do something with it.
You kind of touched on this, but if you were to give advice to someone who is trying to get into the music industry, whether it’s hip-hop or it’s rock or whatever… what sort of advice would you give them with what you’ve said about the way things have changed, the digital world, and the state of most labels?
I think anyone has to have the mindset of “I’ll do this regardless.” That’s, again, why we started the label. We said that if we’re gonna be selling CD’s and such, then we need to do it for real. For us, if that label would have come along when Dre Murray, Lil’ Dre, and I were starting… ideally, we would have taken that. But for us that didn’t happen, so we just said, we’ll do this regardless. So my suggestion for anyone out there is that if you want to do it, do it. Continue to do it.
The labels are going to find you. There’s a lot of labels that are struggling, so if you’re doing what you do as hard as you can do it, they’re going to find you. And you’ve got to trust that. Anyone who says, “I want to do music.” I look at them and say, “Well how much are you doing about that?” Even if it is just singing at your church. Early on we were doing venues for free just because we were like, “Dude, we want to do it. We’re tired of just sitting around and doing it at our house…” and so, I know that’s simple and redundant, but seriously… if you want to do it, do it.
If you feel like you want to do management, then start getting your act together and start writing up business cards and such. Don’t say “I want to do management, but I’ll wait till I find an artist.” Start working on it and start reading books on what doing management looks like. As you do that, you’ll start crossing paths with the right person. I think that’s it. So you see many people where, like how the odds are so slim that they’re going to make it into the NBA, but they’re out there playing basketball anyway. You want to write. Do it, don’t wait. The rest will take care of itself.
So, I always close with a very silly question. Who’s better, Batman or Superman?
Ah, man. I would have to go with Batman, simply because he’s just a normal dude, but yet he has done whatever is necessary to make himself a superhero. I’m kind of a normal guy, so I connect with that.