earbits is working with Barbara Sobel from Sobel Promotions, who has accelerated the recruitment of a lot of great artists for us, and is an all around awesome person to be partnered with.  Barbara’s going to be conducting interviews with artists and providing us with great, relevant independent music content.  Today is the first installment of Barbara’s ongoing contribution to earbits – an interview with talented new artist CiJay.

CiJay - Rock, Dance and Christian Music ArtistCiJay is an Indie artist from Richmond Virgina, who is a singer, song writer and plays several instruments such as the guitar, piano and trumpet. He is being promoted by Sobel Promotions.

CiJay started his musical career as a Christian Music Artist, and has worked in country and rock bands. Now he is focusing on dance music. His musical influences range from Metallica to Josh Groban. CiJay’s first release “Let It Be” has been played on radio stations internationally. It has also hit several music charts in the United States, Canada and Spain and was made into a video. CiJay’s next single is being remixed by world famous remixers Julian Marsh, Leo Frappier (LFB Music) and Ford. He also has caught the eye of an Indie label who may be working with him in the future.

Barbara:  You graduated from high school, joined the army, left the army and became a Associate Pastor. What made you get into music?

CIJAY: I learned how to play trumpet in Jr. High/Sr. High Band, and then at about 13 I started teaching myself guitar. I had dreams of being a long haired Rocker! But honestly, I think my Mom has everything to do with why I enjoy music. She always had music playing in the house and would encourage me and the siblings to dance to stuff like “The Twist” and “The Mexican Hat Dance.” Chubby Checker, The Eagles, Waylon Jennings, Elvis…she had a lot of vinyl records. She also really pushed me to start the trumpet in Jr. High.

Since those early days of dancing in the living room, I’ve always wanted to be a musician. Over the years I gradually wanted to sing too. So, I started really focusing on my vocals around the age of 19. I quickly discovered that I preferred to express myself through singing…it is my passion in life.

Barbara: After having success with Christian Music, you made the switch to being a Dance Music Artist and are also in a Rock Band. Was it difficult to switch genre’s and is it hard to sing different types of music at the same time.

CIJAY: I still really enjoy a lot of Christian Music, and that genre of music has come such a long way. I think it is really my foundation in singing Christian music that helped me to evolve as an artist. You don’t sing those songs for yourself. You have to learn to get the message of the song across to the audience; an audience of 1000’s or just the audience of 1. The song has to come from the heart and I had to learn to let go of self. I could tell when I was singing just in my own strength and my own agenda versus completely letting go and giving in to the song and message. I say all of that because I brought that foundation into everything that I’m currently doing, and I believe it’s essential in any genre.

It is pretty difficult at times to vocally switch gears from doing a Dance song one minute and then singing an all out Rock song. I practice a lot at singing to people like Josh Groban one minute and then switching to a band like Casting Crowns, and then I switch to another band like Shinedown or Disciple.

Barbara: What have you done to promote your Christian Music, Dance and Rock music? Which has been the easiest to promote and has the most outlets?

CIJAY: Wow, what haven’t I done! I have gone as far as spending thousands of dollars in Nashville, TN to a company that was supposed to help me by shopping my EP around to record labels. Part of the money spent with them was also for going into the studio and recording my EP.

I have used, and continue to use, every online social site to promote the music. I use Internet radio stations. I’ve made fliers to pass around. I’ve created mail outs. Using the Internet is probably 80% of my promotions. Performing accounts for the other promotion. Word of mouth is still amazing and it works.

It’s hard to really say which has been easier to promote. Circumstances change all of the time. With Christian Music I didn’t really have a lot of promotional work to do because of my starting circumstances. I was in a Christian College when I really started getting known as a Christian Artist . Word of mouth advertising from church to church opened most every door for me to perform. I also did a lot of radio interviews (in station) where I got to not only speak, but I got to perform acoustically as well. I accepted just about every invitation that was extended and with each show I would get more invitations…it just took on a life of it’s own.

Now with Dance and Rock music, my circumstances are totally different because I’m having to prove myself as a different artist, and there is the conflict with being labeled as a “Christian Artist” in the past. Assumptions arrive before I ever do.

I think there are more outlets than ever for an independent artist to be heard. The Internet changed the game, but digital music & video files opened the flood gates.

Barbara: Is it easier for a male to be a Christian, Dance or Rock music artist?

CIJAY: That’s a huge question, and one I’m still debating even as I write this. I can definitely say that each genre has it’s own answer to this question, but again time has changed what used to be. Christian Music has grown so much with so many amazing vocalists/musicians, but I remember when it seemed like all the top people where females or Quartets.
With Dance Music, I think of the Divas that lead the charts for years. I think a woman’s voice resonates so well with Dance music and the ladies have dominated most of the dance charts for years. As I’m very new to Dance music, I could be totally wrong on this but I think that the Men are on a huge comeback and doing a lot better.
Rock Music has always been dominated by the guys, but that makes the competition even more fierce.

So, I don’t know if one is easier than the other. I just know I have to have 100% determination and commitment to make it happen.

Barbara: You are a success story on how using the Internet helped you get noticed. You were discovered after placing your music on an Internet music site, got signed to a promotion company and have record company interest. Please tell us about how you were discovered.

CIJAY: I mentioned in a previous question that I paid money to a music group to promote me. I knew that most likelyI would never really be promoted, so I didn’t just sit back and wait for that music group to tell me a year later that nobody was interested. If they really did promote me, then that’s just an added bonus; but I was determined to get my music out there, for sale, to be heard and to perform.

Once I got my mastered songs finished from the studio in Nashville, I just started plastering my songs everywhere on the Internet that I could find. I did this for a year before I got the idea to do a Dance song. Once I finished recording my first Dance song, I added it to the same sites that my other songs were on. Another year passed with me pushing my music. In this time I got some of my songs on compilation projects and Internet radio shows, but I didn’t have any real attention or bites from a record label that was legitimate.

Until… I discovered that I didn’t really have my songs placed in the best genre or station for listeners on IMRADIO.COM. I had been on that site for months with my music, but it just didn’t occur to me to go and examine the new available stations.

I took my song “Let it Be” and placed it in a different available station that I thought was better suited for my music. The very next day I get an email asking me to contact this person to talk about what I was currently doing with my song and music. Within 1 week I was talking to a record label that was interested in releasing my song. After only 1 month, I signed a contract with a record label out of New York, had an amazing promoter working on my behalf, I was working with other producers/remixers and putting together plans for a music video for the release of “Let it Be”.

Barbara: Even though you are relatively new to the Dance Music Scene, you have been with different promoters and record companies, and have learned a great deal about the ins and outs of the music business. What advice would you give others who are interested in looking for a promoter or label? What makes a good promoter and record label and a bad one?

CIJAY: It’s been an amazing journey in just a short amount of time to say the least. There has been a lot of disappointment with how some of the record labels are running their business and feeding off of the dreams of many talented individuals. As music has changed, there are even more opportunities for just about anyone to call themselves a record label, a promoter, a producer…etc. This means even more opportunities for your money to be taken with nothing in return.

To others that are independent musicians, you have to promote yourself always!!! However, you need to have a promoter working on your behalf that knows the industry/genre that you are shooting for. Aim for the label, but load the assault with a good promoter. The promoter needs to believe in you more than you believe in yourself at times. Look for a promoter that will tell you if your material is bad and refuses to promote less than average material. You don’t want someone promoting you only because you are paying them to do so. A promoter is not your manager, song writer, singer, musician or producer; they are there to promote you or your band’s finished product, or line you up with others who can help make your project a success. A good promoter wants you to be a success, sound your best, look your best and provide the best opportunities for you to further your career.

A good label to find is a company that keeps its own drama away from the artist. A good label should do all of the same things as a good promoter, but they should also help you build your identity as an artist…letting you be who you are, keeping your values and morals at the top of all the decisions they make for your career. You should not be put out financially to record a video, a song…etc., if the label is asking for it to be done. If a label is truly interested in you as an artist; let them prove it. They should have a great track record with other artists, current or past. The Record Label will keep you informed in a timely manner as to what they are doing with the project.

Most of all just use your head, and don’t get caught up in your dreams so much that you stay asleep in the whole process.

Barbara: Your first song and video as a dance artist is “Let It Be.” Obviously, it is a cover tune of the Beatles song. What made you choose that song, and what did you have to do in order to get permission to perform the song? Were there any difficulties getting permission and what have you learned from the experience of singing somebody else’s song?

CIJAY: Honestly, I didn’t even really think about it being a Beatles song until after I did it. I just was playing around on the piano with some dance beats and started singing the tune for “Let it Be”.  The message of the song hit me in a way that I had never heard it before, and I found the song to be very uplifting. So, I just decided to record a version with me doing all of the music and vocals for fun; just for me and family really. After listening to it for a few weeks, I thought more about actually trying to release the song and have someone else do a “real” dance mix for me.

I approached Julian Marsh about doing a dance remix of the song, and the first thing he said was, “It’s a Beatles Song…I won’t touch it unless you can get it licensed.” That was the first time that it really hit me that I was touching on something that would be a love-hate project. Remaking a Beatles song into a Dance tune….that’s like sacred music to some people and I was stomping all over it.

So, yes I had to get publisher permission through Sony. They had to hear the version that I had done and approve it or deny it. I was granted permission, and then I had to purchase the song licenses. There are different licenses needed based on what you are going to do with the music. One license for digital downloads, one license for physical CD’s, one license for streams…etc. You buy the licenses based on volume you plan on selling…how many downloads you think you will sell or CD’s you’ll sell. The cost also depends on how long the song is.

The biggest lesson was, I recorded the music video before I found out that I could not get a sync license for this song. Since it’s a Beatles song, I could only get audio recordings licensed. The video was all set for national distribution, MTV, LOGO…etc. Then Sony told me I could not distribute the video in that manner. The record label I was with should have known this ahead of time, but once again…you have to do a lot of the work yourself and cover your bases!!! Get all of the options and possibilities available for a song before you set out to record it in any way. This will save you time and money.

I still don’t mind singing a cover song, but I’m looking forward to writing my own material. There are fewer hoops to jump through to release it.

Barbara: What is in the future for CiJay?

CIJAY: I’m excited to see what each day brings. I plan ahead as much as possible, but I try not to get ahead of myself at the same time.

In the immediate future, watch for my follow up single to “Let it Be.” “Baby Get Higher” is slated for release in September, 2010. I’ve got some great people on board for this project and the remixes are sounding fantastic! I’m also working to finish my first Original Dance song… I can’t wait to get it out to the fans as soon as possible. The fans have been amazing with their support.

You will also be hearing tracks from my Rock band in the very near future as well. We are in and out of the studio recording a full length album; Eight songs are finished already!

Rest assured, I am going to keep moving forward and continue to do what I love. Maybe soon in a town or city near you!

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