R&B and soul singer, songwriter, viral mashup video maker, and Founder of independent label Art Society Music Group (ASMG), Kevin Ross, shared a small sample of his story, his passion and his creativity in a recent interview with QG. In our conversation, Kevin discusses his transition from major label artist to independent label owner, what it’s like to collaborate with big-name artists such as Jamie Foxx, Trey Songz, Tank, and Toni Braxton, his current project Audacity, and much more.
When did you first discover your passion for music?
Early on, maybe like 10 or 11. Once I went to arts high school and got into the school of the arts in [Washington] DC. That’s where I sowed the seed for trying to figure out what I wanted to do with this kind of passion or this desire. I had some great teachers that really nurtured that seed that I had sowed into the ground. From there I think I decided to do music around 16, 18 professionally, and it was on from there.
What were some of the initial highs and lows of getting started in the industry?
I think it’s just the misconception that everyone has about the music industry. A lot of the business is built off of perception. It’s about how something looks and not what it actually is. I think that was my biggest learning curve; that is was really a show. Like the whole business is a show. It’s a production and it’s a set. That’s I think the biggest learning curve that I had to learn starting out. Making sure I understood what was real, what wasn’t, what was going to be the thing to keep the lights on and pay the bills, and then what you want out of it. Because at the end of the day you can want something, but to do it every day I think [there’s] a fine line between passion and when it becomes work; like you’re punching in the clock every day. You’ve got to be able to reignite that passion and dig back into the reasons why you wanted to do it, why you fell in love with it, and at the end of the day what kind of impact you want to leave with your passion.
Tell us a little bit about how you got started with Motown Records and what your experience was like working under that record label.
I was signed to Motown and that was cool. I think that all throughout high school I was doing a lot of Motown tributes and Motown reviews with my fellow students and colleagues during that time. To be signed to that same label; Motown had a name of prestige and a legacy behind it. To then be a part of it or to have my name attached to it was super dope. You learn a lot as far as the leadership changes or how different things move around, and you see that it’s much bigger than just the imprint. It’s the inner workings, the mechanics, and the people that are inside. When you start seeing different staff changes every so often, maybe every year, that kind of gets you concerned after a while. For me it was looking at it to say, “Okay, I’m grateful for this opportunity, but you learn what you need to learn and then you move on so that you can start your own business or start your own thing. Respectfully, go and do your own thing.”
What all was involved in making that transition to being independent?
Honestly, I had a game plan prior. I was just going to serve my time, do the albums, and then be gone. There was just an opportunity that presented itself and I saw the writing on the wall within the label. I [thought] “Well, let me ask for my release. It makes sense to ask for my release because this just doesn’t make sense anymore.” Though I was going to be able to do my time, I didn’t want to be lost in translation either. Be creating music and them not understand it or whatever the case may be. I was looking a little further ahead so that I could avoid pitfalls.
That was a year in the making. Once I asked for my release it took a year in order for me to be technically released. I kind of stayed low during that time as far as creating records and writing. I was fine tuning and making sure that I was sound as a person and understood everything that was going on. Because not only did I leave my label, but I kind of left everybody; I left my management and everything. It was like regrouping and recalibrating. You never know how long it takes, but I was grateful that everything transpired the way that it did.
Tell us a little bit about Art Society Music Group. What are you guys doing? What do you have planned?
Yeah! Art Society Music Group. That’s my baby, that’s my pride and joy. That is the company that I own. That is the label that will put out my new project called Audacity. I’m really excited about it. It’s coming out this year. I’m hoping for a spring or summer [release], at least a portion of it. I’m really excited about it. I think that it’s just about getting it out of the blocks. Getting out of the blocks as an independent artist, because you don’t know. You don’t know what the reception is going to be [after] being away for a year and some change. For this day and age with social media it’s like an eternity. You have to take that into consideration. Honestly every time I hear people say “Art Society Music Group” or “ASMG” it puts a fire under me. It makes me excited, it puts a smile on my face, and it changes my whole energy and mood. It’s the ownership of it that’s so invigorating. It’s not just you being tied to someone else or to other people. This is you. This is your own company. My job is to make sure I give the best representation of my company that I possibly can.
You mentioned Audacity. What are your perceptions on how Audacity will differ from The Awakening?
I just think it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be grittier, and it’s going to have a lot more vibes and energy. The Awakening set the tone for the artist that I was and the artist that I was becoming. The man that I was becoming as well. Like my strong beliefs in God and just making sure that even though I am an R&B and Soul artist that people do know that I’m still a man of faith and that I know where source of power and my source of creativity comes from. I think that we don’t stray from that on this album at all. We just get more energy, we get more sensual, and we get a little more raw. So, I’m just excited for people to hear it and I’m interested in how people are going to digest it. I’m excited to perform some of the new records and create a dialogue within the culture and my generation because it’s different now. For me I hold myself accountable and I hold myself responsible for the music that I put out. It’s not just putting out a record out. Every time I put out something I have to make it a movement. It’s deeper than just the moment. It’s a movement.
In the past you’ve worked with some big-name artists such like Jamie Foxx, Trey Songz, and a long list of others. How has that experience impacted you and what did learn from working with those artists?
It was about their work ethic, their drive, and their vision for what they saw for themselves. With every artist it’s different. Some artists know a little more about what they want from out of a project or a song, but then for others my job is to narrate, paint the picture, and create what they desire from out of it. Whether they’re going out to party or whether it’s an intimate conversation or whatever [the situation], it’s really cool for me to sit on the other side of it and have the paint brush in my hand and go at the canvas looking at someone[else’s] life instead of mine. But, to do it from my perspective and how I see it. I think it’s a really cool way to collaborate and I think it’s dope to write for those kinds of artists and other [projects] that I have coming.
I’m looking forward to seeing what Tank does with his project; I worked with him on a couple records for his next project. I got nominated for a Grammy for Toni Braxton’s last project Sex and Cigarettes by writing and that was dope. That allowed for people to trust me more now. Even though I didn’t get production credit on the project for Sex and Cigarettes, that idea had kind of derived from me playing keys and singing along as far as creating a solid melody and the concept. Just the fact that an OG or a veteran decided to use the foundation of that and center the record around it is an honor. It’s deeper than just the production credit, but it’s more so the fact that I can do it. And I’ve done it before, but it’s different when you do it for yourself versus other people.
Bringing it back home to ASMG, your baby, what words of advice would you have for an entrepreneur in getting started?
Honestly, for me, in my belief it’s product first. Your business is as good as your product at the end of the day. You can have as many great minds and as many tenacious people that are behind you that believe your business, and your brand, and the thought and idea of it, but if your product comes up short or isn’t up to par what is your business at the end of the day? I look at a lot of big corporations and everything about their business is product driven. So, for me, I have to make sure that the product is tried and true. For any business that’s my advice. Make sure that you can stand behind your product so you don’t have to look back 5 to 10 to 20 years from now and say “Oh my gosh. I can’t believe that I did that. I can’t believe I was in that space”. But, rather you know that you’ve grown from that and you can actually testify and say “Hey, that is where I was and this is where I am.” I think that’s the beautiful thing about it.
For me looking at the business not just from the stand point of saying “I’ve got a company and this is cool”, but it’s a lot of hard work. There’s a lot of people telling you what you can and cannot do. Some people are going to say that Indie isn’t going to have as much of an effect as major labels, but the truth is business and music are becoming more individualized, more than ever now. Success is now really based upon perspective. It’s not about this hardcore fact of “I want to be a star” because there are stars all over the globe if you’re talking about perception. If you look at IG [for example], there are hundreds of people with millions of followers and in every world, they’re respected, and regarded, and revered as someone that has a platform. So, we can’t knock one person’s success because of how we view it. We have to find happiness within ourselves and that’s an individualized thing. I think that the internet and everything that has been given to us are both a gift and a curse. The gift is we’re allowed to look at happiness in our scope and not just in everyone else’s. We can logout and detach ourselves and say “What makes me happy? What do I define success as?” I don’t have to chase it as long as I prove my point. I think that’s what I want to do with ASMG. Whatever expectations that I have, I want to fulfill it. People may look at me crazy and say [what they want]. I won’t be satisfied until I get what I want and what I visualized in my mind. As long as it manifests the way that I see fit, then it’s a job well done for me.
What are your biggest goals to accomplish this year and moving forward?
Honestly, I want a Grammy, I definitely want a Grammy with my name on it. That’s definitely going to happen, for sure. Also, in the future, the far future, I want to be able to do partnerships and co-ventures with other people so that I can pass along the knowledge and wisdom that I’ve obtained throughout the years. I’ve still got a lot more to learn and a [long] ways to go, but I believe that part of my purpose here on this earth is to impart and make sure that I impart effectively onto the next generation. I’m able bodied and able to do music for right now, but let’s say 30 years from now when that’s not something that’s a main priority for me, I want to be able to turn on the radio or whatever we’re listening to, playlisting or DSPs, and say that I was partly responsible for influencing that next generation and the generation after that.
You can go check out Kevin Ross’s music on all major platforms and follow him on Instagram.