It's always been Anthony David's dream to have "a big-ass hit," as he calls it. So naturally, he was somewhere off in la-la land when the No. 1 radio station in Atlanta decided to give one of his songs a long-overdue spin.
"Somebody called and woke me up like, 'You got a song with India?'" he recalls. "And I was like, 'Yeah.' And they said, 'I think it's playing ... on V-103.'"
Now, you must know a couple of things about Anthony David to understand why that's such a shocker. First, he's not a major-label artist. He's signed to Brash Music – a local indie label that certainly doesn't have the kind of promotional budget necessary to garner (i.e. buy) mainstream radio play. Second, he's not a commercial artist. He's been categorized as an underground soul singer – a euphemism that has incorrectly come to mean he isn't supposed to achieve, or even desire, mainstream success.
Nevertheless, in a business where money makes the records go 'round, Anthony David is proof that a lot of love, and a little luck, can go a long way.
Desiree Williams definitely loves herself some Anthony David. The boisterous manager of the independent music store Sound Shop at the Mall West End has been a fan of David's since his acoustic debut, 3 Chords & the Truth, was released in 2004. So when September '06 rolled around and Anthony David's manager, Brash Music A&R man Richard Dunn, began prepping the release of David's follow-up, The Red Clay Chronicles, Williams gladly agreed to host him for an in-store promotional performance. The store even stocked 150 of his new CDs in preparation.
But when the turnout was lower than expected, "I said, 'Don't worry about it, Richard, I'll get rid of these CDs,'" says Williams, who crafted an Anthony David sales pitch and began playing her favorite CD to as many customers as she could get to listen.
The location has sold more than 250 copies of the artist's CDs since then. Williams even tried to convince rapper Young Jeezy when he came into the store that he should consider signing David to Jeezy's Corporate Thugz Entertainment label to fill his R&B void. Jeezy never contacted David, but he did buy three CDs after Williams got him to listen to a couple of songs.
As luck would have it, V-103 (WVEE-FM) program director Reggie Rouse came into Sound Shop one day about a month ago looking for some old-school music. Williams had met Rouse once before, "but in terms of who he was and what he could do at V-103, I had no clue," she says. Halfway through her Anthony David spiel, Rouse asked her to play the hit, so she played "Words," the duet between David and India.Arie that crystallizes their connection as friends and collaborating songwriters.
Reggie Rouse was instantly convinced. But Williams' sales pitch had been working so well that she was all sold out of The Red Clay Chronicles. So she gave the program director her scratched-up promo copy.
Before you know it, Anthony David's "Words" was in rotation on the No. 1 Arbitron-ranked station in one of the nation's top-10 radio markets. Few major-label artists get such an opportunity. For an indie artist like David, the chances are "slim to none," according to an Atlanta-based independent radio promoter who works as a liaison between labels, clubs and urban radio stations to break records in the city.
"[Even] a great record, to try to work it on the radio is going to run you about $50,000," says the promoter, who would speak only on the condition of anonymity. "What people don't understand is if these radio stations don't have listeners, they don't get advertising sponsorship. ... They have to play the records that people want to hear. That's the only way they're going to get the listenership."
Like most conglomerate-owned stations, the playlist on V-103 (CBS Radio) is hardly progressive. It retains its top ranking by pumping a rotation of predictable urban hits (Mary J. Blige's "Just Fine," Kanye West's "Flashing Lights," etc.) that fill space during personality-driven time slots ("Frank & Wanda in the Morning," Porsche Foxx, Ryan Cameron, Joyce Littel, etc.). The station rarely makes room for new adds per week. Reggie Rouse makes it clear, however, that CBS does not send each station a corporate playlist to follow. He was not available to confirm or deny whether the station uses independent radio promoters.
Ironically, Anthony David designed The Red Clay Chronicles with radio in mind. As an artist who'd grown up on R&B, the Savannah native wanted to make a contemporary R&B album on his own terms – "not having a gang of rappers or whatever," he says. He succeeded with a touch of down-to-earth sophistication that broadened him beyond the limitations of neo-soul, thanks to cuts such as the seductive wine-woman-and-weed song "Smoke One," and the vulnerable "Lady," featuring Millie Jackson's daughter, Keisha Jackson.
Armed with an album chock-full of commercial-radio potential, Richard Dunn made sure V-103 got a copy of the disc the month it came out. Yet neither David nor Dunn were discouraged by the record's on-air inactivity. "We don't operate like Universal or Sony," Dunn says. "So it's not like we got real relationships with them on the 'play my music' side of the game."
Today they attribute the airplay to good timing, and are thankful that Rouse gave "Words" a chance. And in an age when big-box retailers such as Wal-Mart and Best Buy are making it nearly impossible for independent retailers to compete, it was their long-term relationship with Williams of Sound Shop that led to David's coveted airplay.
It's the reason why both David and Dunn can rattle off the first names of other local retailers such as Darryl "D-Nice" Harris, owner of Moods Music in Little Five Points, and Jasz Smith, who operates Earwax Records. "Those people champion your shit," David says. "If they like you, they talk about you. You can't go in Best Buy and buy one album and somebody there says, 'Oh, check this out.' 'Cause they're just selling a product, and that's part of what's wrong with the music industry."
While Rouse says he was previously familiar with Anthony David, hearing him at Sound Shop in that moment made all the difference. "I thought it might sound good on V," the 20-year industry vet says. "I know he's got a following here, so I figured, let's give him a shot and see how it does." By adding David to the playlist, V-103's stock has risen among a community of underground music supporters who wouldn't normally tune in to the station.
"Where a station like that wins is now Anthony David is in V-103's deck," says the independent radio promoter. "So if they want to do a ladies' night or a radio promo, all they gotta do is call him up." David already looks forward to performing at one of Joyce Littel's upcoming Passion & Poetry events.
But he's reaping the real rewards. Since the song was added to the station's playlist, David has enjoyed a spike in local sales, Dunn says. With first and second releases combined, the artist has moved about 30,000 units, not counting overseas distribution. The recent activity has even given David the leverage to solidify a new situation he doesn't want to discuss prematurely.
"I'd love to have like a song that was turned into elevator music," he laughs. "I just hope that [this] just opens up the door to those types of people that just wanna have me off in this undergroundy thing – that's not [to say] that I don't like being underground. I just don't like people to see things a certain way just because of the wrapping."