Kersten Stevens

13th Annual Contemporary Christian / Gospel
Album Nominee

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Vote Now For This Artist At The Vox Pop

Record Label: Self-Released

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Home Base: NY-CT-NJ Metropolitan Area (residing in Teaneck, NJ)

Genre: Gospel/Jazz

Category Entered: Contemporary Christian / Gospel Album

Work Submitted: Inspire Me 

Artists Featured: Damien Sneed, Alicia Olatuja, Michael Olatuja, Miki Hayama, Melissa Bethea, Paul John Jr, Steven Kroon, David Rosenthal

Label: Self-Released

Who are your influences?: Regina Carter, Stevie Wonder, Israel Houghton, Kim Burrell, Santana, Tye Tribbett

Describe your nominated work: This recording is unique because it uses a violin in ways traditionally performed by vocalists or saxophonist.  The instrument is used both as a soloist and accompanist, both improvising and worshiping,  fusing jazz, classical and gospel to create a sound that is hard to define.  It is jazz, it is gospel…it is just really fllling, inspiring music.

INSPIRE ME. Critics have described the album as “Gospel’s answer to Jean Luc Ponty… guaranteed to get arms outstretched and waving.” The album’s concept is as it sounds: to tell the story of an artist who sought and found her inspiration, and to inspire the listener in the process. INSPIRE ME not only features Kersten’s spirited violin-playing, but also the first of her albums to introduces Kersten’s talents as a lyricist and songwriter. The album is a special collaboration between the finest producers and musicians across the jazz and gospel genres, with a fresh and riveting experience the result. 

Did you use any unusual effects or instruments in this recording?: If you call using a violin to sing a song unusual 🙂 

All jokes aside, I am, unexpectedly I think, a purist in the sense that I prefer violin and other instruments be rendered in their natural state.  As such, in this day in age where so much music is computer-based, it is in fact unusual that in 2013, the instruments were recorded live – including strings, horns, percussion, bass and drums. There were times where we padded real instruments with electronic sounds, or put FX on vocals, but for the most part I really wanted an organic sound that was not computer-generated.  This makes the album unusual in comparison to lots of the music currently in the gospel marketplace (though not, of course, in the jazz marketplace).   

Were there any happy accidents while in the studio, or did everything go as planned?: Ah, happy accidents!  Yes!  Tracks 14 (The Shout) and Track 17 (Nobody Like You) were spontaneous creations in the studio!  We had some downtime, and one musician after another began to fiddle with the same notes. Before we knew it, we were telling the engineer to press record because worship and praise were breaking out in the studio! It was such an incredible moment, an outpouring of musical emotion and spirit. I was really excited and determined to capture those moments and make them part of the album. 

How did you raise the funds for this project? How long do you expect it will take to recoup your out-of-pocket recording expenses?: The funds for this project were raised in part by my Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign and in part by personal investors.  I expect it will take up to two years to recoup my out of pocket recording expenses.  

Why did you choose to submit this work to The 13th IMAs?: I choose to submit Inspire Me to the 13th IMAs because I felt it was worthy of national recognition on all the necessary levels of excellence, those being musicianship, composition, lyricism, production and delivery.

What’s your definition of success and how will you know when you’ve achieved it?: I define success as having reached the greatest level of achievement in a given field.  As such, I believe there are different types of that great achievement – that for yourself and that perceived in the world.  I will be satisfied to achieve my personal success, but prouder to have my successes recognized by the world.  

How will you leverage your IMA honors to achieve your career goals?: I hope to leverage my IMA honors in a number of ways.  First, I plan to take advantage of the resources and marketing materials provided by the IMAs. Second, I hope to use the IMAs honors to gain greater exposure and opportunity into new audiences.  Winning the IMA honor will offer me the opportunity of validity, in a niche corner of the music industry (gospel/jazz violin) where the road is certainly less traveled, and always deserving of more and more recognition.

To that point, the more details and information and opportunities offered by IMA…the better! 

Who’s sitting in your audience and what makes your fans unique?: My fans are very special! They are incredibly musically intelligent, spiritually aware and personally invested.  Their support is the very reason Inspire Me exists! Back in 2011, before one note of Inspire Me was recorded, they invested nearly $20K just to help me make my vision a reality.  Obviously, it goes without saying that my fans are uniquely supportive and encouraging.

My audience is an ever diversifying group of 30-70 year olds, largely African American.  The audience is full of young professionals who love hip hop, jazz and r&b and is also full of more faith-based folks who love being entertained and ministered to through gospel music. My audience is unified as a group that appreciates REAL music and REAL talent that can be celebrated and experienced in large and initimate settings. In many ways, I am because they are!

What is your guilty pleasure on the road? Any close calls or mishaps while on tour?: My guilty pleasure on the road is chocolate chip cookies…if fact, chocolate chip cookies are my guilty pleasure on any given day 🙂 

Who are your musical heroes & influences?: My musical hero is Regina Carter.  At the age of 12, my mom dropped me off to my first sleep away jazz camp.  When she did, she handed me a copy of Regina’s Rhythms of the Heart album. Having grown up under the Suzuki method, I knew the only way to really internalize the music was to sleep with it playing in the background.  So, the entire week, that’s what I did and the rest is history.  Now, years later, having met Regina at 16 years old and been mentored by her through the present day, I am so blessed by her artistry and friendship.  Looking back, it is apparent to me how seeing a young, hip African American woman playing the violin informed me of my own possibilities – of what I could do and who I could be with a violin.  That inspiration has informed my entire life. 

Are there any songs you wish you wrote and why?: I wish that I wrote Pharrell’s “Happy.”  That song strikes a chord with every person who listens to it across the world.  I hope to write a song that makes such an impact one day. 

What artists are you listening to that would surprise your fans?: As a gospel/jazz artist, I listen to a lot more R&B and Hip Hop than I will admit. 🙂

How do you discover new music? Do you buy music or are you content with streaming?: I discover new music most often by watching late night television – The Tonight Show w Jimmy Fallon (previously Jay Leno) or The Carson Daly show.  I’ve discovered some of my favorites like Jose James, Janelle Monae, Emeli Sande and Lianne La Havas like this.

Spotify has revolutionized the way I consume music.  I love streaming music this way, because I’m most likely to invest in the albums jazz and indie artists, whereas bigger more mainstream artists I can stream their singles without making a major investment. 

How will musicians make a living if fans continue to expect music to be free?: It’s going to be up to musicians to diversify how they make their living.  They can’t expect fans to buy their music, and support the artists living…it costs way too much to create music.   Instead, artists should expect fans to invest in the experience of them as artists, as brands.  That means that fans might not buy a song, but they’ll buy a ticket to your concert.  They might not purchase your album, but they’ll buy what you’re wearing on the cover. Today, the music we create is the door, and now, we as musicians, must build the house, and be savvy in how we invite fans to come inside. 

What don’t fans/audiences understand about the music industry today?: Audiences don’t understand the effort and time it takes to create, produce and promote what they consume.  As such, there remains a lapse in audience and promoters understanding of what fair compensation is for products and services provided by musicians and artists. 

Are digital singles/EPs vs. full albums the future?:  Perhaps. I think how artists deliver music to the masses depends on their audience. 

Finish this sentence: The music industry is…what we make it! 

What do you have in the works for the upcoming year?: The sky is the limit! I’m hoping to start working on my next album this summer, for release in Summer 2015.