If you’re a Househead, you have no doubt sung along to some of Stephanie Cooke’s most memorable tunes such as “Everything” and “I Thank You.” She has charted Billboard singles alongside her numerous tracks on labels like King Street, West End and Nervous.
Stephanie Cooke is now going above and beyond to the next level. She is launching Angeltown Recordings, which will showcase global cutting-edge R&B, Gospel and Soulful House music and talent. She has some very wise words about taking control of your business as an artist, and how she hopes to help give artists their due.
I’ve been a big fan of yours for a long time Stephanie! What inspired you to start this new label?
Wow, it’s awesome to know that you know my music! I have been in the music industry for almost twenty-three years and in that time, I have never really had complete control over my music or the way it’s presented. As an artist, I’ve never been given the opportunity to have 100% say in how I am represented. When you are dealing with independent labels, budgets and time restrictions limit how much focus is put on how artists are marketed. Consequently, we, “the artists” have through the years gotten watered down and in a lot of ways are seen as just another element of the production.
With Angeltown, I hope to bring the focus back to the artist. These days it seems to be all about the DJs and producers and I in no way want to downplay them and what they bring to this industry, but without the artists we’d just have a bunch of tracks to dance to without stories that touch the heart and soul, or voices that heal the spirit. Starting my own label gives me complete control to put focus back where it should be – on the artist!
I know you have sung in Gospel and R&B, how did you get into singing House Music? What are some of the differences that you notice on the industry side of things between them?
I started out singing in a church choir and had no plans of being an artist. I wanted to be a promoter of Gospel and R&B events and decided I would put together a city-wide talent search competition which would award the winner an opportunity to record a demo to shop a record deal. In my search for a place to use as a recording facility for the winners of the competition, I stumbled into a studio in East Orange, NJ and met the owner of DML Studios, Daniel Laporte. His brother, Big Moses wound up producing a lot of the songs I wrote in those early years.
A two hour conversation with Danny turned into a production deal which got me started working toward a career in R&B. It was months later when I was asked to show up to do vocals for a client of his that I was introduced to House Music. I had no idea what House Music was, but a month later the song I had been hired to record was released on King Street Sounds and became the first of many Stephanie Cooke singles released on the label. I recorded that song, “Excuses,” in 1993 which was twenty-three years ago, so I guess I’ve been singing House for twenty-three years! Wow!
There are definite differences between these three genres on the business side of things. R&B has afforded me the most opportunities globally to sing, write and place music in everything from television shows to movies and even video games. The structure of the business aspect of the R&B world is set up so that if you are consistent and dedicated, you will more than likely succeed.
Gospel on the other hand is extremely cliquish and to me, just a little too overly critical of artists and producers. I find that unless you have a connection to someone who is already well known in Gospel, it’s harder to just be good and be accepted in that world. The business of Gospel is almost frustrating to me, especially since I’ve written some really beautiful Gospel songs that without the House Music genre, would never be heard.
When it comes to House Music, things move very quickly, songs last a moment and then they’re gone, and therefore, many of us take no concern in having our publishing and royalty distribution business in order. There are so many folks that I’ve worked with who don’t know anything about registering songs properly so that they get what they are entitled to. I’m grateful for what I learned in the R&B world. It keeps me on top of things with everything else. You never know when someone on a radio station in some corner of the world might just start playing one of your songs.
Very few vocalists get the recognition in the dance music scene the way producers do. They’re often put in a secondary role, even when a lot of the songwriting credit belongs to them. Do you think this has improved for the singers over the years or has it stayed the same?
I think this is mainly true in the House Music community. It definitely has not improved and it’s not the same. Actually it’s getting worse.
I do think that we have the power to turn that around. Not that we don’t appreciate the roles played by the producers. It’s important that we begin to take credit when we deserve production credit.
I co-produce everything I write. I’ve rarely been given credit for that. This is one of the main reasons why labels like Angeltown need to exist: so that artists and writers can express themselves and be given credit for the part they actually play in the creative process.
Your bio is so impressive, I didn’t realize you have worked with such big names such as Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross and Kool & the Gang!
Well thank you. Yes! I co-wrote a song for Aretha Franklin with Jermaine Dupri and Manuel Seal on an album she did called A Rose Is Still A Rose. Diana Ross did an album a few years back called Everyday a New Day and I sang backgrounds on that song as well as one other. That was probably one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done in my entire career! The Kool & The Gang project was exciting too. Just being in the same room with the guys who got me through some of the roughest times of my childhood with their music. I can’t explain how amazing that was. It’s been an amazing twenty-three years! Just wonderful. To listen to these legends’ records and hear my voice along with theirs? Just speechless!
This is not a very common one for us to see… seeing a singer start her own label and B2B service. Do you see a lot of new talent coming that you’d like to foster? I’m sure with so many years in the business you know the ins and outs as well as some of the pitfalls to avoid.
You know Czarina, I don’t see a lot of talent around, but in my own family there are some really amazing talented young people who mean the world to me. I want to start there. But having gone through so many years of trial and error after error, I hope to help artists both young and older, new and established keep their business in order. It’s easy to soak up a spotlight at a red carpet event or rub elbows with the elite at an awards dinner, but having your business in order means that while you hobnob, your money is busy making money for you. I know a lot of artists who have been in the business for a while and just can’t seem to get to “the next level.” I’d like to be the person they can go to when it’s time to figure out how to make that happen.
Tell us about your upcoming full length album My Heart by Stephanie Cooke.
My Heart is a collection of experiences that have brought me to where I am today. It is every woman’s story. The things we sometimes don’t get to say out loud. The emotions we often hide because we don’t want to be seen a certain way. This project will touch many areas of my life from my battle with breast cancer to the love I have for my children. I’ve often been questioned about the fact that I always seem to write about love. When you are the kind of writer who writes from your own life, your own pain, your own promise, you can only write from who you are. Love is how I live my life. I truly do feel that Love Will Always Find a Way.
Originally published in 5 Magazine Issue #135 featuring Kon, Stephanie Cooke, Gareth Whitehead, Video Clash, 3YB Music Fest and more. Become a member of 5 Magazine for First & Full access to everything House Music for just $1 an issue!