Interview With Demmette Guidry
The Executive Behind Mary Mary

As Senior Vice President of Columbia Music, Demmette Guidry is at the helm of the marketing storm that propelled new-fangled Gospel duet Mary Mary into the consumer stratosphere.

The unique challenge of handling the only Gospel act on this otherwise mainstream label doesn't throw this record executive off. It actually gives him a chance to flex his marketing muscle Demmette Guidrywith a product that is perhaps closer to his heart than many things he's had an opportunity to work on. His is a heart for God.

Guidry explains that Mary Mary came to Columbia through producer Warryn Campbell. "We were determined to have them here. We took meetings with Warryn, and as a result of the enthusiasm from everybody here from the top down to the promotion ranks, I think he felt our enthusiasm. I have had a relationship with Warryn (see interview) and have known him [for quite a while] and I think he felt like this was a place where his vision for the group could be carried out with integrity and it wouldn't be a compromise. We would represent it for what it was."

"We weren't necessarily looking for a Gospel act, it just kind of happened. But you know, God is good, so I don't believe that anything just happens. We just always have our feelers out for hit material, hit records and more importantly career oriented artists. God just kind of brought them my way, and for me in particular, I was [excited] to be a part of a Gospel project. It just all kind of came together. I don't think it was a coincidence." And if notoriety is any indication, it was certainly divinely orchestrated that Mary Mary got to spread their wings at Columbia.

Having already enjoyed incredible chart success, Guidry says this is only the beginning for Mary Mary.

"We are just getting started. I think the key to the success that we've experienced thus far has been the set-up. We took tracks, even prior to them being mixed down, to GMWA [in 1999] and began to play them for the pacemakers and announcers down there. We've been setting them up since September (1999). We handle them the same [as any other artist]. Certainly there is a ministry from their point of view and we are careful to not tamper with the integrity of their ministry, but we don't put it through any less of a process that you would put a Mariah Carey record or a Lauryn Hill record. You handle it the way would market Mary Maryanything. With any project there are certain stages and set-ups, marketing mixes and strategies that you would employ and Mary Mary is getting that full complement here." (See album review).

One might think that having to protect the ministry of an artist in a business world where that is not normally a consideration; there might be room for conflict.

"For us it's all about hit records, but at the same time because it's Gospel and because we support the vision of the artist —and from the artist's standpoint it is a ministry —we respect and embrace that. [We took this project] to GMWA because I know with their track record, that is their core audience. At the same time I was setting up the Gospel audience, we also put a twelve-inch in the clubs. We did that because we had a hit record and we know that there is a maturation period for a hit record. We knew that once we had a hit record in the clubs, it would be an easier ‘sell’ to radio. So we sort of had a two-fold agenda going."

But if not a conflict business-wise, does that present a spiritual conflict? Guidry shares his position as a Christian record exec.: "I believe that the Gospel is to be taken out to the masses. People in the church definitely need hear praise & worship music, [as it is clearly] for people in the church. But Gospel needs to be carried out to those that don't know about Jesus, and those people are in the clubs —for better or for worse. And that's part of what Mary Mary is about; to touch people that don't know (see interview). And [our marketing] wasn't just about the clubs, we took it to roller-skating rinks, youth fellowships, and places like that.

It's about taking it into places where people are not going to listen to a James Cleveland record or not even a Fred Hammond record [because they don't yet know God]. You read the bible and you see Jesus dining and having supper with the sinners and the tax collectors. The Pharisees and everybody criticized Jesus for that. I believe the Gospel has to go all across the world and to places where people have noMary Mary with Warryn Campbell idea about Jesus and need the good news and need to be saved. Whoever sees that as a conflict spiritually is wrong."

As secular labels get more skin in the field of Gospel music, it remains to be seen how the rules will change. Purely Gospel labels have become skilled in stretching budgets and maximizing existing listener and ministry support bases to promote their artists. New Gospel factions of mainstream labels sometimes recruit Gospel-industry people to share the knowledge, but in some cases do what they can with what they've got. In most cases that's a lot. Can't we all just get along without worrying about getting gobbled up? Guidry offers his perspective:

"I think [as Christians and people who care about Gospel music] we all have to be careful. I do believe that there are major labels that see what Gospel music is bringing just in terms of marketshare. Gospel and Christian music marketshare is growing [quickly]. People can sit back and see that it had a seventy-five percent increase over last year and has doubled in sales the last three or four years. Major labels are interested in it [if only] from a business standpoint. I don't think the bar is necessarily going to be raised for Gospel labels, but it should certainly open [everyone's] eyes to see that there are other ways to do things. [Gospel music] shouldn't be marketed any differently. It can be done [at any type Mary Maryof label] with integrity. [God] has people sitting in certain places to make sure that things are done right and with integrity."

It is this integrity that Guidry tries to impart in his sometimes world-driven work. "I struggled with what was my purpose and why [the Lord] has me in the position of influence that I'm in. And a simple answer came back to me —I am here to be an example in an industry that is defined by compromise. For my staff and the people around me, I try to be an example, and walk what I believe. I'm aware that I might be the only Jesus [someone might] see. That's my ministry —to walk upright in this place, where maybe no one else will."

— interview by Melanie Clark

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