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.
— interview by Melanie Clark —
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
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
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 anything. 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
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 no 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 of 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."
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