Interview With Tara Griggs-Magee
Vice-Pres and GM of Verity

One thing that strikes you right away is Tara Griggs-Magee's apparent sensibility. She's Vice President and General Manager at Verity Records and you get the impression she could probably run the country. She seems perfectly capable of handling the tasks at hand, and those that she doesn't specialize in she would certainly have the sense to delegate and manage. This is what she does at Verity —she runs a small country.

Overseeing day-to-day operations and executive producing most of the projects on the label, Griggs-Magee certainly has her plate full. The tall order that makes up the varying responsibilities of her job kicked in at the onset.

Tara Griggs-MaGee"I came to Verity about five years ago. It was a whole new venture that Jive Records was starting. When I first came to the label we had two artists —Vanessa Bell Armstrong and John P. Kee and the New Life Community Choir. My mandate was to build a record company, pretty much! There is no record company without a roster, so I started building a roster."

Having moved over from Benson Records where her background was mostly in A&R, she was aptly equipped to handle the task. She continues to be focused in that area and is largely responsible for the deep roster Verity holds today.

"I really felt called by God to be here. I'm originally from Nashville, and was sought out by President of Jive Records, Barry Weiss. I wasn't necessarily looking to move or make a change, but I liked the vision that the company had for wanting to get more involved with Gospel music. I really felt like we were of like mind as far a their vision matching my vision of what God was calling me to do. So I saw it as a real challenge to get out of my comfort zone from Nashville to come to New York City and start a whole new venture. I saw it as a challenge. It was also very difficult to make the decision because I had such longstanding relationships with the artists at Benson like Fred Hammond, and Commissioned, and Hezekiah Walker and Albertina Walker —so many people that I respected. That was the toughest thing about deciding to leave to come [here]. It was a real blessing after about two years that Zomba actually bought Benson. The former Benson artists were integrated into the Verity roster, s o I had the pleasure of working with those artists again."

Those artists have been condensed and gelled to make Verity THE label to reckon with. Within the industry few rival the success that Griggs-Magee and her colleagues have amassed. Who could have imagined? Well, SHE did.

"Yes I did. I felt so called to be here. And I'm reminded that God never leaves us or forsakes us and that the vision that He implanted in me was something that WAS going to prosper and it was going grow, and it was going to be what it is today. And it will continue to grow to be bigger and better things. We just want to continue to claim the kingdom for Christ, and that's totally the vision of Verity."

The focus on her personal ministry and calling is perhaps what affords her such success in guiding others.

"Ministry is in everything that I do. I know for certain that Verity is not just a record company. People look at the business or the commerce side of things, but I know that it's a real ministry that God has ordained. I feel that is the reason this is a ministry that's grown and prospered and [above all else] we're just really here to represent Christ. That's always been my goal in my personal walk with Christ —just to represent God in the best way possible. I feel that God requires excellence in all that we do. And my goal has always been to take Gospel music to a whole other level and to bring a level of quality that I felt was somewhat lacking in the Gospel of yesterday. God is not finished with this ministry yet and I'm just excited to be here."

But she warns against getting lost in the success and hoopla that comes with working in the music industry.

"I feel like I have such a sober spirit, because I just don't get caught in the hype. It's so easy to stay focused on the ministry simply because —even though there's a commercial side to this music —the core of what we do is totally about Christ. It's just what this is about. Without Christ being a part of this we would be like any other secular label."

But because of the element of the Gospel it is different, " It's a pleasure and honor to work with some of the most incredibly anointed ministers of the Gospel. I've sat in my office and listened to approve a final mix of something and [instead] found myself in tears. This music is so powerful and I know it has the ability to change people's lives."

Ministry and profit margins are not easily co-mingled. Dealing with business challenges in the context of ministry is a complex thing.

John P. Kee and 
Vanessa Bell Armstrong"That is very hard. I have had to deal with [some tough situations]. [For example] I may know an artist and I know their heart. I may know they have a heart for God but for whatever reason they may have not acquired the same commercial success as a major artist may have on the label. It's like in school where you're judged on the curve. [We have] so many major artist on the label that really do well commercially, but I know there are artists that truly have a heart for God [but might not do as well]. It's very painful to see business override the ministry. And sometimes that's just the nature of this thing. It's hard because I still have people I have to answer to. But God is in control. He will always have the final say."

And we have seen that happen. When an artist is out of a deal or there is no commercial success, we have to stay mindful that there are still greater things at work. A greater purpose than what we can see that can only ultimately result in good for all those who love Him. There are executives like Griggs-Magee that are caught in the middle of balancing souls won vs. awards won, and are faced with the limitation of even their power in that regard.

"As Pastor [Hezekiah] Walker says, 'The power belongs to God.' We have to remember that we struggle not against flesh and blood. Sometimes when the Lord is really blessing us, that's when we come under the fiercest attack, because the enemy does not want to see the ministry go forth. God has really gone forth in a major way within this ministry [at Verity], but sometimes we struggle —against those principalities, and powers and spiritual wickedness."

Ultimately Griggs-Magee is enjoying the success she has worked at, but prays that the industry doesn't lose focus.

"My real hope is that God remains in this thing. There are a lot of artists whose ministries are very outreach oriented, but [in trying to get people's attention] I just don't want this thing to have an emptiness. In our desire to be famous and so-called win souls and reach outside the church, sometimes we're not taking anything with us. No Word. Nothing life changing. And that's Commissioned and Donnie McClurkinthe real barometer. I love all styles of Gospel music, as long as it's quality, but I just pray that God stays in this thing, and we don't overly chase commercial success and lose sight of what this is about."

"I think that's the reason you've seen a lot of the Verity artists prosper by leaps and bounds. It wasn't just that we were just getting our jam on for Jesus, but because there is real substance in what God has given each of these artists in how they communicate the Gospel. There is such depth and substance in what we do everyday. It's a blessing to see how God has taken those ministries to a whole other level."

Holding on to the sincerity and the realness is important in maintaining the sanctity.

"If it's really from the depths of your heart it will touch the depths of another person's heart. I've been to many concerts where I've been entertained, but I walk away feeling empty. I didn't get anything that stayed with me. There are a lot of people in this industry that talk the lingo and move in circles, but it's not real to them. And I just pray that God just moves to really save people that are working in this industry. I can't understand how a person could work around this music, be around this music everyday and it not change their lives.

That's my challenge to everybody out there. It's a real blessing and a real honor to work in this industry, but it's so much about the ministry. It's so much more important than anything."

interview by Melanie Clark

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