Indie Spotlight: Prince Ivan
Indie Spotlight is a content series by Indepreneur dedicated to highlighting the successes and stories of our Indie community members.
Each month, our staff selects students and clients from our community to interview and gain insight into their journey - the challenges, the setbacks, and the major wins!
This month, we'd like to introduce you to Prince Ivan.
October 29th by Graci Phillips
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Hey! Thank you so much for chatting with me, Brydon and Aaron! Tell everyone a little bit about yourselves and how Prince Ivan came to be!
Of course, Graci! Thank you for having us. Brydon here, and I’ll be acting as voice for us. Aaron is pulling an all-nighter right now, programming lights for a show here in Branson. He’s an excellent lighting designer, which is actually part of our story...
I grew up in Dallas, TX and Aaron is from the D.C. area, but he spent his teenage years in the Phoenix, AZ area. We met at Southern Virginia University. Aaron was playing football and I was playing basketball, but we met at auditions for an acapella group we both became a part of called “The Fading Point.”
From day one, we knew we were meant to do music together.
We initially started as a trio with my brother Garon. Garon and I had been doing professional entertainment with our family (The Bretts) for many years in Branson. Aaron moved to Branson and learned how to design lights for The Bretts and has now become one of the best LDs in town. While we were all involved in doing shows for The Bretts, we kept on developing the Prince Ivan concept and in 2014 we finally launched officially.
Initially we had a seven-piece band with a three-piece horn section. We had like a EWF, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake, Bruno Mars thing going on and it was dope. But in January of 2018, Garon decided to pursue his own solo career (you definitely need to check out his music) and focus on finishing college, so Prince Ivan became a duo. We signed an artist development deal that year and it really stretched us. We almost quit multiple times. In fact, by the end of 2018 we went into Christmas break heavily considering ending Prince Ivan and pretty much ending our friendship! We laugh about it now, but it was for real at the time. But something happened during that break. God really moved on both of our hearts and we came back ready to recommit and make Prince Ivan work.
Since then, we’ve had a lot of victories as a duo. We released our debut album in December 2019. It’s called “The Preface,” and it’s the first in a series of albums we plan on releasing over the course of our career called “The Chronicles of Prince Ivan.” One of our songs, “Let Her Be Beautiful,” has been placed in the film “The Never List” and we just launched a weekly radio show that we host called “The Friday Night Drive with DJ Lux and Prince Ivan.” We’re really glad we didn’t quit because the vision is really starting to manifest.
As individuals and as a group, you guys have such an interesting story. Tell us about the experience of performing with your family band in Branson for the past twenty years? When did you decide to branch into another style of music and how has it been juggling the two?
Small business can be tough. Music business can be tough. Family business can be tough. Putting all three together can be really tough. When you think about family show business, you think about the Jacksons or other families where things went wrong. That has not been the case for me and my family. We’ve definitely been through some tough things together, but it has been an amazing experience that has afforded us so much opportunity. Garon and I were talking about it recently. If we hadn’t grown up in a family show business and moved to Branson, there’s no way we’d be doing what we’re doing now. I wouldn’t have met Aaron and Prince Ivan never would have been born. So, we have nothing but gratitude for the lessons we’ve learned doing show business in Branson. PLUS, it’s prepared us to know how to build live shows, how to command a crowd, how to design lights, create video, choreograph, etc. etc. It has been a huge blessing for sure.
As for branching out and exploring a new style of music, it never occurred to me to do that until about 2009. Aaron had done some songwriting before that and Garon had started down that path as well. But I was just so firmly entrenched in singing cover songs and doing variety shows with my family that songwriting was never my focus. But the good news is that I grew up singing, listening to and researching all of the most popular songs in modern music history, so when you have those kinds of inputs, you tend to have pretty commercial songwriting output if that makes sense. Again, I’m just grateful for my pretty unconventional musical upbringing.
You guys are both so obviously naturally talented, so I can only imagine you’d have both ended up in music no matter what. But how do you feel like your time with The Bretts helped shape Prince Ivan?
I kind of answered this above. I should have read the questions before I stream of consienced this! Lol. But I will dig a bit deeper. The Bretts has been massively influential. I actually doubt that we would have ended up in music if it hadn’t been for Branson and The Bretts. What we didn’t hardly know anything about coming into Prince Ivan was the record industry. We’ve had to learn that. But how to build a business and do live shows, that is something we got to learn firsthand as we worked on The Bretts. Marketing, contracts, bookings, live show design, managing musicians - all of that.
Again, I’m so grateful for the education we’ve received through The Bretts and our Branson upbringing. In our past messaging, we’ve kind of avoided the conversation about the family show and Branson for fear of people thinking it’s hokey or cheesy. But we’ve found over and over again that people really think it’s a cool story and that Branson is cool, so we’ve embraced it.
Lastly, Nashville has country Atlanta has hip hop and R&B. Memphis has the blues. LA is pop. Etc. Branson is not that specific. You can’t succeed here unless you play and sing all kinds of music - country, gospel, pop, rock, blues, R&B, CCM, all of it. So, we’ve embraced that, too. Recognizing our multi-genre influence has helped shape our multi-genre approach to making music. So, we’re really grateful to Branson and The Bretts for that, too.
You mention in your bio and various interviews that making clean music that anyone can listen to is of central importance to Prince Ivan. Even naming yourself after your young nephew (Ivan) to keep centered!
What makes you both so passionate about your self coined term, SpectraPop?
SpectraPop is “music for everyone.” It blurs genre, generational and cultural boundary lines. And it is clean. We believe that music is meant to be enjoyed by everyone. We also believe that artists have a real obligation to use their influence responsibly. Music shapes thoughts, which shape feelings, which shape behavior, which shape habits, which shape culture, which shape laws. Napoleon Bonaparte said, “Musicians have more power than law-makers.” So, when we got into this we wanted to make sure that we used our platform to promote good, positive, sustainable things for society.
Our core message is about love, joy and unity. We stay away from any themes or lyrics that won’t pass what we call the “Ivan test.” Ivan is my nephew and he was three years old when we started the group. So, we stay away from profanity, drugs, violence, sex or anything that could be questionable. But our music isn’t Kidz Bop at all! It’s not soft or cheesy. It still hits like modern Top 40 music, but we just want to make sure it’s appropriate for all ages. We actually find that to be a better business approach anyway. By keeping our content all-ages appropriate, we make ourselves accessible to a much larger audience. But beyond it being smart business, we do it because we feel like it’s our mission to show the world that you can sell out without selling out.
I love how community minded you guys are with your music. It makes so much sense that it would spread into a lot of areas, even helping schools raise money for their music programs! Tell us about your program Music In Schools and how it got started?
One of our business mentors told us that every business should save, receive and give. Music in Schools is one way of giving back and investing in the next generation. We are passionate about educating and influencing younger generations. Music in Schools has been a concept that many people and artists have deployed at varying levels over many years. My buddy was in an acapella group that used and developed the model very well for a long time and, when they decided they no longer wanted to pursue it as heavily, he passed on the url and business model to us. So we’ve taken it from there.
The goal is to provide performance opportunities, educational workshops, fund-raising opportunities and a professional concert experience to communities and music programs. Music in Schools is one of our favorite things to do ever. We come away feeling like we really achieved our mission every time we do it. Right now, things have slowed down due to COVID, but we’re looking forward to things picking up again in 2021 so we can continue connecting with young people and investing in our future.
Brydon, if I’m not mistaken, you were one of the first Indepreneur IndieFounders! Way back when the program was first getting its legs. Can you tell us a little bit about how you came to Indepreneur and about your experience as a Founder?
That’s right! I’m such a big Circa and Corrin and Jack and everybody fan. I kind of geek out when I get the chance to correspond personally with any of you guys. I came across Indepreneur through an Instagram ad. But I was looking. After our artist development deal went South, we made the decision to stop chasing a record deal and go back to our dogged indie determination. So, we started searching again for how to become our own record label. After years of research and thousands of dollars spent on everybody (even falling for the 10K in 10 days campaign), what we’ve found in Indepreneur is THE BEST approach to music marketing on the market. Period. There is great stuff to learn from all of the other gurus out there, but Indepreneur is just the best. Hands down.
My experience as a Founder was great, although I didn’t keep up very well! We were in the middle of finishing our album so I had to focus there. Now, we are slowly implementing all of the Indepreneur modules into our business. Working on our Fan Finder now and should have our first campaign up this week!
This is a little excerpt from your website bio:
Another key decision Brydon and Aaron made was to stop chasing a record deal and build their creative vision as an independent band with the support of what Brydon calls “this goldmine of fans we already had that we weren’t nurturing. We kind of lost sight of what got us to where we were. So, we decided to build our business and brand indie style again while cultivating and caring for what we consider our tribe. We knew we had a lot of good songs and, with what we’d learned, we knew we could produce and release the album ourselves.”
You know that’s music to Indepreneur’s ears! 😉 I’d love to hear more about what brought you to this decision and how this indie journey has gone for you guys.
Well, like I mentioned, indie was always what we intended to do. We wanted to Chance or Macklemore it, for all of the obvious reasons. But, when the opportunity came to do the artist development deal and really see if we could make it in the big leagues, we didn’t want to pass it up. And it really stretched us! We’re really grateful for the lessons learned.
Going after a record deal isn’t all bad. But the reality is that labels are not looking for artists and talent anymore, they’re looking for business partners! So, the path to a label deal or a successful indie career is the same until you reach what I call “the big fork” - the decision point where you have a successful business, a fanbase, a movement. Ironically, it’s only when you don’t need the record label anymore that a record label is actually interested in partnering with you. So, you’re then working from a position of leverage and strength. It could become a real partnership to scale what you already have working or you just say, “We’ve already got a great thing going. No, thanks.” So, record deals are not all bad. But we are focused on building our own record label for ourselves at this point.
And, not to sound like a promo, but Indepreneur is ESSENTIAL to do that. Like Circa says, indies can do EVERYTHING major labels do (except TV, radio and some playlisting opportunities). We are focused on building what we can control and not believing the myth that someone or something is ever going to swoop in and save us from having to do the hard work of building our own business.
Most people wouldn’t know this, but we actually know each other outside of Indepreneur! We were part of the same music festival in San Diego at the beginning of this year. I got to see you guys perform a couple times, but most notably, was the amazing rooftop set you guys did! I don’t think there was a single person standing still. You guys have an incredible stage presence, no doubt thanks to your veteran performing status! What has this summer been like for you guys without the live shows? Have you found other things to replace them?
Thank you for the kind words, Graci. And, for the record, Graci is an amazing artist and you should all follow what she’s doing! That whole festival was amazing in San Diego. Our 2020 was looking so good. We had a ton of album release momentum and then COVID hit and decimated our tour schedule. More importantly for us, George Floyd and all of the social and racial justice issues boiled to the surface and the combination of that with COVID really altered our course this year. We’ve been blessed with gigs here and there and with a lot of client work in the studio, producing for other artists. So, God has really taken care of us.
But, after George Floyd, we kind of lost momentum on social media, music release, etc. We didn’t know what to say, but we knew we wanted to be part of the solution. So, we sacrificed that momentum to go into research and introspection mode, so that we can re-enter the conversation as a voice for hope, love and unity. We’re getting very close to being ready. I think we’ll always look back at 2020 as the year that woke us up and gave us a much more clear and global worldview. We’re grateful for the pain because it has caused transformation.
With everything you guys have done/been through as a group I can only imagine there’s been a lot of lessons learned. If you could give any advice to other artists who are walking down the Indie path, what would it be?
Persistence is the ability to sustain motivation long after the initial inspiration has passed. Stick with it even when you don’t feel like it. If you’ve got a vision and a blueprint, then stick with it no matter how hard things get. If you don’t have a vision and a blueprint, then do the internal work to get it. Our vision has given us that extra boost to stick with it when things have gotten tough.
The other thing we would say is to take responsibility for your business. Unless you want to give up 87% of your business (the average signed artist makes 13% of total revenue), then start thinking like an entrepreneur AND an artist.
We know the struggle! All you want to do is make music. That’s all we want to do, too! But PRODUCT is only one piece of the business puzzle. If you want to do this professionally (a.k.a make a living at it), then you also need MONEY, MANAGEMENT and MARKETING. You have to take responsibility for these areas of your business as well. If you start to view building your business as a creative process just like making the music is, then it starts to become fun to create your brand, your systems, and your processes. I want to say that we are extremely grateful to Indepreneur for demystifying so much of this for us. So, we would also tell other artists to link up with Indepreneur and do everything they say. Again, we’re not getting paid for this! Indepreneur is just the best.
Thank you guys SO much for taking the time to talk with me today! What’s on the horizon for Prince Ivan that we can be looking forward to?
You bet, Graci. 🙂 We do have a Christmas collab hitting before Christmas. But 2021 is our focus. Look for the fruit of our introspective process to release in early 2021. It’s called “The Unity EP” and we’ve never felt more passionate about a project. Can’t wait to release that and then a bunch of singles in 2021.
We’re also working on album #2 in The Chronicles of Prince Ivan series, all while growing our business and doing as much touring as COVID will allow. We’re also growing some of our offshoot organizations/projects like the HOOKED! Songwriting Contest, Music in Schools, SpectraPop records and SpectraCulture.org.
When it’s all said and done, we want to say that we made a big impact in the world. The world of Prince Ivan is much more than music. Hopefully it's a legacy.
And hopefully it’s the kind of legacy that leaves this world better than we found it. 🙂
About the author:
Graci Phillips is Indepreneur's Community Manager & Indie Success Specialist. Graci is part of our Nashville team and specializes in providing resources and solutions to our members, community building, and highlighting success stories within this incredible community.
If you are a member of our Indie Community and have a story to tell about your journey as an independent musician, reach out to Graci at firstname.lastname@example.org! We're always looking for new stories to share. If you aren't yet part of our Indie Community, you can get access to our entire library of music business trainings, our entire suite of exclusive discounts on partner products and services for musicians, our 4000+ private community of Indies, and weekly live stream Q&A's and coaching calls by signing up for INDIEPRO!
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