SURVIVING ON THE EDGE: A LOCAL MUSIC COMPANY AND COMMUNITY NONPROFIT FIND INNOVATIVE SOLUTIONS IN A COVID-19 WORLD

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Part 1 of a 2-part interview with Dr. Leonard Thompson

 

By Helen Horvath

 

Photo:  Dr. Leonard Thompson, CEO and Michelle Thompson, Sr. Vice President, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records

 

June 29, 2020 (San Diego) -- In this first of a two-part interview with Dr. Leonard Thompson III, CEO of M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records and Communications Director of the NAACP San Diego, Dr. Horvath and ECM discuss COVID-19’s impact upon his business and the mission of the NAACP. 

 

M.A.N.D.A.T.E’s acronym means “Making A Necessary Difference at the End.”

M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records:  Leadership

 

With a 95% loss of revenue as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, this small, internationally known Christian local record label has both been stretched and challenged.  Yet the Thompsons and their staff have worked to innovate and grow within the mandated public health guidance and directives. The loss of revenue has impacted the label and the company’s mission to support inner city youths in our communities through the non-profit MANDATE Project IMPACT. 

 

Even with the 95% loss of revenue, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records, the music, and ministry still goes on.  The firm’s servant leadership mentality shines through daily.

 

The restrictions directly impacting the record label include the inability to have live concerts (which helps promote artists) as well as cancellation of the San Diego County Fair, and other grassroots festivals in our communities. These include Praise Fest, County Fair Gospel Fest, and the Jazz at the Creek Concert Series. The company has also suffered loss of artists’ touring revenues, production fees for music events,  management and representation of artists.  Artists are still working with the label, yet the realistic restrictions of social distancing has financially and professionally impacted the entire music industry.

 

As with many successful small businesses, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records operates multiple streams of faith-based revenue.  Each of these streams of income have been impacted by COVID-19 restrictions and by loss of buying power as a result of high unemployment in our communities.

 

As a 35-year grassroots business, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records is consistently positioned to grow musicians, song writers, overall artists and their careers.  According to Dr. Thompson, M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records is particularly known for faith-based Christian Gospel and Jazz music.  Some of the artists include Men4Christ (gospel music), Victoria X. Mathews (San Diego Native-Gospel, R&B, Jazz), and Erisa Nicole (Gospel and smooth jazz).  M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records’ artists can be found at all major online streaming services to include You-Tube, Spotify, Amazon, and other digital formats.  

 

When creating the record label all those years ago, Dr. Thompson had a unique vision as a Christian.  Growing up in the church, he developed a love for music centered around positive and life-changing messages. That passion has filtered into his adult life.  Dr. Thompson had a vision based upon Ephesians 6:10-18 (NIV) that states, “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power…therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground so that when you have done everything,… stand…”

 

Through his solid, lifelong belief in God, Dr. Thompson created M.A.N.D.A.T.E. Records as a Christian-owned and operated label and small for profit business.  The label is known internationally for its artists.  Dr. Thompson’s philosophy in business is to take care of your staff first.  

 

Both Dr. Thompson and his wife, Michelle Thompson, are artists in their own right.  Michelle began her career as a singer/songwriter and song artist under the name Evangel.  Dr. Thompson was first a musician and both Michelle and Dr. Thompson transitioned into record label executives.  The M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records team managers and employees include public relations staff, marketing, artist relations, and members of the Recording Academy (GRAMMY’s) and the Screen Actors Guild (SAG/AFTRA).  

 

God Radio 1:  Talk and Music Radio Online

 

Michelle Thompson is the Senior Vice President at M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records.  She is also a radio personality and program director for Godradio1.com. The online radio station is dedicated to international Christian music and artists. 

 

Artists and personalities include 3 Guys and a Mic, the Mid-Morning Show with Evangel and Walter Ko, the Angela Bennett Show, the Holy Inferno with Lyrik and many other programs.  The radio station is supported by community donations and community partnerships.

 

MANDATE PROJECT IMPACT (MPI).  Community Leadership through Service

 

M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records supports the San Diego County inner city youth through the MPI project.  Built upon the Christian values of servant leadership, the MPI program is a standalone non-profit located in San Diego.  The mission of the MPI is to “empower, mentor, and develop inner city underserved youth and young adults into the next generation of music industry professionals…”  Through this mission, MPI provides learning and internship opportunities in the entertainment industry for underprivileged inner-city San Diego youth and youth 16-24.  The MPI experience for youth provides the participant the ability to grow their gifts and talents creating a framework for future success in the entertainment industry and life.  

 

MANDATE Project IMPACT has felt the negative effects of COVID-19’s restrictions on public gatherings.  It’s key fundraising efforts to support adolescent centered non-profit youth initiatives have historically been tied to two concerts:  the Jazz at the Creek (currently in 9th season) and the Bayside Gospel Concert Aboard the Midway (currently in their 7th season).  As with other for-profit MANDATE Records activities, these live concerts have been cancelled for 2020.  This impacts the non-profits ability to provide youth mentorship and personal growth.  

 

In the past, MANDATE Project IMPACT has raised over $96,000 for its San Diego youth programs through these activities. With support of major businesses and donors that include Jacob Family Foundation, Walmart, GEICO, Wells Fargo, Union Bank, and many more, MPI historically has positively impacted underserved youth in our greater San Diego region.  Key to the success of Project IMPACT is the ability of staff to provide mentorship and internship opportunities for youth 16 to 24 to learn entertainment industry related job skills.  This non-profit’s programs rely heavily upon community financial support to sustain programs and services to develop and sustain the inner city youth’s current and future employment and learning opportunities.

 

M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records – New revenues amid the pandemic 

 

As mentioned, the impact of COVID-19 to the firm’s operations has been financially devastating.  The firm has been working to diversify its operations for years. To make up for some of their lost revenues, the record label has become creative.  

 

One of the new revenue streams has been to contract in the creation of virtual funerals using a four or five camera shoot that places cameras strategically during the viewing or funeral to help the attendees feel as if they are truly at the service. This method permits loved ones to attend the viewing and/or funeral online, allowing for closure. Funeral participants are able to interact with each other using technology during the ceremony.  

 

The record label has also continued its ministry work by providing church consulting services during the COVID-19 pandemic. The consulting services center around continuing relationships with church members through the use of technology and in compliance with local, state, and national COVID-19  directives.   

 

Creativity and innovation have become key to the ability of a non-profit and small business to thrive and survive in this new COVID-19 business and restrictive lifestyle.  The Thompsons have used outside the box ideas to create new revenue streams for their businesses.

 

Some of the innovations and changes center around the use and impact of changing technology in the music industry.

 

Dr. Thompson stated, “before the pandemic, the (music) industry had begun to change as a result of technology.  A record label would produce a vinyl album and the album will be sold through distributors.” Then the industry slowly moved to digital recordings with music compact discs until vinyl records became pretty much obsolete, he noted.”The tide again changed to downloading music through pay services; yet, we are now working towards music streaming services.  All of these technology changes have impacted our revenue stream.  The funds in the industry are not there.  There is a loss of control of artists rights and music.”

 

As a result, he said, “We are going backwards to the 1950s and 1960s when artists would release two-sided 45 RPM vinyl records to make a profit.  The artists will not generally produce full albums any longer,”  unless released to streaming services song by song, he adds. So the income from streaming services is critical to the company’s business model.

 

He continued, “Technology allows for change. It is a beautiful thing…We can do full on feature films with I-Phones.  We are able to set up four to five camera shoots with an I-Pad. “ As for the new generation of young people, he says they are “so brilliant, we invest into them so that we can have reciprocal teaching.”

 

Thompson says, “The record label has invested in changes to how we operate our businesses in the community and industry….There is new and unique technology that permits artists and ordinary community members to develop revenue beyond CashApp (and other technology to collect revenues). The technology and the internet, permit artists and record labels to develop online concerts to help people who are quarantined.  Examples of this are concerts for $1.00 per user to expand revenue streams.  This bucks the industry’s past model of having a physical concert to attend in order to generate revenues.”  

 

The set up for these online concerts is much different than a live concert.  According to Dr. Thompson, “Typical costs for a Prince concert would be a multi-million dollar deposit that would start at $1.5 million to secure his participation and then end up at around $5 million per show; that included all set up and operations of the concert.  When the concert would be announced and ticket sales begun, concerts would sell out quickly and the revenue would be recouped.”

 

By contrast, he reflects, “With the current online virtual concerts, how popular an artist is in the social media world will dictate the revenue generated from an online concert.  If you have a true fan base, they will spend money on you (artist).  If your following is not 500,000 the question is are, they (fans) organic followers or are they paid to join the site?  We look for the superfan that wants to be tied into artists.”  

 

To sustain the business in this restrictive COVID-19 environment, the Thompsons do not draw revenue from M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records.  Dr. Thompson has not taken a salary in the past in order to consistently ensure that his work family is able to thrive in this COVID-19 environment. In this COVID-19 environment, “every community member in our region has sacrificed to ensure that our community continues to thrive even in the most challenging business and non-profit environments”, he says. 

 

To support M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records and artists, you can go to their store website to purchase full albums or individual songs for download. Music is also available for purchase through streaming services to include iTunes.  Downloads range from $1.98 to $12.98 for full albums.  You may preview artists by subscribing to M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records’ YouTube site.  If you are an artist seeking representation, contact the label through their website.

 

To support MANDATE Project IMPACT, you can go to their program website to donate or volunteer your services to mentor underprivileged youth in our communities.  

 

Photographs courtesy of M.A.N.D.A.T.E Records and MANDATE Project Impact.  Other images obtained under a creative commons license. 

 

Dr. Helen Horvath is a published author, psychologist, and organizational development consultant.  As a speaker, she has been invited to speak at the American Psychological Association Annual Conference, Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, and other key professional organizations.  Dr. Horvath is a published author on a variety of psychology and business related topics.  She is a former marriage and family therapist who published a relationship book entitled “Put a Period to IT: When Divorce is the Option.”

 

Dr. Horvath has also authored articles for East County Magazine on impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on local military members and veterans, Native American tribes and more.

 

East County Magazine gratefully thanks the Facebook Journalism Project for support through its COVID-19 Local News Relief Fund Grant Program to help make this reporting possible. #FacebookJournalismProject. You can donate to support our local journalism efforts during the pandemic at https://www.EastCountyMedia.org/donate.


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