Eric Roberson is waiting for the music game to be shaken up.
The veteran indie-soul singer/songwriter has made it quite far releasing his own music without help from a major label. But he knows that it takes hard work to make sure people are aware of his music.
“Just the other day, I was doing a songwriting workshop with kids and they were talking about labels and stuff like that,” says Roberson, 43, calling from Philadelphia. “I said, ‘Well, you can get your music on (the internet). Everywhere I put my music at, you can get your music on it. But how will people know it’s on there is a part of the business that you have to fine-tune.’ ”
The New Jersey-born-and-based Roberson is also bracing for another sea change to happen in the music biz.
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“With technology changing right now, I think we’re all in a purgatory,” he says, laughing. “We’re all just waiting to see what the next transition’s gonna be. I think there’s gonna be another major technology shift in the near future. I just really feel that. I think, at the same time, we have now completely entered into a subscription-type business. All the mom-and-pop stores unfortunately are closing or have closed. The big chains ... it’s even further down in the priority list. I know, for me, it’s not important for me to be in a Best Buy or a Target anymore. It’s a waste of time, to be honest.”
This is why Roberson is offering more to his fans than just music. This year, he has been releasing the “Earth, Wind and Fire” trilogy of EPs – “Earth” dropped earlier this year, while “Wind” came out just last Friday. “Fire” is slated for October. But the EPs are just part of a bigger, multimedia bundle Roberson has for audiences. For $35, Roberson is selling what he calls “The Process,” where you not only get digital and hard copies of the EPs, but also weekly updates where you hear the music created each week, monthly Facebook Live sessions with Roberson, a private Facebook group where fans can talk about the music and discount offers on future merchandise.
“You’re subscribing to Apple Music,” he says. “You’re subscribing to Tidal. You’re subscribing to Spotify or Pandora. So, my way of thinking is, why not have people subscribe to us and why don’t we give them even more content than what we can provide on all the streaming outlets we have now.”
Roberson also says “Process” is for all those music nerds who miss reading album liner notes.
“In the culture I grew up in music-wise,” he says, “reading credits was just as important as listening to the music – knowing who was playing bass, knowing who produced it, knowing who sang background. And, now, people are putting out albums and you don’t know what label it’s on, who A&R’d it, who sang background, who wrote what. It’s just, now, they’re streaming it. So they’re not really, necessarily streaming the information.”
When he’s not working on ways to get his music (and so much more) out to the masses, Roberson continues to tour all over the country. (He will be in Durham on Saturday night.) He’s also a firm believer in collaborating with artists. Last year, he and Raleigh rapper/singer Phonte Coleman got together for a joint album called “Tigallerro.” (It’s a combination of their nicknames: Coleman occasionally goes by “Tigallo,” while Roberson usually refers to himself as “Erro.”)
“Phonte is one of my closest friends in the business,” he says. “We’ve been really good friends for 10-plus years now, and that has created numerous collaborations. … It was kind of a no-brainer. We probably talked about it for 3-4 years, you know. And then, one day, we did agree to say, ‘OK, this is the year no matter what. We just gotta free ourselves up.’ And I remember, one day, he called me and said, ‘I’m ready to do it! Let’s go!’ And it was funny, because me and my wife literally just had a baby.”
But even with a third son in the family, Roberson kept his promise. “I mean, the whole recording, I probably was holding my son in the studio.”