Musician, arranger, and musical director Akil Henry pours his heart and soul into the platform he started 10 years ago, supporting and promoting gospel music to listeners across the UK and beyond.
Question: You started One Sound Music, a platform for gospel music, and especially Adventist gospel musicians, in the UK in 2011, when you were a university student. Why did you want to create this space? What did you envision for One Sound Music at that time, 10 years ago?
The idea came from seeing so much talent within the Adventist Church, but so little output in terms of recorded music. We were around a lot of people who had amazing gifts, but we just felt like that we needed to take it outside of the four walls and beyond just singing at different churches.
My friends and I decided we wanted to create an album and release it ourselves through our own record label. We envisioned creating lots of music, releasing it, and touring it.
What were the first projects of One Sound Music? You created a YouTube channel in 2013. Is that your main platform now?
So, our first project was that album. We did some Bible studies on Revelation 14:6-12 [the Three Angels’ Messages], and then got a few of our friends who are songwriters to go away and write some songs about it. We came up with 12 tracks in total (I think) and came up with demos… which are still sitting on our hard drives! We realized as we were creating all the music and making the album that we didn't actually have any sort of a following and that if we released it, no one would actually hear it.
That's where the idea for the YouTube channel came about — we wanted to create a base of people who would engage in the music that we made, and give artists a platform.
And seven years on, that's our main output — we release mostly live videos (i.e. one-take videos) of artists. We've also expanded over the quarantine period to do more, such as artist interviews.
Who are the people consuming your content?
I would say mostly — but not exclusively — Christians, but people of various denominations and backgrounds, and actually the US is number one on the list of countries consuming our content (thanks y'all!)
How would you describe One Sound Music now, 10 years after it began?
Right now, in a nutshell, we've become a company that gives artists a platform to tell stories about Jesus. Whether through our YouTube Channel (live videos, artist interviews), our socials, our curated Spotify playlists or label services (marketing and PR for artists), it all exists to give talent the space to go further in their music ministry.
During the pandemic, you curated #IsolationFest2020. What was that? How has One Sound Music been impacted by the pandemic?
That was so cool! So as soon as the pandemic hit and we went into lockdown over here, we decided straightaway: we should do a virtual festival. We hit up loads of different artists, our friends, strangers (to us), just anyone whose music we resonated with. And I think we ended up with 20 or so artists across the UK, Denmark and the US playing 30-minute sets each. It was all hosted on our social media handles (Instagram, Facebook, YouTube) for three days (Friday, Saturday, Sunday) and we ended up having at the highest point nearly 300 concurrent viewers (tuning in at the same time) across all our platforms. We got so much amazing feedback that I think we'll probably do another one in the next few months.
To be honest, the pandemic has actually allowed us to reach people even more directly, and we expanded into doing even more with our socials, releasing more videos, curating playlists, starting up label services, and more — I've actually never been more busy with One Sound Music as I am since the pandemic hit!
What is the biggest project One Sound Music has been involved with so far?
I'd say our biggest projects have been our Live Sessions (we did two back in 2015 and 2016) where we filmed live videos as part of our concert with a live audience, and edited it for our YouTube channel. We've actually still got footage from one of them that we've yet to release in the archives, so we're going to drop that this year!
Part of the mission of One Sound Music is to support gospel artists, is that right? Are these mostly Adventist artists?
Yes, absolutely — we're all about giving artists platforms. We work with mostly (but not exclusively) Adventist artists because we're quite under-represented in the gospel/Christian music world, and I think we have a variety of unique and interesting sounds and perspectives to contribute.
Message-wise, I think our understanding of the Word differs in some ways from mainstream Christianity and so there's definitely a place for us to communicate those truths.
However, that doesn't mean we don't work with non-Adventist artists, because there are definitely many things that we believe in common with the wider Christian faith and we're happy to work with artists across the spectrum of the gospel scene.
What is your background? Are you a musician? Are you more interested in the technical aspects of music production?
I grew up in the Adventist Church from birth, and I've always been into music pretty much as far back as I can remember. I started piano lessons at a pretty young age, so I'm like 20 years in now. I did my degree in Mathematics and Music, and I've pretty much tried my hand at most things music-related — musical directing, production (which I have really started taking seriously since the pandemic), arranging, vocal arranging, songwriting, mixing and mastering, etc. I'd say my main talent is as a pianist/keyboardist though — I have my own band called Between Worlds.
Gospel music in the UK got a big boost at the wedding of Harry and Meghan in 2018. Did you see a big uptick in interest in your channel then?
Funnily enough, I don't think so — although it was really cool to see the Kingdom Choir do their thing (Paul Lee, the main soloist is Adventist) and there's also a couple of Adventists in the choir, too. We have a much smaller market gospel-wise over here, but I think choir music really does well here, hence the success of choirs like B Positive Choir (run by an Adventist), London Adventist Chorale, London Community Gospel Choir, and more.
How is gospel music in the UK different than in the US?
I would say the main difference is the styles that are integrated into the music. Obviously, you have your traditional/contemporary gospel, which is broadly similar, but then in terms of the other styles that are integrated with gospel music, in the UK, we have styles like afrobeats, drill, African P&W, and reggae that we fuse with gospel, whereas in the US it's more R&B, soul, and other genres like that.
The scene is much bigger in the US and it's much more of a Christian country than the UK is, so the market is broader — if you asked the average American who Kirk Franklin or Fred Hammond is, they might know these gospel legends, whereas people here wouldn't know our gospel greats like Noel Robinson or Lurine Cato. However, the success of choirs shows that there is a market over here — we just have to find a way to tap in.
Do you see One Sound Music as being UK-centric, or do you see it as more global?
I think One Sound Music started off UK-centric, but we definitely are thinking globally in terms of our aims as a company — we want to work with talented artists from around the world. The Isolation Fest showed us that we have the capability through the power of technology to connect to global talent, so we want to continue to do that. In fact, we're soliciting video and music content from artists globally, so if you'd like to submit your video/music for consideration on our YouTube channel, please complete this form.
What is the state of gospel music in the Adventist Church in Britain?
That is a great question! I think young people are taking gospel music into their own hands and forging new pathways for themselves over here in the UK. There isn't much of a push or focus on it at a leadership and conference level (which is the case right the way up to the General Conference, I guess), so it's meant that entrepreneurial young people are raising funds themselves and putting out music — people like Byron Taylor, Soul Thirst Music, Joel Robinson, Karin Williams, Che Sampson, Nicole Sanderson, and lots more.
There's something of a renaissance right now among young Adventists who have the know-how to write, produce, and distribute their own music. There are guys like Keith Bazari who are hot on the production side of things, so I think the scene has big potential for the future. We did a One Sound Music playlist of our top picks of UK Adventist music right now here: Spotify, YouTube.
What goals do you have for One Sound Music in the future? Next year? Five years from now?
The long-term goal is to become a record label, signing artists and taking them through the lifecycles of projects, from songwriting, studio recording, production, mixing, marketing/PR, right through to distribution and getting their products on sale/streamed.
We also want the artists we sign to be able to tour their music worldwide, and continue to utilize our platforms to promote artists through our YouTube channel and website. Over the next year, our plan is to continue to focus on putting out content on our YouTube channel, with an aim to reach 2 million views/10,000 subscribers by the end of the year, and also to continue to provide label services to artists to allow their music to reach as many ears as possible.
We're planning to continue to grow our social presence on various platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and others (we've joined Clubhouse and hosted a number of rooms) with engaging content such as artist interviews, music discussions, and concerts.
Five years from now, we plan to have a fully-functioning record label and a YouTube channel/website that is a hub for new, emerging, and established Christian music talent.
One Sound Music is a non-profit, right? What are your expenses? Where does your funding come from?
Well… we actually are not a non-profit, we just don't make any money at the moment! Our expenses: wow, that's a long list. We pay for videography, audio equipment, venue hire, virtual storage, website hosting, graphic design, virtual conferencing platforms, advertising… and those are just some of our expenses that I can remember off the top of my head. We are completely self-funded actually and none of us are full-time (on the contrary, we all have full-time jobs/occupations), so all donations are very much appreciated!
So, you don’t work on One Sound Music full-time? What is your day job?
Unfortunately, I do not work on it full-time yet. I still have my day job as a Data Lead at Publicis (an advertising agency). Actually, working in advertising really helps the side hustle because I can figure out how to market the music that we make.
Who else works on One Sound Music with you?
There are three partners: myself (managing director), my fiancée Antonia, and my good friend Tochi. We also have a few other people who help us in various capabilities such as social media and PR (shout-out to Manisha, Hayley, Olecia, and Helena)!
What is your very favorite gospel track?
That is an extremely difficult question! It changes from day to day. Right now, the track I've had on repeat for the past few months is Psalm 23 by Marvin Sapp. All-time favorite might be something like “Without You” by Kirk Franklin from his 2005 album “Hero,” or “Thank You Lord For Being There For Me” by Fred Hammond. Those songs will send me into worship at any time or place, no matter what I'm doing!
If someone reading this, who is not particularly familiar with gospel music, wanted to listen to just one amazing track, what would you recommend?
I'd probably recommend “Can't Give Up Now” by Mary Mary. An amazing re-work of James Cleveland's “I Don't Feel No Ways Tired” and it was in my favorite era of gospel: the late 1990s/early 2000s. This was Mary Mary on their first album “Thankful” where every track was a smash hit, and this was sung in churches all over. It's the perfect pick-me-up, “I can get through this” song, and it's so uplifting!
Tell us a little more about you. Where do you live? Where did you study? What church do you go to?
I am a proud South Londoner. I studied Mathematics and Music at the University of Birmingham and graduated in 2013. I'm between churches at the moment as far as not having somewhere that I'm completely settled in, but my heart is with Acts Church in London where I've played quite a few times. Also, I've been tuning into the North England Conference Youth livestream throughout this whole pandemic and it's been amazing as well.
But my main focus church-wise is Heart Space, a small group that I run with a couple of friends on alternate Saturday mornings and it's so good to just dig into the Word in an intimate setting and build community with people.
What have you learned through running One Sound Music? What have you most enjoyed about it?
I've learned that networking is so key. If you put yourself out there and continue to knock on doors, eventually some will open. I've also learned that perseverance is a muscle you have to continually work on — without it, you won't go far at all. I've enjoyed being able to create music with some of my favorite people on the planet and just being able to capture moments in time.
The most amazing thing has been seeing how the music that we've given a platform to has touched people. Some of the YouTube comments really warm our hearts and let us know that regardless of whether One Sound Music gets to the level where we want it go, it's all been worth it if we can reach people through music.
All of the One Sound Music links can be found here.
Alita Byrd is interviews editor for Spectrum.
Photo courtesy of Akil Henry.
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