Rico Dawson: Local Artist Brings Music Industry Knowledge and Talent To The Classroom

Making a Difference

If you hear him in church, you may know him for the sharp tenor registers of his voice. Most people know him from the work he has done with at-risk youth, coaching football, or teaching music. Teaching now for over 20 years, Rico Dawson leverages his connection with kids to make a difference in teaching them both music and life.

Kids today are different. They feel entitled to success but don’t want to work for it. They don’t have the work ethic that they should. I tell my students there is a beginning and there is a manifestation at the end, but there is also an in-between wilderness and you have to go through that to get to the end. A lot of kids want to be great, but they don’t want to invest time in themselves to be great. A lot of kids don’t reach their full potential if they don’t have anybody pushing them.

I tell students the things they need to hear as it relates to what is ahead of them. I am intentional about spending time tying in life skills, teamwork, and emotions in what I talk about. In music, their emotions bleed into the music. They don’t know how to seperate that. Professionals learn how to seperate it out, but children can’t do that. When they sing or play, their heart bleeds onto their sleeve.

I tell my students this is business not personal because I am always thinking ahead to how they will be able to perform in the future. I push them hard because they won’t be able to “get in their feelings” in what’s to come as they work a job and perform at a level to meet that industry’s demand.

There is a human element to teaching. If you don’t have a relationship of trust with them and show that you care about their lives, they are going to turn you out.

Rico Dawson
Rico teaching a music class

An Artist In His Own Right

Very few people know Rico Dawson is actually a recording artist in his own right. He was recently ranked #1 Inspirational Gospel music artist in Goldsboro, NC on Reverb Nation and #45 in the region of Fayetteville, Raleigh, and Durham, NC. Mr. Dawson’s music has a global audience with a lot of interest in Europe and France. His music has an R&B feel with God-inspired lyrics.

Mr. Dawson completed a Bachelor’s degree from Elizabeth City State University in Music Industry Studies with a concentration in Business Administration. From there, he interned with a small independent record company in Virginia Beach, VA. As an intern, Mr. Dawson had the opportunity to see how musical talent is acquired and participate in talent scouting, acquisitions, and talent retainment.

Because of my background and training (in music studies), you can know in the first 15 seconds if a song is worth listening to. I would listen to the demos sent to us, write down the songwriter and song, listen to them, pass them on to the president, and contact the artists that he decided to hire for either contract work or negotiations for exclusive agreements.

Rico Dawson

#1 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Work On Your Craft

Many reality shows have chronicled what the gauntlet looks like. Though it is glamorized for entertainment value and details are added for us to have the buy-in in the audience, the real music circuit runs in very similar ways. In music, artists submit their work to a showcase of some sort with significant competition. 500 acts may be present in the beginning for what will widdle down to 3 actual recording deals. It starts with presenting your work to a panel of judges who look for what makes you stand out as new, interesting, and different from everything else they are hearing on the market. If you pass the first panel, you go on to the second with more scrutinizing tastes. It continues in this fashion till the end of the so-dubbed “gauntlet”.

The struggle for young artists is to work on their craft and get in front of the label heads at the time when they are looking for new talent.

Rico Dawson

Advantages of Modern Technology for Musicians Today

Artists today have more direct control over their material and what happens to it than they ever had in the past. With the help of social media and YouTube, individuals are able to connect directly with their audience long before a recording company gets involved in promoting them.

During Covid, a lot of artists were doing performances virtually and were able to monetize those performances through Eventbrite tickets. That helped a lot of artists stay afloat. Virtual is another space to reach the audience now.

Rico Dawson

A service that provides great industry reach and business management now is called Reverb Nation. Reverb Nation provides artists with the ability to distribute and track their music, collaborate with other artists, and submit press kits to active venue listings. It allows fans to contact the artist, and it gives real-time feedback demographics on who is listening to the music. Music is distributed easily through Spotify and other streaming music platforms. Reverb Nation has been a great tool for Mr. Dawson. Interested fans and venue opportunities have been able to reach out to him through the site from as far as England.

Reverb Nation lets the people decide what is important. I let the people decide.

Rico Dawson

#2 Advice to Young Artists Aspiring To Get A Recording Deal: Think About The Bigger Picture, Know Your Rights, and Protect Yourself From Bad Deals

When you are controlling your own content, you have to have a vision for where you want to end up. Do you want to play venues live? You probably need a set list of songs ready to perform and full albums and merch you can sell at the event.

Knowing what you want in the big picture is going to help you know how to navigate the smaller decisions. Don’t be misled by what you see. Some of the artists that look so successful are actually living on credit trying to work hard and pay back the studio for all they paid on them. Contracts with record companies can often keep artists in bondage paying back their debts for studio time, production, video, etc.

It’s industry standard to split 50/50, but some contract opportunities ask for more than that. When you sign with somebody, they control the narrative and sometimes your masters. You don’t want to lose your masters because that is where your big money comes from (in licensure).

Rico Dawson

At the time of this interview, Rico Dawson was working on his second album that will feature a fresh inspiration and word from the Lord. For more information including links to Rico’s music and videos, check out his site on Reverb Nation.

Why Good People Die and How We Should Look At It

When I was growing up, my summers consisted of road trips across the country from North Carolina to Colorado. Through the Carolinas you could see rolling hills covered in evergreens and blue-purple mountains frosted in a thin layer of fog. The road west spiraled around steel arches in St. Louis and over paddleboats in the Mississippi river. The river ran wide and crossing it opened a whole new prairie landscape. Gone were the trees. Gone were the hills. Now we were driving through endless flat fields of grass and grain and corn. We were in the land of the cowboys and the setting of many western films that I saw as a kid. Before too long, we were in Colorado and pulling into my grandma’s yard.

Grandma’s house was the kind of house that always had room for everyone. Though it was just a three bedroom double-wide, beds sprung up from the floor and in the travel camper when family arrived. Some of the best memories of my childhood revolve around summers in that house with all my Kunau cousins gathered from Colorado and Texas.

The eldest cousin was also the only boy cousin, and we all looked up to him. We would run around the yard getting into grandpa’s garage full of junk, exploring the yard for Indian paint brushes, catching crickets, and digging up carrots in the garden. One year, there was a three wheeler to ride, and we all took turns letting Christopher drive us around the yard. It was excellent country-style fun.

My Aunt Glenda was the kind of woman who never left her room without her makeup on and her hair fixed. She was a true Southern lady. She was soft spoken in person, but she had a lot to say on paper. When we were apart, she wrote the most beautiful letters and cards to us. In these letters, she often encouraged me in my writing.

In 2007, she wrote, “make time in life for what gives you pleasure…writing is part of who God called you to be. Keep writing!”

This letter meant a lot to me. It inspired me as an artist, and I used it in one of my paintings.

I did not think it would be my last letter from her.

My Uncle Dennis was my mom’s eldest brother. He went off to Bible College where he met and married Glenda. The two of them spent many years in ministry together in Colorado, Carolina, and Texas. Most of this happened before my time. I remember Uncle Dennis more for his second career in security at the county jail.

My Uncle Dennis was a jokester. He loved the Three Stooges and often made similar facial expressions. He teased and joked more often than he was serious. When he was serious, there was profound depth to his wisdom and insight. He was also a gifted musician and played the steel guitar.

I remember Dennis and Glenda as two halves of the same whole. They worked well together and never seemed to have disagreements. Perhaps that is why we had to say goodbye to them together.

Saturday, October 6, 2018, Aunt Glenda went on to be with the Lord. She was only 69. Yesterday, October 13, 2018, Uncle Dennis joined her. He was only 66.

Though both of them had health troubles, it is hard to imagine losing either of them at such a young age. My cousins, Christopher and Charity, are shocked by the loss.

How can anyone find meaning in loss especially when it is the loss of both of your parents? What hope, what reason, could God have in taking them away?


The righteous perish, and no one takes it to heart; the devout are taken away, and no one understands that the righteous are taken away to be spared from evil. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death.

Isaiah 57: 1-2

The legacy of righteousness is that there is no sadness left for us in dying. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, the God who made us. For those that follow Christ, death is only the beginning to eternal life in Heaven. Today, my aunt and uncle are having church in Heaven. They have joined the angels in singing praises to God. They are shouting hallelujah to the twang of a steel guitar.

Though they will be missed here on Earth, there will be a day when we will be reunited with them. This is the hope we have in Christ.

May we all live a life worthy of the righteous legacy, and may we be happily satisfied at the end of this journey.