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.

Christmas Time Blues, Doubts, And A Hard Lesson In Valuing Your Health

This Christmas is not setting itself up to be one of my best ones, and it’s not because of what I’m about to tell you. It’s because so far this Christmas season, I have bought all my presents but not wrapped a one. I never found an ugly Christmas sweater to wear to the party, so I was completely left out of the photos. I’ve missed almost every Christmas song on the radio, been too busy-or sick-to decorate, and lost out on all my Christmas parties (even the ones I planned myself). It’s warmer than Autumn, most days this December, it’s not feeling like Christmas at all.

Christmas starts to feel like Christmas to me when the first cup of cider is poured in November, and the craft bazaars start popping up everywhere for early shoppers. This is my favorite time of year, and it excites me almost as much as Christmas morning, because this is the time I get to support local artists and buy gifts for the ones that I love. When we gather and give thanks at Thanksgiving, it just preps my heart more for the appreciation and love to come. The bright lights, the displays, and the holiday specials all feel magical to me. Christmas music and movies on constant play while I’m swimming in hot chocolate and gift wrap is…well…divine. Without all this cheer, all I hear is, “I’ll have a blue…Christmas.”

A Serious Wake Up Call

In the middle of my bustling, busy life, I got a serious wake-up call. I walked out the door, ten days before Christmas, excited to finally be going to a Christmas party, and my leg gave way beneath me. I fall on the steps and cried out for help. Help comes running, and I got back up only to feel my legs crumble again inside the house. I rested a moment, and looked at the clock; I was missing the party.

The shades of blue deepened in my heart. Again I tried to get up and leave. This time I made it to my car and fell completely on the cold, hard ground. I could feel the cold but nothing more, and I got scared. This falling business could be serious. I pulled myself up with a cane and my car wheel, but couldn’t hold it. My right leg was complete jello. All the strength of my left side was not enough to pick up Humpty Dumpty again. This time my cry for help would require a team of EMS workers to lift me.

With the arms of EMS gripped around me, I thought of my students. So many of them have expressed a desire to be EMS someday. I held on to the man closest to me–a volunteer first responder, a neighbor whose name I still don’t know. I let him be my legs that would get me to the stretcher and the ambulance and the hospital while I text work and my students what to do while their teacher missed class.

All Too Familiar

Six months before this moment, I was doing the same thing only much more damaged and covered in blood. I was hit by a van and spun down the highway three times. My brand new car was totalled. My face was cut and permanently scarred. My back was severely shaken out of alignment. Yet, I survived.

I remember thinking, in those few seconds of white as I spun down the road, “God, is this going to be it? This can’t be it. I’ve got so much left to do in the world.”

Then I thought about the tractor-trailer. Where was it? It had been right behind me before I was hit. I closed my eyes and braced for a second impact. “Oh God, Oh Jesus, please help me!”

I knew I would most likely not survive that blow. As my car spun out, I thought about my loved ones and how it would hurt them. I thought of all the things I left unsaid. I thought about my job, my goals, and my dreams. I wasn’t ready for the end.

Then suddenly, the car stopped. I opened my car door and tried to get out as quickly as possible. If I was still in the road, I didn’t want to be hit again. But I was not in the road. Somehow, I had been spun around enough to put me facing oncoming traffic but resting safely on the side grass a few feet beside the road sign.

This was God’s answer: Not yet.

Temptation To Doubt God

Landing back in the hospital, my thoughts spiraled.

“Are you sure, God? If I have a purpose not yet done in this world, why bring me more pain and suffering? How can that further your cause?”

I questioned God, but I didn’t get angry. I didn’t understand the purpose in the pain, but I remembered that we were never promised a struggle-free life.

In this world, you will have trouble. But take heart, I have overcome the world. –John 16:33 NIV

Four hours later lying immobile in the hospital bed, a CT scan revealed that I had a herniated disc in my lumbar spine. I left with heavy drugs, possible surgery, and weeks of required time off work. When it was all said and done, my body reset itself, and I learned a hard lesson in paying attention to my health.

But in the moment…all I had was the hope that God really was in control.

I wrote this poem:

Now my Christmas may be less active and bright.

I may be seeing your lights from a distance tonight.

I will be sending you gifts of hope and cheer,

while you celebrate with all who are near.

As you open your gifts, there’s one gift I hope we can share:

It’s the gift of the Christ child on Calvary’s snare.

What meant to kill and steal him from the Earth,

Gave to us our second birth.

Merry Christmas!