Jay DeMarcus, one third of superstar country trio Rascal Flatts, is returning to his roots with the launch of a new Christian music label, Billboard has learned exclusively. At a Wednesday (Oct. 24) afternoon press conference, DeMarcus is announcing Red Street Records and his first signings: veteran Christian hitmakers Avalon and newcomer Lauren James, a worship leader at Joel Osteen’s Houston mega church.
“It’s been a long time coming. I’ve thought about doing it for several years and the timing just never seemed right and now the pieces fell into place,” DeMarcus tells Billboard, sitting in his spacious man cave at his Nashville home. “When you don’t have to force the pieces and they fit together naturally, it pretty much means the timing is spot on. I’m really happy about it.”
DeMarcus feels it’s a good time to launch a new indie Christian label, and though he had talks with major labels about starting his venture as an imprint, he decided being totally independent was the way to go. “I feel like the business model has changed so much that you can do so many new things these days that you couldn’t even do 10 years ago,” he says. “With Christian music in particular, I feel the real estate is wide open for a new company to come in that really is unconventional and not beholden to a larger label that is controlled by a larger label and has to move slowly. We’re small enough and streamlined enough I feel we can move quickly on something when we are passionate about it.”
DeMarcus has hired longtime associate Don Koch as general manager and retained Aaron Crisler of Conduit Media to handle publicity. He’s working on distribution and plans to lock that in within the week. “Don did our first demos that got me signed while I was at Lee University,” DeMarcus says of his 90s deal with Benson Records as half of the Christian music duo East to West with Neal Coomer. “He produced our records and we’ve remained friends and writing partners. We started talking four or five years ago about opening up a Christian label and the more we talked about it, the more we batted around some ideas about what we wanted to do. Things started to fall in place and here we are. I’m really, really thrilled to have somebody that is not only a good friend, but somebody that I can trust to run the business affairs of the label like I would if I were there every day. I obviously have a commitment still to the Flatts that keeps me busy, so I’m really excited to have somebody in place like Don.”
DeMarcus will continue as part of award winning country trio Rascal Flatts with Gary LeVox and Joe Don Rooney, but will be hands on with the new label, writing and/or looking for songs and producing artists. “We are co-producing Avalon as well as Lauren,” he says of collaborating with Koch, who also works as a worship pastor at a Houston church. “I want the best for every artist, so if it’s me producing, that’s great, but if it’s someone else that has the vision for the artist and really captures the soul of who they are, then I’m wide open for anybody producing. I just want to be the kind of label head that gives the artist whatever they need to facilitate their heart and their vision.”
This latest incarnation of Avalon includes longtime members husband/wife Greg and Janna Long, newcomer Dani Rocca and marks the return of original Avalon member Jody McBrayer, who left the group in 2007 due to health issues. “Obviously it’s a big deal for us to have an artist like Avalon to launch with,” DeMarcus smiles. “We feel it gives us some credibility out of the gate, which is nice for us to have.”
DeMarcus has a lot of history with the veteran group. “Janna and I went to Lee together. We actually sang in the same group together so I’ve known her for a long time,” he says. “And Greg Long, her husband, was on Benson when East to West was there and we toured together. To have a friendship already in place and then let it evolve naturally into a business relationship with them has been a wonderful thing. We’re going to put a new record out on them the first quarter of next year.”
Part of the reason he launched Red Street is because he was frustrated that he couldn’t find homes for artists he was excited about. “I ran into a lot of road blocks of not labels not wanting to sign artists because there simply wasn’t room,” he says. “The release schedules were so stacked up at Word, Provident and some of these other labels in town that there wasn’t enough room for someone like an Avalon to find a slot to release a new record in. I got to the point to where I got fed up with running up against a road block all the time of being involved with artists that I was passionate about, but couldn’t find homes for them. So it started to become clear to me that there was room enough for another label in town to do some good work.”
He admits the Christian marketplace is different but he has realistic expectations. “It’s no secret that anybody who knows the music business knows that the numbers are substantially different in Christian music than they are in country music,” says DeMarcus, who has produced Christian albums for Jason Crabb, the Martins and Reba McEntire, among others. “But I didn’t get into this business for the monetary reasons. I got into this because I’m passionate about the music and the message. I want to be a part of putting some good back into the world and giving back to a genre that has been so good to me in my whole life. That’s really the driving force behind what we’re doing. I, of course, want to be successful. I don’t want it to fail and I believe that we are set up in the best possible way to succeed in that we’re not biting off more than we can chew in the beginning.”
Koch and DeMarcus came up with the name Red Street Records. “Don and I kind of batted around several things and we felt our partnership had been really, for lack of a better word, divine intervention the way we came back together and our friendship had come full circle,” DeMarcus says. “We wanted something that reflected our desire to be in Christian music too and to spread that message, so Red Street is the street that brought us together and the street that is covered with the blood of Christ.”
Though the label is currently being operated out of his Nashville home, DeMarcus is looking to open offices on Music Row and will be hiring a promotion team. “We’re making sure we’re being good stewards of what we have and smart about how we spend our resources, so that’s why I have my own studio at my place and we don’t have a building on the Row planting our big flag,” he says. “We want to sneak up on people. We want people to all of a sudden go, ‘What about this Red Street Records making some noise over here? We’ve got to check out what they are doing!’ So that’s my philosophy and hope for what lies ahead for us.”
A longtime fan of Christian music, DeMarcus plans to give back to the genre he loves. “I always feel like I’m going back home every time I do work over there [in Christian music] because that’s where I started,” DeMarcus says. “I grew up in the church and loved contemporary Christian music. I go back to the early days of when it first started with the likes of Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith. Those people that really pioneered are heroes of mine.
“It’s great to always ‘come back home’ and feel like I’ve never skipped any time,” he continues. “They’ve always welcomed me back with open arms. We just played the Doves the other night with Jason Crabb and they always feel like family to me. I want to be a part of bringing more visibility to the Christian music genre and give it some platforms that it may not have had before. I feel like as blessed as we’ve been with Rascal Flatts, I might be able through some of my own connections and avenues to give them some visibility in arenas they’ve never had before. That’s what I hope to be able to do.”
DeMarcus is excited about being able to launch this new venture and continue his longtime run with Rascal Flatts. “I have been in Rascal Flatts now for nearly 20 years and the three of us are believers. We’ve always been believers and we’ve always felt like music has the power to help people through certain times in their life when they were in darkness or a bad season. I believe that Christian music has that ability to an even greater extent because the hope that we find in the Gospel is what I want to put back into the world. I found hope in it myself through very dark times. I am living proof and I know this for a fact that you can find encouragement and strength through the message that’s in Christian music because I’ve lived it. I just want people to know that this is not a statement from me trying to suggest that I’ve got everything figured out and that I’m perfect. This is a statement of saying quite the opposite. I know that I’m imperfect and I know that broken, fallen people need what Christian music has to offer. That’s what I’m trying to do with Red Street Records.”