Prolific Musician Shares Industry Insider's View
By Jocelyn Jones
Charles "Shorty" Garris is recognized for his unique singing voice, entrepreneurship, writing, astounding performances as well as recording and production skills. Garris was born and raised in Washington, D.C., and has been entertaining since the age of 9. As a child he was influenced by the various sounds of Motown and D.C.'s own go-go music.
Since age 16, Garris has been trained by vocal coach William Beale and his voice has been compared to that of Johnny Gill, Teddy Pendergrass and various others. As an R&B and Hip-Hop artist he decided to bring more of a variety to his music and not only make it distinctive but make it for the new generation. As a lead vocalist for the legendary Rare Essence band, Garris also takes the time out to write and produce music within the band.
The dynamic entertainer shared his thoughts about the music industry in a wide-ranging interviewing during a recent visit to Bowie State University.
Garris has performed with tons of artists such as LL Cool J, the Fugees, Chuck Brown, Frankie Beverly and Maze and Nappy Roots, among others. His debut album "Charles Garris Presents ... It's Christmas" is a record that is a soulful tribute that honors the classic songs of the past. His debut single "No Way" has had over 3 million views on Billboard.com.
When it comes to recording Garris learned how to transition from song to song, add different backgrounds and different keys, among other techniques. Garris has written several hundred songs and as a writer new ideas just hit him. Ideas can come in various different ways, he said, from something he's seen or a joke a friend has told him, which become the hook of the song.
Garris' talents are not limited to music. He recently filmed a documentary called "One City One Sound One Movement," which expresses the thoughts of bartenders, club owners, managers, security, band members, etc.
"This industry is overlooked and is one of the leading contributors of finances and people with jobs. There's so much attention to the negative side, but no one ever speaks about how people make a living and how this industry has a source of income for hundreds and hundreds of different people, Garris said. "There are maybe four or five different shows a night, at least three times a week all over the city and this is a job for our people and the news of course shows the negative side."
Garris is an entrepreneur and has a business located in Bethesda Maryland called Topgar Studios. This studio gives young artists an opportunity to record in an actual recording facility and get the experience that is outside of the basement or a home facility and have that real recording artist experience on a $10,000 microphone rather than a $200 microphone.
"For new and upcoming artist it is best to not rush and it and do as much homework as you can and study the old school artists and the great pioneers," Garris said. "You hear the new stuff on the radio 24/7; study your Jahiem's, Musiq Soulchild's and some of the acts they have studied. That will help give you a foundation instead of making a quick hit record and it's over."
Within the business there is so much paper work and licensing that has to be done in order to protect yourself and a lot of do-it-yourself programs and information for upcoming artists that you can get online, Garris said. The music industry has changed due to online downloads an internet radio. Prior to having your act together, it is best to have your business together and it is best to and build a team so you won't be obligated to handle everything on your own. Your team may consist of a researcher, writers, someone who can contribute to the team and find out who is good at doing what. In the music industry you have to be book smart and read on the different industries.
At the end of the day, being a musical artist is a job --- from interviews to traveling --- and you need to learn how to condition yourself. It's not all about the parties but eat right and be full of energy and try not to get overwhelmed because artists have fallen on stage.
One of Garris's memorable moments was when he was in New York City. He was recording in a studio and in one room there was Faith Evans, another was Craig Mack, another was Nas and Garris was astonished. Garris is also involved in teaching and has a program called "Innovative Schools and Performing Arts," which teaches fourth- to eighth- graders voice, percussion and programming at Walter Jones Academy in Washington, D.C. There is a lot of raw talent and the children are fast learners and they teach them the importance of studying and pitch and control.
"One thing I like to tell young artists is that everyone feels that they have to go find a manager. You don't need to find a manager, take the time to teach yourself and make your own appointments and go on and represent yourself oppose to go finding a manager," Garris advised. Please don't be quick to sign off on some paper or a contract when you're trying to be a future artist."