PHOTO: Awards won by Centricity Music artists // Photo by Brooke Wanser
By BROOKE WANSER
“Centricity is sort of the act or the place of being centered, or having a center in your life,” Centricity Music manager Steve Ford said sitting in a brightly lit room inside their new business space.
Located above Soulshine Pizza Factory in mixed-use community Berry Farms, the Christian record label moved from the “little red house,” as they called it, in downtown Franklin, to their current location in July.
So why Franklin in the first place?
“We are such a relational company,” Ford said, though he noted that when the label began, it was out of sheer necessity.
“We all lived in Franklin, and we started working out of our houses,” he said.
When the company moved out of their old building downtown, the managers questioned whether they wanted to remain in town or move to Nashville.
According to Ford, the company quickly came to the conclusion that they “really like the idea of being a Franklin company.” He said, “We picked Franklin because it was a smaller town, with a little bit more of a communal feel.”
Although the office sits above a pizza restaurant in a new and still developing neighborhood, Ford said he still feels a sense of community akin to what he felt working in historic downtown.
Downtown, he said, “You saw the same people, you went to the same places, there was some sort of community created. When we came here, we were like, ‘Oh my gosh, this feels like a new Downtown Franklin.’”
Ford pointed to artists and repertoire director John Mays’ fascination with Tito’s, the Mexican restaurant down the street. “John is down at Tito’s probably about once a day,” he laughed. “And they know him. We like that, we like being a part of a bigger community.”
Ford said of their current space, a sun-drenched, open-floor plan, “The minute I walked in, I was like, ‘This is it.’”
Ford has been in the Christian music industry for nearly 30 years, and was recruited to Centricity by Mays after serving as the general manager for another Christian record label.
“I thought he was crazy, but we talked for months,” Ford said. He referred to the time period, between 2005 and 2006, as “scorched earth” for the record industry, as record sales reached a valley of the decline.
The company started when the owner became close with a musician who attended his church. Wanting to invest in that musician’s creativity led to a record, then, eventually, to John Mays in Nashville, who was known for his record-working skills. The owner convinced Mays to begin a record label in 2004.
Ford said the owner, a wealthy man from Seattle, prefers his name not be mentioned. “He’s just a very humble, quiet man,” Ford said. “It’s not about him, it’s about the company.”
Since Ford’s hire in 2005, the label went from three signed artists to 11, which include vocal powerhouse Lauren Daigle, Jordan Feliz and Jonny Diaz.
What sets Centricity apart, Ford believes, is their approach to their artists.
“We love to say we’re a little more of an artist development label. We’re going to take our time,” he said, noting that the label is patient with artists who aren’t immediate successes.
He points to Daigle, who he said it took over two years to release her first song after she was discovered during one of their artist’s retreats.
The label invites unsigned artists, producers and songwriters up to Winthrop, Washington, for a collaborative experience and to hear new talent each year.
One year, the lead singer of a band Centricity bowed out of the activities due to a sudden ailment. Since the lead singer was out, one member of the band approached their female background singer. “Can you do a couple songs with us, just so we can do our two songs?” he said.
“That girl was Lauren Daigle,” Ford said. “We sat in the back and went, ‘What is that? She is spectacular.’”
“When she got first nominated for a Grammy, we were like, ‘Really?’” Ford said. “Because we’re a little record label and usually they have block voting and all of the politics behind all of the awards.”
Daigle, who has since been nominated for another Grammy, has now won several Dove Awards, including Artist of the Year and Songwriter of the Year in 2016.
And, at the end of the day, Ford said the work is deeply fulfilling.
“What’s nice about putting in the hours and the work that we do is it’s for a bigger cause. It’s not just for money,” Ford said. “We’re carrying a bigger story with us. Our faith, each one of our faiths is so important to us, that we’re able to go, ‘I’m working to impact the world with that, hopefully make the world a better place.’”