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By Rene Williams
Steven Ford is one of the most respected gospel producers in the industry. His expertise in recording has placed him in the company of the most amazing and gifted artists in the business. Bishop TD Jakes, Richard Smallwood & Vision, Vickie Winans, Donnie McClurkin, The McClurkin Project, The Winans, Shirley Caesar, Maurette Brown-Clark, The Mighty Clouds Of Joy, The Williams Brothers, John P. Kee, Bishop Carlton Pearson, Bishop Merritt & The Straight Gate Mass Choir, The Dallas/Ft. Worth Mass Choir, The Potter's House Mass Choir, The Anointed Voices of Ford Memorial and so many others have been blessed by his musical skills.
Who knew when he completed his education in Music Composition & Orchestration at Temple University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, that he would be one of the industryís most sought after producers? A few of the accolades heís received include 2 Grammy Awards, 10 Grammy Nominations, 5 Dove Awards, and 10 Stellar Awards.
But Steven Ford is much more than a gifted musician, an incredible songwriter and producer. He is a man of God striving to please no one but God. Take a moment to listen to a conversation I had with this wonderful servant of God. Listen to him tell about the spiritual conversion that gifted him as a youth, the amazing moves of God that have taken place in his recording sessions and the Levitical call for musicians and praise and worship artists. He also shared about what he feels is his mandate as a producer of todayís most popular artists.
GospelCity.com: I know youíve produced and written songs for a lot of incredible artists. Tell me how you started producing.
Steven Ford: As a producer it began with Irving Brockington; this is way back, actually that was in my teens. I didnít really know that I was producing. I did a recording for him. From there, it just wandered into doing recordings on some labels that are no longer in existence nowÖ..like the Tomato Line with John Daniels, and, of course, Savoy. At that time, I was working as a studio musician, but also wearing the hat of the person who was pulling the project together. It started happening and I didnít really realize it. Then, in the later years I worked with The Winans and Richard Smallwood; I did the pre-production of it all Ė doing music in the studio. So it developed into a real love for the production end of things.
GC: Is that where your musical career began?
SF: My musical career started as I played for different artists coming into Philadelphia Ė if my father would allow me to. I came from a strict religious family. If I had done a jazz record, I probably would have gotten thrown out of the house (laughs)Ö.but I had been playing for some time before I started playing outside of our church. Thatís when I really started working on the professional end of things. I started as a musician, an organist, pianist, keyboardist and it developed into the recording aspect.
GC: Have you always had a love for music?
SF: Yes, I was the minister of music at my fatherís church at the age of nine. I was the lead musician there. That wasnít really by choice. They tell me I started playing when I was about 5 or 6.
The most vivid memory in my mind was when I was anointed to play. That was when I was 7. I was coming home from a Bible study; my father was the pastor. We came home and I walked upstairs. I got to the top of the stairs. When I got there, it felt like I was stepping into an oven. I immediately remember thanking God and praising God. It really wasnít my demeanor; I was a quiet person, so for me to start loudly praising the Lord Ė my parents sort of went into shock. My brother was looking at me like I had lost my mind. I remember it so vividly. My parents told me I did that for about an hour until I fell out on the floor. My father picked me up and put me to bed. At that time, I didnít know the Lord had really touched me.
But right after that, I had what you would call ďinstant recallĒ. Once I heard something, I could immediately play it. And so, I started playing for events from 3rd grade all the way through high school and college. I thought everybody played like that! But around 8 or 9, I became the musician of my fatherís church. My father said, ďYou will be the chief musician here.Ē My brother was the director; he and I had five choirs. We were over the adult choir, the youth choir and the menís chorus. So it was hilarious with this 9-year-old teaching the adult choir. My musical journey started as a young, young tot.
GC: As a gospel producer, what do you look for in an artist before you start to work with them?
SF: The first thing I look for is, of course, the God-given talent and ability then I look from a spiritual perspective. It doesnít take long to feel if thereís a real relationship with the Lord. Iím meticulous about psalmists not singing something they donít believe or walk in. I also look for their commitment - to make sure theyíre being a good steward of what God has given them. Itís a unique call to be a minister of music Ė even seeing it from the industry side. If youíre singing gospel music, youíre singing good news about the Lord. Those are the elements I look for. Of course, I look for something special in them. Is there something in this person that someone else would want to invest in their ministry?
GC: In your opinion, whatís your job as a producer?
SF: A producer is basically the one who cultivates the talent. You donít change the person. There are some producers that do that, and everyone will start sounding like that producer.
I feel a producer has to have the eye - the insight and foresight. He needs to be able to see the jewel God has given covered. The producerís job is to help with the polishing, help with the refining of that jewel. The producer needs to form a relationship with that person, a fellowship, a communion. He also needs to oversee the project. From the administrative aspect, the producer is presented with a budget and has to deliver a project within the confines of that budget.
So you have to be an excellent planner; you have to have excellent organizational skills and money management. The producer needs to stay within those guidelines and at the same time produce a quality project. He is also responsible for making sure all the vendors are paid. He calls in the right musicians and singers who will enhance the music. Heís the guy with the glue that holds it all together. He also presents something thatís archived in history for that particular artist.
GC: So what are you working on now? Are you part of Straight Gate in Detroit?
SF: Actually, I finished Straight Gateís project, Expectations: Iíll Praise. I am a consultant there. I was involved with their last project Ė the praise side of the project. Noel Hall the minister of music there now Ė he was the musical director for Fred [Hammond] Ė did the worship part of the CD. My plate was just too full; I just couldnít do it.
GC: Are you minister of music at a church now? Any other projects youíre working on?
SF: No, actually I am a consultant. Iím really trying to broaden my horizons in that area because I believe thatís what God is calling me to do. Some people may ask, ďWhat does a consultant do?Ē In the business world when a company needs to be restructured, they bring in someone to be a problem-solver. I make evaluations of the music department. I do budget forecasts. I review what the choir is doing and the infrastructure of the church. Thatís basically what I do. Currently, I oversee the music department at Ford Memorial, the church I belong to. My niece, Syreeta Ford is the Minister of Music there. My brother, Bishop Andrew Ford, pastors Ford Memorial. I also am a consultant at a church in Baltimore, The Church of the Redeemed of the Lord. Bishop Stokes is the pastor.
As for what Iím working onÖ.Iím completing Pastor Bruce Parhamís project which to me is the most phenomenal project. I usually donít talk about projects, but to me, itís the most anointed project God has allowed me to contribute to or be involved with. Pastor Parham has been a close friend of mine. He is also one of the premiere voices of gospel. When I think of male singers in gospel, heís at the top of my list.
Some people who have heard the first song on his upcoming project canít make it past the first song; they have to gather themselves. Itís in two parts Ė thereís a studio portion and a live portion. We had about 11 songs to sing for the live portion of it. We got to the fifth song and I had to stop the recording. Iíve never done that in my career or ministry. The reason I had to stop was because the Lord said to stop. I had to be obedient. The second reason was that there was such a move of God in that session; they were actually carrying people out of there. I have never seen a move of God in a recording like that. People were talking about it on the radio the next day Ė even on the street. The Lord allowed us to be able to capture that. That is a special, divine principal.
The most amazing moves of God He chooses to not be recorded. Whenever thereís a special supernatural move of God, either the sound man will say, ďthe tape ran outĒ or ďsomething happened to the machineĒ. Or he might say, ďItís a Bible study so we didnít tape that.Ē And sometimes when a revelation comes from God, everyone says, ďWeíve gotta get the tape!Ē
Those moments God only chooses for you to have recorded in your spirit. He doesnít want it to be tangible so that you can pull out a CD and hear it again. He only wants it to be recorded in the spirit man so that you can dwell upon it. Whenever God moves like that and allows you to record it, itís awesome.
I fell on my face in worship when it was all over. I said, ďI bless you.Ē There must have been a very special reason that that portion could be recorded. People were calling and telling me that people got healed in that session. It was awesome.
Iíve been blessed to be part of great recording sessions with a powerful anointing. Bishop Stokes & The CRL Mass Choir project that Iím finishing has that type of anointing. Iím also finishing Bishop Blue and The Open Door Church from Marion, South Carolina. Thatís going to be a blessing to all those who hear it. Iím working on something for Ty Tribbett for Sony Music. I just finished Stephen Hurd (out of Washington, D.C.) for Integrity. Iíve also finished working on Vanessa Williamsí second project that will be on Bajada Records.
Iím also working on Volume 2 of the Hymns project that I did for my dad. There is a Volume 1 that contains some of the hymns I played for my father while he studied. When my mother passed, my father was grieving very badly internally. So I decided to take some time and record some of the hymns he liked. As he prepared for his sermons, he would ask me to play softly. The Lord said, after my father passed, to put it out as a CD. Thatís Volume 1. People who have listened to Volume 1 and purchased it on my website (www.stevenfordmusic.com) asked me to record another one. So I did and now Iím finishing up Volume 2. So as you can see, my plate is full.
My main passion right now is understanding the levitical order. Thereís a certain window when the Levite (or the musician) is commissioned to play his course. In other words, he has a certain amount of time to play in the tabernacle or the temple. After that time is served, he then is commissioned to teach, mentor and tutor other Levites for the office or service. Thatís where Iím called to now. Iíve been called into the ministry Ė preaching and teaching Ė for about a year now.
My passions have changed. Iím writing a book called The Perfect Gift. God gives you the gift and when He gives you the gift, there is no flaw in the gift. Whatever God does, He does perfectly. When He gives you the gift of music, He gives it to you perfectly. Iíve heard people say, ďHow can He give me the gift perfectly, and Iím still trying to learn the chords?Ē The gift is perfect; thereís no flaw in the gift. But He gives it to an earthen vessel; thatís why we practice. Itís already in your body. You have to sit down with the mechanics and develop the gift. These are the types of things that I teach in my seminars.Ē
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Feedback - Rene Williams is a freelance writer for Gospelcity.com, GTM Magazine and Charisma Magazine. She also is the author of the Gospel News Update, a bi-weekly e-zine about what's happening in the Christian music industry, and the D.C. Gospel News Update, a weekly newsletter about gospel events in the Washington, D.C. area.