Houston Music

Derrick Thomas-McKinney Believes Houston's Future is L.O.U.D.

Derrick Thomas-McKinney stands in his new label office
Derrick Thomas-McKinney stands in his new label office Photo by Darrin C Clifton
Last December, thousands of people descended on Katy to watch performances from rap, rock, EDM, country, and more at a three-day festival. The event, L.O.U.D. Fest, was the brainchild of Derrick Thomas-McKinney, a manager in the music industry for over two decades working with various artists and brands throughout the nation.

From his start working as a regional marketing rep for the clothing company FUBU, Derrick has risen in the music industry and created brand opportunities for J Records, Interscope, Akademiks Clothing, and more. He manages Z-Ro and has signed artists like Lil Flip and Doughbeezy. He has created marketing strategies for artists like London On The Track and helped artists get placements on major television and radio campaigns.

While he has worked on the international level, the Alief Elsik graduate has always had Houston on his mind. It led to his formation of L.O.U.D. Muzik, and his focus on bringing a music festival to Houston. He sees something in the city and the talent that is valuable and should be brought to the national stage. And throwing a festival this last December proved that Thomas-McKinney and L.O.U.D Muzik were up for the challenge.

“It was a big order, but I am happy to say we succeeded,” recalls Thomas-McKinney about the three-day event. “We put a COVID protocol in place where everybody coming in had to have a mask on. We checked temperatures of everybody coming in and the event was outdoors. We partnered with a Black-owned company called Sanitize USA and they came out and disinfected the whole four-acre property. Every chair, bar, restroom, microphones, step, table, and anything else was treated. They have a formula called Virus End and it kills 99.9 percent of all viruses and bacteria for 90 days. We took all the necessary precautions, and it was amazing. We put everything in place to keep people safe and protected.”

Keeping everyone protected was the first order with the second making sure that Houston artists received opportunities Thomas-McKinney feels they have always deserved but haven’t been getting.

“So, L.O.U.D. Fest is an independent music festival. Every artist that performed is an independent artist. I looked at a lot of festivals, but in particular, one here in Houston that had really been here for a while. I reached out to get them artists. They wouldn't return my calls. They wouldn’t to respond to an email, social media, nothing. I’m like, 'Yo! Can I set up a stage in a parking lot and entertain people as they come in just so independent artist can have a shot? You have a festival with 60,000 people in Houston and there's no Houston artists on the show. Come on, man.' My choice was I could sit back and wait to get my artists on these events, or I can build my own. So, we built our own.”

While many would argue that Houston just isn’t the place for a music festival, Thomas-McKinney saw it differently.  Most festivals start from humble beginnings. Comicpalooza, the weeklong event that occupies the George R. Brown convention center started out in a small shop. The Essence Festival started as a one-time music event in 1995. Years ago, SXSW was not the juggernaut of a conference it is today.. Thomas-McKinney sees L.O.U.D. Fest as no different.

“The first year was at Fox Hollow. We did 100 artists and we probably had 300 people,” laughs Thomas-McKinney as he sits in the new L.O.U.D. Muzik offices. “The next year we did we had like 600. The third year was at White Oak Music Hall and we did 4,800 people that day. At that point I knew we were 100 percent on to something. Of course, this last year we got hit by the pandemic and we had to keep pushing the show back from the summer to December. We found this amazing venue, the Wildcatter Saloon, that had four acres of land, outdoor stages, an indoor stage, and space for safety. We did about 1,000 people a day and ended up with 220 artists performing.”

click to enlarge Derrick Thomas-McKinney's goal is to bring more structure to the entertainment world in Houston. - PHOTO BY DARRIN C CLIFTON
Derrick Thomas-McKinney's goal is to bring more structure to the entertainment world in Houston.
Photo by Darrin C Clifton
Any conversation with Thomas-McKinney is dominated by his views about how artists should be treated. It's what led him to move into his new office space.

“I want to bring the experience that artists have when they travel to other cities and visit a label,” says Thomas-McKinney as he looks at the L.O.U.D. Muzik logo mounted on the wall. “I’ve never been the one to take a picture in front of a label logo, but I did for mine. L.O.U.D. is an acronym for living your dreams. It's a full-fledged record company with branding, distribution, sales, production and songwriting. We handle everything ourselves in house. I want people to get the full experience when they come here.”

The full experience is not just limited to taking a photo in front of a logo. L.O.U.D. also has an in house studio where artists can record, a marketing office, executive offices, areas for photography, spots for videography and more. It’s the standard label office you would see in a lot of cities, but it does beg the question why Thomas-McKinney took so long to establish a base.

“We've been planning this for a minute. I've always wanted to have our own business office because it's never been about a recording studio to me. That's become very cliché. It's not a public recording studio. You can't call to say let me put two hours. This is for our in-house artists that are signed to a label that we manage, or projects we pick and choose to work on. You can't go to Warner Brothers and just book four hours at their studio. We wanted to take on that exact same format so our Houston artists don't feel the need to have to relocate. They don't feel the need to move to New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles or Nashville.”

Finding the right spot to set up an office also took Thomas-McKinney more time than usual because of some obstacles he really wasn’t expecting.

“I've been I've been looking to do this type of office for over the past year and a half. The pandemic slowed up some of the progress most recently but, truthfully, we just encountered so much racism. That's the backstory that nobody realizes when it comes to being a Black-owned business. They don't even want us in some of these buildings. Never mind the money you're spending or the type of company you have because some owners don't want to work with Black people at all.

"I’ve had so many properties that would stop responding, raise the price, or delay once they met me. I would have other people call and talk to the same rep and it would be a completely different response. I'm not going to beg you to take my money. It's obvious you don't want my company on your property. I would literally tell them and put in an email that the only reason communication changed is that you saw that I was Black.  I got tired of being politically correct with it.

"Some people are automatically going to make assumptions with a Black-owned record company that does rap and R&B. They don't know that we're working with country artists. They don't know we worked with indie rock bands. They don't know we work with EDM artists and DJs. They see a couple of rappers and have the picture painted of exactly who we are. Meanwhile, their favorite black artist is at Def Jam, Interscope, Atlantic, Warner or any of these other companies where they wouldn’t make those assumptions about the company.”

click to enlarge Thomas-McKinney wants to take the entertainment knowledge he's built over the years and apply it to Houston. - PHOTO BY LANCE RICE
Thomas-McKinney wants to take the entertainment knowledge he's built over the years and apply it to Houston.
Photo by Lance Rice
Upon finding a space whose management wouldn’t make assumptions Thomas-McKinney began putting together the pieces of a label that he had been accumulating over the past 20 years — a big part of which is Houston itself.

“I look at the diversity here. When you look at album sales and movie releases, everybody wants diversity. They want some of everything. There's no other place that I've been to that's as diverse as Houston. We have everything here. When I go to a Z-Ro concert and look out into the crowd it's more Hispanic and white people than black people. When you got to a Texans or a Rockets game the diversity in the crowd is ridiculous.

"Whether race, gender, age, or whatever, we have all the targeted consumers for music, fashion and film here in everyday Houstonians. Too many have had to work so hard and eventually go outside the market to get recognition. I want to change that. For me personally, I want to make history. I want to build a legacy. I want to do something that has never been done before. I want to have a multi genre label here in the city. Rap-A-Lot opened a lot of doors for the hip hop and the music business here in Houston.

"I don't see a reason to want to relocate. There is too much homegrown talent here going underdeveloped. It's not nurtured. It's not grown. I feel like we're missing out on some of those. We're missing out some game changers. We’ve probably had two or three other Beyonces here that we just didn't take the time to find. We've probably had a couple more Travis Scotts here that we didn't take the time to find.  I want to be the person that takes that time to do that.

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Houston Press contributor DeVaughn Douglas is a freelance writer, blogger, and podcaster. He is 1/2 of the In My Humble Opinion Podcast and 1/1 of the Sleep and Procrastination Society. (That last one isn't a podcast; he just procrastinates and sleeps a lot.)