Interview by Randall B. Jones – Phots provided by MZN Enterprises, Inc.
Born in Philadelphia to a musician and a childcare advocate, Ravenda Dallah found herself not sure of what she would due for a living. She tried construction, customer service, food service, banking and childcare jobs but they did not satisfy her desire to do something great. With writing as her passion and a daughter who’s an aspiring hip hop artist, she embarked on a plan that would allow both of their voices to be heard as well as others. Thus she created Mingle Zone Network (MZN) Enterprises, Inc. Her company connects people who are in need of the proper resources to solidify their ideas or talents with individuals and businesses that have the skills, platforms and proven abilities to help them reach their goals. She is a hard working individual who never turns down a challenge that comes her way. Ravenda has big plans in store for the not so distant future that will make her a major player in the multi-media industry. This is one interview that you don’t want to miss if you’re looking to move your career in the right direction.
Welcome Ravenda and thanks for hanging with us today. (RAVENDA) - It’s a pleasure!
How was it growing up in Philly? (RAVENDA) - I grew up in West Philadelphia which at the time was pretty fun and felt safe. I had a great neighborhood where I knew everybody and they were all like family looking out for each other. My schools were walking distance and we had the mom & pop stores we’d hang out in. It was great then and I still have most of the same friends I grew up with. My kids were born there too. As it got really crazy and congested, I ended up following my mom and sister to South Jersey where I live now. But I will be moving to Atlanta very soon.
You are a successful business woman on the move. Let’s begin with why you decided to create MZN Indie Radio? (RAVENDA) - Well thankfully my stage fright wasn’t an inherited trait so my daughter who is a rapper, Lady Lex, was interested in trying to start her own music career. We looked around and tried to get on the local radio stations but the content of her songs and the fact that she was not signed, had no budget and was literally an unknown was a big setback. I started checking other resources. I’m an internet fanatic and after looking around on there I found Blogtalk Radio. It was a free internet radio format in which one can do their own radio shows. Whether it is talk, music, or a bunch of folks talking about business, it was free. I’m a big fan of “FREE”. Well, February 2009 I began the Mingle Zone Network and set up my radio show where I’d have guests talking about business networking, and I’d just have a variety of topics so I could in between conversations play music of my daughter or her friends. Then I started getting people from all the different social networks I was involved in and ended up putting a music podcast together just rotating music. I got too busy for the networking conversations and decided to just make it a radio station. There was born MZN Indie Radio. I had talked to many indie artists about how difficult it was to get airplay and I remembered my daughter’s experience. So I started playing indie music but I wanted to be different. I wanted people to know about these artists, what drives their music careers, the difficulties of getting major exposure, and how the industry as it is was affecting them. I felt it was important for the world to hear what an indie artist was all about. They’re not some homeless folks on a corner with a tin pan and a guitar playing for change. They are the grass roots of the entire industry, where it began. So now indie artists send me their music and I rotate it on my website, music player and my show, interview them, refer them to other hosts, and now with our upcoming events I’ll be able to hire them to perform for me or my clients. I think it’s important to keep the indie artist in existence because not everybody will make it to the Top 40.
Please explain to the up and coming artist reading this why it is important for them to use your services. (RAVENDA) - It’s important to have an honest person on your team. It’s also important to work with someone who is as passionate about your music as you are and not looking to get rich on false hope. I am not a Publicist, a Manager, nor an Indie Label. What I do is help an artist create a buzz about their music when they are on a very small to nothing budget. The internet is the best place for an indie artist to start getting themselves known by the public. It is phenomenal how it’s created music careers for some folks but it is not going to help you if you don’t know what you’re doing. You either have to be knowledgeable or know somebody who is. I help the artists I work with create an internet presence by either designing their website, or adding the content and keeping it updated. I also spend a lot of time posting on social networks, sending out press releases, and other info to music blogs and magazines. I make a lot of contacts by being a radio host, most in the industry of music and film. I refer these artists to my resources. Now that we are evolving in what we provide to our listeners such as live video broadcasting and events, I’ll be able to do more. Our upcoming “Indie Stream TV” network launching this Fall will allow MZN Indie Radio to be more visual to our listeners and the indie artists will now have another place for their music to be used when it is placed in our commercials, intros, programming, and the movies we will be producing.
And I understand that you wouldn’t stop there as you would like to create your own indie label as well. (RAVENDA) – That’s very true! We may even end up having our own label but it would be much different than your ordinary label because it will be the label of the indie artist. It won’t be a 360 deal or anything that allows us to keep all the profit while the artist makes a small portion of it. I’d call the organization of the new label the “Uncorporation” because Artists will share in revenue, profit, and ownership. It’s not about the executives; it’s about people who work together for success. Some may frown on it because they may not believe it will work. But tell me then why so many labels using old methods are non existent or grouped into one label because they aren’t making that big dollar anymore. It’s not the artist’s fault. It’s about management and being fair. So, I’d say I am very dedicated to the indie artist.
I would say that you certainly are. What type of reach does your show have and what is the volume of hits you receive? (RAVENDA) - I have a global reach right now. It’s amazing how many people in Asia like my show. In addition to the US, I have people in Africa, India, Germany, Russia, the Mediterranean Islands, Europe, the UK and Australia. On Blog Talk alone I went from a couple hundred listeners to over 25,000 within a year and a half. Since February of this year, I gained 18,000 listeners from Blog Talk, but I have other Podcast hosts sites I am on with unique visitors and that has added an additional 17,000 listeners as well. I think it may have grown a bit more in the last month since I just started adding my links to multiple search engines. Since reaching out to artists on music sites where they post their sites, music and links, I’ve been inundated with more artists wanting to have their music played. I even get artists who have been famous before but are getting back in the game. It’s hard sometimes for them to consider using this new method of social marketing. It always starts with an interview.
Are there any artists you’ve featured that have since gone on to sign with record labels? (RAVENDA) - I had a rap artist from the West Coast named “Bigg Jigg” on the show last year. He’s now signed to Universal. My show is monitored by the amount of listeners and downloads I receive for each broadcast. Because there are so many other shows on Blogtalk it is hard to monopolize the entire audience they get on their server. So people who don’t get to listen live, often download the show for later and keep it on their computer or their iPod’s. I keep track of everything. The average is 15-20 live listeners; 75-175 downloads for a show that is on between 6pm and 9pm on a weeknight when most folks are doing other things or in bed. Sometimes I do a repeat of the show either on the weekend or another day. Bigg Jigg as of today since being on the show has over 475 downloads.
Most of the artists I’ve promoted have opted to be independent because this social marketing method puts more money in their hands without red tape. But some folks get lucky. “Special Ops”, a rock band I featured from Canada also signed with a major Indie Label. What’s funny is, they never made it to the live interview due to a schedule conflict but I kept the show going and they still got over 130 people who listened to the show. Another artist who was recently featured on a few of our local channel news shows and have just won a talent show featured on our local network, “Ju Taun”. He has been on my show a couple times and have had a phenomenal record of over 800 downloads. Why they are not signed is beyond me with a fan base that reaches into Australia, New Zealand and Canada, I don’t understand why Universal turned them down. They are amazing.
But then I have an artist I do a lot of promotion for, “Q Harper” (an R&B artist from Detroit), has had several meetings with Universal, Virgin and a few others. He is still doing well without them but continues to get calls about signing. The thing about signing is the “DEAL” Majors are expecting you to do all the main promoting to get your buzz, the sales to create a budget, and the fan base. Then they want to step in with their resources like radio and promoters and opening for big acts, and think they can take all that credit and all that money from your success. The 360 deal, the promotion deals, all of those things are really processes an indie artist can do on their own. You need patience, faith, hunger, and a great team to do it. There is no reason why any really great indie artist can’t make it on their own. Those majors are now using the same resources available to artists and you don’t need a six figure budget to get started.
How does an artist get their music played on your show? (RAVENDA) - All they have to do is send three to four music tracks in mp3 format to my email address, firstname.lastname@example.org . I need a brief bio, a couple of nice professional “looking” digital photos (not a bathroom or cellphone pic or of someone standing in a junky house). Make it look like you paid for it. As for the bio, please make sure you tell me why you started your music career. I like to get a feel from an artist by reading their bio, visualizing how they grew up and how music became an integral part of their lives. And please check your grammar. A lot of times I have to cut and paste that bio for the introduction in the show and I spend time revising somebody else’s life. Once I review it if I like it, it is applied to my website at www.wmznindieradio.ning.com and added to my radio playlist as well. I encourage artists to join my site which is set up as a social site for artists. A membership is free. However, I also encourage them to request for the premium membership which gets them additional promotion on my other podcasts, my video stream, direct referrals to my associate radio hosts instead of waiting for them to come to the site, and first consideration to have their music added to my activities or unique music projects. It’s only $25 for the year. Other services are listed as well. I am about to revamp the whole site and move it to another host that will accommodate it along with my TV Network.
I know we touched on it before and you just mentioned your TV network again. Tell me a little more about the evolution of your radio show onto an internet TV outlet and how that is coming along. (RAVENDA) - It’s coming along great!. I’ve gathered my production team, and I will also be using a company that works with AOL, CBS, and a lot of other major companies for their programming, to do some of my production. They are an awesome group. I’ll be holding auditions this fall as well. I have a variety of shows I’ll be doing that are original like a sports news show presented by a couple college fanatics, a fashion news show, a cooking show with some well known chefs, a home improvement show for folks in the inner city. They are always showing fancy homes on HGTV but if you live in the hood and you have a pretty decent looking house, you might need some help too. My strategy for “Indie Stream TV” (an independent internet programming network) is that it reaches into the community and doesn’t concentrate so much on Hollywood’s or upper echelon subjects but the average person, the blue collar and middle class community. Very different from YouTube or MySpace or other video host servers in that we will be marketing it like a regular TV or Cable network without the suits and red tape that has resulted in lots of Network problems. We are setting our network up to allow folks to become producers of their own original TV programs just like on regular TV. We’re looking for professional looking productions that don’t have to be done on a huge budget. Over time with us and our marketing and promotion team they will have those budgets.
How so exactly? (RAVENDA) - The best thing is that they only have to pay for our professional services and add our client’s ads which would cover any expenses we incur from their shows. It’s an ideal project for teenagers who are crafty with a video camera, and it’s great for music artists because we have programming we can add their music too. It’s wonderful for advertisers who will be able to reach into the hearts and souls of the consumer because each subscriber is given a choice of what ads they want to see according to their lifestyles and shopping needs. You won’t see hair dye or sanitary napkin commercials during your shows if you’re a single guy living alone or with your college buddies. It will be marketed to a specific consumer type not in your face majority.
That sounds fantastic! You are also working on something for indie filmmakers…right? (RAVENDA) – Yes, we are providing outlets for indie filmmakers to reach our audience by creating our own “Indie Vanguard Cinema” which will feature indie films, and films previously gone to DVD that are cult classics or did not get the attention from major distribution. It’s something not necessarily new but the steps we’ve taken are new and the results will be seen very soon. I will also be hosting a Travel segment on the “Step On It” TV show hosted by my friend, Deacon Doc, on the Colours TV Network who broadcasts the show both locally in Chicago and globally to the rest of the world.
Now, that’s not all you have going on. Tell me about Mingle Zone Network. (RAVENDA) - Wow, my baby! (Smiles) I am a die hard people person. I love to talk, I love to share, and I love to help folks find out about things they need to know. It’s who I am. I network everywhere I go. On the bus, train, plane, supermarket…everywhere. I’m always meeting people. When I got the hang of being on the internet and finding all the resources on it, I thought to myself, a lot of folks don’t have computers or don’t know how to look for things. So, I found a free social site called “NING” that allowed me to create a social networking site that allows people to create their own member pages, promote their own businesses, add photos, music, and communicate with each other about things that will make your life better or financially successful. Of course you have to do your own homework but I make options available.
I had a hard time creating the name because at first it was supposed to be the Mingle Zone, but it sounded like a dating site, and there was a porn site somewhere in Europe called the Mingle Zone. I added Network to give it a more professional sound since it was created for professionals. But nobody has the lock-down on the word mingle which means simply to socialize with folks who have liked interests. People weren’t mingling anymore. They were going to boring meetings and conferences they had no interest in and it was just not working. I decided to start on the internet to help people learn how to mingle again, and it just grew into so much more.
We are evolving it even more next year with a membership that allows people to have a database of other net workers who no matter where they travel to, they can find somebody connected and meet up with them or participate in a networking or social event. We’re even putting a cell phone application together for MZN so it will be a GPS to professional and social fun not just driving directions and a map. It will increase the productivity of our business partners by bringing people who are traveling to their company or social venue. I’m really excited about where it’s taking me. This fall we are bringing it live to Philadelphia with networking events held at the Philadelphia Clef Club, a sophisticated historical place for Jazz and cultural music lovers. We will be creating events to particular business sectors, promoting them on our Live Stream feed with advertising and live interviews, and adding the music element for indie artists to perform. There will be food, drinks, and lots of networking. Our first Talk Show will be shot there live as well. It’s called “Conversation Piece” and features local non famous celebrities, industry celebrities, business professionals, indie and major artists, and a live audience. We want people to know that you don’t have to be a star to be a “Star”!
You are also involved in the organization of a National Step Competition. By the time this goes to print your September event will have passed. But, tell us about this competition and when/where the next event will take place. (RAVENDA) - Actually, we’ve had some schedule changes and the competition actually started in September as an online submission for the qualification segment. Dates are always changing as we try to accommodate the people involved. But we will notify everybody when everything starts. The mission behind this is to create the “Step To The Beat Foundation” that will raise funds for college students and for youth empowerment programs that help non-college students qualify for college despite personal setback. Programs we will support are those who work with the family unit to strengthen that child’s chances to reach college and to desire that education and feel that they are worth even going. A lot of kids don’t add college to their life because nobody is encouraging them. So we have a major artist opening the show performing with the steppers, celebrity hosts, presenters and judges, and of course steppers from all over the nation. We also have product placement, and advertising opportunities for businesses. Our biggest goal is to keep HBCU’s doors open by making sure we raise funds for students to attend those universities and increase enrollment. Those schools are important to our culture.
Our Chicago Steppin’ Competition starts in November to focus on the history of Chicago Style Steppin’ and we are sending the winners of both Semi Final competitions to compete in the Finals on our Soul Stepping Cruise in June 2011. Up until that point the semi final winners will help us promote our film documentary on the origin and affects of “Steppin”. We are still adding sponsors and companies who want mass media attention because we are streaming the whole event on the internet and that allows them to reach millions of consumers of various age types. We also will be publishing a student directory of all HBCU’s, background and history of the Black Greek Chapter affiliations and their accomplishments, and businesses who have supported HBCU’s. These directories will be distributed among high school students and new college enrollments nationwide. It’s a great opportunity and a great reason to sponsor this project. For more info on the competition please send an email to email@example.com. Or sign up at www.steptothebeat.info . Registration as a vendor information is also on the site. We expect to reach over 3 million viewers with this project.
As if all of this isn’t enough, you also manage up and coming artist. Why did you decide to get into management? (RAVENDA) – Well, I am not the permanent manager but I offer management services to Q Harper, the artist from Detroit I mentioned earlier. He is looking for management now on a more permanent basis but I don’t want to be a permanent manager because I work with so many artists. If I were a manager I would want to concentrate on the one artist mainly. But until he finds the right person, I’m there to help. I have been very successful in helping him create his web presence although we are still working together towards his success regardless of the management he does acquire.
Are there other artists that you currently work with providing other services? (RAVENDA) - As for other artists, I am providing services they would normally get from a Publicist. That is most beneficial to them since they aren’t ready to hire a full fledged Publicist. I am working with a hip hop duo named Black Steele who I think personify hip hop Their style is reminiscent to me of KRS 1, NWA, RUN DMC , and others of that era that issued a message to people within the music, and didn’t focus on trivial things or celebrated strippers, or bragged so much about bling bling or money. It’s one thing to make song about your skills but it’s another thing to just brag and say nothing else. I’ve had a great opportunity to have some really great people on my show from various backgrounds. In music I’ve had Donald Tavie from the band Lakeside, who is now a great friend. Clifford Adams from the band Kool & the Gang, Joe Stonestreet from the original Black Street group, Mr Servon from Master P’s No Limit Records, Tito Puente Jr., Greg Williams of the group SWITCH, Danny Stewart from Death Row Records, Steve Russell from Troop, Denise Hendricks, BET Producer for the Monique show, Beretta 9 from the Wu Tang Clan, Cherie Johnson who was in Family Matters and Punky Brewster, and so many more among a host of indie artists. I’ve been blessed and continue to be. While going to other shows by my colleagues I’ve spoken to celebrities like Sylvia Brown, Karen Black, Kenny Lattimore, Nia Peeples, Eric Roberts, and others. Blogtalk is very popular and I thank them for giving me this outlet to share my passion.
Is there anything else you would like to promote at this time? (RAVENDA) - With all the things I’ve mentioned, you’d think I would have nothing left to talk about right? WRONG! I am an innovative person and always coming up with ideas. With all the things I already do I added Travel Agent to my list. And not to offer to the world but to be able to include it in my networking projects and to help indie artist find great travel deals for their touring. I came across some great places to host events and thought to myself, “These are some great opportunities to provide my elite audiences something special for their vacations.” I found a great place in Turks & Caicos where 18 people can be accommodated at a private luxury villa, with a private beach and a gorgeous and luxurious setting on that beautiful Caribbean island. I will bring in artists to perform during their stay. They get a Butler, Maid, Cook and even a driver along with a complimentary breakfast for the 7 day vacation. The special price includes air, transfers and taxes. And then I thought of how Turks has a lot of things involving art, music and dance so I decided to network with them in bringing artists to perform there regularly. The plan is in motion. The plan also includes taking MZN Indie Radio to China where I also have a growing fan base.
I must say that it’s always great for us to meet others that share in our passion for helping up and coming/indie talent pursue their dreams. You are doing great work and we wish you continued success. We also look forward to possibly collaborating with you on future ventures. Do you have any final words for our readers? (RAVENDA) – Well, I thank you and appreciate being a part of this interview and your magazine. I think it is great to share other people’s successes and ventures. I am definitely down with networking with you. In fact I’d like to offer you the opportunity to be the representing publication to talk about our events. How does that sound? For the readers out there, never give up on your dreams and do your research before moving full force. It is hard and may seem cumbersome but you will get there if it is meant to be.
You’ve got a deal!