The three years since Washington Informer Bridge has been available as both a physical publication and a digitally-streamed broadcast brand have coincided with the global insurgence of digital media as an overwhelming victor in the competition for eyes and minds in the modern era. Thus, for the Bridge — an upstart offshoot of six-decade olf African-American legacy media brand the Washington Informer — the desire to grow brand awareness while achieving sustainability in such a wildly evolving time has been significant. However, given that Bridge CEO and Publisher Lafayette Barnes IV has a unique depth and scope to his reach in the Nation’s Capital’s creative community, he — through the innovative Sounds of the DMV broadcast initiative,” has discovered a successful solution.
“My brother DB Bantino has achieved a lot of success in the music industry, and I’ve always wanted to highlight local artists who have potential,” says Barnes. To wit, Bantino is a well-regarded songwriter and producer who counts credits with French Montana, Shelly fka D.R.A.M, Bone Thugs, and Boosie Badazz amongst his achievements. Barnes continues, “And of course, as a publisher, you keep hearing about how publications have to adapt for streaming to grow their reach. So, I needed to develop a concept that would be of interest.”
“Sounds of the DMV” is unique because it features local, DC area-based performers who are promoting positive messages while also making pop-aimed music. For Barnes, maintaining this standard has proven a challenging but ultimately worthwhile endeavor. “A lot of the music you hear right now features artists saying crazy things on record that are simply untrue, and promote negative messages. Yes, of course, people get shot, terrible things happen. But a lot of artists — many here in DC — say these things in a way that make them feel untrue, and they often are.”
In the past three months, artists including Bantino himself and notable rappers including Ciscero, Payroll, Pinky Killacorn, and ANKHLEJOHN have spurred the Bridge’s social media channel to see upwards of over 1000% growth in its streaming media reach. At a time when the coronavirus pandemic has keyed a roughly 50% increase in streaming social media interaction versus the year prior, WI Bridge growing in visibility amidst a deluge of eyes across multiple portals is impressive.
The program’s growth has highlighted like-minded Washingtonians looking to develop sustainable brands via public-private partnerships and progressive marketing ideas. Initially, Barnes paired with Northwest DC’s HR Records for the concept as a segment of the Bridge’s fifteen-minute portion of the Washington Informer’s weekly video broadcast program. Like Barnes’ desire to grow visibility via digital means, HR Records owner — and Howard University graduate — Charvis Campbell was using Facebook streams of concerts from the jazz, soul, R&B, and funk retailer’s brick and mortar location.
“As always, with anything the Bridge does, our first goals are wanting to remain local and also support Black entrepreneurs,” Barnes offers. “I knew of Charvis and what he was doing. As well, I knew what I wanted to do. Then, one of our Washington Informer freelancers made me aware of a sponsorship opportunity that could be available from Verizon. I took the idea of us broadcasting his streams with bigger production value on the Bridge’s segment of the Informer show. He agreed.”
The Bridge’s partnership with HR Records allowed the two brands to grow their reach and for both partners to be able to afford the ability to build out their broadcast capabilities. After an amicable split at the end of the Verizon partnership, WI Bridge no longer airs the HR Records events. Instead, the publication now has moved its efforts in-house to a storefront suite on the premises of the Informer’s iconic Southeast Washington, DC headquarters. It’s a move that has benefitted the Sounds of the DMV segment in ways that extend far past artist performances.
The Bridge’s constant desire to spotlight and aid African-American creatives has expanded into not just highlighting those in front of the camera, but now those behind the scenes, too. “It’s been kinda cool to build our own production room. We’ve learned green screen technology, we’re mastering our camera angles, and how to upgrade the quality of our broadcast capabilities,” Barnes offers.
In an ever-competitive and forever evolving print and digital landscape, the need for connective storytelling and diverse representation is essential. Via “Sounds of the DMV,” Lafayette Barnes IV and his brother, DB Bantino, are thriving.