Eric Roberson Celebrates An Amazing 21 Years As A Successful Indie Musician
At one point he felt like he was left behind in the neo-soul movement, but then indie inspiration struck and the rest is history.
June 27, 2022 at 1:35 pm
Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Eric Roberson, or Erro as he is also known, is celebrating an incredible 21 years as a successful independent artist making music on his terms and crafting a legacy of drive and longevity. He remembers sitting in rooms dreaming out loud with people like Jill Scott or co-writing some of neo-soul‘s well-known hits like Vivian Green’s “Emotional Rollercoaster” and Musiq Soulchild‘s “Mary Go Round,” among others.
For a short time, he said he felt like he was left behind when a wave of northeast-based artists was pegged to be the bearers of the then-new sub-genre of music. But once he realized that it was all in how he was marketing himself, he decided to create his own lane, which he’s been navigating perfectly ever since. In honor of Black Music Month, Blavity sat down with Erro to talk about the lessons he’s learned along his two-decade journey as a fan-favorite musician making his own way auspiciously.
Coming up in the neo-soul era
The New Jersey native was in the thick of Philadelphia when a wave of new artists was being swept up by record labels. At the time, he focused heavily on his work as a songwriter. It wasn’t until he got essentially left behind as a singer that he realized he actually never marketed himself as such. His songwriting, however, landed him some great relationships and a role on the ground level building the neo-soul subgenre.
“During the Philly explosion of the late ’90s-early 2000s, which I’m proud to say I was a part of as a contributor in writing, I was really working very hard for everyone to know me as Eric Roberson the songwriter,” Roberson told Blavity. “So all those labels, all the ARs, all the presidents of the labels that came down and signed everyone knew me as Eric Roberson the songwriter. And even though I was doing my artist stuff and really trying to present that at that time, I was easily overlooked because I wasn’t presenting myself the way I really wanted to be seen. And the lesson learned in that is like, you have to meet success where it will see you at, you have to meet love where it will see you at, you have to meet peace where it will see you at. And from that point on, I kind of started working on that.”
Roberson is heavily infused throughout many of the well-known projects credited to the era. You can hear him quite prominently on background vocals on a few of Musiq Soulchild’s songs, and he’s co-written a number of hits. This all took place during a time when many of these artists were just dreaming of what success would look like.
“There are so many people who I met when it was just a dream, and I had the fortunate opportunity to see their dreams come true,” he said. “I remember when Jill Scott walked into A Touch of Jazz for the first time. I remember us walking to the pizza store, sharing our dreams, and I’m honored and proud to witness that and contribute to some degree. And through Musiq Soulchild and Dwele and Vivian Green — to be able to work with them but also just sharing in their process to get toward their dreams as well as work with some of my heroes.”
Earlier this year, Roberson released his 17th album Lessons, which features a love song of the same name. However, the word is multi-faceted for the artist as he celebrates his growth as a musician and person.
“Those times were incredible,” he said. “I think the artist I am, comes from the writing and the collaboration and development I had while working in Philadelphia, but I also knew how to shape myself, to be seen as the artist that I wanted to be. And the great thing also was that sure, I was kind of overlooked by the labels that kind of came in and swooped everybody up. But the truth is it worked out for the better. I didn’t know that at the time, but there was a bigger picture for me and that wasn’t my journey. I put out something independently and have more creative control over what I do for the next 20-something years is really a true blessing for me. So, I’m happy it worked out the way it did.”
17 albums in 21 years
Roberson almost accidentally discovered the joys of complete creative control once he started releasing his music. Since then, he’s carved out the perfect path for himself and has found a way to continuously enjoy his work.
“I think I naturally have enjoyment in discovery and in creativity,” he said. “So, for me, I wake up with ideas in my head, and it doesn’t get old. I think I’ve worked a long time to feel like this studio feels like the first time every time I walk in it. So there’s never really a dread of like, ‘ah, go in and do work.’ It’s more of like, ‘let’s see what we’re gonna find today.’ And I really do enjoy it. And I think that’s one of the main reasons why I still do it.”
He’s been recently reflecting on the fact that Lessons really is his 17th album in 21 years. That’s no easy feat for any artist, signed or independent.
“When you think of 17 albums in 21 years, that sounds a bit crazy, and it is crazy,” he said. “And [Lessons] is really a snapshot of the musical period I’m in. And that was me stepping back from the obligation of it and falling in love with music again, just in general, realizing I’m a fan of it first. And that’s where I was at the time when I made that album. Lessons is very much reflective. I’ve been very head down, work, work, work, work, record. And I think in my life now I’m taking a little bit of time to kind of sit back and go, ‘man, we kind of did this.'”
Roberson has a special group of dedicated fans called “the process” that he bounces ideas and new songs off of.
“I want them to see the process of a song going from an idea to a complete tangible object, and the beautiful thing is that really helps me get a chance to learn what works immediately,” he said. “So if you’re in the studio, if you’re watching, if you’re getting a copy of it and if the reaction is elaborate, then I know I have something. But if they kind of move on, I go ‘OK, this probably needs some more work.’ I’ve been writing songs for a long, long time — 30 plus years now, getting close to 40 years of just literally writing songs, and there have been times where I thought this song is gonna pay off the house. ‘I’m gonna go buy me a Bentley off this one. This is the one.’ And it didn’t get the reaction I thought it was gonna get. And then there are some songs where, you know, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, you about to go to sleep and you’ll sit at the keyboard for a second and just make some little small, really small idea. And that’s the one that everyone goes crazy about.”
Inspiring the next generation of artists
Roberson is not just an acclaimed independent artist; he’s also a professor at Berklee College of Music. The role started with him focusing on publishing deals and copyrights. But one day he realized he could offer his students a bit more music business insight by teaching them how to appreciate themselves.
“I had a different epiphany,” he said. “We’re supposed to talk about publishing deals and copyrights and pros services and all stuff like that, but when I would bring up doubt, everyone would sit up. And I’d be like, ‘so we’re not talking about this anywhere else? Let’s talk about it.’ So instead of talking about it for half a class, I talked about it for like three weeks because if you can’t get past doubt, you can’t even work on the business. And sure, we work on copyrights and copywriting infringement and networking and deals and stuff like that, but I need to know that when you press play, you are showing people that you love it. You’re showing people that it moves you so that it can move them. That’s part of the business.”
Roberson emphasizes to his students that it’s nearly impossible to sell something if you are full of doubt.
“The first thing that they need to learn is that most of ’em like me can put their head down and work on music for 20 hours, so I tell all of ’em for every six hours of music, you owe me three hours of business. You gotta put that time in on the other side of it and use the same creative mind. You have to make that core progression to make that marketing plan, to make that Instagram or TikTok approach or radio campaign or a tour schedule — unlocking that creativity and trusting that process the same way you trust your songwriting process.”
His foundations continue to inspire his growth
Roberson has taken from his foundations to continue to grow as an artist. One of these foundations is New Jersey, where legendary artists like Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Bruce Springsteen, Queen Latifah, Jon Bon Jovi and Lauryn Hill are also from.
“The one thing that New Jersey really influenced me was that one, we were so close to New York, but yet we were distant enough to get inspired by like the birth of hip-hop, but yet still can develop our own here,” he said. “Gospel music is deeply rooted here. Church is very heavy, but then, house music, I mean, it was just so many different genres of music. I was educated on that. It wasn’t really just one tight-knit culture. We would sing at choir rehearsal all week, we sing at church all Sunday, but Friday we were at the club dancing to house music, and Saturday we might be home playing hip-hop or whatever band was popular or hot at the time, whether it was a Black band or a rock band or whatever. We love all of it. And I think New Jersey is very unapologetic that way.”
“The friendships I got from the first day I walked on campus, the guys I’m talking to through text message and you know, uncles to their kids, and collaborating — there are people on this album right now that I went to school with,” he said. “It’s just it’s been a blessing, but also Howard has so much amazement in the classrooms, in the hallways, but the magic was the community, the dorm rooms, like what we were talking about, our dreams and chasing after stuff and learning how to hustle was really important and impactful. Like, I came in there kid and I left a man.”
And then there’s his family, whom he deems such a major part of his journey that being a husband and father is listed among his accolades on his C.V.
“They’re a part of me,” he said. “It’s like, I have no problem showing myself, and I want people to know who I am. This is what I love. And I wouldn’t be here without my parents, without their support, my sister’s support. And I wouldn’t be able to do this without my wife’s support. My life, as well as my business, has only improved from the moment I met her, and my kids helped me understand priorities and balance. So, I became a better person when I had kids. I’m always trying to showcase them because I always want them around.”
Crediting these influences, Roberson maintains a strong commitment and drive for his work. And there’s always something coming next. He will return alongside Jade Novah in the bandstand for season two of Jimmy Fallon’s That’s My Jam. He’s also continuously working on new music and opportunities to sing everywhere. He’ll be a featured artist at the 2022 Black Music Honors during the tribute to The Whispers. He remains honored at all of the many things that have come his way, especially when he can publicly appreciate the people who came before him.
“That I get a chance to honor my heroes — it’s also a great opportunity to just pay homage,” he said. “The Whispers have been absolutely incredible. And once again, another fabric to my life and music and any moment to tell them, ‘hey, do you see the equipment I have? Do you see the songs I have? Thank you. You’re a part of the reason why I do this, a part of the reason why I pick a pen up, part of the reason why even last night at 3 o’clock in the morning I was recording, even when I needed to go to sleep is like because I love it. And I fell in love with it off of what you did first before I even knew what creativity was.’ So, I think it’s part of our job, and I’m really honored when I am thought of to kind of pay homage to the people that came before me.”
Roberson tours often and has a number of upcoming shows already on the books. Check out his schedule here.