“I was part of a group that was selling thousands of records and was really growing,” he recalled of his heyday back in the 1990s with the regional urban-pop group P.U.M.P. who opened shows from major mainstream artists.
He later became a booking agent, went to Chicago and became a songwriter-producer who amassed a catalog of more than 1,500 songs.
“But the bigger it got I realized there was something missing,” recalled Rodriguez, 36, from his Grand Rapids area office.
“I hadn’t dedicated all my talents to the Lord.”
The realization has led to the artist’s various roles in Christian music, where he remains active in songwriting, recording and producing for fellow artists as well as pursuing his own performing ministry.
FROM JENISON TO THE WORLD
Rodriguez said he grew up in a multi-cultural home in which his Puerto Rican father spoke almost no English, a situation which helped young Orlando become bi-lingual.
“I went through Jenison schools as one of only a handful of minorities, but musically I had a lot of influences,” he said.
Although he came from a Christian household, Rodriguez said he was definitely affected by the MTV culture and got involved in popular music early on.
“I remember telling my Mom that I wanted to be an R&B (Rhythm & Blues) singer, and I caught her by surprise and she almost fainted.”
He was involved in P.U.M.P. for several years and then in various music outlets, eventually making a living in the competitive music industry.
But while in Chicago he came to a sense that he must dedicate his entire life to Jesus Christ.
“At that point I wasn’t even sure that would mean music,” he said of his unknown future.
THE SUBSTANCE OF THINGS
Rodriguez began doing Christian music in 2003, returning to his native West Michigan about five years ago. He has been slowly working on a new collection of original Christian urban pop songs to be released as an album next year. But he still spends a good amount of time working with other artists.
“I finally realized what I wanted to do for the rest of my life,” he offered.
“I’m slightly older now – old enough to appreciate everything and not so overwhelmed with all the different things that come along with this.”
Rodriguez is married to Sarah, a local medical doctor. He is part of Living Word Christian Center, a church on Kalamazoo Ave. SE.
He has also taken the stage name of Substance, which defines his musical mission.
“If you look it up in the dictionary, substance is the essential part or main essence of something,” he said.
“The essential part of my life is my faith in Jesus Christ, and substance is going beyond the surface and dealing with what’s essential.”
Substance’s ministry advisor is the Rev. John Smith, a former church pastor who currently serves as area director of Pastor Care, a pastor support network.
“I chose to partner with Substance because I love the answers that flow out of his life,” said Smith.
"His heart is right with God and right with people.”
CURRENT MUSICAL MILIEU
Substance’s personal music project - nearly two years in the making - is called “Turn the World Off,” projected for an official release early next year.
He has completed several songs, including “Reach Out” which is currently airing on about 30 radio stations across the country.
“Music is a weird thing,” he mused. “You do the work and then people respond. It’s not an instantaneous thing.”
The deliberate process has given him time to “road test” several of the songs. This year he has performed in Illinois, North Carolina and Indiana as well as Michigan.
In the last several years he’s shared the stage with gospel stalwarts Donnie McClurkin and Jason Nelson. This summer he opened a Grand Rapids show for Tamela Mann, an award-winning gospel singer.
“I go not by turnout, but by people impacted,” he said of his gauging of success.
“I’ve found that the artist who actually shakes the hands and cares about people is the artist that remains an artist long term,” he reasoned.
Several of his other song titles: “It’s Not About Me,” (a future radio single) and “We Need You.” He has packaged those songs along with “Reach Out” as an EP, to be available before the full CD is released.
“I’ve traveled a lot of places, but coming back to West Michigan is great because there’s so many people here who understand the importance of expressing their faith.”
Substance upcoming concerts:
Sat. Sept. 14 - Family Fun Festival, noon to 4 p.m. at Harrison Park School, 1440 Davis Ave. NW
Sat. Oct. 12 - Bethel Abundant Life Center, 3075 30th St. SW www.bethelalc.org