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07

Mar

Rappers: How To Market Yourselves

By, Wendy Day (2/2013)

Marketing is the overall image and awareness that is put forth by your brand as you advertise, promote, do interviews and basically spread the word about your music (which is your product). One of the keys is to know exactly who will buy your music, and tailor your marketing campaign to them. The best method to draw in fans is “word of mouth,” so therefore your goal should always be to spark positive conversation (word of mouth) about you and your music.

Who Is Your Potential Fan?

Taking it outside of music for a minute, can we all agree that the person who shops at K-Mart is different from the person who shops at Neiman Marcus? The person who drives a Hyundai, may have different interests from the person driving a Bentley? So back to music now—the person who is listening to or buying Justin Bieber’s music is different from the person who supports Trae. Bieber has a younger audience, more pop music, radio, and internet driven, while Trae makes music to ride and/or smoke to—meaning the fan is older and probably more likely to be male. They are also more likely to buy a CD at the local Swap Meet or the Car Wash, while a Bieber fan may be more likely to download his music to an iPod, smartphone, or MP3 player, or buy the CD at the Best Buy next to the Mall for $9.99.

So, if I was marketing a young pop artist, I might try to book him on Nickelodeon shows and set up a high school or Mall tour. With a rapper who doesn’t appeal to a teenage demographic, I’d probably do more of a college tour, and club dates reaching a 21 and older crowd. So, it’s important to know who is buying your music. You need to be able to figure out the demographic for your music or your song, and that will let you know the direction your marketing needs to take. If you are not able to determine who your fan base is yourself, you need to find someone around you who can. But they better be right. If you are making music that appeals to white skateboard twenty-something kids and you market to young inner city teens, you are fucked in the gate!

When I was out on the road with BloodRaw in February of ‘08, I kept dragging him to college campuses because he makes anthem type party raps, and he kept telling me’ “Let’s go to the ‘Hood.“ It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, but that he knows who buys and listens to his music. In this case, we blitzed the ‘hoods first and then grew out to the college and party crowds. He had a perfect understanding of who his market is.

How Will You Reach Them?

Once you know who will buy your music, it becomes pretty clear what your image needs to be to reach your market. In Young Jeezy’s case, he’s that dope boy turned rapper who’s about making money, partying in the clubs, buying material items, and driving expensive cars. In Jay Z’s case, he’s that Billionaire Mogul running his own empire and living the life that this brings. Kanye is the intelligent around-the-way guy who dropped out of college to pursue a dream and feels a need to voice his opinion about everything publicly. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are the old school ‘hood chicks that every guy knows and loves while Nicki Minaj is the new “Barbie” on the block. Odd Future are the zany “I don’t give a fuck” guys who act a fool and hate everything. Wiz Khalifa is your boy who all he wants to do is smoke weed.

In terms of imaging, Jeezy could rock a suit, but you’d assume he was going to court. He’s much more at home in some high end black jeans and a white or black T shirt with some Gucci or Prada shoes. Jay Z is more likely to be recognized in a button down shirt with cuff links or an expensive Italian suit. Image is a big part of marketing. What is your image? What sentence would a fan use to describe you? Is that description unique or does it fit ten other rappers?

Now, as you promote your image to the masses to gain awareness, it’s important that your message is clear, concise, and easy to understand. A flyer with 20 things crowded on it, and no empty space for the eye to rest, is a waste. Having things mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect is terrible too. Photos that are too low resolution that they look grainy and out of focus make you look cheap and clueless. The look of your promotional materials says a lot about who you are as a person. It would be easier for Yo Gotti to get away with something grimy and street than Jay Z or Puffy. Image is everything, and yours should be consistent.

If you have no understanding of design or aesthetics, find someone who does. If you suck at writing copy, find someone who has that talent to write the words for your flyers, social media pages, website, bio, and CD booklets (liner notes). Find people who are good at what they do and hire them to help you. Know your role and play it. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Teamwork is key here.

When you choose your own lane, try not to bite what has come before you. There is already a Jay Z, already a Lil Wayne, already a Drake. Try not to copy their style or image or sound. Usually the one who does it first, does it best, so be unique.

I suggest to small labels all of the time that they use one image of the artist to have consistency in marketing. First of all, you don’t have the budget of a major label who can afford to market Rick Ross in a suit, a sweatsuit, as well as street clothes. Pick one image and use that for your CD cover, vehicle wrap, website, flyers, posters, etc. It is very rare that a fan recalls a new artist’s name. There are just too many new artists. So very often they will go into the store asking for the kid who is rapping next to a Lamborghini on his posters, or that kid who is into skateboarding, etc. Make it easy for people to figure out who you are. Use one strong image that stands out to market yourself, and sets you apart from everyone else.

When I first started working with TMI Boyz in 2008, our t-shirts were so ugly that I would never wear them. We gave out like 10,000 of those ugly shirts. Finally, we had the logo and shirts redesigned. We had everybody asking for our shirts and wearing them (including me). We even had folks offering to buy them from us (truth is t-shirts are more expensive to print, so we should sell the t-shirts and give out the CDs for free. Ha ha ha ha).

Your marketing mix should consist of whatever you can afford from the following—

Promotions:
Street promotion
Radio promotion
Club promotion
Retail store promotion
Internet promotion
Social media marketing
Publicity (blog, magazine, and media mentions)
Promotional Tour

Advertising:
Magazine ads
Billboards
Cable TV
Radio Ads
Internet Banner Ads

Tools:
Videos & Behind-the-scenes footage
Snippet CDs
Mixed CDs
T-Shirts
Wrapped Vehicles
Posters/Flyers/Post Cards

Don’t forget to incorporate the internet as part of your campaign. While we still aren’t 100% digital yet in this era, it is a crucial part of your marketing mix. To those of you with no budget who think free internet promotions is enough to build an artist, you are wrong. It is exactly what it is: inexpensive promotions, but just one part of your whole marketing pie. You still need the streets, clubs, and real world promotion.

I can’t stress enough the importance of your imaging and marketing. Make sure your messages are clear, well designed, spelled correctly and grammatically correct. And most of all, make sure you are reaching the people who will buy your music, with your imaging, your design, and your marketing mix. This should put you one step closer to success whether your plan is to stay independent or to attract legitimate deal offers from established record labels.

(Source: IndustryReport.com)

06

Mar

How To Get Your Music On The Radio

By, Wendy Day (www.SlavesNoMore.com music industry how-to site coming soon…)

Before you read this article, please make sure you’ve already read this primer: http://bit.ly/100VB2r about the basics of securing radio spins.

Radio is still the most misunderstood aspect of this industry. I see people lose tens of thousands of dollars constantly in this industry because they either trust the wrong radio promoters or they don’t know what they are doing. I can’t teach you whom to trust, but I can tell you how I successfully pursue radio for my artists.

I am NOT a radio promoter, I am a consultant. I help people start labels and make money with their music, so one of the many things I do is hire and interact with radio promoters. I have relationships with 10 or 12 different top independent radio promotion people all across the country. I trust them. They have all delivered results for my clients in the recent past. But just because they do a great job for me doesn’t mean they will do a great job for you. [I protect my connections at radio, so if I don’t know you well, I won’t share an introduction with you. Don’t even ask!]

There are MANY variables with radio: time of year, how crowded the radio market is, money, your song, sound, subject matter, money, tempo, features, who’s behind it, the artist, work ethic, money, how established the artist is, how likable the artist is, how likable and knowledgable you are, money, relationships, power, experience, catchiness, money, frequency of your releases, your money, their money, competing labels’ money, etc.

I’m going to assume you’ve done these things before you start spending money at radio:

1. You’ve gotten your single hot on the streets and in the clubs in your region (not just your city, but in the cities that are within a 5 hour driving radius of where you or your artist live) because you’ve already read http://bit.ly/ZvYfJu and maybe even had the chance to read http://bit.ly/YXtwUN as well.

2. You have a radio ready song that’s not only marketable for radio and fits the format, but is mixed and mastered to compete with everything already at radio such as Kanye, Jay Z, 2Chainz, Rihanna, Ke$ha, Lil Wayne, etc. There’s no cursing, the song is around 3 and a half minutes in length, and the subject matter is palatable (even clean versions of songs like “I Wanna F#ck Your B#tch” are harder to work than songs about love and respect, for example, especially for new artists who are scrutinized more harshly).

3. If you have a feature from an established artist on the single, you’ve already gotten the necessary clearances, in writing, from both the artist AND the label to whom he or she is signed giving you “single rights.” If an outside producer (someone not signed to your company) produced the beat, you have a contract with that producer saying you can use his production.

4. You have a good reason for wanting radio play–to sell single downloads, to increase awareness and build show opportunities, etc. By the way, just wanting to hear yourself on the radio, or because you want to be famous are really bad reasons to spend $15k to $100k on radio spins. If you only have one song to work, and no plan, you are wasting everyone’s time and your money.

5. You have registered every version of your single with both MediaBase and BDS. If you don’t know how, your radio promoter can help you do this. You’ve established your ASCAP and/or BMI, and SoundExchange registrations. If you don’t know how to do this, add “.com” to the end of each company and do the research online (such as BMI.com).

Once you’ve accomplished the basics, it’s time to decide which markets are best to break for your artists. The majority of artists that I consult are southern in their sound, so I usually focus on radio in the south initially and then spread into the Midwest. I choose which radio promoter to use based on my target markets.

Each radio promoter has key relationships, and what you are buying IS his or her relationships with program directors in key markets. You also need relationships with multiple radio promoters because when one is overwhelmed with a lot of records to work, you don’t want to hire him or her to work your record. It could easily get lost.

I always focus on a workable area so we can back up our records with contests, give-always, performances, etc–for example, I don’t really want the single spinning simultaneously at radio in San Francisco, Las Vegas, Miami, and Baltimore. They are too spread out for a small label or an indie artist to affordably work them. I prefer to stick to regions: Southeast, or Mid-south, or Midwest. I back up the radio spins by continuing to promote on the streets (promotional tours work wonders) in each area where we get radio play.

I don’t initially go after major markets like Houston, Dallas, Chicago, or Atlanta. I secure the surrounding smaller markets and then build into the larger cities once we have a story to tell about the single–once it has legs. I do NOT have people call in to request the song because I believe real reaction is superior over fake results. I do, however, print thousands of flyers with radio request line phone numbers for each market to inspire fans to request our song. I also use targeted social media to encourage my artist’s fans to support our single.

With rap music, there are 3 radio formats we can target depending on the sound of the song (and subject matter): Urban, Rhythmic, and Top 40 (Pop). Urban is the easiest to get added, Rhythmic a bit more challenging (and more costly), and Pop is the hardest (and most expensive). Think of them as 3 steps, provided your song fits at all three formats; you can start at Urban, grow into Rhythmic stations, and then expand into Pop. Again, IF the sound of your song warrants that–most do not.

I’ve never seen a record climb backwards, meaning I would never go after Pop radio and then try to secure Rhythmic or Urban. Urban, Rhythmic, then Pop. If your song is more mainstream, I’d bypass Urban and go right to Rhythmic and then Pop. In charting single sales, Urban spins rarely turn into single download sales, while Rhythmic and Pop almost always directly correlate to single sales. Urban spins do help build a rapper’s initial popularity at securing shows or being able to increase his or her show price.

Each radio format has a limited number of slots for songs. These slots are filled by hit records and the most well known artists. Remember, the goal of the station is to keep people from changing the station to the competition and most listeners want to hear songs they know so they can sing along. Each week there are usually only one or two slots available yet the Program Directors receive many songs vying for those slots. It’s very competitive at radio and the best songs don’t necessarily survive.

Once you’ve got an idea of your territory and chosen the radio promoter, it’s time to start getting the spins. The radio promoter will give you an add date at radio (always a Tuesday). This date will be chosen based on the timing of what else is dropping in the marketplace, so your record doesn’t get passed over for the superstar records (a risk that is always there) or lost in a sea of other priorities. The reality is that if it’s a choice between your record or a major label record, the radio program director will most likely support the major label because there is a strong relationship there. Major labels have been supporting radio for many years before your one little record, and will for many years after your one little record. Having said that, a hit record has value to everyone and gets attention.

Program Directors (PDs) are the decision makers at radio stations that choose what gets played on the radio. Music Directors (MDs) are the people directly under the PDs who usually suggest music and often meet with artists and labels. They are rarely the decision makers but run interference for the PDs.

Payola is illegal. There is not one radio station in this country that will take money from you to play your record. There is not one radio station that will even make a move that could be interpreted as payola (like accepting a gift, or swapping a performance for increased spins, etc). But you will pay the radio promoter. You police the success of your record via BDS or MediaBase reports that track the amount and time of your spins daily and/or weekly.

If you hire a radio promoter to get you spins on twenty stations, he or she will. Whether those stations benefit you is another story, but you got what you asked for–spins on 20 stations. It’s human nature to go where there’s the least resistance, so those 20 stations might be the easiest ones to deliver, as opposed to the best stations for your project. It’s YOUR project, so it’s your job to know which stations are beneficial and which stations are not. You must know what your needs and goals are and work with the promoters to deliver what you need and what you can best afford. Radio is an expensive game. You also need to work within the realistic confines of what the radio promoter can deliver. It’s not like you make a list and say “I want these stations at this time everyday.” Those would be advertisements.

Radio is a wonderful medium to reach large amounts of people, mostly women, with your music. You focus on one single at a time and the life of a single at radio is 12 to 16 weeks. Make sure your timing is right and make sure you can back up that single with street promotions, Internet promotions, a promo tour, etc while the song still has life in it.

I work my records slowly–meaning I spend slowly at radio. I never give a radio promoter $75,000 and say ‘go get me the south.’ I test my records, usually spending around $10,000 initially to see if my record has legs. This tests a few good markets and I can see if the record stays only in the overnight slots or if it moves into better day parts. I want to see if it’s “reacting.” I can see if the Program Director embraces the record (it increases in spins naturally every week) or not. My plan is that if I’m going to lose money on a single at radio (which is unlikely because it has a strong street and club buzz, so I already know fans like it), I’m going to lose as little as possible.

Much of what I want to teach you, I can’t because it’s based on feeling. You learn to feel records and you can tell when they are reacting or not. You light the spark and then hope it catches fire. Sometimes emotion and our own love of a record can cloud our judgment of whether or not we have a strong single. I’ve seen many people chase a record and spend $50,000 or $75,000 only to learn that the single did not react at radio. I’d rather learn this after $10,000 or $20,000 is spent. The ONLY folks who determine if a song is a hit record are the fans–the listeners. You don’t know, I don’t know, your consultants don’t know, the radio station doesn’t know. Only the fans can determine if it reacts or not by whether they embrace it or not. You can’t really force a hit…I’ve tried.

Lastly, radio is a great way to reach a large amount of people at once, as long as people continue to listen to the radio. Your BDS or MediaBase reports tell you how many thousands or millions of people are potentially hearing your record. If your goal is to get a deal from just radio spins, you haven’t done enough research on how to get a record deal. If you think you can spend $20,000 to get 500 spins a week at urban radio, you haven’t done enough research on how radio works. If you don’t have a goal for your radio play, you’re wasting your time and money, and taking away the few open slots at radio for those of us who have a goal and a plan! Get out of the way.

31

May

Things I Can’t Teach You

By, Wendy Day (www.WendyDay.com)

I have been teaching artists and industry folks the business behind the music for twenty years now. As the industry has changed, so have I. I don’t just teach, I do. And then I share the “how to” of my successes and failures, so others will learn too. I’ve charged nothing for this knowledge. My attitude has always been, you can learn from me or not–your choice. But why bang your head when someone else has done it for you?

There are some life skills, people skills, and things that I can’t teach, however. They are innate traits or common sense you must already possess to win in this business. If you don’t possess these skills, you sure as hell better have SOMEONE on your team who does.

1…Motivation and Grind: Without the innate ability to get up and work, you will never succeed in this industry. Not only must you work hard to build your career, and then to keep it, but you must out work all of your competition. Today this is easier than it was a few years ago, because most artists are super lazy and have a false sense of entitlement (“I will get a deal and be a star because I’m better than everyone out here.”). In this industry, you are only ever doing one of two things: working or sleeping. So if you are awake, you are promoting yourself and moving your career forward. Do it. If you aren’t going to hand out your own flyers, postcards, and music, make sure someone is with you at all times who will (and if you don’t like doing this yourself, the odds are already against your success. Who will EVER promote you better than you?)

2…Passion: You need to have an intense love for not only recording and performing, but for promoting yourself to fans. Just making great music isn’t enough. It has to be commercially viable, embraced by some fans somewhere, and marketed and promoted to them in a way, time, and place that they will embrace it. Not so easy to do.

3…Thought Process: I can offer a plan, show you how to do it, explain what has worked for me and what hasn’t, outline a blueprint to succeed, and refer other reading material…but I can’t do it for you. If you don’t naturally have an inclination to sell yourself to others (why they should support you or buy your music), this industry will be challenging for you. You need to always be promoting yourself, no matter where you are. I don’t mean this in an obnoxious ‘used car salesman’ way. When you meet someone new, it should be second nature to explain what you do, why you do it, and to hand them a card or some music, or at least a promotional flyer to take with them. As you gain fame, this same promotional material will be the stuff you autograph for them to take with them (never give an autograph unless asked, as it makes you seem conceited). Don’t be one-sided, listen to them talk about themselves, too. Conversation is a back and forth movement.

4…Take Care of Your Team: If you are fortunate enough to surround yourself with great people (and that should be at the top of your list), take care of them. If you eat, they should be eating. If you have only a few dollars to your name and they need something more than you do, they should get your last dollars. See a pattern here? They go all out for you, so you go all out for them. Forget calling them “family,” treat them like it instead.

5…Intelligence: One of my favorite sayings is “I can fix anything but stupidity. I can’t fix stupid.” Your team can over compensate for much of your errors and short comings, but they can’t overcompensate for stupidity. Make good decisions and follow through.

6…Seize Opportunities: If you have an opportunity in front of you, seize it. Make the best of EVERY situation even if it isn’t comfortable, you have personal problems, or you don’t feel like it. Force yourself. Do not miss any opportunity. Bored at an event or party? Speak to every person in the room–find out who they are and what they do, and tell them who you are and what you do. This is called networking. This is what separates successful artists from the idiots. This is a ‘who you know’ business. Get to know everyone!! Be outgoing, charming, and charismatic even if you don’t feel like it. Do not miss an opportunity. Either build fans or interact with industry folks. You never know which avenues will lead to success. Test them all. Just don’t be blindly stupid about it. Treat everyone you meet with respect. One of my secrets to success is that I treat stars like regular people and regular people like stars.

7…Be Charming: Even when you don’t feel like it, be charming and outgoing. Your success depends on fame. Fame puts you in the public eye and makes you fair game. They don’t care if you are tired, if you are busy, or if you are having a bad day. They expect stars to be awesome 24/7. Come as close to that as you can manage. If you’re not, that will spread faster than anything else you do, good or bad. Be approachable and happy, not sullen and miserable. If you suck at small talk, get better at it. That is one skill you will need everyday. Read a book and learn how to be better at small talk or have people around you that know how to engage you and bring that out in you. Easy topics: sports, weather, location (wherever you are, ask them how they like it). Try to always be positive and upbeat even with difficult or negative people or topics.

Get your priorities straight and have great follow through and you can build a lasting career that will feed you, your team, and your family. Learn as much as you can, but even though not EVERYTHING can be learned–some skills need to come from within, so surround yourself with a team that’s strong where you are weakest. Be real with yourself. You have to really want this, and be willing to do what it takes to succeed. If you can’t do that, don’t waste everybody’s time and energy. Your team depends on you!

01

Nov

Uh oh….

I just imported all of my Blogger posts here, and it seems from the Tumblr dashboard that they loaded backwards, giving you 2006 posts as current. Heavy sigh….

Please check the dates on what you read. Some things may be out of date….at least til I resolve the problem…

01

Oct

Wendy Day Has A New Book…Yaaaay!!

New Blogs and Updated Websites from Wendy Day….Yaaaay!!

I’ve just set up two new blogs through my websites. They are a blog where I’m posting ALL of my articles (in one place so there aren’t 5 article archive sites with articles, just 1….and that blog is:

www.rap-coalition.com

And then I’ve set up a personal blog where I talk about life and music industry stuff (everything BUT articles I’ve written)…and that blog is:

www.WendyDay.net

Also, my new eBook dropped today and you can get it here:

08

May

I’m reading an article on the Navy SEALS.  It recounts Hell Week, wherein you either pass or fail, make it or don’t.  Only 21 of the author’s class of 220 survived the test.  What does it take to succeed?

"What kind of man makes it through Hell Week? That’s hard to say. But I do know - generally - who won’t make it. There are a dozen types that fail: the weight-lifting meatheads who think that the size of their biceps is an indication of their strength, the kids covered in tattoos announcing to the world how tough they are, the preening leaders who don’t want to get dirty, and the look-at-me former athletes who have always been told they are stars but have never have been pushed beyond the envelope of their talent to the core of their character. In short, those who fail are the ones who focus on show. The vicious beauty of Hell Week is that you either survive or fail, you endure or you quit, you do - or you do not."

Sounds like an audition for “American Idol”.  Did you see that article wherein the stars of “The Voice” were shown to have appeared on previous TV shows? (http://bit.ly/kq3KDV)  That’s taking the easy way out, that’s a desire to strap yourself onto a rocket to the moon, real stardom demands more.  It’s not a lucky break, it’s all that preparation when no one is looking.  Making it comes when you least expect it, when you’ve almost given up but are still slogging along on sheer adrenaline.

It is about character.  Much more than talent.

"Some men who seemed impossibly weak at the beginning of SEAL training - men who puked on runs and had trouble with pull-ups - made it. Some men who were skinny and short and whose teeth chattered just looking at the ocean also made it. Some men who were visibly afraid, sometimes to the point of shaking, made it too."

You can’t predict who is going to be a star.  That beautiful girl with the fantastic pipes in high school, where is she today?  Your buddy who could wail on the guitar?

Making it is like becoming a Navy SEAL.  You’ve got to endure all kinds of horrific abuse, when no one is watching.  Are you gonna flake out for the doughnut or hang in there?  Used to be getting a record deal was like becoming a SEAL, the beginning.  Now even that doesn’t count.  People wanting record deals are pussies, they want someone else to do all the work.  Today, if you want to survive, you’ve got to do the work.

It’s a battle.

Very few can make it in music.  Even fewer than can make it in movies.  You can fake it in acting (Arnold Schwarzenegger?), but you can’t fake it in music.

Oh, don’t complain about the pretty faces with Top Ten hits written by the usual suspects.  Everyone knows they’re not real.  Which is why they can’t sell a ticket and are forgotten almost instantly.

And the old labels don’t want to do the hard work and neither do the concert promoters.

The old labels just want to plug you into the system.  Get you TV and radio exposure, play online games to make you famous.  If the labels wanted to do the hard work, they’d sign people who sounded nothing like what’s on the radio and break them.  That’s what they used to do, but now it’s too hard.  Just try getting a deal at a major label if you don’t make Top Forty music.

And once upon a time, promoters broke acts.  Before consolidation, when agents and managers were loyal.  Now promoters are conglomerates focused on the bottom line, it’s about anything but music.  Live Nation trumpeting the success of the Charlie Sheen tour?  Would Bill Graham have promoted that?  Money doesn’t trump everything.  Let’s see you try to book ANOTHER Charlie Sheen tour.  In the old days, the acts started small and ended up big.  Charlie Sheen started out big and ended up small.

The reason we haven’t had many new breakthroughs, in both music and business, is it’s so damn hard to do.  Techies want instant returns and so do the acts.  No one wants to put in the hard work.

What struck me about all the e-mail regarding the Outsiders was that this was not everybody’s first band.  Jimmy Fox was in many before forming the James Gang.  Greatness takes a while to pan out.  You don’t make it immediately.  You keep slogging on, rejiggering, practicing, refining, getting it right.  To the point when people discover you you look like an overnight success, yet you’re anything but.

On some level, that’s what’s wrong with America.  No one wants to do the hard work.

But some do.  And they’re the ones who succeed.

"The Seal Sensibility": http://on.wsj.com/lofLcq



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24

Mar

All Record Labels Are Not Created Equal

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com) 2.08 updated 3.11

The term “record label” stands for many different types of companies that put out music.  It can signify a conglomerate like Sony or Universal which are huge well-established multi-national corporations with offices in many countries around the world, or it can indicate a small artist-owned company with a staff of one or two, putting out their own CDs, like Killer Mike’s GrindTime Records.  Therefore, an artist who just wants to sign to a “record label,” ANY record label, is doing him or herself a real injustice unless they do the proper research and have a solid understanding of how the music business operates.

Back in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, we could all feel sorry for the artists who were unfairly exploited and taken advantage of.  But with all of the information available today in books, and on-line (much of which is free), it’s hard to feel sorry for folks who get jerked because they didn’t take the time to understand what they were doing before they jumped in with both feet.  Action is a wonderful thing, provided it is backed up with the proper research, planning, and understanding.  Greed and quick, uninformed decisions have never been a good thing.

Here is some of that free information of which I speak.

The Major Labels

A major label is a large company that has numerous departments that are involved in propelling an artist’s career forward.  All of the major labels are international, and all of them are publicly traded corporations— which mean they answer to stockholders.  Companies that have stockholders, often focus on the bottom line financially because they depend on people to buy and sell their stock, therefore many of  the decisions they make are influenced by stock prices and dividend payments.

Most of these companies also have other businesses that make up the corporation, so selling CDs is just a small part of their money making operation.  Major labels are huge.  If the marketplace is an ocean, major labels are cruise ships.  They are big and heavy, carry a lot of people on board, and take a long time to stop or to make turns in the water.  Because of their size, they are relatively safe, but also because of their size it can take a lot longer to accomplish anything, like releasing a CD for an artist into the marketplace.

The major labels (that matter for urban music) are:

  • Warner Bros, which consists of Warner and Atlantic Records, two separate companies.  Asylum has folded into Warner.
  • Sony, which consists of Sony, Epic, Jive, and J Records.  Their indie distribution arm is called RED Distribution.  They are a good distributor for independent record labels who are properly financed and have some experience in the marketplace.
  • Universal Records, which consists of Motown, Republic, Interscope, and Island/Def Jam.  Uni’s indie distributor is called Fontana.
  • And the last major left is now a combined effort of EMI and Virgin.  They just had a large round of layoffs and I am closely watching to see how they restructure and resurface in the marketplace.   They’ve been on shay ground since 2008, and haven’t really had a large amount of success in the rap marketplace since Priority was winning in the 90s.

The Mini-Majors

There is also one large independent rap distributor/label left in rap that must be mentioned.  Folks in the industry usually refer to it as “Mini Majors” because it is quite large.  The major labels don’t necessarily consider it competition, but in the past 5 to 7 years, they have made quite a bit of noise in the rap marketplace: E1, which used to be known as Koch.  They seem to offer splits that are more favorable than the major labels because they have a different business model than the major labels.  They have smaller staffs and can react in the marketplace more quickly than a major label.

Also, with the former New York Attorney General, Elliott Spitzer, coming down on the major labels for payola in the past few years, this opened up radio a bit for radio spins for independent labels.  Both TVT and Koch fell into this category, allowing them increased airplay at radio today.  TVT went bankrupt some years ago.

The Sub-Labels

A step removed from the major distributors and the large independent distributors, are the Sub-Labels.  These are the companies picked up by the major labels because they see them as closer to the streets and more effective at finding and nurturing talent.  Some of the more successful sub-labels include:

Under Def Jam:

 Ludacris’ DTP, DJ Khaled’s label, etc.

Under Interscope:

Dre’s Aftermath, Eminem’s Shady Records, Bad Boy Records, Polow Tha Don’s Zone 4, Akon’s Konvict Records, etc.

Under Universal:

Steve Rifkind’s SRC, Cash Money, Young Money, etc.

Under Sony:

Jay Z’s Roc Nation

Under Warner:

Rick Ross’ Maybach Music Group

Hopefully, I haven’t left anyone out of my Major, Mini-Major, and Sub-Label examples (if I did, it wasn’t intentional).  Also, if they haven’t released an album in the past year, I removed them from the above list, like Young Jeezy’s Corporate Thugz, and TI’s Grand Hustle.

Indie Labels

The remaining record labels make up the largest portion of the businesses putting out rap CDs: independent record labels.  This includes successful labels like SwishaHouse, Thizz Nation, etc; as well as small labels like Duck tape Records out of Atlanta.  If the major labels are cruise ships, the indie labels are jet skis.  They can move quickly, dart in and out of obstacles in the water, change direction quickly, and turn around in a very small space.  Being able to react to the marketplace and change quickly to meet new demands is important.  Major labels are not able to do this.

Having said all this, just signing to any “record label” is not a smart move.  Any person with a little bit of money can press up business cards saying they are a record label.  Anyone can spend three grand to wrap a van and call themselves a record label.  If an artist is short-sighted enough to sign to someone who can’t afford to market or promote them, or someone without the proper experience to put out a CD, then what?  Recording contracts are for 5 to 7 years in length.  For some artists, that’s an entire career.  If the label can’t afford to work the record properly, it’s not as if the artist can walk away and go elsewhere.  A contract is binding.  There are a million rappers stuck in bad deals who will never see the light of day.

If this business is going to be your career, whether you plan to be in the spotlight (like a rapper, producer or DJ) or behind the scenes (like a manager, lawyer, publicist, or street team member), it’s important to learn the industry, learn who’s who, and do business with those who are worthy of your talents, those who pay properly, and those who are good at what they do.

09

Mar

"How Can I Get A Record Deal?"

By Wendy Day (from www.rapcoalition.org) 5.06

This is the question I am asked most frequently— obviously by people who don’t know me, because those who do know me ask me how they can sell more records on their own, not how can they get into a slave contract and become a sharecropper. But once again, for those who don’t want to do for self, I will attempt to break it down from my vantage point.

I basically see three ways to get a deal in this industry; and let me preface this by saying that I AM talking about a rap record deal with a reputable record label that has a track record and that has experienced some success in the rap music industry through selling records.  I’m NOT talking about the bogus labels that spring up daily all over the country with a business card printed last night at Kinko’s that says they are a record label.  Real legitimate record labels have a staff, they have proper financing to market and promote their releases after they record them, and they have experience and connections in the music industry with radio, retail, and promoters.  The bogus labels should be avoided at all cost until they have a proven track record, as most of them can’t even do as much for an artist as the artist can do for him or herself. And I’m certainly NOT talking about the labels or pseudo distributors that already exist within the industry yet can’t seem to sell more than 30,000 records, even with a talented artist.

So, I see three ways to get a deal (that you’d want to have) in this industry:


1. Get put on by an established artist (but bear in mind that you may only be as successful as that artist. It’s rare that someone puts you on and you blow up larger than they are). This means coming up under Busta Rhymes, Fat Joe, Juvenile, Jeezy, T.I., 50 Cent, Nelly, Eminem, Dr Dre, etc. With any luck, the artist who puts you on is fair and doesn’t do to you what was done to him when he was coming up.

2. Create a buzz. In a perfect world, you want everyone in the industry and on the streets talking about you before you get signed. Young Buck was a perfect example of an underground artist who had a very strong buzz when he was coming up. The trick is to keep it going til you get signed and then turn it up a notch so that the whole industry is buzzing about when you’re going to drop (50 Cent is a great example of someone who kept up the buzz).


3. Sell units. This is, of course, my favorite method because it proves to the labels you can sell, which reduces their risk and gives you negotiating leverage.  Therefore, you have more control over the “fairness” of your deal, and often a choice of labels to sign with. In a perfect world, you want to be with a label that not only believes in you, but has an experienced hard-working staff in every department that can really make your project happen.  And a nice bidding war never hurts…

The average record deal for a new artist starts around $125,000 and 12 or 13 points (which really means 12 to 13 per cent of the retail selling price after you pay back all the expenses) for an independent label or a subsidiary label, and $300,000 and 16 points at a major label.   There are far more indie labels and sub-labels than there are major labels, so it is obviously more difficult to get signed directly to a major label.  The plus of being directly with a major label is that there is no middleman.  Dr Dre’s label Aftermath is directly with Interscope which is a major label.  Eminem’s Shady Records is signed to Aftermath which is signed to Interscope.  50 Cent is signed to Shady via Aftermath at Interscope.  That’s a lot of hands for money to pass through, even figuratively. 

Most money spent to sign and promote an artist is recoupable.  “Recoup” means paying back most of the expenses before you receive any back end payments (points are back end payments). I can count on one hand the number of rappers I know who’ve ever even seen a back end payment such as a royalty check.  Most rappers make money by getting advances prior to working on the next release, always in an unrecouped position of owing money to their label.

 

The way to increase the figures in any deal, in favor of an artist, is for the label to realize that their risk is reduced. A label takes a risk when signing any new artist (risk meaning that the label could dump hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars into an artist’s career and the artist might only sell 10,000 records, which means the label loses a lot of money), but anything that can reduce that risk is considered a plus, and rewarded.

This even applies to established artists. For example, when Snoop Dogg was shopping for his new deal after Priority five years ago, he was able to say he had Dr Dre producing for him again, he was expanding his awareness into mainstream America by appearing in a full length motion picture in 2001, and he had an autobiography out at the time in bookstores called Tha Doggfather which got great reviews. That’s the way to maximize opportunity.  A more recent example would be T.I., who dropped a new CD and starred in a new movie that released in the same week.  This would backfire if the movie got bad reviews (Outkast), so it would be more of a slam dunk for an artist who had a track record of success in film already, like Mos Def, for example.

A newer artist might reduce the perceived risk for a label by having access to well known successful producers, or by bringing a hit single with a superstar producer.  This affiliation is one that the label would see as reducing their risk at radio.  Radio is overcrowded and expensive these days, so having a Jazze Pha, DJ Toomp, or Cool & Dre track goes a long way for recognition with radio.  Labels like this.

These are all proven ways to get the little “extras” in a record deal. Those extras could include more upfront money, more points on the back end, a better “stat rate,” less stuff to recoup, etc.  Upfront money is a double edge sword because upfront money is recoupable, therefore it is just more debt. You want to get upfront money for a number of reasons:

  • to invest in something yourself that will bring more money like a studio or real estate,
  • to force the label to make your project a priority by being so far in debt with them that they have to work your project hard to get their money back,
  • to make certain you make money from a record label that has a reputation for not paying royalties or back end money,
  • etc.

If you have a deal with a reputable label that seems to believe in you and you are confident that you are a priority, you may want to reduce the front end advance in favor of a larger split on the back end. With Trick-Trick’s deal at Motown, he took less money upfront in order to get 40% to 50% on the back end. Of course Trick had a slam dunk single with Eminem called “Welcome 2 Detroit” and had already shot a tight video for it.  He had a follow-up single with Jazze Pha, and starred in a movie that he knew would be in theaters in the Spring.  Most joint venture deals don’t work financially in the artist’s benefit because there is often a production company in the middle collecting the money.  In this case, Trick co-owned the production company, further reducing the risk for Motown to do business with him.

When I negotiate a deal, there are times where I secure money upfront for the artist that will be dumped back into the artist’s project because I know the label won’t. For example, in almost every deal I’ve ever negotiated with a major label, I’ve gotten between $25,000 and $75,000 for the artist to hire his own street team to work his project. Most of the radio driven majors don’t understand the importance of building the artist on the streets first, so very often the artist has to do this for self. This fund is never recoupable. An artist shouldn’t be taxed for an area where the label is weak, nor should the artist be taxed for something that falls under marketing of the record, like a street team. But in order to negotiate something like this, the artist must have something that the label deems worthy enough as leverage.  You need some kind of leverage to get a good deal.


I guess what I’m saying is that you shouldn’t take just any old record deal, you should have a deal with as many extras to guarantee your success as the label gets to guarantee your profitability to them. You are taking a risk with the label as well, but they NEVER see it like that. They always only see their risk.

Regardless of the level of your recording contract, you need to go into your deal with the attitude that the label is your partner (even if you never make a dime, because it is YOUR career).  If they drop the ball, you should be able to pick up the ball and run with it. They have many artists on their label, but you only have one career. Don’t let yourself become the topic of an article in a magazine about “whatever happened to…”!! Bear in mind that the REAL hard work begins after you get a deal.

You set the tone with your label. If the label has 3 artists, and 2 are lazy and never show up to stuff that they set up, but one is hardworking and arrives on time for everything, guess which artist will get the best push REGARDLESS OF THEIR LEVEL OF TALENT!  Human beings work at record labels and it is human nature to work whatever causes the least resistance and least stress. If it’s easier to work a Juvenile record than a Twista record then that is exactly what will happen. If it’s easier to work a T.I. record than a Juvenile record then that is what will happen. It has nothing to do with the level of talent or the sound of the music. This is a business. That’s why it’s called the music BUSINESS.

Learn as much as you can before getting into the industry, ask as many questions as you can to people who are successful and legitimate, and have a really good entertainment attorney on your team.  A successful team, and a little bit of luck, are the true secrets to success in this industry.  And if you are an artist who has limited business sense and all you want to do is just make music, PLEASE find someone with some real business savvy to add to your team.  If you don’t, you will see the ugly side of this business which is a wicked pimp and ho game.  And, uh, you won’t be the pimp…

How To Get A Record Deal

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.Rap-Coalition.com) 3.07

Yeah, I know I’ve already written about how I see artist getting deals in this industry, but I still get over 100 calls and emails a week asking me this same damn question, so it looks like I’m going to have to write about it yet again.

Almost every artist I know wants a record deal.  There are basically three types of record labels that offer deals: 1) independent record labels, 2) major record labels, and 3) those in-between labels that consider themselves “incubators” or “independent distributors.”

An indie label is a record label that has independent distribution (meaning distribution that is NOT part of a major label pipeline).  Examples of current indie labels in rap include Swisha House (Houston), SoBe (Florida), etc.

A major record label is one of the Big 4, and they are called major labels because they have their own major distribution companies attached that have a tight lock on the industry in terms of traditional distribution (traditional distribution means CDs sold through retail stores, which is slowly reducing in importance with the rise of the internet).  The major labels include: Universal (Def Jam, Motown, Republic, Interscope, and all of the sub-labels with deals through those labels, such as Corporate Thugz (Jeezy’s label), G-Unit (50’s label), Shady (Em’s label), Slip-N-Slide, etc); Sony BMG (Sony, Jive, J Records, etc), EMI (Capitol and Virgin, which seem to have just merged); and WEA (Warner Bros, Atlantic, and all of the sub-labels such as Bad Boy, Grand Hustle (TI’s label), etc.).

An incubator, as they exist today (in my opinion, which does NOT necessary reflect the opinion of this magazine or any of its employees), seem to be a middle ground for artists and indie labels that the majors do not yet feel can compete 100%, yet have enough value for them to sign to deals.  The deals are smaller, the resources are less, and often if the artist or label experiences any success at all, they are upstreamed to the major label affiliated with the incubator.  This includes Asylum (WEA’s incubator), Fontana (Universal’s incubator), and Imperial (EMI’s incubator).  The incubators and distributors seem to attract the smaller artists and labels who can sell between 50,000 CDs and 300,000 CDs.  If the incubator feels the artist can go Gold or Platinum, they often upstream the project to the major label (the best examples of this are Paul Wall and Mike Jones, both of whom upstreamed to Atlantic and Warner Bros from Asylum). Upstreaming usually occurs at a pre-agreed upon amount of money, which benefits the incubator because it enables them to sign deals for less money when the artists have far less leverage.

An indie distributor is a self-distributed company that takes on projects because they feel they can make a profit.  Examples of rap distributors are Select-O-Hits, Navarre, RED, TVT, Koch, etc.  Although each deal is as different as the distributor, most indie distribution deals are 80/20 splits (the indie label getting the 80% while the distributor makes the 20%).  Some of the indie distributors act kind of like labels (Koch and TVT) offering small advances and offering services (for a fee or a larger percentage split, or both) to the artist or label such as radio, video, marketing, etc. 

Income from record labels and distributors depends on many things:

  • how much money is spent on a project that needs to be recouped (paid back)
  • the terms of the contract in the deal [how much of a split is supposed to be paid AFTER the CD recoups (breaks even)]
  • whether the label or distributor actually pays (many do not)
  • how many production companies and sub-labels are between the artist and the person putting out the CD (Chingy was a not-so-happy example of this—he was signed to a St Louis production company, which was signed to DTP, which was signed to Capitol Records.  So after Capitol Records recouped all of the money spent on the project, there were others making a share of the money before any trickled down to Chingy).
  • how many CDs actually sell, less the returns that come back to the label or distributor

So, how do you get signed to a deal at a record label whether it’s an indie, a major, or a distributor without coming through one of the sub-labels (a sub-label is G-Unit, or Shady, or Slip-N-Slide, or Grand Hustle, etc)?  First of all, you need a strong buzz, good music, and lots of leverage.  Since this is a business first and foremost, whoever signs you will have to believe they can make a lot of money by putting your project into the marketplace.  The economy in the music industry sucks right now.  Rap sales are down, in fact they are at an all-time low.  Music sales over-all are in the crapper.  At a time when free downloading of music from the internet is at high levels, the amount of good quality music and delivering what fans want, are at an all time low, as well.  This makes for a weak music economy for record labels, which translates into less risk, lower deals monetarily, and smaller budgets.

Since 1996, the way that I have personally seen artists getting signed to successful deals is through having strong leverage.  I’m not talking about just getting signed to a record deal.  That’s not enough!  I’m talking about getting signed to a deal that will come as close to a guarantee of success as possible.  If you look at the deals I have negotiated over the years, almost all of the artists have gone multi-platinum.  Just being signed to a label is not enough—many, many, many careers are killed by well-intentioned labels (and some not so well-intentioned labels, too). 

You must get signed to a label that can create phenomenal success for you, create a lasting career, and allow you to share in as large a percentage of your financial success as possible.  This takes team effort on the part of the label and the artist. 

The best way to build strong leverage is to put out your CD independently in your own region.  Once you sell about 30,000 CDs (verifiable by SoundScan) and get some radio spins, the labels will clamor to sign you.  At this point, you should have enough leverage to get a top deal with a major label that has the resources to push you to international fame and financial success.  Or, you will have enough leverage to get a wonderful split and enough money to push your own release further with an indie label or distributor that has a track record of success in doing this for other rap releases.  All labels are not created equal.  Make certain that you pair your type of music and sound with a label that can excel at that type of sound. 

Without having some leverage, finding a deal will be a huge frustration for any artist.  I have seen many artists over the years spend a grip of money at radio to get some strong BDS spins (labels begin to get excited when they see an unsigned act hit about 200 to 250 spins a week at BDS) with the intention of getting signed to a major label. [BDS is a company that measures radio play for the music industry and you can get more details of how they do it and who they are at www.rapcointelpro.com).]  The problem with artists who try to get signed through radio play is that it is not enough leverage to convince the labels to take a risk on signing the artist.  A lot of radio play does not necessarily turn into strong CD sales.  I can name MANY artists who’ve had a lot of radio play but did not sell in proportion to the amount of spins (D4L, Jim Jones, Terror Squad, David Banner, etc).  This makes labels very leery to put millions of dollars in promotion behind an artist who has only garnered radio play— especially if that artist has hired a radio promoter to get the spins up to a high level.

The only proof of potential sales ability, is for the artist to actually get out there regionally and sell CDs.  The thinking behind this by the major labels is that if you can sell 30,000 CDs in your region yourself, with the strength of a larger label behind you with their pipeline, you will sell hundreds of thousands of CDs nationally (possibly even millions, which is the ultimate goal). 

For the artist, selling 30,000 CDs on their own through an independent distributor, like a Select-O-Hits for example, means close to $200,000 or more in income.  With income from sales, this makes you less desperate to take a bullshit deal, and it creates a financial starting point for the larger labels in signing you.  Releasing a record is hard work and has expense involved.  You will need money to market and promote the release, so this is not for everyone. 

Many artists are not willing to grind to sell their own CDs.  But, I have never seen an artist get a good deal from shopping a demo around to the labels.  I have seen many, many artists get great deals that have built successful careers by putting out their own CD and creating the necessary leverage to have value to a larger label.  For me, it’s the only way to go!

(Source: WendyDay.com)

Structure + Organization

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition

One of the main things we lack in urban music is structure for our companies.  Sometimes it seems that those who have the money have mediocre music, and those without real funding have the best shit, but whether this is true or not, one thing everyone seems to be missing is the proper structure to run a company like a real company.

It starts with the basics of doing business.  Have a mailing address, a phone number that actually gets answered and doesn’t get shut off due to nonpayment issues.  If someone calls you, make sure you return the call in a timely fashion (more than two days is unacceptable—this is one of my biggest flaws, so I understand how difficult it is to be on point when you get upwards of 200 calls a day).  If you can’t call everybody back, have someone on your staff help you (even an intern returning calls is better than not calling people back).  If you attend an industry function or if you have meetings, have a business card with all of your information on it (name, position, company name, address, phone number, website address, email address, etc).  A business card is how people will remember you, so make it stand out and make it look good.

If you want to run a business, then you have to run the business.  When you owe someone money, pay them.  If a bill is due on the 5th of the month, pay it before the 5th so it arrives at its destination before the due date.  This seems to be the hardest thing to accomplish in this industry—getting paid when owed money.  Don’t pay by a check that might bounce, either pay by certified check or wire transfer.  If you want to be taken seriously in this industry, you have to be serious.  If you are a deadbeat, word spreads very quickly.  I consistently call out people publicly who have owed me money.  If I don’t do business with you, chances are no one else will either; what happens to your company when no one will work with you?

Make sure your company is set up properly as a corporation, so you can’t get sued personally for something that could go wrong.  If something can go wrong, it usually does.  And while you can’t plan for every mishap, you can protect yourself from the ones that are big problems.  Setting up a corporation with the proper business licenses to operate in your city or town, and paying the proper taxes on your income (city, state, and federal) are all part of operating a legitimate business.  If you don’t understand what you need to do, ask an accountant or the local office of the Small Business Administration (www.sba.org).  Your corporation must be kept in good standing every year with your state.  Find out how to do that, and do it.

Set up a bank account in your company name and pay all of your company bills from this account.  Be careful not to pay any personal things out of this account because business and personal funds should never co-mingle.  Secure agreements in writing with all artists, featured side artists, producers, consultants, and contractors that you hire to help your project or company.  Do NOT use standardized forms if you can help it because every agreement is unique.  A contract is an agreement between two people and they are rarely uniform agreements.  A contract bought off the internet for a few hundred dollars may save you some money now, but it will cost you more down the road when a disgruntled artist wants to break it (and they will, and I will help them for free).

If you have a song that may go to radio soon, set up your writer’s share and publishing company with one of the performance rights societies (www.ascap.com, www.bmi.com, or www.sesac.com), as well as the one for digital music (www.soundexchange.com).  If you are putting out your own CD, you will need to get your own bar code and possibly trademark your artists’ names and label’s name.  Nothing would suck more than to have to change your artist’s name or company name down the road (after you’ve spent all that money) because someone else across the country used it first or registered the trademark.  Pay a little bit now to do it right, or pay a lot more later to fix a problem—it’s your call.

Most importantly, do what you say you are going to do.  If you tell someone you are going to do something, do it.  If you say you’ll do it by a certain time, then that’s your deadline—do it before then.

Have a space dedicated to work.  It doesn’t have to be a fancy office, it just has to be a space where you can get work done and have some helpers come and work.  It takes a team of people to make a project succeed, no one person can do it all alone.  Even if you start with interns instead of employees, you at least have help doing the work.  Keep your work space as work oriented as possible.  Smoking blunts, playing video games, or macking ho’s has no place in an office environment, so keep it out.  Your work space is for work.  If you set the tone, others will follow.  All of the most successful companies have discipline and rules of conduct.  The most successful ones actually follow them rigidly.

Make sure everyone knows what is expected of them in your office environment.  Each job should have a written job description so each person knows their role.  And each person should play their role.  If there is a written description of what’s expected of each person, there is also a way to measure their success, or failure, in that position.  Get rid of the folks who aren’t successful at what they do, and reward the ones who are.  Having your own company entails more than just having a business card—it actually means you have to work and succeed at it.  Don’t floss unless you’ve really earned it—unless you enjoy being perceived as a clown.

Learn the things that you don’t know but need to know to succeed.  Ask others who have accomplished similar things before you, pick up a book, or hire an expereinced consultant to guide you if you can afford it.  Make sure that you are learning as you go, and don’t be afraid to ask over and over until it’s crystal clear to you.  Learn who the key players in the industry are and study the moves they’ve made and are making.  Learn why they have value to the industry.  If you study their successes and their mistakes, you won’t be doomed to repeat them.

Set the tone in your office that you are approachable, open minded, and eager to problem solve, and your staff will learn to trust you by telling you the truth.  Without knowing what’s real and true, you can’t run an effective organization.  Better to know what you are dealing with so you can react appropriately, than to be led down the wrong road costing you tons of money.

Running a company in the music business is NOTHING like running an organization on the streets or like moving weight.  This is a completely different beast, even though it often gets compared to “the game.”  It takes tremendous hustle, relationships and connections, and incredible preparation.  Those without tenacity and staying power will be weeded out quickly.  I’ve been doing this for 15 years, and can count on my fingers and toes the amount of people still in the business from when I started.  It is a difficult industry that chews people up and spits them out.  Even though there are an inordinate amount of snakes in this industry, the good thing is that people show their true colors very quickly, so it doesn’t take long to tell who the scumbags are.  Ask around—most people who’ve gotten burned are happy to share their experiences with anyone who will listen.  Just remember there are two sides to every story, so ask around to a lot of different people to get the best understanding of who’s who.

Check the references of everyone you do business with.  Just because someone tells you they can accomplish something, doesn’t mean they can or ever have before.  This is an industry that attracts idiots and people who claim to be something they are not.  Don’t get caught out there by one because they kicked good game and sounded like they knew what they were talking about.

If we had a little more business going on in the music BUSINESS, everyone would make a lot more money.  Having your company properly structured and organized is key to achieving success and keeping the success flowing.  When the money does finally start rolling in, it comes very fast.  And when you get busy, finding the time to go back and fix all of the problems, is impossible.  So do it right the first time!

No Leaders In Rap

From my Blog on 1.14.06:

I’m not used to writing like this.  Since 1992 when I started Rap Coalition, 99% of everything I write is with the emphasis of teaching folks or sharing knowledge and information about the industry.

So writing a Blog, where I get to drone on and on about whatever is important to me, without giving a thought to the reader, is very foreign to me.  Foreign, but wonderful.

I’m not used to writing shit where I don’t care if others read it or not, and more importantly, without a worry about whether the reader likes it or not.  And without explaining the “how or why” of something.  And if I can’t find a solution?  So what.  How absolutely delicious….

I’m reading this book (I read a book a week, but I don’t HAVE to explain that) called “Are You Ready To Succeed” by Srikumar Rao, and he made this excellent point about why we have no real leadership in the world today.  I can logically take what he has said and apply it to the rap industry: “There are many reasons for this unsatisfactory state of affairs.  Our competitive system rewards naked aggression.  Our consumption-oriented society equates success with the accumulation of material wealth.  Our fragmented worldview perceives leadership as something that can be learned, as a technique that can be deployed.  Leadership is a state of being, not a skill.” 

We have no leaders in rap.  The folks that seem to lead the pack, are so focused on self that the only things they are leading are sycophants and a slew of followers who have made calculated moves hoping to enhance their personal advancement through the association.  Their portrayal in today’s videos don’t encourage others to lead, they encourage viewers to focus on immediate gratification, wealth at any cost, and the degradation of self and others.

We have no leaders in rap.  We have millionaires beefing with each other over claims to be “the best” or other egotistical “he said-she said” disses.  We have stars beefing over whose contribution on CDs had more value.  Did you do it for the kudos or did you do it because you wanted your peer to succeed?  On the flip side, did you accept the help because the name opened doors for you and once the doors were opened you didn’t feel any loyalty was in order.  It all comes down to one thing: your egos are so frail that someone hurt your feelings.  By all means, seek and destroy everything in your path.  That’s justified.  Meanwhile, broke fans are saving up dollars to support your habit and feel multi-national corporations where you are merely a blip on their screens.  Micahel Jackson was a commodity.  He made a ton of corporations and businesses a lot of money.  When his earning potential decreased, who rallied to his side?  No one.  You’re next.  History repeats itself.

We have no leaders in rap.  We have boys in men’s clothing (and some still in boy’s wear) leading the charts and leading sales, but no real leaders.  We have 50 Cent building the island of misfit toys as a label, Puffy solely focused on building his empire, and Jay Z who gave up a lot to get on back in the day, seeing to it that others coming up under him give up a lot to get on (a decade later) while running the pre-eminent label for giving up to get on.  Ain’t shit changed.  Master P was the Enron of rap, only Enron lasted more than 6 years—probably because they had friends in high places.  No Limit only had pimps in high places.  When the cash cow stopped milking gold, it got slaughtered.  Hard to feel sorry for someone who never paid the artists properly.  Artists, ya know, the thing that made the company all that money in the first place along with P’s marketing genius?

When these top of the chart kings do take up a cause, it always seems to be an exaggeration of whatever the recent celebrity cause is.  While Vote Or Die was an important point to make, backing a legitimate candidate that benefits a bulk of constituents would also be important (and take more balls).  Vote Or Die was a lovely tax write-off for a grip of money spent, but what did it really accomplish when voters did not feel there was a candidate worthy of their vote?  I don’t mean to pick on Puff (although he is an easy target), at least he has done SOMETHING while others sat idly by and smoked blunts while clowning Puff making appearances on TV every few hours.

Do we have any enlightened millionaires in rap?  The ones who seem to have the mindset, lack the power.  A cruel joke indeed…

Business Plans

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition 1.08

My office is red.  It’s not a Blood or a Crip thing, hell, my car is blue.  It’s just that it was planned around a red chair that I liked in a store, and the next thing I knew, most of the chairs, accessories, and stuff were red to match that first chair.

I don’t mind it at all.  It wasn’t planned to be red, but it worked out nicely since my office is so comfortable and pretty.  Rarely does not planning something out ahead of time, work out so nicely.

My office set-up did take some planning.  Once I decided on the location for it (Buckhead), I then had to make sure I could afford it every month.  Office expense is more than just rent—it’s heat, electric, cable, high speed internet, security, furnishings, and payroll for staff.  What seems like it’ll be a quick two stacks a month, turns into a monthly nut of about six stacks.  Without careful planning, one could go out of business as quickly as one goes into business.

Spending money on one’s company is the ultimate form of sacrifice.  It’s not like having kids where they hug you and tell you they love you repeatedly.  It’s like having a husband or a wife that doesn’t love you back.  Yes, I’d rather buy a new pair of shoes or a new purse than pay to have my website redesigned, but that’s just not realistic, is it?!  The website will bring money into the company while the shoes will only make me feel good for a few wears.

The hard thing about furnishing my office was that the actual chairs and such didn’t directly put money back into my pocket.  For example, flyers and web sites are expenditures that bring clients and money into my company.  A hot conference room table doesn’t bring in business, but not having one could actually cost me business.  See what I mean?  So when I planned it out, I had to consider my expenditures carefully.  I didn’t want to spend a lot of money.

I tell the labels I consult that if it doesn’t directly impact you selling CDs, skip it.  That means a $10,000 set of rims on the wrapped vehicle is unnecessary, but spending $10,000 to press the CDs is very necessary.  The artists who tell me they want to buy rims because “image is everything,” need to learn to keep their wrapped truck washed and neat while they build their image as one who grinds hard, instead of flossing wildly.  Substance matters.  The most beautiful scandalous hooker in the world is still a scandalous hooker.  She’ll just be pleasing to your eye as she makes you cry. 

Just waking up one day and deciding to get out there and grind isn’t enough.  You need to have a plan.  While hiring a music industry accountant to put together a business plan for you will cost thousands of dollars, you can put together a plan that will at least cover the basics so you know what you need.  There is NOTHING worse than having a hit record with no money to back it up with promotions and marketing.  That’s even worse than not being able to make a hit at all!

The best way to foment a plan, is to make a list of everything you want to do in order to market and promote your music.  Then call around to see what costs are involved for each.  The costs may determine which direction you decide to go.  For example, an artist who wants to blitz the entire southeast US will quickly discover that the costs involved in that will make him or her plan smaller and slower.  Rather than blitz seven southern states, it may make financial sense to start with one or two and expand slowly as the money comes back into the company from sales or performances.

You may decide that spending $10,000 to give away 2,000 T-shirts isn’t as great of an idea as spending $10,000 on 10,000 snippet CDs that you paid an established DJ to mix for you.  A t-shirt is a great way for people to learn your name, but a snippet CD is a great way for people to learn your music.  Do people buy CDs because of the name or because of the music?  That’s a no-brainer…

Getting into your wrapped van and traveling within a few hour radius of your hometown will expand your buzz beyond just your home turf, and will quickly give you an idea if people outside of your area will embrace your music.  For the more serious artists that I consult, I always pull SoundScan for the region where we are targeting to see what type of music the fans in each area embrace.  For example, in Washington, DC one can sell more copies of BloodRaw, David Banner, Young Jeezy, and MJG & 8Ball than Talib Kweli, Lupe Fiasco, or RhymeFest.  In Philadelphia or New York, the opposite is true.

As you make the list of what tactics you want to utilize, whether it’s local BET cable ads during 106th & Park, or posters and stickers sniped everywhere in the ‘hood, it is important to consider what is legal and available in different areas.  For TMI Boyz, we were unable to buy local BET ads in our best market, McAllen, TX, because BET isn’t available in that market.  In Atlanta, GA, BloodRaw doesn’t spend a lot of time and money hanging posters or putting up stickers because they are illegal and will come right back down as soon as they are put up, with an expensive ticket to the City of Atlanta to pay as the cost of sniping.

Once you have assembled the list, and priced everything out, you will now know how realistic it is for you to begin your promotional campaign.  You may want to start your campaign around the time of year that brings large events to your area so you can reach the maximum amount of people at one time.  In New Orleans, it would make sense to hit the NBA All-Star Game at the same time as Mardi Gras, followed by the Core DJ event in March.  In early first Quarter in north Florida, it makes sense to hit Demp Week, the Gainesville Music Summit, and TJsDJs—all of which occur within about 30 days of each other.  August is probably the busiest month in rap music with the Ozone Awards, Core DJ event, TJsDJs, and numerous other conventions and events.  Of course, everyone is thinking that, so you run the risk of not standing out among the other hundred or so artists in grind mode.  Regardless, getting out on the road is the key to success.  Plan wisely.

This industry is over saturated.  There are so many rappers and producers per square inch these days that it’s hard to stand out.  What will you do to be different?  How will you stand out?  And most importantly how will you plan to pay for it all?  Without a proper plan in place on paper, you don’t stand of chance of doing anything but wasting money.

Here’s an idea of what a plan looks like (roughly):

1,000 t-shirts               $4,500

5,000 posters               $2,000

10,000 flyers               $400

Wrapped vehicle         $3,000 (plus the vehicle)

Art work                     $1,000

Website                       $250

MySpace page             $100

Travel expense            $5,000 (gas & hotels)

Mix CD (to sell)          $3,000 (DJ)

                                    $5,000 (pressing 5,000 mix CDs)

Club entry                   $1,000

Buying drinks for DJs $2,000

Snippet CDs                $5,000

So, now I know before I even get in my van to leave my house, I need a MINIMUM of $32,250 PLUS whatever I’ve mistakenly left out (like food).  Not to mention, I need to have my music mixed and mastered professionally so it sounds good enough for someone to buy, spin at a club, or play on the radio next to Kanye and Jeezy!  And if I am going out on the road, I need to make sure that my bills at home are taken care of so I don’t come home to an eviction notice or no lights.

This is why it is sooooo key to make a Plan.  It’s also important to not leave anything out—to try and anticipate all of your needs ahead of time.  It would really suck to only have $15,000 in your pocket and start down a road that might cost you $40,000.  You’d be certain to accomplish nothing more than losing your hard earned fifteen stacks.  And quickly, too.

If you are hiring someone to consult your label, make sure they give you a realistic budget (call printers and pressing plants to check prices to make certain your budget is realistic before you start spending money).  Your consultant should also tell you when the expenditures will come up, way ahead of time.  Nothing is worse than realizing on a Tuesday that you have to press up CDs in the next week or so, and having to come up with $15,000 overnight to make your deadline with the distributor or for a key event. 

Make sure you know what that person’s total consulting fee will be, especially if they are charging you monthly—that’s the oldest swindle in this game.  Five thousand dollars for the year it takes to put out your CD is actually $60,000.  You can get someone with a great track record for $60K; you don’t have to settle for the local industry wanna-be who probably can’t make it happen for you (for the record, I was a local industry wanna-be in the early 90s and both Do Or Die and Twista took a chance on me and both won.  Of course, I worked for both projects for free because I had no track record yet).  Someone who tells you it will take just a few months is either lying to you or has no clue—either way, the wrong answer.  By the way, you should NEVER give up a piece (%) of your company for someone to advise you.  There is no need to do so and you will be stuck with them forever, even if they don’t succeed with your project.

I was speaking on a panel in Jacksonville, FL at Bigga Rankin’s Ghetto Grammy/Hood Conference, and a very frustrated man in the audience asked who can be held accountable when he hires someone (he seemed to be a man spending a lot of money without getting any real return on his investment, and little movement forward).  The answer is: anyone to whom you hand money is accountable to you.  But the real answer is that YOU are accountable to yourself.  If you hire someone to help you that has a limited track record and no real success that you can verify, it’s not rocket science to figure out that you will lose money.  Most people do.  Very few people in this game win.  Very, very few.  And it is not a quick process.  Putting out a CD takes 6 to 8 months on the short side, and a year to a year and a half on the long side.  Make sure you can go the distance.  Plan it out on paper and then follow the plan!

How Producers Make Money

[This article is a bit outdated.  It was written over 5 years ago, but there are still some gems in it…]

 

By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition 2.06

 

There are a handful of ways that spring to mind for a gifted producer to make money.  First, I must say that not everyone who makes tracks is a producer.  There are beat makers and there are producers.  A producer makes music that suits a rapper’s talents.  A beat maker makes beats.  A producer is able to bring out the best in the artist on top of his or her track.  A beat maker makes beats.  A producer properly showcases a rapper with music that fits the artist’s style and image regardless of the producer’s signature sound.   A beat maker makes beats.  A producer sits in the studio with the artist to make certain he or she gives his best work to the track.  A beat maker sends the beat to the artist or label on ProTools.

 

OK, having gotten that out of the way, here are some of the ways a producer can make money in the rap music business:

  • Sell tracks to labels and artists
  • Develop new artists and bring talent to a label
  • Production deal (difficult in this economy)

 

How To Sell Your Production

 

The way to sell tracks is to network with artists and label A&Rs (at conventions, at clubs, through introductions from friends, etc), and set up meetings to then play your music.  This is a “who you know” business, and either you need to have a manager who is connected who will sell your tracks for you, or you need to get yourself connected by networking directly in NY or LA (mostly NY for rap).  This is not a one time event.  You must keep your name in the mind of the A&R person, because although you may not be right for the project he or she is working today, your sound may be ideal for a project next month, next year, etc.  Your track must be in front of the A&R person on the day he or she is looking for that type of track.  If you are new to producing, find a way to build a buzz around your name to get attention.

 

Make a beat CD with your best and hottest music.  Assume the A&R person won’t get past the fifth track, so put the best stuff first…. Your beat CD should have 15 to 30 second snippets of as many of your beats that fit on one CD, so the A&R person can skip through them easily and quickly.  They should already be copyrighted (http://www.copyright.gov/forms.formpai.pdf).  You can copyright a whole beat CD for $30, just keep a copies of the CD so you know which beats are on what CDs if you need to prove your beat got jacked.

 

Bear in mind that the A&R person listens to tracks all day, every day.  The competition is fierce.  He or she may not know what they are looking for in terms of music or sound, but they will know it when they hear it.  It seems like everyone today is a producer, and as the price of equipment continues to fall, competition will only increase—so you have to stand out.  You will hear a lot of A&R people say they are looking for music similar to an established and successful producer, because they have learned that a Lil Jon track or a Neptune track almost guarantees radio play.  Not to worry, they are really just looking for a hot track—give it to them.  Play your best stuff first.

 

Your prices need to be fair and competitive with what other producers at your level are charging.  Labels are willing to pay based on the budget available.  Major labels have bigger budgets than indie labels, and a new artist will have a smaller budget than an established artist.  A good place to start for a new producer is somewhere between $3,000 and $10,000 per track.

Once you have a Platinum or Gold hit, it will be far easier for you, obviously.  But to find someone to take a chance on you with no track record is a bit harder…much like trying to get a credit card without any credit… your best bet is to get to NY, meet as many people as you can, and hustle your beats!  If you are not good at this, find someone who is.

 

For a producer, being signed exclusively to a label or artist is not necessarily a good way to experience success.  Neither is being a smaller producer signed to a larger producer.  The “paying dues” process can be long, arduous, and costly in terms of credit and publishing.  Decide upfront what you are willing to give up to follow your dream, and learn from those who went before you about what is acceptable and what is not (in other words, supplying production that a famous producer receives all the credit and money for, is NEVER acceptable).  Avoid “work for hire” at all cost!  Here’s a clue: if the last producer left because he got jerked, chances are you will get jerked too, no matter HOW famous the person is you get to work for.  Quit being star struck!!

 

The way a producer gets paid is half upfront and half on the backend.  For example, let’s say an A&R person calls you and says they like one of your beats and want to buy it for one of their artists.  You agree on the price of $5,000 and 3 points.  You will receive $2,500 upfront BEFORE you go into the studio, and after you sign the contract (at this point, you should already have an entertainment lawyer that you plan to utilize who will negotiate the contract for you).  Then, you will receive the other $2,500 after the song is finished (usually as the album is releasing).  That $5,000 is considered an advance against the 3 point royalty (3 points is basically 3% of the suggested retail price of a mathematical formula that divides your song against all of the songs that appear on the CD).  Never focus on the points, because there’s a very good chance the artist will never recoup and therefore the points will be worthless.  If you are doing a beat solely for the backend of points, accept the fact that you may never get a dime— therefore I do not recommend this.

 

Developing New Artists

 

If your goal is to get an artist that you have discovered signed to a label (most likely because you don’t know the negative realities of that if you have not read all the stuff at rapcoalition.org), here’s what labels are looking for, as talent has not mattered much since the mid-90s.  Labels are in business to make money, and they will pick up ONLY what reduces their financial risk since the music business is so speculative (this explains why a gifted talent like Ras Kass sells 50,000 CDs while Master P, with no real lyrical skill, can sell 50 million CDs).  What the labels sign is based upon what the public buys, like all good businesses.  This is why it is called the music BUSINESS instead of the music art forum, or the music friendship, or the music opportunity…

 

There are two huge fallacies in this biz: one is that a banging demo will get you a good deal (in the 12 years I’ve been in this industry, I have yet to see one artist get a real deal from a demo), and the second one is that a good connection can get you a deal.  A good connection (like a powerful attorney, or a friend at a label, or a deal broker, etc) can only match what a label is looking for with the artist.  So, if you put yourself in a position to supply what a major label is looking for, perhaps a match can be made.  Until then, there is not much anyone can do for you personally.  The bad news is that labels do not always know what they are looking for, and often can’t put it into words.  This is where SoundScan helps.

 

In order to get offered a deal that is respectable, you will need to sell units regionally.  The only ways I see folks getting deals these days is either to come up under a platinum recording act, like Nelly, Eminem, 50 Cent, Jay Z, DMX, etc…or put out a record regionally and sell 30,000+ units yourselves.  Then the majors will come around and take you seriously!  If you decide to take this route, www.rapcointelpro.com probably has some helpful info for you.  This is the only way I’ve seen folks getting good deals for many years now, actually.  I’ll explain why in a minute….

 

I hear the same frustration from artists everyday regarding finding a deal.  It is next to impossible these days to get a deal without either coming through a platinum recording artist who has a deal (again, 50 Cent, Eminem, Nelly, etc); OR putting out your own record and selling units regionally on your own (again, like in excess of 30,000).  The labels are looking to reduce their risk, and since there are already so many artists selling units around the country, they have an already established pool from which to choose new artists to sign.  For example, if there is a group in Houston who are selling 75,000 CDs, an artist in Jackson, MS that has 500+ BDS radio spins and 24,000 CDs sold, and a bunch of artists in Atlanta with radio spins and sales in excess of 30,000 CDs each, why would any label sign a rapper with a great demo, when they could sign a rapper that has some radio spins, proven marketability, a fan base, and sales already underway?  Sad, but true!

 

It has been this way for awhile (since the late 90s) and I don’t see any signs of it changing in the near future.  Artists used to get discovered and signed by label A&R folks, but now it seems they get attention through moving units (which, by the way, gives the artist better leverage and better deals).  To keep creative control or to get a label deal for more than one artist, you will need to put out multiple albums successfully, with each one out selling the one before.  THEN the labels will allow you to retain control once you’ve proven that your success is not a fluke.

 

Production Deals

 

I have not seen many production deals lately.  However, this is a deal that a very successful producer with a proven track record of platinum hits does exclusively with one label for a set price.  Under that deal, the producer gets an overhead budget and brings to the label an agreed amount of artists and is paid additionally as each artist is delivered.  This is a production driven industry, and a smart label was able to control the market on producers, until it got too expensive to do this.  Also, platinum producers have become more savvy, and learned that making upwards of $100,000 to produce one track for a superstar is far more profitable than doing a deal with a major label even for ten times that amount and being tied to that one label for 5 to 7 years (far longer than the length of most rap producers’ popularity).

 

So there you have it!!  Brush up on your skills, be the best producer you can be, and make unique and different music.  Set a trend, don’t follow it!!!  If you hire folks to do what you are weakest at (on the business side) you will win in this game.  And maybe you’ll even get to spend the bulk of your time doing what you love most: producing!!

 

 

(Source: wendyday.com)

Producers And Beatmakers

By, Wendy Day (www.WendyDay.com) 2.09

Over the past ten years, the price of equipment to make beats has come way down.  In addition, the ability to upload production to the internet and circulate music quickly, easily, and cheaply has made the amount of producers and beatmakers soar in the urban music industry.  And if you also factor in that EVERYONE thinks they have the perfect ear for music and knows exactly what is missing from the current music industry, you get exactly what we have today in the music industry: a glut of producers.

Producers, like rappers, have exploded onto the urban music landscape in droves.  Hundreds of thousands of artists have set up MySpace pages attempting to sell their music, influence the industry, and take their shot at fame and success.  What we have is way more producers than we need.  What this means is that the supply far outweighs the demand, driving down the income and opportunity for all producers.

Very few producers really stand out in today’s business.  The ones who do rise above the din most assuredly have platinum hits under their belts.  The majority of A and B list artists and the bulk of label executives seek out the producers who have a track record of success in delivering hit singles, and are willing to shell out bigger checks to secure the hits.  Meanwhile, there are usually between 10 and 15 songs on a CD, leaving room for the album filler to be filled by lesser known and new producers.  The prevailing attitude at labels is that maybe we’ll get lucky, and one of the $1500 to $5000 filler tracks will be the next big radio hit.  The more entrepreneurial rappers have set up production companies and signed their own production teams so that they can even claim ownership of a larger share of the music on their own releases.  Very few are willing to use producers outside of their own camp because that eats into their profit margin.

At the labels (major or indie), each artist has a recording budget.  The budgets are determined by a mathematical formula based on how many CDs the label projects the artist can sell either based on previous sales, or based on the buzz and hype of the artist.  For example, 50 Cent or T.I. will have a larger recording budget than Hurricane Chris or Alphamega because of their track record of success.  However, Hurricane Chris and AlphaMega will have a larger budget  than Roccett or PapaDuck because their buzz is bigger.

An entire album must be delivered within the confines of the recording budget.  That budget includes production, studio time, features, sample clearance, and often mixing and mastering costs.  If an artist has a recording budget of $250,000, then the album must be delivered to the label without spending more than that $250,000.  If mixing and mastering costs $15,000 and recording at a decent studio is $125 an hour, that doesn’t leave much for the production of 10 or 15 songs—especially for artists who believe in recording 25 or more songs and choosing the best 10 or 15 for the album.  If the artist wants a Jazze Pha, Jim Jonsin, Mannie Fresh, or Drumma Boy track that can cost anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 depending on the relationship.  It is easy to spend $100,000 or more on the production for three or four hot potential singles.  And since it seems that one out of six Americans is a producer today, finding the remainder of the album filler is quite easy.  The competition to sell tracks today is crazier than I’ve ever seen it.   Even my mailman makes beast on the side.

The best way for an aspiring producer to sell beats is to develop a relationship with the artists and the label A&Rs who buy beats.  Selling tracks is an on-going thing, because you just never know who is buying beats and when.  And because there are so many producers out here hawking beat CDs, you need to have your music in front of the decision maker at the exact moment he is buying tracks.  Easier said than done!

For a producer without access to large number of artists (meaning you don’t live in southern FL, Atlanta, or NY), and who isn’t able to make the regular rounds to the record labels (meaning you don’t live in New York City or Los Angeles either), this approach can be very difficult.  The next best thing would be to find artists in your local area and provide their sound—their production, hoping that they blow up and achieve some level of success.  That way, when they blow up, you blow up.  This worked for Beats By The Pound, Mannie Fresh, Dr Dre, and others.  Of course, it’s harder now than ever for local, regional acts to break through and secure the attention of a major label the way No Limit, Cash Money, and Death Row did back in the 90s.

Sha Money XL, who manages many producers, feels the best way to get on as a new producer is to “be the man everyone goes to for tracks in your area.  Work with every artist and build a name for yourself locally and then expand that.  Get your name out there as much as possible.  In today’s viral world that’s easier than ever!  The internet is a great tool to spread the word.  To sell beats on-line, you may need to be a little better known, but spreading the word is still key on-line for a new producer.”

Some producers have even chosen to take the loss and give up part ownership in their own music to secure a spot in a production company owned by a more established producer or artist like Jermaine Dupri, Dr Dre, Jazze Pha, CTE, etc.  The thinking is that it’s better to give up half now to build a name and reputation underneath someone else.  In my personal opinion, this doesn’t work out very well—just ask Sam Snead, Mellman, Butta, Ced Keyz, Carl-So-Lowe and the list goes on and on….

So what’s a newer producer to do?

The good thing about the glut in the marketplace is that only the truly dedicated will survive.  The folks doing this because they think it’s easy, or because they think they can make a quick buck, will give up quickly and leave.  When they see how hard it is to survive, they will move on.  Only the folks with music in their blood and souls will be able to withstand the bullshit.

Also, there are many levels of producers.  The key is to figure out where you want to fit in and go for it.  Not every producer needs to be a Dr Dre.  There are many underground producers in the ‘hood selling beats for $100 to $500, and perfectly content to be that underground go-to guy.  Fearing my article was sounding a bit pessimistic, I put in a call to the ever positive Drumma Boy for advice.  His opinion is that “this industry has always had a lot of competition making beats.  Right now is no different…just the numbers have changed.  It’s important to figure out what level you want to be on as a producer, and go for it.  Opportunities open for those who are prepared and talented.  Always have your beat CD on you.  I’ve made connection with artists at the airport.  They might not buy a beat then, but they’ll remember me.”

I asked Drumma if he was a new producer today, what he’d do to sell beats.  “It’s still all about getting to the artists.  I’d pop up at studios every night.  If I were in a smaller town, when the artist came to do a show I’d be at the club with my beat CDs.  I’d still do what I did to get on…pop up on the artists.  If Jeezy is performing, I’d be at the club pressing a CD into Jeezy’s hand— not anyone in his entourage if I can help it, but Jeezy’s hand.  After doing this over and over again, they’ll at least know about you at some point.  They remember the tracks that bump.  Every artist wants the hot tracks.  Eventually they’ll call if your beats are hot enough.”  Thanks Drumma!

What else should a newer producer do?

It’s important to focus not just on the creative process, but also the business side.  Making hot music is necessary, but so is understanding how the business works.  The price a producer quotes for his beat is really an advance against backend royalties.  Depending on the budget, and depending on how badly the artist or label wants your track, a new producer is usually paid $1500 to $5000 by a major label, and $500 to $3000 by an indie label for a track.  The producer almost always goes into the studio with the artist to record.  This is the difference between a beat maker and a producer.   A preliminary agreement called a “producer dec” is usually circulated, prior to recording, between the lawyer for the artist or label and the producer’s lawyer (yes, you have an experienced entertainment lawyer who is well versed in production agreements on your team). 

A producer gets paid half of the advance upfront BEFORE GOING INTO THE STUDIO TO RECORD, and half after delivering the track (that second half is usually paid when the album is released, if it’s a major label).  The “backend” royalty is whatever you agreed to accept while negotiating, usually somewhere between 2 points and 5 points (3 points is average).  Those points come out of the artist’s share, and artists rarely recoup.  That means there isn’t always a backend, but be sure to negotiate it just in case there is.  If you don’t understand what points are, there’s an excellent explanation in Donald Passman’s “Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About The Music Industry.”  At the very least, read that chapter on points and royalties in your local Barnes and Noble store.  Also, attending Sha Money’s producer conference, One Stop Shop, in April in Phoenix is money well spent—it’s the best convention of all of the ones that I attend each year!!

And if you remember nothing else about this article, remember this: keep 100% of your publishing on ANY track you create.  If you choose to sample, monies will be withheld from your backend and from your publishing to pay for the sample.  That is why more experienced producers rarely sample anymore.  Avoid any and all agreements that ask you to sell your beats as “work for hire.”  They are fuck boy contracts.

Even though the production side of the urban music industry is over saturated, it is possible for producers to eek out a nice living.  If you have the talent, and the drive to succeed, you will.  If not, make sure you have a back up plan.  This industry can be ruthless.