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THE DAY REPORT: What I’ve Learned From The Music Business

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I am maaaad late with my column this month.  And I have no good excuse.  I’ve been real busy with Young Buck, so I was going to blame it on him, but it wasn’t his fault at all.  But it sounds good, and he loves me enough to take one for me, so I’ll just blame it on him anyway.  My column is late this month because of Young Buck.  LOL.  And that kind of leads right in to my topic this month: what I’ve learned from being in the music business…(in no particular order, which is why they aren’t numbered):

IT’S NEVER THE ARTISTS’ FAULT   I learned very early in my career that the artist can never be the bad guy.  Fans are so fickle, and labels are so political, that if the artist even appears to be an asshole or the “bad guy,” that he or she can lose fans or support from the label.  It’s important inside the label for the artist to always be loved and adored, no matter what.  People naturally take sides and if they are against you, it can make your life difficult, especially if you depend on them to work your project or buy your record.  My earliest example of this was KRS-1 and Tribe Called Quest.  Kris managed himself and therefore had to argue with the label a lot to get things done.  Tribe was managed by Chris Lighty and no matter how annoyed the label got with Lighty, they still loved the group.  Sometimes managers have to get aggressive with labels to get them to do what’s necessary.  But an artist never should.  The artist should always be the good guy and always loved….even if he or she is the biggest asshole on the planet.

PEOPLE RARELY CAN DO WHAT THEY SAY THEY CAN DO  This is one of those negative lessons I learned almost right away.  Everyone says they can do what needs to be done, but the reality of that is that very few can deliver what they promise.  This makes those precious few people who are good at what they do, stand out, but it’s none the less aggravating to be expecting a job to get done, only to find out that it has been horribly botched or not done at all.  Most people who say they can get you radio spins really can’t!  Many street teams that say they blitz the streets or own the streets, don’t.  And can’t!  Some labels that promise to make artists stars, often shelve them, or kill their careers (accidently or on purpose, I’m not sure which)!  Most DJs who say they can and do break records, don’t, won’t, and/or can’t!  In this industry, it is VERY important to check out everyone’s references.  I think this is because we have no real barrier to entry—meaning anyone can come into the music business and say they are a professional and that they can get the job done!  They can’t!

HATERS ARE EVERYWHERE  I know as you are reading this you are co-signing it, so I won’t go into detail.  But here’s a really happy, positive thought regarding haters.  They don’t last long!  Everyone who is building something positive or who is successful, has people wishing them ill and trying to hold them back.  I’ve been disproportionately lucky (or possibly blind), because I’ve only had a handful of true haters in my career that have actually gotten to me (and by gotten to me, I mean made me stronger).  Of those 4 or 5 haters, 3 are no longer in the industry and the others aren’t relevant.  They are still bubbling around trying to eek out a living in this industry, but they aren’t accomplishing anything, and are having a terrible time making money in this economy.  Poetic justice?  Karma?  You decide.  Unless you’re a hater…

IT’S A BUSINESS, NOT A CULTURE  Cultures aren’t for sale.  So the very first day some enterprising young rapper decided to try to get paid for his or her artform, it became a business.  The day some rapper decided to attach a price tag to his or her songs, it no longer was about skill on the mic, but about sales in the stores.  What people are willing to buy has nothing to do with the level of talent an artist possesses.  Every now and again we get lucky and the two meet: The Fugees, Whitney Houston, Drake, Mary J Blige, Jay Z (look at me giving Hova props!  There is hope for me!!), and many others…  Because it’s a business, money became more important in the equation than the talent, and therefore the talent waned.  Labels began pushing what would sell, not what would advance the culture.  We did this to ourselves (those of us who know better).  When a producer made a beat and sold it to a label or artist in order to get paid, it became a business—and now it’s an over saturated business.  Everyone seems to be a rapper or a producer now.  The market went from having a talent that was exclusive to selling a gimmick that’s over saturated by any means necessary.  Fans went from buying CDs to making their own!

LABELS DON’T BUILD ARTISTS’ CAREERS  Record labels exist to sell music.  Period.  And most recently they exist to share in all revenue streams that exist for artists.  They feel a sense of entitlement because they are investing the money in whatever project they deem worthy.

IF YOU DON’T LEARN HOW THE GAME WORKS, YOU WILL GET JERKED  or, better put GREED IS KING  The thing about the music industry is that when the money comes, it comes very fast and in large amounts (although the amounts aren’t as large as they once were), and most often it comes to those with the control and access to the marketplace.  Anyone who puts up $750,000 to a Million dollars in funding to sell $1,000,000 to $10,000,000 of CDs or downloads, is a person who likes making money.  And since the return on investment is so large in this industry—not to mention that most expenses are recoupable from the artists’ share of the income, this industry attracts a disproportionately large amount of greedy people, people who love money, and fuck boys (people who will purposely jerk you out of your money).  So, it’s key that you learn how it all works, what’s fair and acceptable, and how to reduce your risk of becoming one of the many, many, many, many, many casualties of this industry.  There are many books, loads of free websites, seminars, webinars, etc to educate artists and industry folks.  I, long ago, stopped feeling sorry for those who got jerked because the resources exist today to educate yourself.  The fact that you haven’t taken the time to do so makes you look greedy–in too big a hurry to make money or get famous, that taking time to learn was secondary, and/or ignorant (too stupid to know the importance of learning).  Yeah, I know that was harsh, which means you probably needed to hear it.

EVERYTHING CHANGES   Just as you learn the rules and which ones you can and can’t break, everything changes.  What was once an industry of vinyl, became an industry based on cassette and 8-track sales, then CD sales, and now downloads.  What was once an industry where authenticity and realism mattered, has become an industry where a hit record solves all ills.  An R&B artist allegedly pees on a minor on video and a hit record revives his career.  A top selling rapper takes a drug kingpin’s name, is exposed as a Corrections Officer, lies about it, then admits it, and a hit record keeps him a top selling rapper.  An environment where rappers couldn’t endorse a product without being seen as a sell out has changed into an environment where the standard artist kit automatically comes with a CD, a bad film performance, a reality TV show (the more embarrassing the better), a shoe deal, a liquor endorsement and one’s own clothing line.  And if you’re publicly beefing with another artist, or fucking another artist, you get extra props.  Rappers used to come together to fight the power, dis unfair police tactics, speak out on apartheid in South Africa, etc.  Today, rappers fight each other over dumb shit.  They can’t even come together to shut down stuff that’s bad for all of them, or outside forces attacking them.  Nah, better for one has-been rapper to get press dissing or fighting another irrelevant rapper, or rappers who built careers on mixed tapes and mixed  CDs to bitch about DJs making too much money with mixed CDs now that they are “stars!”  We’ve become the WWE…

MEASURE YOUR SUCCESS FROM WITHIN   Because there is an element of luck that exists in this business, and because fame is fleeting, it’s important to measure success based on your own idea of success.  If you compare yourself to others’ wealth, or others’ sales, or others’ features and tour schedules, you’ll always be unhappy.  This is the one industry where people always seem to be in the next man’s pocket trying to figure out how much money he or she is making, or has earned.  It’s crazy.  There will always be people who are richer, smarter, happier, more famous, better connected, thinner, better looking, etc.  So march to your own drummer, and figure out what success means to you personally.  And then go achieve that!  For the record, if your goal is to be “richer” than Puffy or Russell Simmons, and you don’t exactly know how rich they are, you’ve already failed because you’re chasing an intangible goal.  And that room mate who was interning at M-TV the same time you were interning at the label, who now manages the #1 artist in the world?  A lot of that was luck and right time, right place.  Stop beating yourself up over it.  Be the best at what YOU are doing, and follow YOUR goals.

GOLD DIGGERS COME IN BOTH SEXES  Maybe I should have addressed this one when I talked about greed, but for some reason, this industry attracts people who want money.  And it attracts an inordinate amount of people who want money but who don’t want to put in any time or effort for it.  So there are a ton of women and men who are in play with the sole goal of separating you from some of your money.  Being human beings who are susceptible to a kind word, a nice gesture, a fat ass, or the thrill of hot sex, we sometimes get sucked in to people and places that aren’t good for us.  A person who really cares for you does NOT care about your money, how you look, where you live, or what you own.  If you do not care whether or not a hot female, or a sexy male is only with you because of what you own, I’d like to point out that there are many others who have way more of whatever it is that you are offering.  So if you lose him or her, you have no right to complain.  You were shallow enough to buy a big chain or an expensive car to attract a date…don’t be pissed off when that no longer keeps the date by your side.

SEX. AND DRUGS, AND ROCK AND ROLL  The music industry attracts a large amount of people who enjoy music, getting high, and fucking.  Don’t know why.  Just know that it exists.  I have been able to escape it (somewhat LOL) in my 18 years in the industry, but it was not easy.  Also, in rap, add VIOLENCE to that list.  It happens.  Don’t be caught up in some bullshit that isn’t yours.

IT’S HARD TO GET PAID EVENTHOUGH YOU ARE OWED THE MONEY  If I had been numbering the lessons I’ve learned in the business, this would have to be #1.  This industry is full of fuck boys.  Many of which don’t want to pay you even when you have a contract.  I learned very early in my career that a handshake in the music business means nothing.  There is NO loyalty.  Someone’s word in the music business means nothing.  People will flip on you in a heartbeat—friends, family, major labels and corporations, new artists, famous artists, lawyers, rich people, broke people, everyone.  Get it in writing.  Get everything in writing and keep a paper trail in case you have to sue for your money.  And if you have to sue for your money, get the best damn lawyer you can afford!  My choice is Brian Caplan out of NY.  He’s a pitbull.

BUILD A STRONG TEAM  No one can do this alone.  This is a who-you-know business, so it’s important to build strong and lasting connections and to not burn bridges.  Using basketball as an example, if you put the best player in the NBA on the court against the worst team, the worst team would win.  Why?  Because it’s 5 against 1!  Five terrible players, against the very best player in the world, would win.  Team work.  Build your team early and build it strong!  For an artist, this means a lawyer, accountant or business manager, manager, booking agent, and publicist.  For someone working in the music business in a behind the scenes capacity this means a mentor or two, a lawyer (for contracts), an accountant, and a publicist (you gotta tell the world what you are doing if you want others to know).

And lastly (I could go on forever with lessons I’ve learned, but you and I both have shit to do…), this is a lesson I’ve learned from life but brought into the music industry with me and I’m so thankful I did:

SET GOALS  If you don’t know where you are trying to get to, you will never arrive there.  Set realistic, achievable goals.  Read them every day.  Break them down into smaller bites and accomplish a little bit towards your goals each day.  Put blinders on and focus on the goals, don’t let anything dissuade you from accomplishing what matters to you.  Make sure your goals are well rounded (mine tend to focus on work, and I forget things like health, family, and Wendy time….but I’m getting better at it) and include professional goals, personal and hobby goals, family goals, love and relationship goals, and emotional goals (be a better person goals).  Put them in writing and give yourself a deadline to accomplish each one, and for each step along the way.  Read them every day.  And then accomplish them one by one, so you can include new ones.

Anyway, it really isn’t Young Buck’s fault that my column is late this month.  It’s my own damn fault.  I was being lazy and procrastinating….plus is was my birthday….Thanks for taking the time each month to read my column.  And thanks for all the feedback each month.  You help me be better at what I do.  I’m fortunate that I do what I do for love.  Because of this, the ecomony can’t stop me, haters can’t stop me, and the industry can’t stop me.  My wish for you is that you find something that you love this much.  And then get super good at it!  It’s worth everything you have to give up along the way to get there.  Or so they tell me.  I’m not there yet…

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