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THE DAY REPORT: A Successful Sports Label

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Why is it that no one has built a successful record label

owned by an athlete?  I want to build the

first successful independent rap record label owned by a sports figure!!!  Now, I don’t mean an athlete who raps….I mean

an athlete who has business sense and wants to be in the music business.  And it would be an added plus if he or she

was looking to run the label after retiring from sports, but not mandatory.

 

When I first moved to Atlanta three years ago, I was

interviewed for ESPN.com.  I was asked

why I thought no sports figure had ever succeeded in starting an urban record

label even though so many had tried.   I

was shocked by the long list of athletes who’d tried and failed.  Millions and millions of dollars had been

wasted.  Last month, that same journalist

called me again.  Although he has since

moved on to Bloomberg TV from ESPN, three years had passed and he was following

up to see if any athletes had come into the business and been successful.  Not one has been successful.  This bothered me immensely, and now I am on a

mission to find an athlete with the right mindset to win big in this industry.

 

Still, to this day, there has not been a successful label

owned by a sports figure.  I’ve danced

around a tiny bit over the past 18 years of my career with Dennis Scott, Nick

Van Exel, Jamal Tinsley, Quentin Groves, and even Roy Jones, Jr.  I spoke briefly with Winky Wright a few years

ago, who eventually chose Damon Dash to help his start his label—neither of

them have labels now.  I’ve spoken with

sports agents who had no interest in their athletes owning record labels, so

they sabotaged them to fail either in the negotiations or the initial stages of

them starting labels (I won’t work with those who have disinterested or

bullshit agents—it’s impossible to win, so I am proud to say I’ve never been

part of the failed process).  But I’ve

yet to find the perfect athlete with the right mindset, the proper funding, and

great music.  And of course, the will to

win in this industry.

 

I’ve watched sports guys hire industry people who aren’t

qualified to help them start labels, either because they’ve never done it or

because they run competing labels themselves. 

Some fall into both categories, sadly. 

I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on false starts for

artists and on elaborate parties, neither of which have anything to do with

selling records.  Building hype is a

wonderful thing, but isn’t it better to build hype from the grind and the great

music than for throwing parties?  This is

a b-u-s-i-n-e-s-s!  I’ve watched MLB

baseball players waste millions of dollars because they had the wrong staff in

place.  I’ve seen NBA super stars lose

millions on the wrong artist and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars

trusting the wrong consultants (please sue them!!) especially regarding radio

spins.  I’ve seen NFL players spend

hundreds of thousands of dollars on elaborate parties to never even put out an

artist or recoup any of the spending. 

 

To put out a rap record successfully, it takes great music,

artists who work hard, an experienced plan put together by someone with

experience and connections and a successful track record in putting out

music.   It also takes proper funding—to

put out a rap act in today’s economy, an investment of about half a million

dollars per release is necessary…on the low end.  I’ve done it for non-athletes with $300,000

but every penny of the income gets recycled back into the business to keep it

running.

 

To break an act, you need excellent music…not just good

music, but great music.  It needs to

start breaking at the street and club level and be worked in a regional area

until radio is ready to embrace it.  It

then needs to be worked at radio by an experienced independent radio promoter

who can take it to the next level.  The artists

need to get out on the road and stay on the road as long as possible going from

town to town and city to city, working their record.  The indie label needs great, legitimate

distribution that has a hard working sales staff to get the record into stores

and onto the internet for legal downloads– and successfully collect the money

after the music sells from the stores and websites.  I’m making it all sound easy and effortless

but it’s not.  It’s hard work, and takes

experience, connections, favors, proper funding, relationships, and time.

 

As I analyze the sports labels that have come before, I have

seen a large amount of mistakes.  This

advice applies to all labels, but especially to sports labels since the goal of

MANY people in this industry is to separate wealthy people from their

money.  This attitude has always

surprised me because it is just as much work to make money by selling music as

it takes to scam somebody.  So why jack

someone out of money when you can just do the work and be successful?

 

Have GREAT Music and Talented, Hard-Working Artists

 

The biggest mistake I see is in the quality of music.  This is also the #1 reason that I turn down

consulting work with labels—not just athletes, but everyone.  This is a business first and foremost!  Treat it as such.  When you are running a real business, you

choose the best artists with the most commercially viable music you can

find.  You don’t fund your son, your

cousins, your niece, or your neighbors, unless they are worthy of that

investment.  Artists must have talent,

song writing skills, and a work ethic that won’t quit.  Do NOT listen to the artist or the people

surrounding you for advice when determining if an artist has the right stuff or

not.  Listen to professionals (DJs,

retail store owners, fans, bloggers, etc). 

If your neighbor can sing circles around Whitney Houston, that might be

a good funding choice.  A regional rap

group that has found a way to press up their own CD and is already selling

independently on the web and in their local area might also be a good choice

for funding.  But your wack ass nephew

who can’t rhyme or make songs as well as Jay Z is NOT a great choice for

backing, unless your goal is to write off the money you will spend as a

loss.  Of course, you’ll make your family

happy by working with your nephew– until the project fails.

 

In terms of artist work ethic, that goes a very long

way.  Given a choice between a super lazy

artist with supreme talent, and one with less talent but a get-up-and-go work

ethic, I’ll take the one with work ethic any day.  But they can’t be wack!  They must have talent if you plan to sell

music.  On a scale of 1 to 10, the artists

need to be a level 8, 9, or 10 in talent, as judged by others outside of your

circle.  On a work ethic scale, they need

to be 9 or 10 as evidenced by their current work level.  An artist sitting around waiting to be

“discovered” is a bigger risk than an artist who is attending conventions and

events, performing at the local talent shows, or even trying to get their music

out there to the world via the internet or pressing CDs a few at a time and

selling them.

 

Learn The Game Before Jumping In

 

The second biggest mistake I see in athletes coming into the

music business is the lack of knowledge and research about the business.  Just like you didn’t get into sports without

learning the game and the other players, you shouldn’t come into the music

world cold.  Learn how the industry works

and who the key players are.  That

doesn’t mean the key players won’t fuck you out of money, but it does mean that

you’ll have an understanding of who is who. 

Once you know who’s who, you can start infiltrating and asking around

about them.  If many of the same people

say the same things, it’s most likely accurate. 

If you want to build a successful company, seek guidance from those

who’ve done it before.  But if they

already own their own labels, they may not be the best person to help you start

yours.  Do NOT be blinded by fame or

hype—99% of what you see in this industry is not real.

 

When you hire someone to run your business for you, choose

the best GM (General Manager) that you can find.  Find someone who has run other labels

successfully (preferably more than one) and who knows what they are doing.  Google them, ask for references, and check

their references.  The best people can

put you on the phone with their last 3 or 4 clients so you can ask questions.

 

This business isn’t a scientific business, meaning that we

go on emotions and feelings a lot.  If

you aren’t a good judge of other people, DO have someone who is good at that

help you out.  Almost everyone who has

complained about losing money was able to mention afterwards something about

the person that made them wonder if he or she was shady.  If you are thinking it, there’s probably a

good reason for it.  Do more research on

them.  And never, never, never hire your

boy/cousin/friend/trusted sports advisor to run your label for you.  This is a specialized business that requires

connections, experience, knowledge that’s specific and hard to find, with

favors from industry insiders in order to win.

 

Keep Your Fucking Mouth Shut

 

Because of those who’ve come before you and failed, it is

NOT to your advantage to broadcast to the world that you are an athlete coming

into the music business.  The sharks and

vultures who want to separate money from the wealthy will hone in on you like a

sailor on shore leave looking for a scantily clad hooker.  And the true professionals in the industry

will immediately assume you’ll fail as all others have, and avoid working with

you to avoid a failure on their resume. 

But here’s the kicker—no one will admit this to you, they will either

just give you excuses of being too busy and bow out, or tell you what you want

to hear while they take your money and not deliver (as history has shown time

and time again).  It is best to move

around in silence until you’ve started to experience some success with your

label and then announce to the world that it’s a label owned by an

athlete.  In this situation, silence is

golden!

 

There is only one other way to do this where people already

know you are a sports guy about to start a label….do it SUPER publicly.  Secure a reality show and put a giant

spotlight on you and your project.  This

will scare away the roaches and snakes (people who want to steal from you will

want to do so cloaked in darkness, not with cameras rolling on national TV).  The downside of this idea is that it will

attract to you people who are more driven by fame rather than the true

professionals who can help your label succeed. 

The trick is to find balance. 

You, as the owner of the label, need to step up in front of the camera

and let those behind the scenes do their thing. 

No one wants to fail live in front of millions of viewers, which will

scare away the scammers, but it may also scare away the key professionals you

need, as well.  Yep, balance is key!

 

My plan is to set up a label for a sports figure, but only

to inform folks on a need to know basis. 

The distributor and artists will need to know where the funding is

coming from, but the fans and consumers won’t need to know until the label is

chugging along successfully.  Let’s face

facts, no one cared who owned Death Row, RocAFella, or Bad Boy until their

artists were successful.  If a reality

show can help add positive benefit to the success of the artists, then we will

figure out a way to do so effectively.

 

Do NOT Be The Artist

 

I can’t believe I even need to say this.  If you are an athlete, do not try to sing or

rap.  Even if you have incredible talent,

you will not be taken seriously.  Rappers

don’t try to professionally play ball (yeah, I saw Master P try), box, golf, or

play tennis for the same credibility reasons.  

Rap is especially not an arena where gimmicks are accepted.  We don’t embrace actors who rap (Drake may be

the first to change this thinking), athletes who rap, or game show winners who

rap—yes, I’m talking about “America Has Talent” and “American Idol.”  These may all be fine for the mainstream

masses, but it hasn’t translated into the rap marketplace yet.  Thank God.

 

If You’re Going To Do This, Do It Right

 

This is a business, and like any business it takes proper

funding to build your company.  If you

think this is an arena where you can come in with a small investment and win

big, you are sadly mistaken.  If you plan

on investing less than $100,000 in a rap artist (the barre is even higher for a

singer), save your money.  You will

absolutely end up dumping more money into your company later to save your

initial investment, but you will do so after scaring away the true

professionals who could have helped you if your budget was realistic in the

beginning.  Look at this logically, you

will spend at least $50,000 to secure radio regionally (and this is a MINIMUM

budget).  Most singles take $50,000 to

$100,000 to break regionally at radio. 

That’s just one single.  A promo

tour costs about $15,000 to $25,000 for a thirty day run.  And thirty days on the road is not enough to

support the release of an established artist, let alone break a new unknown

artist.  Add to these costs marketing,

promotion, publicity, advertising, video costs, touring, internet promotions,

street teams, etc. 

 

If you are smart, you will end up paying a consultant or a

great GM $50,000 to $150,000 to guide you in these treacherous shark infested

waters, either monthly or in a single lump sum. 

A great consultant will end up saving you far more than you spend on him

or her, but the point is that there is a cost associated with this.  The bottom line is that if someone is

offering you a great deal to start a label, or says they can do this with a

minimal investment on your part, do more research.  It is highly unlikely!  It is as unlikely as you being able to

purchase a brand new Bentley convertible, loaded, for $30,000.  It just doesn’t happen….something isn’t

right.  If you want a Bentley, you will

pay for a Bentley.  But at least with a

label, you’ll get a return on the investment. 

We hope.

 

Even if your goal is not to start a label, but to build an

artist to the point where a major label will step in and offer you a deal, you

still will need more than $100,000 in investment.  As you do your research on this industry, you

will find that putting out an artist regionally and selling CDs and downloads

IS the best way to attract a larger deal from a major that will lead to

success.  Meanwhile, you still need to

start with a realistic investment to properly fund your goals.

 

The bad business I have seen in this industry is heart

breaking.  I guess it shouldn’t surprise

me that there has never been a successful athlete owned label, but it

does.  I’ve seen athletes higher party

promoters to help them start their labels, spend upwards of $100,000 on

parties, only to end up doing joint ventures with their artists at a bigger

label—do you realize you just paid $100k to give up half of your artist?  I’ve seen NBA All-Stars lose millions in

promoting family members or themselves as rappers, only to sell less than 5,000

CDs and downloads.  Even with a $500,000

budget, that’s a cost per CD of $100 to make a $6 to $8 return.  Was it worth it?

 

This industry isn’t difficult.  Selling music is fun and rewarding when you

know what you are doing or guided by the right, legitimate people.  Not everyone who separates you from your

money means to jerk you—some just promise more than they can deliver.  But at the end of the day, this is a business

and we all need to treat it as such.  My

goal is to find an athlete who wants to win in this business, and until I find

the right one, I’m going to keep searching. 

I had a meeting last week that was VERY promising.  I met with a sports figure who has the same vision

and work ethic as me.  We’re both driven

by success instead of money, and the artists are tight.  So we’ll see what happens…. Maybe we’ll even

build the label publicly to show you how it’s done!!

 

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