Hip Hop – Music Business 101 with Wendy Day
Today our lead mix engineer Brian Temme had a chance to chop it up with Wendy Day, founder of Rap Coalition. Day has become a staple in hip hop business, inking deals for Cash Money Records, Eminem and countless others. In this exclusive Maschine Masters interview, we cover things like the future of music, building home recording studio’s, using music blogs to get a buzz and how to get a record deal. This is a must read article if you or someone you know wants to break into the music business.
We will start with a basic job interview question to get people in our community familiar with you. Tell us about yourself.
I’m a consultant who helps artists make money with their music. I also have helped build leverage for many artists so they could secure record deals with major labels–and negotiated those deals. I’ve built a reputation of being an artist advocate who’s done some of the best deals in the history of urban music. The artists I’ve worked with have collectively sold over a billion records–Eminem, Master P and No Limit Records, Cash Money Records (Lil Wayne, BG, Hot Boyz, Juvenile, etc), Twista, David Banner, Boosie, Webbie, and many others. But I started in this industry in 1992 by creating the not-for-profit Rap Coalition that pulls artists out of bad deals and educates artists about how to succeed in the music business. We still do!
A big question for aspiring artists these days is whether to sign to a major label, or to remain indie. What are your thoughts on this subject?
I discuss this at length in my book, The Knowledge To Succeed: How To Get A Record Deal, so I won’t go into extreme detail here, but I’ll offer some highlights: being signed to a major label allows the artist to just be an artist. There’s a staff in place to help choose what to record, and then to market and promote the music. A major label is a large conglomerate so movement is slower and less able to react to the fans and marketplace if change is necessary.
Independence gives the artist more control and freedom, and a larger share of the income, but budgets are usually smaller and staff is smaller. In my book, I use the analogy that a major label is like a cruise ship and an indie label is like a jet ski. While both can move through the water, the jet ski can stop quickly and turn sharply if a change of direction is needed. The cruise ship is bigger and offers more safety, but it can’t stop or turn quickly. Each artist must decide what’s best for their own career.
Some of the considerations an artist needs to think about when deciding between signing with a major label, or an indie label, or doing it independently (unsigned) are budget (can they afford to market and promote themselves?), their skill set (do they have entrepreneurial abilities?), and their knowledge of how this industry works (can they put out their own music successfully? Do they know what they are doing? Do they have a blueprint to succeed?). They have to decide if they want creative and financial control over their own project. And lastly, they have to decide if they want to make 15% of the sales (signed to a major label) or 80% of the sales (independent). Also, all labels today do 360 Deals, which means the artist has to share show money, publishing income, sponsorship money, merchandise income, etc, with their label. That share ranges between 30 to 50% in most cases.
What artists must realize is that they won’t “get discovered,” having incredible talent is not enough to succeed as a rapper or producer, and sitting at home sending out links to music on social media won’t help them succeed–in fact, it may help them fail. Artists THINKING they know what works and what ACTUALLY does work in the music industry are often two VERY different things.
What direction do you see the music industry going in? Could new streaming models and the affordability of a decent home set up put recording studios and record labels in danger?
They both already have changed the business model–since 2005, this has been the case for declining costs in recording, and streaming has been popular since Spotify entered the US market a few years ago. Music is going in the direction of streaming on mobile devices (in Europe and Asia, this is how most consumers receive music). Consumers don’t need ownership of music, they want access to listen to whatever they want, whenever they want. The cable/tv/film industry went through this same disruption–people don’t care about owning what they watch, as long as they can see whatever they want, whenever they choose to watch it. Today, 60% of all music consumers receive their music digitally. 40% still buy CDs. I’m guessing that 40% is the older portion of the population. Most young people today don’t even own CD players.
The drop in price of recording, and artists’ ability to record at home have created an over saturation in artists. Sometimes I think we have more rappers than fans today! The increase in broadband (internet) to easily upload and download music has made record labels less important for any artist who has funding, an understanding of how to make money with music, and some marketing and promotion sense. Artists today can go directly to the fans, removing the middlemen completely. The question is, are they good enough to make a large enough living to feed their families. It takes more than just talent.
In all your experiences in the music industry, what was your favorite and most memorable experience?
I really enjoyed my friendship with Tupac. I met him when he went to prison. I had done something to help him that I thought was anonymous, but someone told him what I’d done (I arranged security for him through the FOI after the Quad Studio shooting incident) and he wrote to me from prison to thank me. I wrote back, and we became friends over time. I didn’t really like him before I got to know him and grew to understand him. He was an amazing, intelligent, caring, genuine, honest, and funny human being full of all of the demons that pull humans in various directions at once. He was a very good person. I was helping him set up Euthanasia when he was killed prematurely.
I knew where he was going with it–what he had planned: community centers, uniting the East coast and west coast, daycare centers, etc. His death was a loss to the world far more than people realize. On a selfish note, he taught me so much about how to promote my company and how to better interact with the urban market. He was the first Board of Advisor at Rap Coalition (it was his suggestion that I even set up a Board). He was my biggest fan. His death was a tremendous loss for me, personally. And for him to be murdered over something so inconsequential made it even more devastating. He didn’t live by the sword, the world that surrounded him did.
When did you decide that you wanted to break into the music industry and more specifically, create the Rap Coalition?
In 1992, I started Rap Coalition. I came to it as a fan of rap music. I started listening to rap in 1980 (I am old!!). I liked the energy and passion of the music (I still do). Starting Rap Coalition was a way for me to give back to my favorite art form and its artists. There was a need to help educate artists and pull them out of bad deals. Rap Coalition is a not-for-profit organization. In 1995, I started helping artists (who had a fan base) get into really great deals. I also learned how to build labels for artists and how to market and promote rap artists to build the leverage it takes to get a great deal. I’ve gotten to negotiate some of the best deals in urban music!!
Urban music, especially in the earlier years, had a great deal of segregation. Did you ever feel the color of your skin might have held you back in any situations?
If it did, I’m not aware of it. I don’t focus on what makes me different: being a female and being white. I always focus on my goals and achieving them one by one. I kinda always had blinders on, so if it did hold me back, I didn’t notice it. I always used my skin color to help others get in doors that were often closed to them. If there were doors that I couldn’t get in, either I found another way, went through them anyway or climbed through the window. Hahahahaha
A big marketing strategy for artists who are attempting to break out is to do blog roll outs of new singles, or albums. Do you think these music blogs are saturated these days, or is this an effective method?
Sadly, a rapper has a better chance of getting mentioned on a music blog today by punching Chris Brown in the face than by having great music. Especially if they want a spot on the front page and aren’t buying a banner or other placement.
Not only are the blogs over saturated, but many of them have gotten corrupted by money. Most blogs, when they started, were about the love of the music– the love of the art form of hip hop. But it seems that once some realized that this is a business and they need money to survive, they began to charge for posts, editorial “sponsorship” (advertising), and other unethical services that began to negatively impact the original altruism of the site. I’m not talking about getting outside ads from corporations like Coca Cola or McDonalds, I’m talking about the artist or label paying for inclusion or a good review on a blog site. Today, many blog sites read like a commercial or promotion for artists who have funding rather than a real following.
Instead of remaining neutral and acting under the tenets of journalism, many blogs and websites are dick riding the artists and trying to influence the readers that an artist is hot when they are not. This never works, it just weakens the authenticity and believability of the blog or website. It’s sad! About 8 years ago, blog sites were where fans went to learn who was hot and who was not. Bloggers broke artists. But then the bloggers fancied themselves A&Rs and began to get greedy for cash, and destroyed their brands by using their sites as a come up. Only a handful of blog sites matter today–I mean really matter.
The rest get eyeballs from people who don’t matter by printing sensationalist stories–Wayne’s tour bus got shot up, Nicki and Meek broke up (when they didn’t), Amber Rose wears “slut suit” to award show–and they sell advertising so they don’t care that they aren’t trend setters anymore. This isn’t to disrespect the truly great blogs that still exist today, it’s just they are so few and far between. Blogs became a way to make money in the music industry instead of a way to promote new, great music. Think about it: what happens to all of the artists that a blogger says is the next hot thing…..but then you never hear about them again….?