What Aspiring Artists Should Know About The Music Industry

I think it’s about time that I’ve written on this subject because a lot of young people are in fact aspiring to become musicians. I, myself, was deeply involved in the hip-hop world at one point and through that experience, I gained a lot of knowledge that could useful to up and comers. FYI: You won’t find any of that Illuminati, New World Order crap here. Besides, that whole idea has been debunked numerous times. That Illuminati and music foolishness has been made up by FAILURES that are looking for a way to discredit other people’s success and at the same time validate their failure. This nonsense is also pushed by irrelevant rappers that are trying to remain somewhat relevant. It would do you well if you would forget that nonsense as well.

That being said, a lot of people today don’t know that I used to be involved in the music game heavily from the time I was 11 up until I reached the age of 24. I’ve been friends with major figures on the Atlanta music scene — Ciara, Yung Joc, the Oomp camp (only ATL residents will recognize this) and have met many people who run things from behind the scene. When I was 15, I signed a record deal with a local label here in Atlanta. That deal never went anywhere but I was exposed to some things that would interest you.

The first thing I learned about the music business is that the industry is 90% business, 10% talent. This was told to me by a guy whom I’d met at the age of 14 while working a summer job at the capitol building here in Atlanta. The guy to whom I’m referring was a part of a hip-hop group that produced a few hits during the early 90s. I’m not sure what his financial situation was but he was working at the state capitol at a clerical job. But — he and I chatted for some time after I informed him of my goal to make it as a rapper. Everything he told me was strictly on the business side. At the time, I thought he was trying to deter me from going into the music industry but I was wrong, and you’ll see why by the end of this article.

The mistake that a lot of would-be artists make is that they approach the music industry from the standpoint of an artist. Meaning — they believe that talent is all it takes in order to be successful, but that’s fiction. That’s why you’ll hear these aspiring artists trash those artists that are successful. They’ll say things like “I have more talent than him/her! That should be me on TV, on the radio, etc.!” But what they don’t understand is that when a label looks at an artist, they really couldn’t care less about their talent, what matters is if that artist is marketable. If they can market that person to a targeted audience, they’ll find a way to make them appear talented. IE: Ghost writers. What do I mean by marketing this artist to specific audiences? It’s simple. An artist is really no different than a Hollywood actor and labels are sort of like screenwriters. They find artists that fit the image they are trying to sell. If they want someone to portray the gangster or thug image, they’ll find that person and recreate that style and image for them. If they want a sex symbol, they’ll create one…and on it goes. Image and marketability is the very first thing which they care about. To prove my point, I’ll relate to you a story that happened with myself and the other member of my rap duo.

The year was 1999. My buddy and I had put together a demo tape and decided that we wanted to sign with LaFace Records. We’d actually gone to the LaFace offices in person to drop off our tape. After not hearing anything, I got in contact with one of their A&R guys by the name of Kawan Prather (I called him K.P.). During this conversation, he asked me a series of questions. The main questions he asked centered around whether or not we were marketable. He inquired about our places of origin (where we were from). I informed him that I’m from Louisiana and my buddy’s from Chicago. At this time, Cash Money Records and No Limit (two record labels based in New Orleans, LA) were hot, so my being from Louisiana was definitely a marketing advantage. But that deal never went anywhere because even though we were marketable, I soon found out that the demo tape thing is really just a system set up to use the ideas of artists who’d submitted their music to that label.

So, the first thing that the aspiring artist must do is make him or herself marketable. Talent is cool, but this is a business, not a talent show. What you have to also understand is that a record label’s function is to invest in you, market you to the world in hopes of getting a return on their investment. To do this, they’ll pay for practically everything you require in order to do this. The artist may that that they’re receiving free items, but not at all. If they’re promoting an artist who portrays the “get money, thug” image, they’ll buy (or rent) for him expensive cars, a house, clothes, jewelry, and whatever else he needs to create the image. They’ll pay for video shoots, studio time, graphic design work, publicists, and everything else as well. But they’re doing this, again, in hopes of receiving a payout that is much larger than the money they put into the artist. If the artist’s market campaign goes bust, that artist will owe the label. If it goes well, the artist will receive their money after the label has gotten back every cent they’ve invested plus profit. A record label can be viewed as a marketing firm for an artist, basically.

When you think of record labels in that way, it now becomes obvious why a lot of artists have gone the underground route. Instead of looking to succeed through the backing of a record label, artists have for the past 10+ years been investing in themselves. Everything the label usually pays for, a lot of artists are now picking up the tab themselves. By doing this, the artist cuts out the middle man and whatever money is made, they get to keep. Many artists may make considerably less when you look at the numbers they do in terms of record sales, but that artist actually comes out better because — if an artist sells a million copies for a label, they may only receive $.50 per album sold ($500k), but out of that $500k, they still have to pay the label back so they may end up with $50k by the time it’s said and done. However, if an artist invests in themselves, putting out their own music and they sell 25,000 copies…let’s say that they’re receiving $7 per unit. That artist has made $175k minus the money they spent to put themselves out there.

By the way, I haven’t even touched on the money that artists make for doing shows. I’ve met underground artists who were being paid as much as $20k per show! The same goes for mainstream artists that have been backed by labels as well. They make their real money by doing shows….but they’re still on the hook to pay back whatever they owe to the label. This is why a lot of underground artists aren’t even bothering with the major labels anymore because they come out much better by investing in themselves than they would by going to a major label. Some artists don’t have the sort of money in order to promote themselves independently, so what do they do? They do what any other entrepreneur in their situation would do — they look for an investor. It’s not enough to approach an investor and try to sell them a pipe-dream of earning huge sums of money by backing you, the also don’t care how great your music may be. The thing that the investor is concerned with is getting their money back plus a return. Therefore, like any other entrepreneur, you’re going to need a solid business plan that is based on facts. You’re going to have to do your homework and study your market, your strategy, get your costs together, etc. Then again, you’re going to have to do that whether you have an investor backing you or you’re using your own money.

Master P of No Limit Records took this concept of going independent and expanded it to a completely different level. Instead of being an independent artist, Master P created an independent record label. P financed all or most of his own projects, resulting in him receiving 85% of the money made (at a time when an artist was lucky if he received 15%)…and he sold tens of millions of records during this time. The only thing Master P wasn’t doing for himself is distribution, but that was it. By backing himself, Master P went on to eventually become the world’s richest entertainer and amassed a $600+ million dollar net worth.

Today, with the advent of social media, its much easier for one to promote themselves and also much cheaper. With the abundance of music software on the market today, it’s also much easier for artists to record music. When I first started off, we used to get two radios, one playing the instrumental and one to record, put them side by side and rap into the one that is recording. It’s MUCH easier nowadays.

Before I conclude this article, the subject would not be complete if I didn’t touch on the subject of legal issues. Covering your ass is top priority when you’re dealing with the music industry. A lot of great artists who have sold millions of records are/were broke simply because they didn’t understand the contracts into which they were entering. No matter how much a label may sweet talk you, ALWAYS get a trained legal professional to overlook documents of any type. Never are you to be so eager to reach stardom that you neglect this task. By the way, that’s what a lot of labels rely on…a new artist’s eagerness to become famous, so much so that they’re just ready to get started and will bypass studying the legally binding agreement into which they’re entering. I’ve saw recording contracts and they are NOT documents that the average person can understand. For one, those contracts usually come in a thick stack (not just a single page like you see in the movies) and they’re written in a lot of legalese. It may be costly to get a lawyer to look over those documents, but by doing so, you’ll save yourself a ton of money in the future — trust me.

Conclusion: If you desire to make it in the music industry, you are going to have to stop thinking like an artist and start thinking like a businessperson. The breakdown is again, 90% business, 10% talent. Record labels don’t give a flying fuck about promoting talent, UNLESS that talent sells and comes from a marketable artist. If you just want to make good music, despite the fact that your type of music doesn’t sell, no major label is going to touch you and I doubt you’ll do well underground either. If your aim is to sign a label, begin to present yourself as someone who can provide them a return on their investment…not as a talented artist.

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