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Hot! Behind The Scenes Of Record Deals, Top 10 things Every Rap Artist should Know

Behind The Scenes
By, Wendy Day

To those outside of the music industry, the business of music appears easy and available to all. It’s not. Part of what has led to this mistaken impression, is the amount of idiots that work in the music business (or pretend to work in the industry but really just keep busy all day accomplishing nothing real or of value). As people outside of the industry watch the spate of reality shows based around the music industry, or meet these idiots who appear to be employed (but are working for free or slave wages), the mindset becomes “hey, if he can do this, then so can I.”

People enter this industry each year by the thousands thinking they understand it and have access, but they really don’t. To me, it’s not damaging until folks try to enter with funding, because more often than not, they end up wasting it, trusting the wrong folks, and losing hundreds of thousands of dollars in a matter of a few short months. Very few of you actually read articles like this or meet people with legitimate strong track records of success, in order to build a successful career.

Fortunately, all of the excess bodies come and go very quickly. Very few people have the dedication to take the beating of the music industry (financially, emotionally, and mentally), nor do they have the staying power to work for the few pennies tossed to them by those in power. The reality of the music business, is that those at the top make millions and those at the bottom work for free (and rarely, if ever, make it to the top) and every one in between is scratching, clawing and stepping on each other to become the ones at the top. Most never do. [If you are a history buff, see “share cropping” for a historical reference you can apply to the music business psychology.]

For every one person that succeeds, hundreds fail.

The major labels depend upon artists and their teams not knowing or understanding how the music industry works. They encourage ignorance so they can take advantage financially, after all, if an artist has a knowledgeable team, the label makes a smaller share of the pie. I’ve even seen members of the artists’ own teams keep the artists ignorant and away from legitimate established people just so they can protect what they see as their cut. Just this week, I watched an Atlanta lawyer who is not well-respected tell a group he represents not to hire an outside person to shop or negotiate their deal, when he had tried and failed twice himself. The major labels have no respect for the group because their team appears stupid. He seemingly was protecting his own fee over doing what was best for his group that could potentially be superstars if they had better advisers. Someone will sign them for cheap and squeeze out the manager and lawyer within a few months, and steer their own choices in place. For the record, no label should ever have input as to an artist’s manager or lawyer, as those positions are naturally adversarial to the label. In a perfect world, you want someone the label respects, but isn’t employed by the label or too close to the label.

I’ve put together a list of some of the things you can do, and avoid, to properly prepare for your foray into the music business, or to strengthen what you’ve already built during your stint in this snake-filled industry.

1. DO THE RESEARCH – Watching BET every day (or American Idol) does not qualify you to work in this industry. Read all the books, and study the websites and blogs every day to learn who’s who and what’s going on behind the scenes in the music industry. Follow the behind the scenes folks on Twitter, not just the famous artists. See who they talk with frequently, what they say to each other, and what issues are important to them. Ask questions (specific ones like “how do 360 Deals adversely and positively affect artists in today’s economy?,” not general or selfish ones like “how do I get started in the music business?”, or “how come you never return my calls?” or my personal least favorite one: “Follow me back!”).
2. DO VOLUNTEER OR INTERN – Very few people enter the music industry without doing some free labor of some sort, unless they start their own businesses. Working under a legitimate, well connected person in this industry can be more valuable than any money you could have ever been paid. Even if you decide to start your own management company, record label, or be a publicist, it’s important to gain some knowledge, connections, and experience in this business prior to going out on your own. Hey, P Diddy started as an intern.
3. DO BUILD RELATIONSHIPS – This is a “who you know” business. You need to build real and lasting relationships with people. The bulk of paid work and opportunities that you get will be referred by someone else. I can’t even begin to tell you the number of paying jobs I’ve helped people get in this industry—not because they asked me to do so, but because someone mentioned they needed a road manager, or marketing person, or good publicist, or radio promoter, and I’ve plugged in folks I know and respect. I don’t hook up friends, I hook up people who are right for the job. They tend to go further in positions and make me look good for recommending them.
4. DO NOT BURN BRIDGES – I have burnt a lot of bridges in this industry, but they have all been well thought out, planned, and as a last resort. This is an ego driven business and there’s nothing worse than insulting someone and then finding yourself in a meeting with that person years later needing something from them.
5. DO NOT ASSUME – There’s so much that goes on in this industry behind the scenes that you can’t possibly assume you know what’s going on. When you are at the Barbershop talking about why an artist got shelved or signed, you look stupid for speculating. If you’re at a party talking about the latest rapper getting arrested based on what you read on the internet, you’re an idiot.
6. DO NOT ALWAYS BE “ALL ABOUT THE MONEY” – being fiscally smart is a good thing. Always attaching a price to everything you do will get you left behind. Even the top folks at the most successful companies have their pro-bono and spec projects that they work on strictly for the love. If you are seen as being all about the money, you will gain a reputation of being a “culture vulture,” and those who are willing to pitch in and work free on special projects or special events will surpass you in their careers.
7. DO SURROUND YOURSELF WITH LEGITIMATE PEOPLE – This industry is really just a minute big. We all know who the fuck boys (and fuck girls) are. If you are so desperate to get into this business by working for or coming up under a scumbag (artist or company), expect to always be seen as a scumbag. And if you end up working for a snake because you didn’t know any better, too bad! See #1 above.
8. DO BE LOYAL, BUT NOT LOYAL TO A FAULT — Loyalty is one of the most important traits in this industry (or in life). Misplaced loyalty is not. You can do the right thing, but if you do the right thing in loyalty but for the wrong person, you can really get burned. I’ve seen people take bullets and razor cuts for their team, but then watched the team not make a call, pay a hospital bill, pay for funerals, fund the bid, or even visit the family. Be loyal to those who will be loyal to you in return.
9. DO NOT BE BLINDED BY FAME – Fame is attractive and intoxicating. Do not trade your money or dignity for fame. It is fleeting, short lived, and those who have it will try to fight to keep it (but never succeed)—even at your expense. Just being “down” with an artist doesn’t make you famous or rich. It makes you just another groupie. And when you leave that camp, even though you’ve moved on, the stigma of you selling out to be a groupie stays forever. See any famous sidekick for proof of this fact.
These are just a few thoughts to help you move forward in your career in the music business, behind the scenes. Truth is, maybe ten people reading this out of all of the tens of thousands will still be in this industry next year, and maybe one or two will really succeed.

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