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PSA to Independent Artists, Know Who You’re Doing Business With

By January 3, 2011January 11th, 2011Premiere, Real Life, RIK.TV

The video that set me on my rant was removed from Vimeo where it was hosted. You can watch that video here and then read the little editor’s notes/disclaimers.

Now, I know the first instinct for many of you reading and watching this would be to laugh because of a) the artist being taken for the ride in this instance and or b) the kind of music being made, but I hope you can see beyond all that if not for a moment.

There’s a lot of people that get into music with the hopes of making it a livelihood, whether independently or subscribing to the old model of signing to a record label and expecting them to miraculously do all the leg work to get them seen, heard, and made into super stars. People with or without talent alike.

I’ve been around, and in, and then back on the outside and just around again the music industry for a little over 10 years now. Whether it’s been having the fortune of working with supreme talents as friends and co-conspirators before anyone knew who they were (Little Brother, Jay Electronica, Symbolyc One, Little Brother, Oddisee, The ARE, Illmind, Danny Brown etc), to working with supreme talents that people still haven’t recognized fully just yet (H.I.S.D., DJ Cozmos, The Foundation, The Niyat, Neon Collars, Magestik Legend etc), to working at the most important Hip Hop radio station in the world, to leaving the music industry altogether. I’ve seen some of my favourite and former favourite artists put their hopes and dreams into the notion that someone, somewhere (usually in the form of a label) will recognize the gem that they are and swoop down and save them.

In 2010 2011, that’s not going to happen. There are few people in the world that operate completely altruistically, and even those that try their hardest (myself included) can only operate in such a way before self interest has to kick in (I’ve considered shutting Rappers I Know down a number of times in the last year and a half). No one is going to do anything for you simply because you are dope, or on your grind, or have built a fan base, without looking to gain something or own a piece of what you have built in return. Call them venture capitalists.

A lot of artists that I’ve met and come across seem to at one point in their maturation process think someone is going to give them a blank check to fund all their marketing hi-jinx, viral videos, travel and living expenses simply so they can be artists with little to no strings attached. Whether it’s some small time label calling in every favour they have saved up for magazine placements and afterthought e-mail marketing, or something as small time as asking me to design an album cover for them for free or peanuts (based on work I’ve done for other successful artists), or they expect to be the next act signed to Roc Nation and flown out to record in Australia.

We’re in the age where the independent artist can shine on one’s own, but you really have to be built for it and the long haul. The days of “over night” success from someone that had nothing, reverse-meteorically rising to the top are long over. Rather than waiting for someone to invest in you, you have to invest in yourself and continually to do so.

Most artists I’ve ever dealt with that have had or still have interest in being signed to any sort of label, can do just about everything that label claims they would do for them, for themselves, without having to give up 20-40% on the backend. It’s just a matter of wanting to. Don’t be lazy! Prove you believe in yourself the same way you want everyone else to and go for yours. If Def Jam can’t even promote a Redman album properly, what makes you think that Lil’ Half Dead Records is going to handle you properly. Def Jam is the biggest rap label in the world and they fuck up on the daily!

You can take The Foreign Exchange for a positive example of what DIYedness can do for you. After briefly being signed to BBE for their first album, Nicolay and Aimee took EVERYthing in house, and grinded on their own as they would have demanded anyone else to grind for Nicolay if he were signed, and that resulted in him releasing several projects through his own imprint and eventually he and Phonte and Safia (née Muhsinah) and Zo! and Aimee with a Grammy Nomination.

Or like Danny Brown said, he “rap[s] like [he] bet my life, because [he] actually did.” If this is what you want to do and nothing else, treat this like it’s your job. Everything you do 8 hours out of your day should be dedicated to putting your music, your product, out for public consumption so that you can make a living. Danny Brown resisted every deal offer thrown his way, released his record independently and ended up on just about everybody’s best of 2010 list. And his record dropped way back in March! Rather than settle for less than what he thought his output was worth, wait for someone else major to tell him he was nice, he just went for self and got the acclaim on his own.

Or you could bide your time and wait for Jay-Z and Diddy to have a short lived bidding war (I say short lived, ’cause I don’t think Diddy even know there was a bidding war), but that’s something that only happens once or thrice in a decade. #wouldnotadvisethis

What many artists trying to sell their art to live need to understand is that you’re not an artist simply because you say you are, you’re an artist when someone else that has nothing to gain from saying so says you are.

In short, stop waiting for a ravenous record label or investor to say you’re dope and co-sign you for you to feel worthwhile, know that what you are doing is worthwhile (otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it) and pursue that vision to the end. Don’t let someone sell you a dream they can’t fully bring to or at least know how to bring to fruition (that goes for me too, if I’ve sold you a dream I’m sorry).

And if you do decide to have someone else front you resources to get something done, know exactly what they expect in return, and who it is you’re dealing with. Have a real lawyer looking over your paperwork, and don’t let yourself get taken advantage of.

It’s only because I’m an artist myself that I say this to other artists of all kinds, whether it’s fine art, music, dance, writers, or stunt doubles in hollywood. No one, and I mean no one gives a damn about your art so far as they can get paid off of it somehow, or hang it up on their living room wall so to speak and get props for it.

If what you do is important to you, treat it like it is and protect it.

Editor’s Note: I posted this video because another artist that I know did some business with this guy in the video up top and got taken for a ride as well. When he first told me about the opportunity I was suspicious, but wanted to be supportive as well. Just keep your eye out, there’s a lot of snake oil salesmen out there. Not everyone’s your friend.

Editor’s Note Part II: Having talked with one of the people accused of bamboozling and hoodwinking in this video (I also went to college with them), I wanted to make a couple of things clear. My posting this video and the subsequent rant was less about saying “A ha! Look at these evil money grubbing label people” and/or “Record labels are useless and can do nothing for you as a recording artist” as much as it was to point out that artists need to do less relying on benefactors of any kind to support their artistic output, and rely more on themselves. Whatever you’re doing artistically will be a little more honest that way. I do not personally co-sign or stand behind any of the accusations thrown around in this video as I don’t know one way or the other, but miss Hi Dolla definitely fits the bill, in my eyes, of an artist that figures doing business with a label is supposed to guarantee results. All the alleged fraudulent invoices and over charging and what not, I have no clue about. Stand on your own two, and if you need that extra support, get a cane. I initially intended to remove the video completely, but figured the context would be lost.


Founder of Rappers I Know and Art Director to the Stars...of the Underground. Follow him on Twitter @fwmj.


  • Stro says:

    A) About the article – Very well-written with plenty of knowledge dropped throughout. Couldn’t agree more with everything you said.

    B) In regards to the video (which I can’t believe I actually watched from start to finish) – It’s ironic that her “single” is called “Bout My Money” yet she gave $160 thousand dollars away to a shady promoter.

    I’m all for following your dreams, but Hi Dolla does not make good music.

    Since she believes in God, she should take it as a sign from him that she is not meant to do music & move on.

    Not defending Marcus Goree in any way because what he did was very wrong (if the allegations are true), but you gotta know what you’re getting into before you put your money on the line (especially 160k).

    I guess that’s what she’s trying to say with this video tho so it’s hard to hate on her. Good for her for putting Marcus Goree on blast, but unfortunately she has not learned the lesson she was supposed to learn: give up on music & do something else with your life.

  • ^^^^ “so say we all”

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