I meet TONS of local artists that are trying to get established in the Chicago Music Scene. I’ve had the SAME discussion over and over with DIFFERENT artists and it always boils down to one of two issues:
Sometimes BOTH unfortunately.
So I’ve decided to dedicate an article to breaking down the local rappers’ dilemma in simplest form.
I am about to share with you the things most local rappers either DON’T KNOW or DON’T TELL. I’m sure you’ll understand why after thoroughly reading this post. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
In a society where EVERYONE is a rapper; as you begin this journey you will quickly realize that the only people that care about you being a rapper are…other rappers! Furthermore, not even those rappers care about you to the extent that you do. Their only concern for your existence is to allocate the competition (inferior or superior), and potential resources (a come-up).
Most local rappers dive head first into music for the wrong reasons. They want to make MONEY from making music, instead of making MUSIC while making money! There’s nothing wrong with wanting to make money from your creative works; the only problem is that you’re going to spend more money than you make in the current music scene as a local rapper. This leads me to my next revelation.
The indoctrination of the local rapper begins early on as a fan of [insert your favorite artists’ name here]. We hear of the same rags-to-riches story carefully filtrated through various cookie-cutter personalities. We are taught to glorify and strive to be like the rappers who came from humble-beginnings, and grinded their way to the top overcoming all obstacles. This substantially resonates with artists at the bottom of the economic totem pole. It appeals to the dark horse psyche and gives hope to any poor person looking for an easy way out of poverty. These kinds of artists make the perfect candidates for extraction and manipulation by all parties involved.
I will now take the time to dissect the dynamics of each relationship the local artist will establish in with the following bodies in order to advance in the music scene: The DJs, The Promoters, The Videographers, The Artists, The Producers, and The Media.
Through rap/hip-hop culture, the DJ has grown to be a personality of his/her own. They provide a list of services to the local artist from playing music in social settings, to hosting music projects, to radio play, to serving as a conduit (middle-man) between the artist(s) and other entities (other DJs, radio stations, record labels, etc.).
DJs typically charge a hefty fee for hosting your mixtape (Anywhere from $300-$10,000 or more) The bigger the name, the more they can charge. The benefit for the artists would be basically having a DJ vouch for their music. If the DJ is well known; people will give it a listen merely off of the strength of who’s hosting it. You are essentially paying for them to place you on their platform for that specific project.
Side note: The reverse can also be true for DJs. If the DJ is not well known; they could benefit from hosting a well-known artists mixtape.
Having a mixtape hosted by a DJ is -in most cases- a waste of money for the artist. Unless the DJ is personally producing your finished product (mixing, arranging, hosting & actively promoting it) you’re basically paying someone to take YOUR music that you’ve put all of YOUR TIME & MONEY into…and placing THEIR NAME & BRAND on it. In addition to that, they’ll often rant, give shoutouts and place their sound effects & tags (names, gunshots & explosions) throughout your project as this somehow “enhances the quality” of your work (Yeah, right..). So is it really a good idea to have a DJ host your mixtape? This is ultimately up to the artists’ discretion. The most important thing to consider is the quality of the relationship. If its just a quick transaction with no form of lasting partnership then this would not be in the best interest of the artists.
Some DJs specialize in compilation mixtapes. This is where they charge smaller fees – typically $30-$50 or more per song (Remember, prices may vary with different DJs) and place the artists’ songs in a mix with various artists. I do see a benefit in that for the artists. Paying a small fee towards the production costs & donating to the DJs cause makes more sense from a financial as well as a marketing standpoint. Instead of paying hundreds of dollars for a DJ to scream over your entire mixtape, you can pay them a fraction of the cost to scream over their own mixtapes with your song(s) as a small feature on the project. If you are an unknown artist this will increase the likeliness of obtaining new listeners, as more people will listen to the compilation mixtapes to hear artists they already know.
Bottom line for artists: The DJ is only needed to serve ONE function: To play your music! Everything else is optional, but should be built upon that foundation.
Club/Event Promoters are all about packing a house & making a profit. There are a few ways promoters use artists as collateral to secure a successful event.
1. Charge the little fish to pay the big fish.
Let’s say a promoter is throwing a party/concert at a nightclub with special guest (For the sake of this example we will refer to the well-known artist as “Big Artist”). People will pay big money for access to a popular event, especially if “Big Artist” is going to be there. The promoters will book “Big Artist” for an event, and pay a down deposit to secure the date/time/location. Once “Big Artist” is booked, the promoter will begin promoting the event to the public as a party/concert featuring “Big Artist”.
While doing so, the promoter will simultaneously market that same event towards local artists as “An opportunity to be an opening act for ‘Big Artist’”.
Now the inexperienced artists will be excited for the opportunity to open up for “Big Artist”, enabling the promoters to charge a nice fee for this 5-10 minute slot (typically $500 and up depending on who “Big Artist” is). After filling so many slots for extra performances, the promoter will effectively accumulate enough “performance fees” to pay off the rest of “Big Artist’s” ticket price & possibly pocket some extra cash for themselves. The “little artists” on the opening acts list will more than likely be instructed to perform HOURS before “Big Artist” is even in the building. There’s a great chance that the little artists may have paid their money to perform in front of an empty dance floor. As for the little artists who happen to perform while the crowd is growing, they won’t get anything near as much “Primetime” (time when the party’s crowd & energy is at it’s peak) as Big Artist will. As the little artist, you will be performing during the time people are ordering drinks, sizing up potential sex partners for the night and asking “Who are these assholes on stage & where the hell is ‘Big Artist’???” Oh and by the way: “Big Artists” always have their own security, so even if you are granted VIP access by the promoter/club’s staff, your possibility of speaking or networking with “Big Artist” are in the hands of “Big Artist’s” bodyguards. Good luck with that.
2. Ticket Sales
The second way promoters make a profit from artists are through ticket sales. This is less desirable for promoters as it doesn’t offer a great return like charging for opening acts. This method could sometimes be used as a way of splitting the profits with the artists.
The concept is simple. Example: There’s a showcase event for local artists. The cover charge is $10.00 per ticket. The artist is responsible for selling tickets and is instructed to keep $5.00 for each ticket he/she sells. So the more tickets the artists sell, the more both parties make. This Co-Op like structure is more in favor for the artists but is solely contingent upon the salesmanship of the artists. If the artists can’t sell the tickets, there is no show. This also gives the artists more bargaining power over locations, stage setup, promotional ideas, etc. Once again, this is more favorable for the artists who are willing and capable of acting as promoters themselves, however it isn’t as solid and profitable for the average promoter as it would be to charge the little artists to pay the big artists.
Bottom line for artists: Promoters’ primary concern is to sell out events. They NEED your money to cover the expenses for the events, and/or to make a profit from your bad financial decisions. If you pay to be an opening act for the featured artist/personality you are setting yourself up to perform at the promoters’ discretion. Also, paying to be an opening act does NOT guarantee that you will have access to network with these people during or after the event.
In this era of smartphones, webcams & digital SLR cameras, it’s getting easier for any computer-savvy amateur to become a self-proclaimed professional photographer/videographer. This could prove to be a lucrative pursuit for anyone who provides his/her services to local artists. Visual presence is key (practically more important than the music itself) for artists today.
The videographer is judged by two determining factors: Quality and Quantity.
The irony of the matter is that the videographer does NOT have to have both to build his/her clientele. The videographer is only required to have one or the other although both are desired.
This means an artist will pay mediocre videographer lots of money if he/she guarantees a lot of views (placing the artists on their platform similar to DJs).
This same artist may pay another expert videographer lots of money if he/she provides great quality work.
A videographer with both great quality and quantity has the best of both worlds, and can charge whatever they want for a video.
Bottom line for artists: Unless you learn how to shoot and edit your own videos you’re going to have to work with videographers. Each videographer has his/her own pros & cons in regards to quality of videos & audience/following. Choose your videographers based on what’s most important to you.
Side note: After paying for one or two videos you may have possibly spent more than it would have cost you to purchase your own camera and start shooting your own videos….just something to consider, but to each his own.
As stated before: Artists are typically only concerned with other artists if they are considered to be competition (inferior or superior), and/or potential resources (a come-up).
It has become common practice for local rappers to pay other rappers –with a larger following- to feature on their songs. I’ve done this myself before as well as talked with various artists who took this approach. This method of collaborating with bigger artists usually DOES NOT involve any copyright, split sheets agreements or obligations for either party to perform or promote the song together. You basically pay whatever they charge for a feature (first half up front to start, second half to receive the finished verse). If the song isn’t recorded live in person; the featured artist will record the verse at their own studio and email the sessions to you upon receiving full payment.
This is a quick-come-up approach on behalf of the featured artists. The featured artist’s pursuit of fast-money often supersedes the desire to make good music and establish a relationship beyond financial transactions with the paying artists. There have been many cases where the featured artists will put no effort into the song & send back the weakest verse they could’ve possibly done for you. It makes no difference to them. As far as they’re concerned you’re going to pay them either way, or you’re not going to get the verse or your deposit payment back. Although there may be exceptions to the rule; in most cases the transaction (and relationship) is complete once the featured artist is paid and the paying artist has received the verse from the featured artist.
Bottom line for artists: Once you’ve paid an artist for a feature, you’re back at square one…with a feature from another artists who’s moved on to the next paid feature lick.
The best thing an artist can have is his/her own in-house production. If there’s a production team that provides the music compositions for all of an artist’s songs (or if the artist produces his/her own music) it takes a lot of the hassle out of the copyright & publishing process. It is becoming more popular for artists to surf the web for instrumentals. Savvy producers make their beats available to lease or to purchase exclusive rights online via www.soundclick.com and similar websites. This can be a great source for production if used for demo/mixtape or promotional purposes. It only gets messy if the song(s) blow up and there’s no prior agreement between the artists and producers. Also keep in mind that leasing a track does not give you exclusive rights. The producer reserves the right to re-sale (or lease) the same track you’ve leased to another artist at any time.
Bottom line for artists: Build relationships with producers and make sure you document all agreements between both parties before they arise.
“Either you gettin’ paid, or you payin’ to play. Either you on your grind, or you stay out the way.”
Wiz Khalifa – Rooftops
While most of the media is primarily accessible to the artist through major record label cartels, there are also smaller channels of “under-the-table” politics anyone willing to take the sacrifice can pursue. (and no, this has nothing to do with any Illuminati bullshit…not yet at least).
Here are the three most common ways local artists make huge sacrifices to get exposure: Paying To Play, Giving Up Rights, and Controversy/Publicity Stunts.
Paying To Play
UNDERSTAND: Whenever you hear a local artist on the radio, somebody is paying for it! Whenever you see an up-and-coming artist on a major blog site, magazine, newspaper or promotional campaign SOMEBODY IS PAYING FOR IT! This is no different from political campaigns. No major politician gets to the top while being broke. It doesn’t matter how qualified they are as politicians, and it doesn’t matter how talented you are as an artist.
For all of you artists who put all of your blood, sweat and tears into making quality music: You may ask yourself “How in the hell is this whack shit getting played on the radio???”…Guess what…SOMEBODY PAID FOR IT! Nobody’s going to tell you this upfront! If you were to just walk up to a DJ or Radio Personality like “Hey, how much to play my music on the radio?” they’re going to tell you to go fuck yourself. You have to know who to go to and how to approach them. You have to know who’s done this before and if they will vouch for you to confirm to the gatekeepers that you are serious about giving all of your money away for a few minutes of exposure. I know this because I’ve done it myself & I know plenty of artists who has done it before me and plenty of artists that are doing it now.
BULLSHIT ALERT! Some of you may be thinking “Wouldn’t this be counter-productive? Shouldn’t an artists be PAID for being on the radio via royalties instead of PAYING to be on the radio???” Hey, I’m not one to say whether this is right or wrong. What I will say is that this has been going on before, and it may continue to go on in the future under different loopholes and cover-ups.
Giving Up Rights
Some artists give up rights to publishing, or credit for works they’ve done behind the scenes (ghost-writing, ghost-production & ghost-DJing and more). There are also instances where promoters, DJs, or “Consultants” also act as managers for their artists. This isn’t necessarily unethical, but it does play a factor in artist-advantages. It is not uncommon to see a DJ or promoter dubbed “The Official DJ/Promoter Of” [Local Artist]. This could mean the artist consistently keeps the DJ paid to play his/her music, the artist could possibly have an agreement with the DJ guaranteeing the DJ will receive some financial gain from the success of the artist, or it could mean the DJ simply likes the artists music. It’s hard to tell on the outside looking in, but all three scenarios are possible.
Controversy & Publicity Stunts
There’s a popular adage in the marketing business “All attention is good attention”. This is far from the truth. I think a more accurate clarification would be “All attention is…attention!”
This method is not much of a secret. Unknown figures as well as pop culture celebrities are subject to do anything for attention. Once you’ve got the spotlight on you; you’ve got the worlds attention for 15 seconds. The problem with this strategy is that it often endangers the lives of the broke and famous. Unless you’re financially secure and sheltered from the public like most celebrities; you’re going to have all eyes on you at the bottom of the totem pole. Attention at this stage can make or break you depending on what kind of attention it is and what you decide to do with it. We see this happening a lot in Chicago with local rap-artists gaining attention from dissing rival gangs in songs and videos. This controversy has claimed the lives of many local artists and their affiliates in Chicago.
Other forms of controversy such as sextapes, fight videos and footage of all kinds of illegal activities are not only incriminating, but damaging to one’s reputation and dignity. This may get you some quick fame for free, but the cause & effect is a much greater burden for all than it is an asset for one. Even if ONE individual benefits from controversy it will only encourage others to follow the leader and pull even more outrageous stunts in attempts to reinvent the wheel.
Bottom line for artist: The most common ways todays public figures get ahead is by paying to play, over-compromising rights & benefits, or pulling publicity stunts for attention. I’m not one to knock the hustle. My point is none of these things have anything to do with your talents or credentials. So it doesn’t matter how talented you are, you will only go so far utilizing these conventional methods.
So we’ve covered a lot today! We’ve discussed the DJs, the promoters, the videographers, other artists, the producers, and the media. We’ve observed the dynamics of the relationships held between each of these entities and the local artists they are courted by. This is not a music business course. I am not discussing the correct way to do business. I’m telling you what has been going on with a lot of these local artists, including myself.
Why don’t local rappers like to talk about these things publicly? The answer is simple: Because most middle & lower-class citizens cannot afford the luxury of paying to play, especially for one fraction of exposure at a time. They are spending beyond their means, thus they are making poor financial decisions for attention. Can you imagine a local rapper with a family, children, and monthly living expenses making these kinds of transactions without their relatives knowing? Do you know how outraged (or nosey) people would be if they found out that their favorite local artist’s buzz is only as good as his buck? It is much more comforting for most local artists to hide their financial hardships behind designer clothes, moments on the radio or any other platform that isn’t of their own making. By doing so, today’s local artists have become the life source of the very clandestine entertainment industries that are presented to them.
In conclusion: Artists, always keep in mind that everybody and I mean EVERYBODY has much to gain from the pipe dreams and aspirations of the average local artist. The artist spiritually and financially enslaves him/herself by expecting to attain great success through feeding a monster that never gets full. We have to remember: Not only are we competing with other local artists. but we are in direct competition with mainstream entertainers as well. This is not to be discouraging, but to be realistic and strategic. This is YOUR MONEY, YOUR LIFE! Do what you want with it, as I will do what I want with mines…but don’t break yourselves! Analyze the offers being presented to you behind closed doors and ask yourself “How close is this getting me to where I want to be?” vs “How close is this getting the middle-men where THEY want to be?”. Remember: It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.
Peace & Love
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