The Blueprint to Success as an Indie Artist: An Interview With @RapCoalition
If there’s one person that you can go to to get vital information on the music business, it has to be Wendy Day. For those of you are unfamiliar, Wendy has negotiated some of the best deals in hip hop.
She has played a part in Eminem’s deal at Aftermath/Interscope, Master P’s No Limit deal with Priority Records, UGK’s renegotiation with Jive Records, and Ruff Ryder’s renegotiation with Interscope. She negotiated the incredible joint venture deal for Twista with Atlantic Records in 1996, which both The Source and Rap Pages magazines called “the best deal in the history of Black music,” until she topped her own record with the now famous $30 million dollar deal for Cash Money Records with Universal.
The bulk of artists in rap music are coming through her offices, and record labels seek out her opinion on trends, styles, and regions of talent explosion. It is difficult to find an artist today, either established or up and coming, who hasn’t been touched by this woman. In the February 2000 Source Magazine, and again in January 2001, she was honored by being inducted into “The Power 30,” an annual ranking of the most influential people in urban music.
I’ve had the pleasure of speaking with Wendy and she’s been a huge help with the launch of ExclusivePublic.com. She’s one person who can make some sense out of this crazy world we call the music industry. The information that she’s provided is absolutely vital to artists, and can basically be the blueprint to leading a successful career in music. Check out what she had to say below.
Q. How has the music industry changed over the last 20 years? Where do you see it heading in the next 10 years?
WENDY: The music industry has changed completely. Two major factors have caused change:
1. The Internet - The Internet reduced the price of recording, reduced the price of getting the music to the fans, and made it easier for artists to directly reach fans. It made it easier to find affordable tracks to rhyme over, and spread the music internationally. Additionally, we no longer need middlemen like record labels to market and promote or to tell us what’s best. We can learn how to work ourselves by studying how-to info online, hiring the same folks the labels hire, and reaching fans directly through social media and on the streets and in clubs.
2. Artists’ Motivations Changed - In the first three decades of rap, artists chose to rap because they were passionate about it and they had talent, or a skill, for rapping. Today, many artists come into the industry because they see the money a rapper can earn once he or she achieves superstar status. Also, today’s generation puts a lot of value on fame. Everyone seems to want to be famous, star in a reality show, or be in the spotlight somewhere, somehow. That center stage is no longer achieved through having a talent or through building a skill, but instead through marketing and promotions. There are plenty of people achieving fame for being famous (Kim Kardashian and Amber Rose spring to mind). This mindset goes into artists wanting to be famous and rich, and rap seems to be the lane they’ve chosen to achieve these goals. Rap is no longer an earned profession based on skill or talent, it seems he/she who stands out the most amongst fans gets the most attention. So pink hair, sex tapes, male rappers in skirts, shocking statements, and famous co-signs have replaced hard work, paying dues, and pure talent.
Q. Based on that answer, what should a new artist’s main focus be now, compared to what it would have been 10 years ago?
WENDY: No artist today can succeed without building a buzz in his or her regional area. It’s important to build your fan base whether your goal is to get signed to a record label or to stay independent and make money yourself with your own music. How will you stand out?
Q. Name a few things that an artist MUST HAVE in order to get noticed in this industry today.
WENDY: Some talent, money, a hit record that fans embrace, money, a strong team, money, charisma, and a strong work ethic. Did I mention money? Artists need to be able to market and promote regionally so they stand out above the other ten thousand artists. They need a budget to make the music, and then to market and promote it. This has NEVER been a free industry or an industry where you get discovered and put on (possibly discovered and pimped). Now more than ever you need a budget to catch the attention of a label or of fans directly. Again, how will you stand out when talent alone is not enough?
Q. What is the best way to build a buzz?
WENDY: I have my artists and/or clients draw a circle around their town–a five or six hour driving radius. Then they go onto every city and town in that circle and spread their music–the hottest single they have. Give it to DJs, potential fans, high school students, college students, guys at the barber shop and flea markets, women at the Mall, people at the clubs, etc. Anywhere your market congregates, you should be passing out music, flyers, performing, hanging posters, signing autographs, collecting email addresses for an e-newsletter, meeting fans, attending events, etc. If you know what you are doing (most do not) and have a budget, you should hit radio in your region by hiring a legitimate radio promotions person. By the time you start selling music, getting paid for shows, and building a demand for yourself & your music, you will receive good offers from record labels that could build your career, or you will realize you can stay independent and continue doing this yourself. Either way, the goal is to be successful and make a living doing what you love.
Q. What should artists invest in the most? What should they not waste their time spending money on?
WENDY: They need to develop a plan that best reaches their audience. Each plan is different, but I prefer my artists to reach fans in person and online. I tend not to do blasts that reach the world (eblasts, posts on websites that are paid for) and I don’t buy fake views or fake followers on social media. I want real fans that support my clients. I also don’t hire DJ crews. I work my artists to DJs one by one. Some will like the music while others won’t. I focus on those who like it. I tend to not waste money. I’m more of a sniper than a shotgun. I don’t spend money to advertise anywhere my artist won’t stand out. I usually put the money into the music and work records that will spread because they are hot. A hit record is necessary, with a budget to work it properly. I also don’t pay famous artists for features (too costly to clear), I don’t pay for artists to open for famous artists coming through town, and I don’t pay for videos to air on MTV2 or WorldStar. I get the artist and single so hot on the streets that these things happen for free, naturally.
Q. What is your definition of branding and how important is it?
WENDY: Branding is very important. It’s your image, it’s how you stand out, and it’s what makes you different from everyone else.
Q. How important is having an online presence? What’s the best way to build it?
WENDY: An online presence is as important as having a street presence. The best way to build it is to interact directly with fans through social media, through blogs and eNewsletters, and build your fan base one fan at a time, online.
Q. At what point does an artist need a manager? and what are a managers main responsibilities?
WENDY: I’m not trying to be funny, but an artist needs a manager when there’s something to manage. Managers get paid 15-20% of an artist’s income. 20% of nothing is nothing! You want to have something going on so there’s a financial reason for a great manager to want to work with you. This is a business! Most legitimate, experienced managers want to see an artist working hard for themselves because they know if the artist has a foundation already in place, the manager can just step in and take it to the next level by what they (the manager) bring to the table. But nobody wants to work with someone who has nothing in place, nothing going on, where you have to bring everything to the artist. That’s not 20%, that would be 100% commission. LoL
Q. What can really hold an artist back attitude wise?
WENDY: A bad attitude or a lazy attitude can hold anybody back. No one wants to help an asshole, or help someone who doesn’t help himself. And at the beginning of your career, you need all the help you can get! So leave your insecurities and ego at home. Be likable, humble, hard working, and grateful.
What is the best way to book shows? How many shows should an artist be booking by themselves before they even have a manager? Are open mics necessary?
WENDY: The best way to book shows is to build your buzz. The bigger the demand is for you, the more show promoters will call and offer you money to perform. But to build that buzz, you need to perform everywhere you can for free and have a great show. Memorable performances get re-booked often. Build relationships with concert promoters and booking agents in your region. Be personable, be likable, and show you are hardworking. I can’t give you a number for how many shows it takes to succeed. Managers don’t book shows, except for brand new artists who can’t attract a booking agent yet. Managers jump in and do whatever is necessary, but no manager wants to do everything–and at that level, it’s for free! 20% of a free show is nothing. So it’s up to the artist to build the buzz.