By, Wendy Day (www.WendyDay.com)
You probably have a demo CD and have opened up for Gucci Mane, Mims, or Rick Ross when they came through your city. It’s not enough.
You probably have a list of every A&R person in the music industry to shop beats to, with their email addresses. It’s not enough.
You might even be smart enough to attend an industry event where the key players are in attendance and you have a polished CD with colorful artwork and it’s good. Really good. It’s not enough.
You might even have a hot single featuring Lil Wayne, or if you didn’t have Lil Wayne money, it features 8Ball or MJG or Jim Jones. They could be all over every song, it doesn’t matter—it’s not enough.
You might even have deeper pockets than others do, but you see where this is going—it’s definitely not enough. You can’t buy success. In fact, deep pockets make people treat you like a wallet and you just go broke after awhile.
Imagine if you will, that there are over 50,000 people who want to be rappers, 100,000 people who want to be producers, and another 25,000 who want to be singers. Half of them have enough talent to get past the first year. Of those remaining, 25% have the work ethic to continue past the second year struggling to get on. Of those remaining, 1% have the charisma to be a star, and half of those are willing to do whatever it takes to win—that’s called passion.
Let’s say you are in that Top Half of 1%...here’s what you are competing with:
Of the 4 major labels (Universal, WEA, Sony/BMG, Capitol—and is Virgin even doing anything in urban music anymore?) and the additional 4 or 5 “incubators and indies” that are really doing anything worthwhile, they can only distribute MAYBE 40 to 60 acts a year, and that includes artists who are already signed. Signed artists who’ve already sold a lot of CDs will always be the priority projects because they’re proven entities—the risk is reduced. This is a business, after all.
Of those 40 or 60 acts, if you are a new producer trying to get into the music business, that’s only 400 to 800 songs. I have over 5,000 producers in my data base. There’s just not that much work out here! You’re really gonna have to stand out.
My point isn’t to depress you or to try and stop you from wanting to live your dream. My point is the opposite! To win, you have to stand out from everyone else. You have to work harder, be smarter, have better knowledge, better connections, access to people who can and want to help you, have a better team, and maybe, just maybe, even have a little more talent than everyone else. And you damn well better have the charisma to be a star. And you better continue to work harder than everyone else because the day that you stop grinding, along comes someone else a little hungrier to take your place.
The problem with music is that it is so subjective. Everyone thinks they know what’s good and what’s not, but they fail to realize that there are all different kinds of music because there are all different tastes in music. No one person can say what’s good or bad. There are a select few people that can hit successfully more times than others, but no one hits 100% success rates all the time. No one. Even the greats have more failed projects than successful ones (Berry Gordy, Clive Davis, Dr Dre, Puffy, etc).
So how will you NOT stand out from your competition?
Hopefully you’ve already gotten past the basic conventions and websites that people like me find useless because they are so damn basic—the ones that tell you to:
• NEVER hand someone a demo without contact information printed on it,
• NEVER to scrawl your info with a sharpie marker on it when it’s so easy to print labels for the CD,
• NEVER change your phone number that’s on your demo because you don’t know who may call you down the road one day
• NEVER mail your demo to record labels because they’ll send them right back or throw them away (or jack your idea, music, hook, beat, etc)
• Get your grind on, but don’t tell you how or even what that really means,
• Find a lawyer or manager to shop your demo, when no lawyer or manager has the time or energy to shop even their OWN artists’ demos
• Even have a demo CD (when I’ve yet to see anyone get signed to a deal that has turned into a successful career from “a demo.” )
Yet, you gotta have a demo CD, because someone somewhere in this industry will eventually ask you for one either to see what you have, or to blow you off: you see, it’s easier to just take your CD and keep it moving than it is to explain to you how people REALLY get signed to record deals.
So how will you actually stand out from your competition and not fall prey to the industry bullshit?
If you are a producer, the best way to build a career if you don’t want to shop endless beat CDs, hawk endless tracks to artists in their own habitats (studios and backstage at shows), or give away more free beats than is humanly bearable, is to produce for the hottest artists in your region. Yes, many are lazy and won’t make it, but if you are smart, you will only lend them your beats—this is called licensing the beat. If the artist goes somewhere, great. If they don’t, you can reuse the beat after a certain amount of time or update it or tighten it up and re-license it to a more motivated artist. Being the producer of a new hit artist or crew is how Dr Dre, Mannie Fresh, Beats By The Pound, Swizz Beats, Hitmen, and many others established themselves. Other artists and industry folks flocked to buy that new producer’s sound once they saw the commercial viability of it.
If you are an artist (Rapper or Singer), to stand out you will need to be everywhere, perform as much as possible, flood the streets with product, and build your name and brand. You’ll start with your block, then grow to your ‘hood, then expand to your city, then grow to your state, then take-over your region, etc. It’s a growth process and it won’t happen overnight. Most artists who grind do so for anywhere from 1 year to 7 years before they break through. But they break through by standing out.
What The Fuck?!
I was inspired to write this article because I just recently embraced Twitter. Eventually, my assistant will take over when I get burned out, just like I did with MySpace and FaceBook. Sadly, for me, being accessible doesn’t mean I get to be more helpful, or even make more money doing what I do (be real, like 1% of you reading this even know what it is that I really do)…it means I waste more time explaining the basic shit to folks that they could have read on my websites for free. And I get a little attitude about it…
The most common Tweet I seem to get is “HI Wendy! Remember me?” There is no good answer to that question, because if I remembered you, you’d already know it and wouldn’t need to ask me that. Also, you probably met me once at a conference where there were thousands of other people, and you shook my hand and pressed a demo into my fingers even though I just got done saying on a panel how useless demos really are. I guess you probably thought you were different from the other 400 demos I got that day. Multiply that day by twice a week. Now multiply that by 52 weeks in a year. Now multiply that by 18 years. I’d remember you……because why?
Some folks try to stand out by doing stupid disrespectful shit. My favorite is always the idiots who knock on my door at 4am at a convention to hand me a CD. As I’m standing at the door rubbing the sleep out of my eyes, trying to explain to my boyfriend why he shouldn’t kick you down the hallway, you think it’s your BIG opportunity and you take it. Nope, that’s called burning a bridge. I remember each and every one of you and I can’t do shit for you, ever. By the way, not one of you has ever gotten a deal in this industry—not because of me, but because you’re an idiot.
Handing me a CD at a convention when I am eating a meal, standing in line at a panel at the microphone to ask a question, or in a meeting with someone else, is also a very bad idea. I won’t even listen to your CD. Maybe the maid will pull it out of the trashcan in my room and listen to it, I dunno. No one owes you anything. People choose to help you in this industry either because they can make money off of you, or because it’s easy for them to do so (or enjoyable, but that’s really rare).
The artists whom I befriend and who are in my inner circle—and there are a lot of them, are the ones who stood out. Either I kept bumping into them getting their grind on out on the streets, or I heard so many people in the industry mention them that I had to seek them out, or they were referred by someone I respect (but even one referral won’t do it). For example, BloodRaw, PapaDuck, GrandPrix, Primo Starr, Boosie and Webbie, Yo Gotti, Birmingham J, Lil Weavah, Roccett, Boo, J Harden, Drumma Boy (producer) and G Mack were all artists whom I bumped into repeatedly on the streets getting their grind on. Anyone of them can testify that if they call me up, I answer their calls immediately. They didn’t have to come to me, I went and found them.
A recent example of a referral is a rapper out of Dallas by way of Shreveport called S Fresh. A DJ from Memphis whom I respect sent a mass text message to anyone who’d listen saying this kid was in his club the night before and he is a star. I called around to others in Memphis and no one heard of S Fresh, so I assumed it was some bullshit. I hit Hydro back assuming someone had compromised his phone to send a blast. He assured me it was real and that the kid is a star. He was so passionate that I began the process of finding S Fresh. My first stop was MySpace. On his page, he had Drumma Boy in his top friends and two Drumma Boy beats on songs on his page. I called Drumma on a Wednesday and was sitting in a meeting with S Fresh in Atlanta by Friday. I have no idea how I can help this artist, but you better believe he could call me anytime for anything and if I could help him, I will. Because he stood out.
So how do you really stand out?
You work harder than everyone else. You have talent, strong work ethic, good music, and knowledge of how the music industry works. You have a good team (90% of the artists I do not work with is because they have a shitty team), you have charisma, you have some business sense in addition to your artistry, you’re humble and polite, and patient. But most importantly, you put yourself into a position where I can step in and help you, easily, get to the next level. No one can do this for you. But if you are close enough to your objective, anyone can apply their power and connections to help you make it down the last stretch. The easier you make it for someone to help you, the more likely you are to receive the help.
And maybe, just maybe, that help will come from someone who is genuine and honest, and they won’t rape the shit out of you financially…. That’s how you stand out in this industry.