|Features Published: January 23, 2012
Exclusive Interview With Wendy Day – How To Get A Record Deal & Knowlege Every Artist Needs For Success!
Exclusive Interview With Wendy Day – How To Get A Record Deal & Knowlege Every Artist Needs For Success!
Wendy is an American entrepreneur, writer, and founder of Rap Coalition, the not-for-profit entity created to protect artists from exploitation in the music industry.The advocacy group arms rappers with the tools needed to succeed in the music industry, by way of free conferences and panels. Day has been instrumental in the development of several well known rap music stars and labels, including Do Or Die, Twista, Cash Money Records, C-Murder, David Banner, BloodRaw, and Eminem. She allowed Eminem to compete in the Rap Coalition’s Rap Olympics, which turned out to be his big break because he caught the attention of Dr. Dre. Day also owns a music consulting business called PowerMoves, which helps structure and organize independent rap record labels. Wendy works side by side with the indie labels once the CDs are complete, and helps them structure their company, market and promote the CD, secure distribution, and every step in-between.
WWS: Wendy, why did you decide to become a part of the entertainment business and when?
WD: Insanity, I came to rap as a fan. I started listening in the 1980’s when it first came into vogue. It wasn’t something I could turn on the radio and hear 30 years ago, it was underground. I liked the energy and the passion in it, and I ways gravitated to the music. I loved how it changed as the eras went from being pro-Black activists, to party music, to gangster rap, to educated rap. I grew as the music grew. In ’92 I had just come back from running a liquor company in Montreal, and I was successful at it and I had quite a bit of money and was looking to start a business of my own. I didn’t know what kind of business I wanted to start but I knew I wanted to combine my degrees. I have an MBA in marketing, and masters in African-American studies. My thinking was to start a non-profit where minorities could start businesses, because I think that a way to build yourself. Starting your own business and having your own income and all of that helps people with the struggle. I got sidetracked with this course I was taking where I learned that some of my favorite rappers weren’t being paid properly. They weren’t receiving the kind of money they should in their career, and because of that it was hard for professional people to come out and help them, as part of a business model. If 20% of rappers have no money, then the professionals will not going to help them because they will make no money. So I wanted to start and organization that would help rappers when they were at the worst part in their career. I wanted a place where they can turn and get help and that what the Rap Coalition was. It’s a not for profit company, it’s in our 20th year. When an artist is in an unfair contractual situation, we negotiate them to a better deal, or get them out of the deal completely. Around ’96 I learned that breaking contracts wasn’t enough, if they didn’t have another opportunity to go into, it didn’t make sense to just get them out of the bad deal. Who wants to go from a bad deal to no deal? So, because I had seen so many bad contracts, I knew I would be ableto negotiate good contracts. Master P was the first deal that I got to play a part in, where I got to use some of the knowledge to negotiate someone for a good deal. From there I went on to do Twista’s deal in Chicago, it was a joint venture with Atlantic, from there I went on to help Eminem with his deal, and then the Cash Money deal. I did David banners deal, so it was like I got to do all these really great deals, there has to be some sort of thinking outside the box. Whether it was the ownership of masters or in the case of J Records to sign to an independent distributer at the same time he was signed to SRC at Universal. No one before him had done that, so my deals are always outside of the box deals. They always work all most all of the deals have succeeded. Some of the rappers became larger than life, and some of them are still starts today, look at Lil Wayne, or Eminem. The only thing I left out is that the Rap Coalition also has a strong educational function attached to it. It is really important to talk about because just getting someone out of a bad deal is not enough. You have got to educate artists how not to be taken advantage of. We do a lot of educational work, whether it’s through seminars, through articles, through the website, it teaches you about the rap industry. I also have a book out “How to get a Record Deal”, and that’s going to be the first in a series of eight books that is going to over the music industry. Education and information are really big components of what we do, and we try to do it for free, or very, very cheaply. Everything I do is on the business side. I don’t get involved in the creative side. I mean I wouldn’t be able to tell a hit record if it jumped and bit me in the ass, and that’s just real. My focus is the business side; I don’t discourage or encourage anyone based on talent. I don’t get involved in the decision whether someone is worthy or not, I go off the buzz and the hype of the fans. So if the fans embrace the artist, then I embrace the artist. It’s worked for me, it’s been my business model for 20 years, and it still works today. So my focus is never on if you are talented or not, its I’m going to help you any way that I can but what matters is what the fans think. If the fans buy your record, then you win. If the fans don’t buy your record, it’s not feasible as a business model, and you need to rethink it.
What are the basics in getting into the industry and developing a successful record deal?
There are two basic points in the knowledge here, the first is to learn the industry, know what you are getting into. Meaning you wouldn’t step on a basketball court against Kobe Bryant, if you didn’t know how to play basketball. If you don’t know the rules of the game, you don’t at least know how the Lakers play you’d want to do some research before you stepped on the court with somebody. It really the same as the music business. You want to know who the players are, you want to know in terms of how the industry works what are the rules; which ones can’t I break, which ones can I break, you have to learn as much as you possibly can. Whose on my team? What is a team? How do I secure a record deal? How do I secure a record deal that turns into a successful career? There are so many different aspects the knowledge is so key.
The second aspect is once you have that knowledge you need to be able to go out and prove to record labels, or if you want to stay independent, to investors, that there is viability in them taking a chance on you. The way you do that is you bring a fan base and you build that fan base so large that there is no argument on whether you can sell records. You know if you go out and sell 30,000 CDs, and downloads in your regional area, you are going to get a million dollar deal, because you’ve already proven you can make $300,000 on your own. If you are able to show a label, “hey I can do this on my own, I don’t really need you.” It just makes them want you more. It’s just human nature. If you show them I have a fan base in place, they are gonna sign you right away, before an artist who they don’t know has any viability in the marketplace, that’s what the book focuses on. It was a really hard book for me to write, because secretly, deep down, I think all artist should be independent. I just don’t see the point of labels anymore, except for financial reasons, and I think that it is easier to find investors than it is to find a record deal. It was a difficult book for me to write because I know that the information is accurate, but I don’t believe it’s the direction people should go 100%. That’s why I did that for the first one, it was the hardest the next one is going to be “How to put out your own Record”. That’s the one I think everyone should really follow, but you know, not everyone is an entrepreneur, and not everyone can run their own company.
What’s the biggest mistake an independent artist can make in the industry?
The current biggest mistake, because it changes daily, but with the internet being so important in an artist’s career today, if eel a lot of artist mistakenly assume they can build a career only based on the internet. They see it as a relatively free way to promote themselves so they focus on the internet as a way to promote themselves with though actually going out on the streets and building a buzz at the fan level. The interest is great for that, and yes its relatively inexpensive to promote, but it’s not enough. It’s just one piece of the pie, it just one aspect of a career. You still have to go out and build your career. It very much like politics today where shaking hands and kissing babies and getting people to vote for your music and show their support by actually buying your music. It’s very much like campaigning, you have to build fans everywhere you go, you can’t just do it on the internet. Its relatively inexpensive but it’s not a free industry you actually have to have some sort of a budget to promote yourself, so you can stand out from the next artist, and that’s true today more than ever. There are more artists out there than fans. My FedEx guy is a rapper, my mailman is a producer. I went to Waffle House last night and the guy cooking my eggs said he owns an independent rap record label. Jesus Christ, everyone is in the music business all of a sudden! Everyone has to have a budget, but nobody has more than a couple thousand dollars to spend on building their career. A lot of artists basically think “I’ll just go on the internet, and I’ll go on twitter and Facebook, and ill spam my music to people, and ill spam my little viral video to people” and that’s just not how you do it. It’s a small aspect of building a buzz. When you say 99% of people don’t make it, I think it’s closer to 99.9% who don’t make it. It’s like one out of a million, it’s almost gotten to the point where you have a better chance of winning the lottery then you have a chance at becoming a rapper or producer. It’s just so oversaturated right now. There is too many, so as an artist, how are you going to stand out? How are you as a producer going to stand out from the other 10,000 producers that are on my mailing list? How are you as a rapper going to stand out from the other 20,000 twitter followers of rappers following me? How are you as an artist unique from the next guy, and how are you going to spread your music? How are you going to spread the message on which you are what your image is, and what your music is? It’s not about talent anymore; it’s about standing out, and building awareness.
There are other jobs in the music industry than just being a rapper or producer. I think people need to reevaluate if they have what it takes to be an artist and if you have that, do you have the budget to create a buzz? Depending on the area you’re at and what kind of music you have, it can cost between $75.000 and $500,000 to build a buzz. So if you came in the industry and you’ve got three thousand dollars, you’re fucked in the game. It’s just not going to happen. It’s like opening a window and throwing your money out. You have got to have the whole package.
How important is it to have a proper agent on your team?
Every aspect of a career is important. I’m going to make it like a pie, if you’ve got 8 slices and you put it together, you’ve actually got a whole pie. A career is a whole pie, so one slice is publicity, one slice is street promotion, one slice internet promotion, one slice advertising. All these different slices come together to make a career and you can’t build a pie with just one slice. You’ve got to have all of the slices so if you’re going to build a realistic career in the music industry, yes publicity is very important. You have to have the blogs writing about you; it’s important to have the magazines interviewing you, but you have to understand they don’t write about you or interview you until there is something to talk about. Your project really needs to have some legs and stand out from everybody else.
So if there are two artists out there and one’s touring around his region and he’s doing his own shows, and he’s become quite successful on his own, and then there is another guy who’s sitting at his computer with his music, sending tweets with links, the person whose actually got a movement occurring is going to get the press. That’s who the blogs are going to write about, that who the magazines are going to talk about, that’s who the radio stations are going to bring on the show, because they’ve actually got a movement. They’ve already got fans in place, if you don’t have a movement; your focus should be getting those pieces of the pie, so you can put the pie together.
The other example I give is if you came to my house for dinner, and I gave you a dinner roll and an hour later I gave you a piece of pie, and then 20 minutes later I give you a chunk of meat half cooked; besides the fact that you clown me, and never come to dinner again, it wasn’t a successful meal. Everything didn’t hit the table at the same time, and that’s what a career is, a career is like a meal where everything comes together at the same time, its cooked properly, it comes in a certain sequential order, you get the salad first then the meal with a roll, there’s a beverage that comes with dinner, there’s a dessert afterword’s. A career is the same way, you’ve got to deliver in the proper order, and the timing has to work so it all hits the table at the same time. The meat, the potatoes and the vegetables, even though they all take different times to cook, there all on the table at the same time, and they’re all warm and delicious. That’s the pint of making a good meal, that’s the same as a career; you have to be fresh and you have to all hit at the same time.
Throughout your entire experience and expertise in the music industry, what are some characteristics that successful musicians share?
The work ethic strikes me the most. The artists who seem to want it the most are willing to give up aspects of their life. Meaning, instead of going out with their friends on Friday night, and hanging out; they are willing to go to the club and interact with the DJs and build that relationship. The people with the work ethic to really put time into building their career are the ones that do it. It’s not rocket science, if you put your time into something, you’re going to get better and better at it. The men and women who commit to building their career are the ones who actually succeed. The second thing I notice about them is they all have a fan base by the time they come to me. It’s very rare that an artist will come to me right out of the box, with nothing going on and say “I want to be a rapper”. I can’t work with that. If I can’t see what your image is, your commercially viable music, if I can’t have an understanding of who you are and what your movement is, I can’t help you move forward. I don’t know what line to get in, I don’t know where to go and I’m not in the habit of building artists from scratch. I’m not a creative person; I’m a business person. So my goal is to boost them to that next level which is a successful indie label of their own, or getting them into a record deal that makes sense for them. I think those two things are the things that really stand out the most. If I had to find a thing it would be that, they’re very open minded. Artists that come to me and say “I’m not willing to do this, in not going to work on Sundays, I’m not going to go further than three hours from my house because I just had a kid, I’m not going to do this, I’m not going to do that, I can’t do this, I can’t do that,” they rarely win. The artists that seem to win are the ones who are open minded. The things I hear from artists that are around me is “Wendy, I’m not comfortable with that, but let me try it and let me see if it works,” and if it works fine, if it doesn’t work, fine. At least you tried it. I’m not good with artists that say, “I can’t do that I can’t try that oh no I can’t do that oh I could never do that.” You have to be open to change because if you’re not successful now, it means whatever you’re doing isn’t working. So if what you’re doing isn’t working we need to find something that doesn’t work. And you need to have some degree of open-mindedness to try stuff to see if it works. IT doesn’t mean you have to sell out, it doesn’t mean you have to be someone you’re not; it does mean if you’re not comfortable to go on the road to promote your music, maybe you need to try it. Just go to the next town, over to people that don’t know you and see how they react. They may be reacting very favorably, in which case you should be going from city to city building your buzz. You’ve got to be able to think outside the box and be uncomfortable. That goes for me too, every day I’m reading new books, I’m trying things I haven’t considered, going out of my comfort zone. Yeah it sucks, but it very often works, not always, but very often. There is something beautiful about being comfortable, but if you go a little outside of your comfort zone and it works, it will become comfortable.
Is there anything that new artists should avoid?
One of the biggest things I’ve seen from the people that have failed is that they listen to everyone around them. Instead of doing the research themselves, and seeing how this works, and going for it, they’ll start to go down a path and bump into somebody who says, “You shouldn’t be doing this, you should be doing this”, and then they’ll change direction. They’ll change direction and start going down that new path, and then they’ll bump into somebody else who’ll say “oh that’s not how that works, you should be doing this and that” and then they’ll change direction and it takes them down another path and instead of ever getting them to their destination, they’re always on the treadmill. They’re just always chains from left to right to left to right; they never get to go forward, because they’re always being led in circles. They are always listening to someone else, and I think that in any thing you do in life, you’ve got to research it yourself. You’ve got to find the best way to get there, if you don’t research it yourself you need to find someone trustworthy, like a manager, or a consultant or someone that has had success. Listen to them.
A real life example there is an artist from St. Louis who called me last week and said “there a showcase in town and there’s a bunch of A&R’s at the showcase and it cost either $300 or $500. I can perform in front of them and they will give me feedback, is that a good way to get a record deal?” I said no. it is a way to spend $500 and get feedback, it’s what you said it is. It’s a guy you regularly wouldn’t get in front of, are you going to get a record deal from it ever? Probably not, the chances it will be you are not good. I don’t know anyone who’s performed in front of an A&R guy and got a record deal, that’s not how it is done. You will get what is says, feedback from and A&R guy. If that feedback has value to you then it’s worth it, if you’re trying to get a record deal, then no, you’ll end up horribly disappointed. It doesn’t not build to a record deal, what does is building a buzz , getting a fan base in place, and having a label come find you. They’re not going to find you at a talent showcase, this isn’t American Idol, and it doesn’t work that way. American Idol is an invention of a guy who got very wealthy through signing artist through American Idol that is what it’s for, it’s not for artists to get discovered and become ultra- successful. I know that is what it looks like, but that’s not what it is. It’s a TV show, it makes money for the station, and the producers and the guy whose idea it was, and that is what it’s meant to be. So does it work? Sure, for them. It’s brilliant for them. Is it a good way to get in the music industry? I can think of better ways. I think there’s ways of having success where you get the lion’s share or the money instead of giving someone ninety-plus percent of your money. That to me is pimping.
Do you think artists paying to perform are wrong?
I can’t say that anything is wrong. It depends what each person’s goal is and if that gets them closer to their goal, I can say that it’s wrong. I never do it for my artists that I consult because I just don’t see the upside to it. I wouldn’t tell anyone they are wrong for doing it. You need to perform as much as possible, you need to get yourself out there, and you need to build awareness. If you feel that’s a way to build awareness than yeah, I don’t do it because I don’t think people care about opening acts. I think people come to shows to see who the star is, and they don’t give a fuck; I don’t think they pay attention if they are there. I think they are talking to their friends at the bar, not whose opening. I think once you have a buzz, people will pay attention to you, but if you’re a brand new artist, and people are spending that money on a slot, instead of spending to put your music out like a mix tape, and you’ve only got a certainamount of money, unless your independently wealthy, you’ve got to be careful where you spend it. You’ve got to spend it on the things that expose yourself to the masses, in terms of your music, not your pie, not your video, but your music. It’s what’s going to put you on. When I wrote the book I wanted to put it up for free, and when you put it up on amazon or Barnes and nobles or any of these sites, they won’t put it up when it’s free, I asked what’s the cheapest that you could still make money. So you notice, its seven dollars and we didn’t make printed copies cause the cheapest I could make it with all the overhead is $20, and I said, no, I can’t sell it for $20.