If I may, let me remind folks of an old proverb that basically reads, its better to teach a man how to fish than to just give him a free meal. In the treacherous waters of the music industry this proverb is especially significant. As Tribe Called Quest once noted in their hit song 'Check The Rhyme'....'rule 4080, record people are shady'.
A lot of this shadiness comes from the fact that many in the music business have not learned to treat this glamorous life as a business. While there are lots of fancy parties, lots of booze, drugs and women, being put in the front room, there are folks in the back room making lots and lots and lots of money. Often times what happens is music industry sharks prey upon the emotions and ignorance of the artist who create the product. The artistic desires and emotional fulfillment and the bottom line desires of music executives don't always add up to an equal partnership. The proverbial artist is so hungry to get his material released to the world that he/she often signs on the dotted line without properly understanding the contracts. The images of the record industry has also given birth to unrealistic expectations. So you often get an artists who has just signed to a label expecting to be able to buy a yacht and a mansion within a month after his material has gotten released. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. There are some record label executives who will frankly tell you that even after going gold [selling 1/2 million albums] there are many artist who wind up still owing their record labels money. What they didn't understand when they signed those contracts was that everything laid out on their behalf to promote their record was recoupable. In other words, these artist were really being fronted a bunch of money to pay for all those fancy parties, nice dinners, limos, and entertainment for djs, fans and other 'VIP' types.
This concept of recoupability is perhaps one of the most insidious methods used by industry executives to put artist in the hole. For one it's difficult to track the expenditures, It completely benefits the label and its an dangerous line of credit for the artist. At its best it forces the artist to be very diligent about what's being spent and what's not being spent on his/her behalf. At it's worse it forever keeps an artist in the red. Here's a typical scenario, let's take an artist like KRS-One. His new single drops and his record company Jive wishes to aggressively promote the single. One of their strategies is to shore up their relationships with key club and radio djs along with key retailers around the country. So what the label does is invite these djs for a night out on the town. So KRS and his entourage are flown into town and several dinners are held on his behalf and at his expense.The theory is that upon meeting KRS-One these key individuals that folks will take a personal liking to KRS-One and go the extra yard in pushing or playing his record. The cost for such outings can quickly add up. Hence, KRS-One is his posse of 4 are fronted x amount of dollars to go out on a promo tour. They are given x amount dollars per day for food. They are fronted x amount of dollars for travel and lodging. His record label comes to town and invites 15-20 people to dinner at 15-20 bucks a pop. Another dinner or outing is held for the upper VIPs.. ie program director, commercial rap show jocks etc. Since KRS is on a 20 city promo tour where these expensive outings are repeated.. you can see the enormous cost after you add things up. This is not counting the album release party where some of these same key individuals are flown to New York or LA-all expenses paid-all in the name of shoring up relations. This keep in mind is all being paid for by KRS-One. Its coming out of his budget.
Now the question becomes..'Is KRS-One benefiting or Jive Records?" One would like to think that KRS-One benefits.. but that's not always the case. Oftentimes individuals who never even heard of KRS-One and who would never even play his record are given these perks. The beneficiary is not KRS-One as much as it is Jive records who will gladly call upon some of those key individuals who were flown to New York and invited to fancy dinner to support their other projects. In short, some individuals are courted, wined and dined at KRS-One's expense so Jive Records could receive support for their upcoming E-40 or SWV project.
Unfortunately this scenario is just the tip of the iceberg. Bear in mind, this promotional machinery is constantly in action as the label continually makes gestures on behalf of the artist.. even when the artist is not in town. The could be a gold or platinum records awarded to folks who never supported the artist. This could be a lunch here or there.. a free show or the enourmous amounts of money spent to 'street' and indie promoters. In other words the label is doing what it needs to do to in the best interest of the label and not the artist. Yet the artist pays for everything. The saddest story, I ever heard regarding this recently occurred when old school artist Barry B-Stro of the pioneering group the Crash Crew, explained how his group was forever in the red during their brief stay on Sugar Hill Records. He spoke about how there was always some sort of hidden 'promotion' expense that was levied against them..preventing them from getting paid in full. He even spoke about the label putting out promotional albums from studio out takes and releasing them in foreign countries. He explained that before the artist received their % of royaltie monies which typically is 6-10% on a good deal... All these promotional expenses had to be paid. It was a never ending cycle. B-Stro's comments gave credence to the insights that were once offered by Public Enemy's Chuck D who once noted that some of rap music's biggest names are broke. Much of resulting from them signing bad contracts and forever being in debt with their label. No wonder KRS-One called the music business a 'pimp and ho' sytem. Bottom line...TLC isn't the only big name group running around without cash flow.
Finally because the record business is an industry of hype, many artist start to buy into the myths surrounding their name and forget to properly cover themselves because they believe the money will just keep pouring in and the red carpet treatment they're getting will last forever. So many artist squander their money frivolously. They don;t invest and pay a lot of folks in their camp who really ain't looking out for their best interest. They often confuse friendship with business. Hence handshakes, pats on the back and 'homeboy for life' type of agreements often turn sour once the artist starts making moves. One of the most publicized instances of this happening took place with the members of NWA.
My suggestion as a wonderful Christmas gift you may want to pick up this new book called 'Everything You'd Better Know About The Record Industry For Songwriters, Producers, Musicians, and Music Entrepreneurs.' It was written by Kashif, who used to play with BT Express and has produced everyone from Whitney Houston to Kenny G to George Benson. He explained that he wrote this from the artist point of view so that they'd have a firm grasp about a business that generates a tremendous amount of money with a small percent going toward the artist. In addition to this he'll be putting forth a 2 day seminar in March for Bay Area musicians. He noted that it will be like going to school for an intense two days. No partying just straight knowledge being shared. For more info call 800-974-7447.
Another great music book is 'The Death Of Rhythm And Blues' by Nelson George and 'Hit Men' by Fredric Dannen. Both will give some insightful wisdom about how the music business is structured and operates. Another great stocking stuffer is 'Sampling In The Record Industry' by Bay Area lawyer Michael Ashburn. He's represented everyone from Richard Pryor to Ice Cube to Souls Of Mischief. This book will give you the full scoop on the laws around sampling. It may also encourage you to start your own band. Finally another great resource may be a subscription to a newsletter and a membership card to 'The Northern California's Song Writing Association' in Menlo Park. These folks do lots of seminars and activities all year long and they're a great resource for those trying to break into the business. They can be reached at 415 327-8296. So folks without trying to sound to preachy, I just wanna say the best gift for the holidays is Knowledge.