Wendy Day Speaks

To read the complete interview.. head on over to Blackelectorate.com

In our opinion, no one understands the intersection of Hip-Hop culture and business better than Wendy Day and Rap Coalition and we know of no one who has the Rolodex to go with it. From graffiti artists and underground MCs who don't have a record deal, all the way to the biggest record label executives and most powerful lawyers in Hip-Hop, Wendy Day knows them, has worked with them all and understands what makes them tick. And to top it all off, she is a pure activist with a mission to educate and empower Hip-hop artists to control their creative works from the minute it leaves their mind, body and soul up to the moment it ends up as a product, in the hands of a consumer.

It is an awesome task and a path that Wendy, quite frequently has walked alone. She and/or Rap Coalition, have single-handedly educated, managed, negotiated deals, broken contracts and made key introductions for some of Hip Hop's biggest artists and industry figures.

In a variety of ways, artists such as Master P, Eminem and Cash Money Millionaires have all directly benefited from Wendy Day and Rap Coalition. And if you can judge a person by the enemies they have, then Wendy Day is a giant among many, with people in a variety of positions in the music industry detesting her or seeking to avoid her like the plague.

Either way you look at it, it all represents the power that Wendy has and her ability to influence not just select individuals but an entire industry. This fact was not lost on Source magazine, which has listed Wendy Day as one of Hip-Hop's 30 most powerful figures.

Love her or hate her, Wendy Day has made it impossible to forget her.

She recently granted BlackElectorate.com an exclusive interview that we will run in two or three parts. We run her answers below, unedited.

Cedric Muhammad: You have been working with artists, managers, lawyers, record labels and attorneys over the last decade. Who, in your opinion is the most powerful of these 5 groups? Why?

Wendy Day: Best question I've ever been asked. There are 2 types of power in the urban music industry: perceived power and real power. Record labels hold the perception of power because it's financial (which is also fleeting). Def Jam and Universal are perfect current examples of this. No Limit and Cash Money are recent examples of this. When the label is hot, they can do no wrong. Every artist wants to sign to them, every fan wants to buy the product with their logo on it. But when the trend takes a turn or shift, their success goes downhill pretty quickly and even the addition of a major artist (like Snoop, in the case of No LImit) can't revive it. Along comes another hot label to fill the spot (or spotlight).

Artists hold the real power because they make the actual commodity: the music. All of the imaging and promotional dollars in the world can't make a wack artist seem talented for very long.But a truly talented artist will eventually sell millions of units without multi-million dollar budgets. Perfect examples of this are Jill Scott, Les Nubians (who aren't even singing in English), and Nelly (early on). Artists, much like people of color, have been convinced for so long that they have no power, they begin to believe it. Artists therefore become psychologically burdened and dependent upon the label for financial support, so much so that they have lost the ability to recognize their power. In corporate Amerikkka this phenomenon is referred to as "golden handcuffs." You pay an employee a salary higher than they think they can obtain elsewhere, and that employee becomes controlled by the fear of losing the job (and the money and lifestyle that come along with it). This is especially the case with urban artists, many of whom traditionally come from poorer backgrounds, convinced they've finally obtained the "American dream." But it's fleeting; it only lasts until they are no longer of use to the label and are then coldly discarded. This happens the second sales start to take a dive and the label doesn't think the sales can be revived (Milli Vanilli is perfect example of a label controlled creation that went quickly to hell in pop music).

Provided the artist doesn't succumb to this controlling mentality, they get to steer their own careers, and as long as the artist has real talent and some business sense (or really good advisors) they will create a career where they control ownership of their image, their music, their lives, and businesses outside of the music industry to sustain them. Stevie Wonder is a good example of this, as is Sean "Puffy" Combs. I always give my artists this scenario: an artist with no label can make one tape at home and sell it to someone for $10. But a label with no artist can't make any tapes (therefore no commerce). That right there tells you where the real power is. Some artists are strong enough to keep that power and not succumb to the mental destruction of perceived power.
Cedric Muhammad: What is the biggest change that you have seen in the music business over the last five years?

Wendy Day: Ownership. Labels are actually allowing some savvy artists and artist-owned labels ownership of their masters. Only because these artists are aware of the actual financial realities of ownership and hold out for it. This means an artist with a major distibution deal can make 80% as opposed to an artist signed to a label making 12% after repaying most of the expenses. The real numbers could look like this: an artist owned label can make $8.00 a record from the first sale forward, compared to a signed artist making 80 cents a record after paying back most of the expenses (could mean not seeing a payment until record # 275,000).

 Cedric Muhammad: What would be the net effect of a union for Hip-Hop artists?

Wendy Day: It depends on the power of Hip Hop as a commodity. If the sales justified labels giving up the control they'd have to, artists would have more power and money (at the expense of the labels). If labels deemed there was not enough money in Hip Hop to share the assets in a different proportion to what they are accustomed to, then they'd move on to another form of music to pimp, which would force Hip Hop back underground. This would mean a smaller share of the pie for everyone, and would force the less talented and less popular artists into other vocations to make money.

Cedric Muhammad: : In what ways are Hip-Hop artists treated differently, by record labels, than their Rock and R&B counterparts?

Wendy Day: Hip Hop is still pretty new in terms of music history. Many labels have not accepted yet that it is here to stay. So some of the internal departments that exist at labels for rock are absent in urban music, such as artist development. A rock band could be signed for four years while developed at a label to be the best they can be. For the most part, a rapper is signed and puts out the first album within a year. If it doesn't hit, the average label will switch focus immediately to another act. Another difference I see with rap artists is the budgets are smaller both to make a record and work the record in the marketplace. But the rap acts sell more units. The majority of rap acts are from urban areas (not all, but most) where the word "lawyer" is negative. I don't know many rappers who have a lawyer in the family they can turn to when they receive a recording contract. But I know many rock artists who have a lawyer they trust and can turn to when they receive a contract. I see more rap artists sign agreements without benefit of legal counsel than rock acts.

Cedric Muhammad: What is your take on the first-week sales phenomenon - where, according to Soundscan, Hip-Hop artists sell a huge amount of records in their first week and then their sales figures drop dramatically in the next and subsequent weeks?

Wendy Day: Too much emphasis is put on first week sales, further proving my point that labels see Hip Hop artists as disposable. Instead of focusing on the career of the artist, labels focus on first week sales to determine the remaining amount of effort to spend on each individual project. This is a huge dis-service to the artist, the consumer (who is force fed what labels deem to be "hot"), and the industry. Is a platinum Hammer a better rapper than a 300,000 unit selling Mos Def? Is "popular" an indication of talent or of marketing?

Cedric Muhammad: Do you think that Hip-Hop artists should support the sale of their creative works over the Internet? Wendy Day: I think Hip Hop artists should control all aspects of their own careers and sales. I have issue with labels (Sony and Universal spring to mind as the most oppressive in this area) that force control over the artists' internet rights.

Cedric Muhammad: What has been the absolute best deal that you helped to structure? What makes it the best?

Wendy Day: Cash Money Records was one of those deals that's a once in a lifetime opportunity. The timing was on point and Universal was in a position where they were merging with Polygram and needed marketshare (meaning Cash Money). The structure of the deal that makes it such a historical deal is that it set precedent and broke boundaries: it's a hybrid deal that had never been done offering ownership and funding to Cash Money Records. Usually, the more money one takes up front, the less favorable the split is on the back end (the more risk to a label, the less they offer). With this deal, I was able to negotiate $2 million in cash upfront, a hefty line of credit to run their company autonomously and promote their record releases throughout the year, AND get the most favorable split possible: 80% to Cash Money and 20% to Universal. In addition, the time period was for 3 years and Cash Money would be able to leave with the masters and their artists at the end of that time period without having to agree upfront to any buy out situation (which is the norm). I knew the deal was spectacular, but it really hit me when I got a call from the new attorneys for Cash Money telling me I had done such a spectacular job that they couldn't find any area to renegotiate once the deal has garnered Universal $17 million and Cash Money in excess of $75 million after two short years. The deal was shopped to be a powerhouse deal, with a 75 page Business Plan that made Cash Money appear to be in the ranks of a mini IBM from the start.
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