Rap Coalition

A HOW-TO RESOURCE FOR RAP ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, & DJs. Since knowledge is power, here is your best defense to succeed in the urban music industry...

Thursday, April 06, 2006

How To Fuck Over A Rapper
By, Wendy Day

This is meant to be satire, so any artist who falls for any of the game outlined below is, well, fucked. Sadly, these examples are all based on real life situations of artists who’ve gotten jerked. Many of them are your favorite rappers…

First of all, you have to be certain you are working with an artist over 18 who knows very little about the music business. How else will you be able to teach him your version of how it’s supposed to work? He definitely needs to be over 18 so a judge doesn’t get involved and nullify the contract on the basis of a minor not being able to legally enter into a binding contract.

Definitely sign a male rapper. Yes, you run the risk of him becoming violent when he finds out you’ve scammed him, but by then you should have enough money to either be untouchable or hire security. Also, male rappers statistically sell better on average than female rappers, and if you’re going to stick somebody for their loot, it may as well be as much loot as possible. Besides, an angry female will go to further extremes if you piss her off, remember that last shorty you did wrong? She came after your ass, didn’t she.

A solo artist is less risky than a group, as it’s only one angry person to watch out for, rather than many who may team up for revenge. A younger person is often more naïve, and you can sell him some bullshit about the industry only wanting young artists. If you get him to lie that he’s two years younger than he really is, he’ll feel like he shares a secret with you. The more secrets you have on him, the easier it will be to control him. And if he pisses you off, you can tell the world his secrets and he’ll always be the one who looks stupid. He’ll also be too busy dodging the press, to come after you.

It’s good to remind the artist often that you’re family and you’d never do him wrong. If he thinks everyone is sacrificing now to build something for a down-the-road payoff, you can probably get a good 4 years of loyalty out of the dupe. If you are all persons of color, you could utilize the race card to your benefit reminding him that “Black folks have to stick together because the white man has been keeping us down for long enough.” Some people even mention slavery and other assorted history to further the bond. Some phrases you could use to convince him are:
We are family.
I got your back.
We are (a) soldiers, (b) warriors, (c) a team, (d) fill in the blank.
We are building an empire
You’re going to be a star
You’re going to be rich
You are doper than (a) Jay Z, (b) Tupac was, (c) Biggie was, (d) Eminem.
You can buy your Mamma a big house
I’m gonna make your dreams come true.
There will be plenty for everybody
Don’t be (a) a hater, (b) crabs in the barrel, (c) selfish, (d) fill in the blank

Make sure your artist has a “manager.” It will make him feel bigger than he is. If the person he chooses is too savvy, make sure you poo-poo his choice and allude that you can’t do a deal if he has this person in his camp. Encourage family member choices, or childhood friend choices, especially if you feel you can control them later through (a) money, (b) manipulation, (c) drug habits, (d) blackmail. An artist manager who secretly works for you is a priceless gift worth his weight in gold. The major labels were built on this. What manager doesn’t eventually want his own label? You could dangle that carrot in front of him forever.

When the artist is in a position where he’s feeling secure and he believes in you 100%, it’s time to put that contract in front of him with a pen. Have it open to the last page and show him exactly where he should sign it. Act like you’re in a hurry. A time where you’re about to give him money, or right before a show in the parking lot of the club, or when he’s really high in the studio and hearing his boys giving him tons of “you the man” praise, are all good times to offer the contracts. Don’t worry, he’ll sign. They all do.

If he tries to look at the writing in the contract, or even tries to turn a page, snatch it back from him and act hurt. Remind him that you’re all family and if there’s no trust then maybe you should find someone else to sign. Tell him you could get him a lawyer if he really wants, but it’ll have to be in exchange for that (a) gear, (b) watch, (c) car, or (d) cash you were about to give him. If he really pushes the having his own attorney bit, and you can’t manipulate him out of the idea, make certain he has an attorney with no power. It’s important to let him use someone with some limited music business experience so they don’t run up the bill with your lawyer fighting for stupid stuff.

There are many new, wanna-be, and fringe (outside of the inner circle that exists in the music industry) lawyers who troll the industry for clients and will give love to whomever is paying their bill (you). They come in all colors and all prices. Just remember, a lawyer makes more money working for a label than for an artist, so most can very easily be swayed to do what you want in the deal, even for a reduced fee, with a promise of future work, even if it’s bullshit.

Make sure you check out the attorney list at www.rapcoalition.org and if the lawyer is on that list, avoid using that one for your artists—they are the powerful and legitimate ones. Lawyers get paid to do deals, not to break them, so most will usually finish the deal no matter how bad it is, rather than walk away from making their fee. They console themselves with the fact they got their client the best deal they could. It is important to find someone with reduced or no integrity. Definitely use a lawyer outside of New York with limited connections so your artists have no alternatives to signing with you.

Sign as many artists as you want, promising them whatever you have to, to get them to sign. Don’t worry about putting them out or doing anything at all with them. Once they are signed, you own them. Most artists really just want to be signed to a record label and that will pacify them longer than you think. Be hard to find so you won’t have to listen to their bitching. If they can’t find you, it’s not your fault you’re busy, after all, you are running a business. If they do catch you, sympathize with them and tell them you’ll look into it, or that they are up next. Both of these excuses only work about 3 times, but if you are good at eluding the artists, that’s at least a year.

[Again, this is meant to be satire, so any artist who falls for any of the game outlined below is, well, fucked. Sadly, these examples are all based on real life situations of artists who’ve gotten jerked. Many of them are your favorite rappers…]

Make certain your lawyer worded the contract to sign your artists for no less than 7 albums (not years, as 7 albums equals about 14 years really), give him little to no advance, take 100% of the publishing and merchandising, get 50% of everything else as his production company, and make the stat rate at 10X, 75%. Have a separate contract that assigns you as his official manager for life, for 25%. Tell him how big you are in the industry and how you can make shit happen at the drop of a hat, in fact, you left P Diddy on hold just now to speak with your favorite artist (him) because he’s so important to you.

It’s important that you shorten industry moguls’ names so it appears that you know them personally: 50 Cent becomes “Fitty,” Jay Z becomes “J,” Damon Dash becomes “Dame,” P Diddy becomes “Puff,” Russell Simmons becomes “Rush,” etc. In fact, you should cram as many abbreviated names as you can into one sentence without looking like you’re full of shit. As a bonus, you could mention that you spent last weekend with whichever mogul’s name comes to mind first—remember, abbreviate it so you look like pals. If it’s just after the NBA All-Star Weekend, you can milk it for months and use it on everyone to seem bigger and more connected than you really are.

Placate your artist with the lie that you’re going to put him on tour with (a) Jeezy, (b) Eminem, (c) R Kelly (if he also likes his females young) or (d) Nelly, and that nobody else would do that for a new artist like him. Remind him that with his cut of tour income like that, he won’t even notice your manager’s fee of 25%, besides you’re doing all the work: all he has to do is rap on stage for 20 minutes and get his dick sucked in the limo on the way back to the hotel by the prettiest female. Tough life.

Speaking of shows, if you are lucky enough to stumble on an opportunity, make sure the artist thinks he’s only getting $1,000 to do the show, while the promoter is really paying you $5,000. Then, when the promoter sends you the first half of $2,500, tell the artist the $500 front end came in, and you keep the other $2,000. Or be a sport and tell him since you’re such a great manager you got the whole $1,000 upfront and keep the remaining $1,500 and then keep the whole backend of $2,500. You’ll be his hero. By the time the IRS sends the artist a tax notice (takes about 3 years) for the taxes he didn’t pay on all the $5,000 shows, you’ll be long gone.

A real easy way to make a lot of money is to book multiple shows for the same night and don’t show up to any except one. You can keep all the front end deposits and do nothing because it’ll be the artists’ reputation in the crapper, not yours. By the time the lawsuits come in, again, you’ll be long gone. Your lawyer can stall the suits for 3 years or better. And it’s free money. You could even book all the shows for the same night at $5,000 each and call back all the promoters the day before to tell them you’ll come to whoever is the highest bidder. You might get double the price, and if you were smart enough to ask everyone for open airplane tickets, you can cash in the ones you don’t use and make some extra cash. Again, it’s the artist reputation that suffers, not yours.

It’s a good idea to keep the artist in the studio as much as possible at first, because once he realizes you’re making all the money, it’ll be hard to get him back in there. The studio is really where he wants to be anyway; he’s most comfortable there. Keep him as high and as drunk as possible. Aside from the fact that it will be easy to control him then, the addiction will also keep him coming back to you. He will want to be in the studio all the time anyway, as he will be gung-ho to make his album. Truth be told, rappers really only want fame and pussy, and when everyone thinks he has an album coming out, the women will surround him, and he will feel like a star (even if his record never comes out).

Try to get him to make as many albums as possible, but don’t tell him that’s what you’re doing. Tell him the songs he’s making don’t fit his image, or the production is inferior, or that he is so much better than what you’re hearing. If you tell him it isn’t commercial enough and needs to be more radio friendly, which is the oldest label trick in the book, you may get some static as artists may see this as “selling out,” which will hurt his core beliefs (core beliefs are hard to sway). You may need to lock him out of the studio or cut off the supply of money and drugs, to get him to come around. Once he does though, you can get a good 10 or 20 more songs with this one excuse.

If he has a lot of knuckleheads around him whispering in his ear, or savvy industry folks around him all of a sudden, send him to a studio more than a ten hour drive away. This will instantly put a stop to that crap, and being in a strange place will force him to go to the studio because he’ll have nothing else to do. You can easily control him with money (keeping him waiting a few days for money when he’s broke and hungry will take the fight out of anyone). Never give him too much at once. The stress of bills and starving are excellent incentive for him to act right, especially if he has a baby’s mama and a kid or two. Great incentive. By the time the paternity suits and child support cases roll in, you’ll be long gone.

If you do put out a record for the rapper, keep him on the road as much as possible. Aside from the show scam being a great source of income for you, it keeps him from begging you for money constantly at home. Be certain he has his boy as his “manager” (preferably with no business or music industry knowledge or connections), and has a tour manager that you assign, control, and pay, that will report back to you immediately if there are any suspicions that you aren’t doing what’s right. When you hear rumblings, fly to whatever city he’s in and spend time with him. Buy him little gifts and get stoned with him. Remind him he’s part of something bigger. Strip bars in any city are perfect locations for meetings. Hookers afterwards are appropriate gifts. You should be seen at all times to be taking care of his needs, especially publicly. This will attract hoards of other artists to scam.

Things won’t get rough for you until about 9 months after his record comes out and he realizes he’s still living with his Mom. If you have multiple albums done, it won’t matter as his “fame” will keep him promoting the subsequent albums. He won’t want to lose that. Without fame he’ll lose all the free stuff, all the gratuitous pussy, all the attention, all the free drinks and free blunts… Fear of losing all this will keep him in line for awhile. Rarely be kind to him. The harder you are on him, and the harder you are to please, the harder he’ll try to please you. Kindness will only be taken as weakness and he’ll control you.

Artists are not loyal. They jump to wherever the money is. If he’s more pimp than whore, he will eventually find other ways to make money: (a) appearing on other artists’ albums for $10,000 (b) shows behind your back for $5,000 which is more than you’re booking him for anyway in his mind, (c) bootlegging his own album, or (d) selling T-shirts or drugs at his own shows. If you don’t have subsequent albums to release, it’s important that you keep him broke so you can get him back in the studio as soon as possible with the promise of money--his next advance. If he’s a man destined to be pimped, he will most likely jump ship to another camp with the same game, but willing to give up a bit more upfront cash incentive. Have a super sharp litigator on board to sue the other company immediately, and either they’ll toss him out like a used condom or write you a fat check to let him go. It’s up to you, since you legally own him.

In general, only give your artist what you have to, in order to get him working. If you give him too much he’ll disappear til it runs out. For the second album, if you promise half now and half when he finishes the album, it’s all gravy. And if you’re slick enough to use the studio excuses again to get even more songs out of him, you’re a star! By now he knows the necessity of radio hits, so that “music needs to be more radio friendly” will go a long way. You can even entice him by getting tracks from his favorite producers, and getting artists he admires to work with him. Both of these options require an outlay of money, but you can trick multiple artists on your label with the same track or the same guest appearance opportunity. Also, you’ll sell more records in the long run, and make more money that way, so it’s worth it. If you have signed more than one artist, you can pit them against each other for maximum effect. They’ll even sabotage each other with little effort on your part. You can sit back and enjoy the show.

If you’re an artist and you’re reading this, don’t get pissed off because you got beat. For 13 years, I have offered numerous free resources that teach you how to NOT get jerked, but that would require time, investigation, and reading skills on your part, and that just always seemed like too much work didn’t it. With the plethora of info out there, and the availability of trustworthy professionals to choose for your team, if any of you do get jerked, shame on you. You have no one to blame but yourselves. You’ve been warned. Enjoy that blunt…

[And still, this was meant to be satire, so any artist who falls for any of the game outlined below is, well, fucked. Sadly, these examples are all based on real life situations of artists who’ve gotten jerked. Many of them are your favorite rappers…]

The Different Types Of Record Deals
By Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (RapCoalition.org and rapcointelpro.com)

There are a multitude of different deals out there for any recording artist. It depends solely on what you agree to contractually. There is no such thing as a standard contract-- a contract is just an agreement between two people that says who will do what by when, what happens if they do NOT do it, and how everyone gets paid. You don’t get what you deserve in this business, you get what you negotiate. A contract can tie you up for three to seven years, so be VERY careful what you sign!

Just like every deal is different, so is every record label. While one my be great at radio, another one might suck at radio but be great at blitzing the streets. It’s important to know the label’s strengths and weaknesses when negotiating a deal. In the deals I negotiate, I always make sure the artist is compensated for the area in which the label is weak. So if the label is weak at radio, for example, I make certain there is an additional budget for the artist’s team to hire their own radio promotion people.

When dealing with an independent label to do a deal, it is important that they know what they are doing and have done if before, are properly financed, and are well connected in the industry. Any idiot can spend $11 at Kinkos to print business cards saying they own a record label. You are an even bigger idiot if you sign a deal with one.

It is important to have an entertainment attorney finalize any deal (or negotiate it, if you are not skilled in this area--I have done numerous deals and still always have a lawyer by my side in every deal) because it isn’t always what’s written in a contract that can hurt you, but often what is missing.

EVERY contract is different because every situation is different! Recording contracts are set up to benefit the label and not the artist, therefore many changes are needed. In fact, I once heard that the average contract goes back and forth seven times. My deals go back and forth even more than that. David Banner’s paperwork went back and forth for nine months until it was right--by the time he signed his contract and got paid, his first CD had been out for six or seven months. This is not standard, nor do I recommend anyone ever put out a CD before the contract is signed.

There are basically three different types of deals and then everything in between. Deals are not quite so cut and dried, so I have outlined the three basic types of deals, but a deal can fall in between any of these extremes. All deals are attainable based on the leverage of the artist, how badly the label wants to sign the artist, who is on their team that the label sees as added value (like a successful producer or a connected manager), if other labels are bidding for the artist as well, and the track record of success of the artist or producers.

Distribution Deal (sometimes called a P&D deal for “pressing and distribution”): This is the most difficult deal to get. It can be an 80-20 split, with the major label making 20% and the artist making 80%. There is rarely money advanced (in a few cases I have seen pressing costs advanced).

This deal is usually reserved for the most successful artists where the label perceives little risk and sees value in allowing the artist to do the bulk of the marketing, promotion, radio, and video work. Cash Money has this type of deal, as did No Limit back in the mid-90s at Priority. When Body Head Entertainment had its short-lived deal with Universal, it was this type of deal according to Roy Jones, Jr.

The only thing the major label or distributor is really responsible for with a distribution deal, is getting the CDs into stores and collecting the money. The artist does everything else. The length of the deal usually runs 3 years and rarely, if ever, goes to an artist who doesn’t already have proper funding already in place. The artist always owns the masters. This is the type of deal a successful independent label would seek with a major label after they have released numerous successful independent projects regionally.

This is also the type of deal an independent label would seek from an independent distributor such as Select-O-Hits, Navarre, and/or Bayside Distribution. This is an area where artists and indie labels MUST understand the difference between being a label and being a production company. An indie label has the money to effectively market and promote a CD, the experience and know-how to do so successfully, and a strong work ethic since the indie label does everything but get the CD into the store and collect the money.

A production company makes a great CD, but needs to have a label to deliver it to, because that’s all they have is a great CD. If you have a great CD but no experience and no money to market and promote, you are NOT an independent record label--I don’t care what your Kinko’s printed business card says. You are not a record label. This is why Koch, Asylum, Fontana, and TVT exist. They offer deals that allow people to think they are their own record label, but they do most of the work and advance most of the money, making it more of a joint venture deal, and usually a 60-40 split (60% to the indie label, that is).

Joint Venture Deal: This is also a deal that is not easily forthcoming from a major label without a track record of success. It is usually around a 50-50 split, and the term can run from 3 to 7 years. Most labels split the work with the artist (or indie label) but offer the sole funding for the deal. There can be an advance, which is always recoupable before the splits, and it is up to negotiation whether the label owns the masters or splits them with the artist.

Most joint venture deals are not profitable for the artist, because most major labels never recoup all that they have spent. Unless you have some say over what is spent, how and where it is spent, it is hard to control this type of deal.

Artist Deal: By far, this is the most popular and common record deal. The label does everything, except record the album (although they pay for it), and they have complete control and ownership. The term is usually for 5 to 7 years, and the average percentage for the artist is 12% (meaning the major label keeps 88%). Out of that percentage, the artist pays back everything the label spends that is recoupable, rarely leaving the artist any money unless the sales are exceptional (meaning platinum).

Hope this quick breakdown gives you a starting place to do more research!!


Saturday, April 01, 2006


There are two main reasons people put out their own records:
1) to get a deal from a larger label or distributor (proving your music will sell removes much of the risk for a bigger label, and garners you a more favorable deal as you increase your leverage),
2) to sell records and make money. Although I usually write Rapcointelpro more for the second group of independent rap record labels, this article is especially pertinent for anyone trying to catch the attention of a major label or trying to become a major label. If you are just trying to sell records and flip some loot, radio is an added bonus but not necessary to sell records as we’ve all seen from the myriad of labels who’ve come before. However, at the majors, the attitude is "radio rules!" Major labels sink millions of dollars into having a strong radio staff, and into doing what is necessary to get radio play. They usually sign artists and labels who can deliver radio records. This article is for those of you going in that direction so you will understand how the game is played.

Radio has always been interesting. In the mid-1980s, there was a Federal investigation into the music industry regarding payola at radio, which is illegal (payola is openly handing someone at a radio station money in exchange for playing a song). For the most part, it was an incredible waste of time and taxpayer’s money because it failed to change anything in the long run. I won’t bore anyone with the details here, but will mention Frederic Dannen’s book Hit Men, which accurately chronicles these dark days in music business history. The way some enterprising young men (and it has always been men) got over in the 1990s, was to create a buffer between the record label and the radio station, called an independent promoter. This removed even the hint of payola, thereby rendering anything that resembled pay for play out of the hands of record labels. The way the FCC law regarding payola is written, any song that is paid to air must disclaim to the listening audience that it was paid to air. Radio stations, nor record labels, like the idea of a disclaimer, so out of necessity came an alternative solution. The birth of the "indie."

The job of an independent promoter (often called "indie") is to act as a consultant of sorts for the radio Program Director. He finds out what songs would be ideal for the station to play, and then recommends them to the Program Director (often called the "PD") for addition into rotation. He is then paid, not by the radio station, but by the record label for his consulting services. His source of research to find out what songs would be ideal to play on the radio station, just happen to be the record labels. Sometimes some of that consulting fee reaches the personal pocket of the programmer, and sometimes the indie pays an annual promotional fee (of, say, $100,000 a year) to the radio station. In the latter case, it means that his deal is exclusive, and all record labels must go through him to recommend a song to be added to rotation at that station. He is then, legally, allowed to accept a consulting fee from the record label to "cheerlead" the song to the radio station (which of course he controls due to the promotional payment). All quite legal and above board. Or is it?

Opponents of this "pay for play" system claim that indies are controlling the airwaves and that the deepest pockets often gain heaviest rotation. The deepest pockets are always major record labels leaving little space for independent labels or local artists to reach their market through radio play. Another cry of "foul" can be heard from opponents of the Telecom Act that President Clinton signed into existence in 1996. This allows radio stations to own as many stations as they want. Prior to the Telecom Act, each company could only own a maximum of 28 stations, with no more than 2 per market. With these restrictions lifted, two major conglomerates have bought up a bulk of the radio dial throughout the US. Clear Channel, being the biggest, owns almost 1,200 stations giving it a presence in 247 of the Top 250 markets. This also means that they control 10% of all radio stations, which is a whopping 60% of all rock radio stations in the country. Aside from dominating Top 40 radio stations, they also own the behemoth concert promotion company, SFX, giving them a stranglehold, not just on radio, but on concert tickets and live shows. The other large conglomerate that is buying up a record amount of radio stations is Infinity Broadcasting, owned by Viacom, which also owns CBS and video outlets M-TV and VH1. These two companies, Clear Channel and Infinity, together control one third of all radio advertising revenue, and collect 90% of the ad dollars in some individual markets (according to Eric Boehlert’s insightful series at www.salon.com). What this means to all record labels is that before, if one of their songs got dropped from a radio station it was only one station in one market. Now if there’s a problem, it is reflected across many stations in many markets. This can substantially affect record sales if the radio conglomerates are not pacified in whatever manner they choose, by the artists and by the record labels.

Radio is a very important component in rap record sales for a major label or distributor. It can mean the difference between being an underground artist hoping to sell units, or an international superstar able to transcend into film, television, and lucrative commercial endorsements and touring opportunities. It is the sole criteria for gaining spins on M-TV and their newly acquired BET (Black Entertainment Television, now owned by white corporate America). Radio play is also scrutinized by record retail chain stores that sell the bulk of urban and pop music. The importance of radio for a rap act that wants to achieve superstar status, can no longer be downplayed. Records can be sold without it, but with the amount of work it takes to do so, it’s far more sensible for the major label to keep the artist in the studio until a radio hit emerges. After the artist creates a radio hit (as if it’s that easy), it’s up to the label to promote it properly. For a major label, a crossover Pop hit can cost upwards of $500,000.

It is important for a small independent label to align itself with a trustworthy, well-connected, seasoned radio pro if it has a radio song. BE EXTREMELY CAREFUL HERE! Unfortunately, this is the most treacherous, shark infested area in promotion. Many of the promo people are unable to deliver what they promise because they lack the necessary relationships to advance anyone’s record, yet will take credit for records for which they were not solely responsible. And many will take money to promote a record even if the record does not meet the standards of radio airplay. It is VERY, VERY important to do research here and to get as many opinions, from as many legitimate people, as possible. An independent label should find out if the single has the potential before spending the money, and know with whom you are dealing to bring your record to radio. No one indie has credibility and relationships at all radio stations. It is important to check references here, both with other labels and with radio personnel. Not to worry, the legitimate people know how difficult it is to recognize them from the outside, and will not be offended at your investigation. Remember to build your single slowly, so that you are able to respond to its success, and to replace the people not producing the results you need or that they’ve promised. If you look at it logically, a radio station plays about 40 records an hour. People tune in to hear music. If they didn’t want to hear the same 40 songs over and over again, they wouldn’t listen to the radio. In that rotation, there are records that increase in play, and some that become old and are reduced. This leaves very few slots for new songs. Labels compete heavily for those few slots.

Now that I’ve gotten the warning out of the way and explained why independent labels need to be aware, here’s how a small independent label can effectively work a record. I will use Power Houze Records in Dallas, TX as an example. Their artists submitted a record to a local radio station in Dallas (one of two urban stations) for their "Battle Of The Beats" show. It won six weeks straight and got added into rotation because Marie Kelly (the PD) liked it and saw the listeners responding to it. We used this single as the preliminary promotional single to introduce Dallas to the artists and to the new label. Then we started at mixshow and college radio with a new single that was produced for Power Houze by Lil Jon (which comes after blitzing the streets and working the clubs with the single). We decided to hire a mixshow radio consultant (one that already works for a major label and has the connections needed to gain spins–again, do the research, not every one employed at a label is good at what they do) instead of doing it in-house. We expected to pay anywhere from $3,000 to $15,000 for the life of the single and are only targeting the south and then eventually the Midwest. The mixshow consultant will be the quarterback and work the single at radio, hiring additional independent promoters to get it added into rotation, if feasible.

Some smaller labels can’t afford to hire a radio consultant and choose to call radio themselves. Most hard (street) rap records can get about 7 spins a week at the mix show level just for being a very good record. Many stations only play non-commercial rap records after 6 PM, and usually there are only 2 shows devoted to rap exclusively, which are Friday and Saturday nights (mixshows). Many stations won’t play rap after 11 PM because they offer a "quiet storm" for a couple of hours. So unless you are Jay-Z, Puffy, or a major label with the deep pockets to pay for a spin an hour, 7 spins a week is the most a small, under-financed independent label can hope to get without independent promoters and someone with experience working the record. With limited connections, no favors to call in, and pockets that don’t run as deep as Universal, Def Jam, or Interscope, it will take some work to compete. But the added plus that national artists don’t have, except in one market, is the "local artist makes good" angle. The "home team" position. Work it regionally! Many stations are under fire right now for not playing more "local" music. And many markets, such as St Louis and Houston, are proud to play local music. Learn which markets can be penetrated at radio, and in which ones to save your money.

The next step up from mixshow is urban radio rotation. After the single gets play at mixshow and begins to grow in popularity, it hopefully grows into urban rotation (we are already assuming that you made a song that fits the current urban radio format). Major labels usually set a date for this called the "add date." Most smaller labels go for rotation when the timing is right for the record, not for the label. For an urban radio consultant to work the single regionally (big region, like Midwest and South) beyond the mix show level is a minimum of around $25,000 to $40,000 for indie promotion to see if listeners respond. On a national level, it’s ideal to get about 200 to 300 BDS spins weekly to start going for urban radio adds, so figure out where the single should be regionally in terms of BDS spins before moving into urban rotation. (BDS is Broadcast Data Systems, the company that tracks radio play at each of the 83 reporting stations–it’s free to add your record to BDS for tracking, but you have to pay to access the results unless your radio promoter has access, and the good ones do. There is a link at www.rapcointelpro.com for the address to add your record for tracking). Your radio consultant will advise when to start going for adds, if advisable. If your single is a hit, you’re looking at another $200,000 to make your song happen properly at urban radio on a national basis, so regionally is a fraction of that. Once it starts to take off, the mixshow DJs will back off as it starts to get regular spins in rotation on the station. Without a good single, the consultant’s hands are tied. Although part of me believes that with deep enough pockets, a record could get into rotation with my Grandmother farting to a fat beat. It is important to have your album in stores when you begin to get radio play so listeners can go buy it.

The number one excuse indies use when a record gets bumped after only a small amount of spins (any indie can get a few spins just from relationships) is that the record didn’t test well or "research" well. I believe that if it’s a good record and you pay to get it spun, it will get spun. It makes me sad that some PDs will make excuses and say a record sounds old, or the quality isn’t right for radio, blah, blah, blah. The bottom line is that if the single had Nelly’s radio budget, it would be multi-platinum too. Study this industry first, before jumping in with both feet. Learning the hard way is VERY expensive and tremendously time consuming and energy draining. Make sure that when going after radio, it is a radio record. Get feedback from as many people at radio and retail as possible to confirm that it is a radio song before spending any money. Then when spending money, spend slowly to make sure what is paid for, is delivered. It is impossible to compete at radio and be cheap, but it is important to be smart at radio to compete. Make sure the streets embrace the single first. The song must be built on a solid foundation and fan base, or it will be seen as not authentic: commercial exploitation of the rap genre. Remember Hammer, Vanilla Ice, or Skeelo?

To be involved with any radio station sponsored shows, the single needs to be on the playlist. The way it works is that the label gives the group to perform for free, in exchange for increased spins at radio. The station usually pays for the hotel, and the label pays for the transportation for artists coming from out of town. It is a promotional show. Often, a larger label will give up one of their well known artists for free, to secure the spot for a newer artist. Stations almost always agree to this because it makes them look good to have shows with all sorts of famous artists, not to mention the additional financial income from ticket sales. Those artists are rarely compensated with money, but do receive increased radio spins as well. Without a famous artist to use as leverage it’s important to be as supportive to the station as possible. Reminding them that eventually when this artist is famous, they will not forget the support they received along the way from individual people as well as radio stations. If you give your word, make sure you honor it. Giving a new artist 8 minutes to perform two songs really doesn’t cost the station anything, but it goes a long way in good will and they know this, whether it’s a big show or a local nightclub performance that the radio station sponsors. They will work with small regional or local labels who are professional, sincere, handle their business properly, and appear as if they will be around for awhile.

The politics at radio are insane. For example, a Top 10 city had 2 competing urban radio stations and it was a key market for Twista when I consulted him in 1996. He was signed to Atlantic at the time, and we had to keep Twista out of this major city, one of his key markets, during the promotion of Adreneline Rush, because if we brought him or the single to one station before the other we’d be banned from whomever got it last. It was better to let both radio stations discover the record on their own and maybe play it and then pay whomever played it. Stupid, huh? But very real. Had I not been told this by Atlantic radio staff, I would have marched right into that city with Twista and fucked up radio, not just for him, but for Brandy, Aaliyah, Lil Kim, and the Braxtons, all of whom had radio records out from Atlantic at that same time. Radio is very sensitive and when they get pissed off, the whole label suffers because they pull all the songs. And with the huge conglomerates in radio now, it’s even scarier: you might piss off a Clear Channel station in a small town in the middle of nowhere, and your record gets pulled from 247 of the Top 250 markets around the country where they own radio stations. Radio is so sensitive, that in respect to Twista’s career I did not mention the city or the radio stations from 6 years ago for fear they would retaliate and not play his new record. Another example: I heard recently from an independent label in the Midwest that station personnel were banned from a local artist’s show because he performed at a club on a night sponsored by a competing radio station. The single was pulled from their radio station and the staff was told they could not attend the show. Welcome to the world of radio promo. The worst part is that the radio station most likely thought this small label understood the game (and they should have before stepping onto the playing field) and had gone to the competition purposely. The reality was they were just happy to perform in front of any crowd, no matter who sponsored the night.

Payola is illegal, and very much the hot topic for radio these days. This is why no one is unable to say "pay Johnny Smith $2,000 a spin for each spin you want and we’ll play your record in rotation, in the middle of the evening drive when our ratings are the highest." Obviously, they can’t tell you that. And the only way to learn how it really works is by being down with a major label with a strong radio department going through it. This is difficult to do from outside of New York or Los Angeles. There are people in the music business, myself included, who consult labels to help keep them from making expensive mistakes in marketing, radio, retail, label operations, contracts, distribution, etc. This is not cheap, but in the long run, I guess the money saved more than pays for the consulting. A label consultant takes around 3 months to properly train staff and set up a release and they get anywhere from $50,000 to $80,000 (plus travel expenses) for this help.