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...

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

By, Bob Lefsetz (To join Bob's email newsletter list, please go to www.lefsetz.com)

Christina Aguilera needed a protector, someone who would allow her to follow her own vision, she signed with Irving Azoff.

Phish was a band up from the streets, er, frat house floor, they ended up being managed by John Paluska.

Would Phish have been better off with Azoff? Would Aguilera have been better off with Paluska? No. Each had the perfect manager. Which one do YOU need?

By time Irving got ahold of her, Christina Aguilera was already a star. But it appeared her career was being run by her label. She wanted to call her own shots, she needed a buffer between her and her record company. Also, someone connected enough that they knew all the players and were owed big time favors. Is there an awards show Christina DOESN’T play?

Phish needed to belong to the people, not the system. They needed someone who could build them from the ground up. Their game was the road, not discs. They liked to improvise, it was about the concert experience. If they had played an awards show early in their career it would have killed them.

In other words, you don’t need the heavyweight, well-connected manager to make it. Unless you’re playing the traditional radio/TV hit single game.

If you’re playing the old wave game, sign with someone who’s got the chops, who knows the ropes, who isn’t reinventing the wheel so much as applying what they know to your situation. You might grow, but your handler, he already knows the game.

Whereas if you’re not signed to a major label, don’t want to get signed to a major label, don’t make Top Forty singles, then you don’t need a manager connected so much as one who is savvy and HUNGRY!

The established management players are akin to mini-conglomerates, they’re the new labels. They want to get paid, right away. If you’re not delivering cash, if they sign you, you’re not getting much attention. Or, you’re getting attention from the untested newbie. If that newbie is truly great, break off and do it yourself, as Irving Azoff did with the Eagles. Otherwise, you’re probably going to get lost in the shuffle.

If you’re starting from ground zero, no name manager will probably be interested. But that won’t hurt you.

What do you need most if you’re a developing act?

Gigs. You need someone to get on the horn, go down to the venue, and cajole and connive ’til they get you a shot. Then you must deliver, but it’s the manager that creates/midwives the opportunity.

Where are you going to find such a bloke?

Look around you, he’s probably already a friend. Or that dude who comes to each and every show and hangs backstage and won’t leave until you do. THAT’S your manager.

Oh, don’t throw out your instincts. After all, Paluska went to Amherst, he’s no dummy. But find someone committed who will do the job for you.

So much of what Phish did, they did first. Or their spin on an event made it unique. They did their destination festivals. They released live albums of their shows, and then downloads. Elektra didn’t deliver these, rather their manager and agent, Chip Hooper, did.

Yup, Chip saw the numbers, he wanted to represent Phish. He didn’t care about record sales, but TICKET COUNTS! Most agents feel the same way today, but fifteen years ago, the focus was on the label.

Yes, after you get your manager, and he gets you gigs, he tries to get you an agent. And the agent you want is not the one with the name, the one who wines and dines you so much as the one who BELIEVES in you.

As for music… In today’s market, you’ve got to allow recording and trading, you’ve got to give the music away for free, you’ve got to let the seed grow into a tree. If you can’t get significant airplay, THIS IS THE ONLY WAY!

It’s not the way of the major label, and not the way of the old line manager. But it’s your way. You know the Net, you’ve got friends, both online and offline. You have to create something incredible and give your peeps the tools to spread the word. Not through fake incentives, you’ve got to trade purely on their belief, your honesty.

It’s all about the music when you’re doing it yourself. Everything must be subservient to the music. And you must create the best situation to experience the music.

When Phish played the Santa Monica Civic ten plus years ago, the police frisked the attendees. Paluska vowed to never play the building again, and his band DIDN’T! He didn’t shrug his shoulders and say he couldn’t do anything, that it wasn’t his fault, he took matters into his own hands, to defend his band’s relationship with its audience.

And when Phish started selling its music online, it offered FLAC files, so its fans could own the best sounding versions. Isn’t it funny that EMI is offering 256 kbps AACs supposedly sometime in the near future when Phish sold CD quality YEARS AGO!

So don’t lament that the manager with the name isn’t interested in you. There’s a good chance he might not be right for you.

Inexperience is no longer the handicap it used to be. Drive and appreciation of the band/fan relationship are paramount for today’s touring acts. That’s more about instinct than big time experience. Furthermore, you want someone who can develop on the fly.

Maybe you outgrow your manager, you end up signing with one of the big boys, who wrings out every last dollar for you.

Or maybe you stay with your guy, who delivers for you.

Or maybe your guy makes a deal with Irving, and uses Frontline’s power to get you what you want and need.

It’s a new game. It’s the sixties all over again. The wheel is being reinvented. Don’t be hamstrung by the old wave players and the old wave rules.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Don’t Believe the Hype. A Hip-Hop Mogul Says It’s Propaganda.
Source: NY Times
Russell Simmons has long reigned as one of the entertainment industry’s most capable promoters. At 47, as the co-founder of the Def Jam Recordings label, Mr. Simmons still tirelessly hawks a portfolio of ventures, from financial services to an energy soda.
His best-known recent success has been Phat Farm, the hip-hop-flavored clothing line he founded in 1992. Early last year, the Kellwood Company, an apparel maker based in Chesterfield, Mo., purchased the firm for $140 million, retaining Mr. Simmons as chief executive of the division.
But in a civil deposition last July, he provided some unusual insights into fashion marketing. Under questioning from a plaintiff’s lawyer as part of a lawsuit involving a longtime business partner, Mr. Simmons told of what he described as “the amount of hype that goes on when I discuss the value of Phat Farm,” according to the transcript.
“It is how you develop an image for companies. So in other words, you give out false statements to mislead the public so they will then increase in their mind the value of your company,” Mr. Simmons said.
The strategy seemed to work. In February 2003, for instance, Mr. Simmons appeared on CNBC saying that Phat Fashions was “doing $350 million” in sales. In fact, Phat Fashions’ revenue for 2002 totaled $14.3 million, according to court papers and the company.
His testimony might be regarded as remarkably candid or remarkably troubling for any executive. The fashion business has never been known for its sincerity, though there is no suggestion that Mr. Simmons or Phat Fashions, which was a private company and is the parent of the Phat Farm brand, ever misled investors or business partners.
But Mr. Simmons’s testimony is particularly striking in light of the public position he occupies. While he earns his paycheck as a media and entertainment kingpin, he has carved out a role for himself as a potent political activist and credible social commentator.
In a statement, Rush Communications, the corporate parent for his various enterprises, said his testimony “reflects his exasperation and frustration at being dragged into a lawsuit he was not a party to.” It said the deposition veered away from the topics it was supposed to cover, and that he was preoccupied with a family matter that day which “caused Russell to make some offhand and self-deprecating comments about his promotional activities.”
“The offhand comments that Russell made, yes, if he had to do it over again, he wouldn’t have chosen those words,” the statement said.
Rush added that Mr. Simmons’s role as an entrepreneur marketing his brands “is not the same activity as social activism.”
Mr. Simmons was deposed in proceedings arising from a civil case in which Def Jam and Lyor Cohen, then its chairman, were held liable for reneging on a deal to let another label release a CD featuring a Def Jam artist. Def Jam, which is owned by Vivendi Universal, and Mr. Cohen, a longtime friend and business partner of Mr. Simmons, are appealing the verdict, which was delivered two years ago.
In the meantime, however, the rival label, TVT Records, has been inquiring into whether Mr. Cohen understated the value of his 16 percent stake in Phat Fashions in a statement of his net worth that was submitted to the court several months before the sale to Kellwood. Lawyers for Mr. Cohen have said he was not aware of the contemplated sale price at the time, and Mr. Simmons affirmed that view in the deposition, which had been sealed until recently. Mr. Cohen is now chief of the domestic music unit of Warner Music Group. Mr. Simmons, who sold Def Jam to Universal Music Group in 1999, recently started a new label in partnership with that company.
In his testimony, Mr. Simmons makes clear that he views himself as the chief marketer of his fashion line. He said the figures in a 2003 Newsweek article reporting Phat Farm’s sales at $340 million “accurately reflected my optimism or my brand position statement, a good brand positioning statement.”
“In other words, did I say it? I was hoping it would sound good.” He adds, “maybe by that year the gross numbers were there. I don’t know.”
(Rush said the figures apparently referred to 2002 sales of the brand at the retail level, not revenue received by the company. Mr. Simmons’s comments to CNBC appear to reference the same thing.)
Throughout his testimony, Mr. Simmons appears unreserved, offering occasionally lengthy answers and cursing. Yet at another point, shortly before he was to be asked about comments he made to The New York Times in 2003, he asked, suddenly: “It is not going to come out, right, about me lying to everybody? Right?”
Mr. Simmons’s words and various written statements also provide a glimpse into the economics of apparel. More than a decade after Mr. Simmons introduced Phat Farm, so-called urban lines rank among the hottest sectors of the fashion industry. A variety of music-inspired fashion lines have sprouted, including Sean John from Sean Combs, Rocawear from Jay-Z and Damon Dash and the Fetish line from Eve.
For the most part, these firms, like many in the fashion business, don’t make their own clothes. Instead, they make money by charging fees or royalties amounting to a percentage of the revenue generated by manufacturers who license their names. These manufacturers make and sell the goods at wholesale prices to department stores and merchants.
Many of the brand-name fashion houses in Paris and Milan run the same way. But when chatting about their financial performance, many fashion executives - and news reports - prefer to cite wholesale revenue; that is, the revenue received by the manufacturers. In other cases, they quote the revenue received by retailers who sell the goods to consumers, a far bigger number.
“Hip-hop is about aspirations, it’s about keeping up with the Joneses. There is a competitiveness about who can own the most and be the richest,” said Emil Wilbekin, a former editor of Vibe magazine who is now vice president of brand development at Marc Ecko, another urban fashion house. “Now that urban is becoming mainstream, people are going to pay more attention to the details of the finances, the real worth. Before this time, no one took the businesses seriously enough to care.”
Indeed, Mr. Simmons has long spoken of the difficulty he faced in marketing the brand to retailers, who initially viewed his fashions as a fad.
“There was lack of vision in fashion just like in music,” he said in a statement provided by Rush. “I launched Phat Farm in 1992, and it took a lot of work for me to persuade buyers that there was a market for my brands, which we’ve made a success.”
The multiple ways of accounting for sales sometimes seems to confuse even Mr. Simmons. In his 2001 autobiography, “Life and Def,” for instance, he explains that “last year the company did $150 million. This year we are projecting, conservatively, $225 million in wholesale revenue.” He goes on to say that “when reporting revenue to the press, most companies use the retail number” which he estimates would amount to roughly double the figures he cited.
Asked in his deposition whether he believed the numbers in his book, Mr. Simmons said no. Then, last week, Rush said Mr. Simmons’s figures in fact appeared to refer to total retail sales for 1999 and 2000, and that they had been described in the book as wholesale by mistake.
In general, Rush said, Mr. Simmons has described the company’s fortunes depending on the context. In speaking with the news media, the company said, he often used retail sales “in order to keep the brand on equal footing with competitors, who typically released what appeared to be retail sales figures to the media.”
“To use numbers that would not have enabled consumers to compare like with like would have misled the buying public and, at the same time, would have been a foolish and unnecessary self-inflicted wound to the Phat Fashions brand,” the statement said.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

By, Bob Lefsetz

1. They tell you what to do.

Are you following this Kelly Clarkson flap? She made an album from the heart, that she wrote. What did the label do? They shelved it for months, hoping she'd come to her senses and record some more upbeat hit tracks just like the ones she recorded before, positive not NEGATIVE! Who wants to hear about Kelly's love losses, no one in the audience ever broke up with their boyfriend!

Now you might think Kelly is a mindless twit, with a voice only. But she'll tell you she wrote hit records for others. And, she's sold a FUCK OF A LOT OF RECORDS!

Used to be selling records gave you leverage... If KELLY CLARKSON has no leverage, what hope is there for you, someone selling ONE TENTH the number of discs!

2. They're only in the disc business.

Well, we'll call it recorded music. If they ever figure out how to monetize Net acquisition, maybe their fortunes will change. But for now, the label only makes money if they sell your music. They'll do whatever it takes to sell your music, TODAY, to run up the value of the company so it can be sold to someone else. They'll whore you out to corporations (say this to yourself, "Verizon is not my friend."), release multiple singles (if they get any traction at all), do whatever's best for THEM, not YOU! Your career...they might pay lip service to it, but they don't really give a shit, the employees are probably not going to be IN this business by the time your next album comes out.

As for labels getting a piece of your touring income, other revenue sources, do you want to marry someone DESPERATE?

3. They don't pay you.

Oh, they'll give you an ever-shrinking advance. But royalties? No one sells enough albums to go into royalties anymore. And they own the rights to the recording. Terry McBride's got it right, you want to control all the rights, so you can license INSTANTLY! So you don't have to get someone on the phone to say YES to YOU about YOUR music!

Oh, they'll give you money to get started, but it's like making a deal with the Mafia, they own you, forever.

4. There's no one working there.

Most analysts believe Warner cut its workforce to make its balance sheet look better, to stanch losses, hopefully report profits. In other words, it's got nothing to do with whether these people were NEEDED, whether they had jobs integral to the company, just what their salaries and benefits were. Oh, the company can outsource these jobs, but when you go for a meeting at the label do you really want to sit in an empty boardroom with a speaker phone on a conference call with a zillion temporary workers? Whose allegiance is not to this company, hell, why should it be, they've got to make their nut every month, they've got OTHER CUSTOMERS!

So, going to the building to work the label...that's a passe concept.

And, what if they don't outsource/get independent contractors to do the work? Will it be done at all? And, how well, by the overworked, multitasking employees still left?

5. They just care SOMETHING hits.

The label doesn't give a shit about you hitting, they just care that SOMETHING breaks through. And as soon as it does, your work project goes to the bottom of the pile. If you own your own copyrights, own the label, you're ALWAYS the priority!

6. They control physical distribution, not online distribution.

They can get your disc in stores. Then again, CAN THEY?

Online, distribution is close to flat. Make a deal with CDBaby, they can get you on all the online services, can get you paid. You don't need to be with a major to get into the online store.

As for albums... Do you really think albums will be the definitive format in the future?

7. Tour support is a thing of the past.

Not completely. But it's just about gone. And more than ever you need to break on the road. If you're doing all the work, why shouldn't you get all the profit?

8. They only want you once you've proven yourself independently.

If you've created the base, why give up control now?

9. MTV is dead.

You don't need a big budget video which won't be aired anywhere anyway. You just need a digital camera and Final Cut Pro, maybe even iMovie, and you can create a video for almost nothing and put it up on YouTube where it's got as much presence, as much priority, as the majors' efforts. And, you control the budget. Zillions aren't spent, and they're not charged back to you.

10. Terrestrial music radio is dying.

If Pink can go to number one at Top Forty and languish at the bottom of the SoundScan Top Fifty, selling 15k a week, how important is that airplay ANYWAY? As for other formats... Hot AC doesn't sell many records, and AOR is an oldies format and the Alternative panel has shrunk to almost nothing and Active Rock...that's not selling tonnage either.

11. They specialize in saying no.

Music is now about inspiration, made by the seat of one's pants. You have to do business the same way. In this fast, ever-changing world, you need to take risks, you've got to make snap decisions, you've got to be able to say yes, QUICKLY! The major is against innovation, it's hard to get an answer AT ALL, never mind YES!

You want to give your new track away for free? No! They won't even let you SELL IT if it competes with the track they're working at radio/in the marketplace. It's not about artistry, but commerce.

But, if all you care about is commerce, if you want all your money up front, if you want to whore yourself out to corporations, do whatever it takes to sell your lame, paint by numbers built by committee music, then sign with the major label. I hope you achieve your goal and get instantly rich, because after this instant, you'll be done.

Visit the archive: http://lefsetz.com/wordpress/

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


Reprinted from: http://www.thealistmagzine.blogspot.com (my favorite blog about Hollywood and everything urban on that coast). This is for those of you with the acting bug:
In Hollywood it's all about the deal. But how are deals made? How do you meet the right people? We asked a few insiders to give us the inner workings of doing the deal--from film and TV to mobile entertainment.

Get Connected: "I’m not going to say it’s totally about connections, but they help. You meet the right people by being in the right circuits…but more importantly you have to know what you want first. An assassin can’t be a good assassin without a target," says rapper/actor/filmmaker Sticky Fingaz (Kirk Jones) who has been bringing up Hollywood lately making Hip-Hop flavored deals (see http://thealistmagzine.blogspot.com/2007/04/64.html). "Then you go after it by any means necessary. You have to be dedicated. You can’t let roadblocks stop you, just go around them to make yourself stronger. But, if you have an incredible project, be sure to send it to my company Major Independents so I can take a look!"

But networking doesn't always lead to deals. Says a former Hollywood agent, "A bunch of schmoozing is necessary. [But] at the end of the day, people go where the heat is. If you have heat, everyone wants to be your best friend."

But being in the right place can help. Comediennes Frances Callier and Angela Shelton (aka Frangela), who are co-creators, co-writers, producers and stars of a pilot coming to Fox this fall tentatively titled "Frances and Angela," say being in L.A. is a major plus. "It's an industry town. So most of the time when you go out you end up running into people you know who are in the industry and talking to them--which we're not sure is schmoozing, but it happens a lot. At the end of the day, people want to work with people they like, so, being outgoing and showing up to people's parties and performances is very important we think."

But where are the good spots to see and be seen? "We love the Ivy..You are almost guaranteed to see famous people there, but as far as deal making/networking, I've never seen anyone walk over to a table and start talking business," says Shelton and Callier. "People usually respect people's lunch/dinner time privacy. In our experience we do more networking at shows, our own shows obviously, and other people's, here in L.A., and it's always good to mention to people who you know that they know, make the world smaller. Like, when you know that a friend of yours just met with someone and then you run into them somewhere, let them know you know that person...In terms of places? We think networking works anywhere you can hear yourself and other people without screaming, and the key element to striking up a conversation with someone is have something to tell them about-- a project or something that you're doing."

And, of course, it's important to stay in the loop. "More than 80% of my business is from referrals. I do attend some industry events and also network online, but I don't consider myself a schmoozer by any means!," says Jamila White, "The E-Commerce Diva" (http://www.ecommercediva.com/. "One of the best ways I've found to get in front of higher ups is to do high-quality, innovative work. It gets noticed. Stay in touch with people you've pitched before, even if it didn't work out at first. Sometimes a 'no' one year is a 'yes' the next year, so follow up is key. Persistence pays off."

How to Pitch: So what makes a good pitch? "The way I like to pitch is doing complete projects," says Sticky. "It’s just now on my third movie that I’m starting with the traditional script form versus shooting the entire movie myself then selling. Most people start with a script and pitch it...Nothing works better than a finished product because whenever a studio or distributor is involved, showing them what you’ve done is best. I always use stars in my films because that makes it easier to sell."

Add Callier and Shelton (http://frangela.com/), who are regulars on VH1's Best Week Ever and CNN's "Showbiz Tonight": "Things that help us in a pitch are: being high energy, being extremely confident in ourselves and our abilities, being fun and funny (we think that a lot of meetings are more about people walking away liking you and having a good feeling about you than the actual substance of the idea--because the idea can be worked on but if they don't want to work with you it won't matter what the idea even is), and being as specific as possible or as clear as possible--have a clear log line and be able to describe your idea clearly and fully/with specifics."

Pace yourself, say Shelton and Collier. "We've also found it better to end the meeting ourselves and early, no matter how fun you are people usually don't want to be in a meeting longer than 45 minutes maximum, so we try to feel out the energy in the room and leave before it starts dipping." Addsa former Hollywood agent, "Prevailing wisdom is that you should be able to pitch a movie in one sentence and the listener will get it. Often, the writer has to be able to sell the exec on the idea and the belief that the writer can deliver. That's why execs will hire a writers that have been produced. No one gets fired from hiring a writer from 'Cheers.'"

Make sure to think about the viewer, says filmmaker Rel Dowdell (www.reldowdell.com/). "Appeal. Does the concept sound like it has a wide appeal? Can it have appeal outside of the designated target area?," he explains. Callier and Shelton agree: "Clarity and excitement and being able to create a visual picture in people's minds about the project, so that they can 'see' what it would be like and who it would appeal to without you having to tell them or convince them of it. "

"For the web sites related to television or film programming, the most successful sites are the ones that extend the original experience for the use--additional content or interactivity--instead of simply regurgitating the plot synopsis and listing cast and crew," says White.

Why Do Pitches Fail: "Most pitches fail because they don't address the core needs of the person or organization being pitched. Too many folks start talking or pitching before they have taken the time to listen and identify needs," says Sticky. But says former Hollywood agent, getting a greenlight can depend on a number of factors. "It can depend on what studio execs are looking for, if the execs can visualize the pitch easily, what the execs ate for lunch and if any talent is attached," says the ex-agent. "The right representation can mean that you can get your project in front of the right people."

It's all in the way you pitch, says Dowdell. "Some pitches fail because they may not sound interesting to the producer," he notes. "You may have a great idea for a film, but if you as the writer or director can't make it sound compelling to the one who can green light it, a financier or a producer, your concept of vision may unfortunately never come to fruition."

Practice makes perfect, say Callier and Shelton. "Things that have hurt us in meetings: not being prepared enough with specifics about the pitch, not doing enough research on the people/company you're meeting with and their current and past projects, finding out if you know people in common, getting off topic for too long, staying in the meeting too long, being too desperate sounding (asking for the opportunity instead of making it clear that you're offering them an opportunity--without being an arrogant dork about it of course). "

Step by Step: "You just have to be patient and be ready for anything. It took Train Ride over seven years to finally come out. Sony ended up distributing it. It's been one of their most successful African-American films ever," says Dowdell, who has two projects coming up--one for television, and one for the big screen. "You must have a good lawyer representing you. That's the first thing you need. Make sure the lawyer is a reputable entertainment lawyer. It's very important to get someone who specializes in that kind of law. Many filmmakers make the mistake of getting a regular lawyer to rep them in entertainment deals. There are many loopholes that a good entertainment lawyer must know about in order to get you as the talent the best possible deal."

Each deal is different. "Our deal for our own sitcom was not a typical deal we've been told," say Frances and Angela. "We performed a development showcase for industry and then we got a development deal and talent hold from that show from Fox network--we have been told that usually people get deals through studios first and then pitch to network, so ours was sort of backwards. Other than that, it's our understanding that every deal is different, it depends on if you're a writer or an actor or both or a producer, or a non-writing producer, etc. "

When & If To Play the Race, Sex Card: It depends on what you're pitching and to whom you're pitching. "For the most part, execs look at the African-American market as a specific market and they only have a few of those slots to fill on their schedule or film slate," notes the ex-agent. "It's infrequent to see a Black person write a script for a mostly or all-White cast or a woman write for a male lead." Dowdell says to play up the project's marketability. "Well, one thing I can tell you is that the case especially now with African-American films is that Hollywood is seeing that they are very marketable," he notes. "African-American films are usually made for relatively low cost, but turn a profit often. I think the main thing at this point is just to make sure that we as African-Americans are not abusing our position by making stereotypical fare which all-too often graces the screen, both the movie screen and the television screen."

Bottom line: Be who you are and play up your strengths. "We have never tried to hide that we were African-American women through make-up or fake names or something," say Shelton and Callier. "We don't pitch projects, generally, that we think only appeal to one kind of audience, we think that our sensibilities are broader than that, but we're not sure what the people we are pitching to walk away with in terms of these issues. "