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, September 20, 2007

Music Industry Most Hated

Reprinted from Bob Lefsetz's email newsletter

1. TicketMaster

Every day I get e-mail complaining about this helpful service. Whether it be exorbitant charges on cheap tickets or a charge for printing the tickets yourself, people are fed up.

TicketMaster is awaiting its Napster moment. When the public finally gets some traction, has an alternative, TM is going to be in serious trouble.

If Live Nation does its own ticketing it MUST bury the service charge in the price of the ticket. And, if it does this, where does this leave TicketMaster?

Live Nation has the chance to solve this entire problem. Will the agents and managers help them and agree not to commission the fee, or will they be glad that the blame is not placed upon them, and screw Rapino and his minions?

Ultimately, the high fees reflect badly on the artists themselves. They just don't know it yet...

E-Mail re this today:

Want to hear something that's FUCKED UP? I purchased tickets to a Bela Fleck and the Flecktones concert in Birmingham, AL through Ticketmaster. Face value of ticket - $43. Total Charge once it's run through Ticketmaster - $111.10 for two tickets. That's ridiculous, but I like Bela Fleck and want to see the show, so I'll pony up the cash. Apparently not enough people were willing to pay $55/ticket to see the band, ticket sales were sluggish, and they canceled the show. So I check my credit card statement today to confirm the refund, and it is only for $107. I call Ticketmaster and they say that even though the show was canceled by the artist/promoter, I am not going to be refunded the full amount due to a NON-REFUNDABLE processing fee. Are you fucking kidding me? Think about that for a second--that means that if 500 people have purchased tickets, Ticketmaster is pocketing $1,500 of the CONSUMER'S money. And the consumers being ripped off are the band's dedicated fans--people who bought tickets IN ADVANCE to guarantee entry to the show! What should I do the next time this band announces a show--wait and see if they sell enough tickets so that it looks like the show is going to happen, then buy my tickets?

Let's say that this happens in a couple of cities 2-3 times per week--you're talking over $150,000 per year pocketed by THE MAN. No wonder consumers are sick and tired of the music industry! Working with bands and having promoted shows, it infuriates me to think that this happens to enthusiastic music fans. If a band or promoter overshoots and realizes they are going to lose their ass if they go through with a show, they shouldn't further penalize the music fans they are already disappointing--they should absorb the "service fee". I'm actually glad this happened to me--a lesson learned so I don't piss off my patrons in the future. Thought you would enjoy this "fleecing of America".

Jason Rogoff

2. MTV

The music channel can trumpet its VMA ratings increase all it wants, perception is the VMAs were a train-wreck disrespectful to music, the veritable last straw/nail in the service's coffin.

It wasn't about ratings, it was about rebuilding MTV's franchise. But by going lowest common denominator, by going for the gold, i.e. cash, MTV blew its final chance to fall on the right side of this issue, i.e. MUSIC!

It's an entertainment channel now. The king of the teen reality shows. Hope it works for them, because their days in the music industry are DONE! As is MTV.com. If you want music, you go to Yahoo. Or AOL. MTV.com? RollingStone.com? They blew those franchises long ago.

3. Terrestrial Radio

What kind of crazy fucked up world do we live in where RADIO is hated MORE than the major labels?

One in which music fans have GIVEN UP on the major labels.

Radio used to be your friend, it used to be in bed with you. Now it's a tool of corporations you want nothing to do with. There's no honesty, research that delivers a constant, well, interrupted by endless commercials, drumbeat of empty calorie crap. Sure, it's free. But so is Net Radio. Blame whomever you want, but the terrestrial band is dead.

As for satellite? It barely ever got started.

Just like Whole Foods and Wild Oats, XM and Sirius will merge. And then talent/programming payments will plunge and what is aired will be ever narrower in focus, akin to terrestrial radio. Yup, Karmazin and Sirius are ultimately going to rule. It's almost endless repeats of the obvious on most Sirius channels. You expect the terrestrial guys who run it to do it any differently?

4. The Major Labels

They release crap and they sue their customers on the behalf of artists they don't pay. Perception is so bad, their future is fucked. Quality, long term/career bands want nothing to do with the majors! So, all they're left with is music of the moment, which is very hard and very expensive to break, and doesn't last long.

Want to know how deep the hatred for the majors is? The TECH REPORTER for the "New York Times", David Pogue, is beating them up for overpriced, evanescent ringtones. (http://pogue.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/09/13/a-baffling-new-phenomenon-customized-ringtones/) When you can't even pull the wool over the eyes of the fourth estate, always out of touch, usually not even caring about the music industry, you know you're fucked.

5. Steve Jobs

Mr. Jobs is on the brink of a Q rating meltdown (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/Q+rating).

Oh, he hasn't changed. Not much. But suddenly, all his wisdom and all his talent have resulted in Apple being top dog. And EVERYBODY shoots for the top dog.

Stunningly, Jobs isn't even aware of the coming backlash. As evidenced by his failure to foresee the early adopter reaction to the iPhone price drop.

There have to be fewer special events. Steve's got to do some press where he laughs at himself. The record labels and movie studios and TV networks have done SUCH a good job of depicting him as a tyrant that some of it is now sticking. Steve's RIGHT! But right isn't everything.

Steve has always walked a fine line between the industry and the fan. But now, it's getting him in trouble. He's isolated, he's alone, out in the desert.

In order to win in the twenty first century, first and foremost you have to be aligned with the public. The Tommy Mottola decade is over. It's not about your flashy life and power, if you believe that, you've watched too much "Cribs". It's about being honest and delivering for the public at large, with your cash and power being mere BYPRODUCTS!

Buying tunes from Starbucks via Wi-Fi on your iPod Touch? That doesn't get my hormones going. How about a subscription that can verify via Wi-Fi, i.e. when you enter Starbucks? How about more music for less money? How about further illustrating you're in OUR world, not THEIRS!

6. 50 Cent

We don't hate Kanye because he's not dangerous. 50? We're afraid to walk down the same side of the street with him.

He's become so focused on business, has such a bunker mentality, that we can no longer relate. We don't want to give you our money to make you RICH, we want to belong to your club, we want your music to ENHANCE OUR LIVES!

50 needs psychotherapy.

Stunningly, he was warm in the VMA pre-game.

Only one problem, most people didn't see it.

Yup, you're on MTV and people STILL don't see you!

7. Ticket Prices

Since music is free (and if you don't know this, you probably disagree with most of this screed), acts make their revenue on the road. Only one problem, THEY'RE GOUGING US!

Oh, we're paying to see who we want. But we don't want to see many people.

Used to be going to the concert was a decision just a little more major than going to a movie, they weren't that different in price. Now a show is an EVENT! As a result, there's a focus on production rather than music. There's auto-tune and instruments on hard drive, all in an effort to make it perfect. Live isn't perfect, live breathes. These events leave one cold. Once is enough. And they drain all the money out of the marketplace.

There's no concept of repeat business in today's concert industry. It's get all the money NOW! If you're doing it right, people will want to see you in the future. They'll be on your side if you don't rip them off. They'll keep coming back. See the Dave Matthews Band for instruction.

8. Wal-Mart

Often the only game in town. Where you can buy very little repertoire, a good deal of it censored to fit the company's criteria.

The Eagles are gonna get paid upfront, they're gonna move a lot of product, but it's never gonna burnish the Arkansas retailer's image. Then again, people stupid enough to still buy CDs are probably so out of it they don't care that their communities have been ruined by the giant, they just want low prices. And probably think Iraq was behind 9/11 too.

Who you're in business with says a lot about you. Choose your partners wisely.

9. Simon Cowell

At least he has the balls to go on TV. Where you'll never see Doug Morris or Edgar Bronfman, Jr.

Simon gets away with it though, because he's not dishonest, he tells what he believes to be the truth. Bottom line, mainstream music is SO bad that the catatonic minority would rather buy gussied-up wannabes than the incomprehensible works of art rockers and metal-heads.

In the modern era, you've got to have a public face. You've got to be able to take your hits.

10. Music Itself

Unlike Mr. Cowell, most in this industry are dishonest. They won't call out travesties, they're only interested in what sells. And unless you LIVE for music, you just can't find anything with meaning.

Albums are WAY too long. Our heroes don't deliver anymore. New acts are not as good as the legendary ones. There's a focus on everything BUT the music. FASHION ROCKS? No it doesn't.

The number one criterion is GOOD. If it's not good, just play the old stuff. That's what the teenagers are doing. That's why 20 million people want to see Led Zeppelin's show at the O2 Arena.

Led Zeppelin didn't play by the rules. They were not beholden to the man. They didn't play it safe. They were unique. But, despite all the foregoing, they were strangely listenable.

That doesn't describe today's music, and that's why today's music is in the dumper. And it doesn't matter if you agree with me, that's the PERCEPTION!

And we can blame everybody for this. The agents, the managers, the labels, MTV, radio... The only person we can't blame is the fan.

But now the fan has power. And he's mad as hell and isn't going to take it anymore. Won't anybody worry about the FAN?



We Don't Give A Shit About DRM

Anybody who cares about DRM is stealing the music in an unprotected format anyway. Rather than pissing the people off who ARE paying, just leave the DRM off. But really, this is a tempest in a teapot.

The Price Is Too High

I understand record revenues are tanking, but by raising prices, you're just encouraging people to steal. Don't tell me how much money, time and effort you put into recording your material. They spent a lot on the DeLorean too, and IT failed.

People own a lot of music now. They have a limited music budget. Focus on GETTING THAT BUDGET FROM EVERYONE! Not trying to get thousands of dollars from a few.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Interview - Oct 16, 2001

Reprinted from www.HitQuarters.com:

"Go out and establish a fanbase. Then let the music business people come to you."
Mike Caren is VP of A&R at Atlantic LA. Amongst the acts he has signed and works with, are US Platinum artist Trick Daddy and US Gold artists Sunshine Anderson, Trina and Drama.

How did you get started in the music biz and what has been your route to become an A&R?

I got started as a DJ when I was 12 years old and I did an internship at Interscope Records when I was 15. Then I 1993 started a high school and college marketing company called School Rules Promotions in Los Angeles.

Which qualities did you have to display to be appointed as an A&R for the first time?

My knowledge of HipHop and the marketplace. At the time I was also producing HipHop records for the Pharcyde, for Heltah Skeltah, for an underground artist named Saukrates and several local acts.

Which qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?

You need to understand the marketplace, you need to understand songs, to be able to recognize goods songs, understand production, to have forward thinking and be able to respond on the changing trends.

What proportion of your time is spent looking for new acts to sign, in comparison with the time spent dealing with already established acts in your roster?

50-50. There's always the wish there would be more time to do both.

How do you find new talent?

Through producers, managers, attorneys. I do a lot of research with regards to retail, to radio, to club venues, to press. Which is very effective.

I found Trick Daddy through research. He was selling records and getting airplay in Miami. Sunshine Anderson, I found her through a guy who works at a Urb Magazine who knew the producer.

Which kind of producers do you work with?

I generally work with producers who have some credits. Not so much with brand new producers who have no credits at all. I look for people who are hungry or have a fresh, unique sound. Many of the producers who have produced hits for me, didn't have a long repertoire of successful records before, but they do now. I talk to a lot of people and get recommendations. I look at independent records and see which ones have big productions. Even if I don't like the artist, I look at the producers of those records to see if they can work with my artists.

What do you look for in an artist?

I look for artists who have charisma. A charisma which shines through in their vocal abilities and in their stage presence. I generally look for artists that write, who have interesting perspectives and angles in their songwriting and in their subject matter. Great voices and original personalities.

How self-contained are your acts when it comes to songwriting?

For all of my acts we use outside songwriting to a degree, some more than others. They're all open to great ideas if they come. For the most part, I prefer artists that write songs themselves.

Do you pay attention to things like who the manager is, who the attorney is, who the team is, when considering signing a new act?

Absolutely. I definitely take everything into consideration.

From which people and departments at Atlantic do you need support before signing an act?

I like to involve everyone. It's always nice to have as many people as possible supporting the act. To a minimum, at least the A&R department’s support. Which I generally get.

What advice would you give unsigned acts on how to approach music biz people?

My advice would be; don’t approach music business people. Go out and establish a fanbase. Then let the music business people come to you.

How much input do you usually have on the productions?

Depending on the artist and on the track - a lot to a little. It varies since I have so many different projects. The best when I don't have to do anything, then I know I've chosen the right producer. That’s the bar to reach.

Do you accept unsolicited material?

Yes. I actually listen to every single thing, the day it comes in. 10 to 20 a day. I usually don't listen past the first song, unless it was good. But most of them are below par.

Has the amount of time given by labels to new acts before they break, decreased in the last decades?

I think artists are given much more time these days, before they are released, in order to really build it up for bigger releases. The labels rely more on artists to be successful with their first record, than they ever did before. The window of time and opportunity is smaller now than ever before.

If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?

I would create more outlets for new product, open up the narrow playlists of radio stations, and have more competition between the radio channels and between the TV stations. Radio now is too genre and niche specific, I’d like to see the formats change.

What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

I believe it still hasn't come. I've had many successes, but I try for much bigger ones.

What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?

I plan on making good music, still working in a creative capacity. Possibly start my own company.

Jerome Foster a.k.a. Knobody - Interview - Sep 27, 2005

This interview is reprinted from HitQuarters.com.

“My vision was to break Akon in the streets first and work our way towards cross-over,“
…says Jerome Foster a.k.a. Knobody, producer and A&R at SRC USA for Akon (US Top 10). He has also produced Jay Z, Big Pun, Mya, Lil’Kim and R.E.M.

Read about his path through the music industry, his work with new artists and the story behind the name “Knobody”.

How did you get started in the music business?

I grew up in New York, where my brother and I were part of a rap group. I was rapping and also producing tracks with my partner Sean C. At that time I was about 20 years old, and still at college. But I left after a couple of years so I could concentrate on music.

What kind of style were you?

We did what I would call hardcore hip hop; it wasn’t exactly gangsta but it was pretty dark. At the same time it was conscious, like 2Pac´s stuff, with subliminal messages.

Did you have a record deal?

We got a call from Big Beat, a label that used to be under Atlantic Records. They offered us a singles deal, but we didn’t take it.

How did they hear about you?

We had a record out. We did it all by ourselves – we had the records printed and we distributed them to underground record stores and gave them to a lot of DJs. Then we got a call from Funkmaster Flex – he’s a DJ on New York´s Hot 97. When the radio station started playing our record it created a buzz for us.

How come you switched to producing instead?

My brother didn’t want to continue with the rap group. But the last track that I’d produced for us I thought was really good. Sean and I took the track to Roc-A-Fella’s Damon Dash, who lived across the street. Dame took the track to Jay-Z, they all liked it, and I ended up producing “Can’t Knock The Hustle”, which became a hit record for Jay-Z on Roc-A-Fella.

How did that song actually get recorded?

I did the music - the backing track – and gave that to Jay-Z, he wrote to it, then we recorded his vocals. There was a space for a chorus – then Mary J Blige came in, had the idea for the chorus, and we recorded her. I worked with an engineer named Carlos Bess who I already knew well and who went on to become a big engineer doing a lot of the Wu Tang records.

How did you feel when it was all happening so fast?

Of course I was excited. Everybody was so excited to get Mary on the song. The label had contacted her; she’d heard the track and immediately wanted to do it, despite Roc-A-Fella being an independent record label and Jay-Z being unknown at that time. “Can’t Knock The Hustle” was released in 1996 as a single, it became one of his first hits and is now considered a classic Jay-Z record.

In 1997 my production partner Sean became A&R at Loud and he played one of my tracks to Big Pun who was just getting in the game then. We recorded Pun’s first hit, “Still Not A Player” and that became huge – my biggest record! The album sold 5 million copies.

Where did you go from there?

My name was buzzing in the industry and I was working freelance as a producer. The record companies were reaching reach out to me, so I did lots of productions – some songs with Mya for Interscope (the title cut for her album, “Fear of Flying”), then Lil´ Kim, Noriega…

How come you did two tracks for R.E.M.?

I was producing a track for Kool G Rap and I wanted to do something different. I wanted a rock group to perform the chorus, mixing rock and hip hop together. So a production partner of mine, Dahoud, took that track over to Michael Stipe from R.E.M. He loved it and agreed to do it. He then became interested in my work. He thought it was weird and different and he ended up asking me to re-touch two of his songs, “The Lifting” and “I’ve Been High”. I did, and they are indeed very different.

How do you make money as a producer?

The record companies tend to bring in numerous producers for a hip hop album. All of the songs get cut and then they decide which ones will go on the album. I get paid an advance for the production of a track. When the album is released, every time the record gets played I get royalties. I also get royalties for writing the music.

How come you moved on to being A&R?

I never would have thought I’d become an A&R. This actually goes back to the Big Pun record at Loud. The president of Loud, Steve Rifkind, became interested in me – simply because I produced his biggest record. We established a good relationship while I was doing productions for different artists and labels.

Steve had a lot of credibility in the industry, and in 2002 he wanted to start another label, so he called me in. At the time, I was producing my own groups. I played them for Steve and he wanted them as part of the launch of his new label, SRC. What really caught my attention was that he wanted me as a partner in the company.

Which rap acts did you start with?

There was David Banner from Mississippi, whose album went gold. Then there was Ric-A-Che from Detroit and Akon. We were working the Ric-a-Che and Akon records simultaneously. Both of their records were picking up, so we put them on the road together to carry each other.

How did you find Akon?

A guy by the name of Devine Stephens had Akon signed to his production company. Akon produced his records there. We linked up with Devine, listened to all his music, loved it, and said, “there´s a deal we need to do, there´s something different here.”

What caught my attention right away was “Lonely” and I said, “this kid is official; this is a huge record.” So right away we jumped on a private plane to Atlanta to meet him. Me and Akon hit it off right away. He knew of my work as a producer and there was this mutual respect for each other´s work.

Why did you start with “Locked Up” and not with “Lonely” as a first single?

My vision was to break Akon in the streets first and work our way towards cross-over, because his music ultimately appeals to a wide audience. "Locked Up" is a street record. I thought that was the place for us to start to get a fan-base, knowing that we had a record like "Lonely", which was more commercial, to follow it.

What was your involvement in the production of “Locked Up (Remix)”?

I thought "Locked up" was a huge record. Some people in the label agreed, some disagreed. Eventually, Steve and Akon gave me the go-ahead to make some changes. I got the rapper Styles P on the record and rearranged it a bit. I worked on what I call "drops" – points in the record where it feels different, to break the monotony and make it a little more interesting.

I hired Carlos to come in and mix this new version. My work was inspired by the original version of the song that Akon did. Without Akon’s original song, I would not have been able to do what I did.

Do you listen to unsolicited demos?

I have a huge pile of demos in my office and I try to listen to everything. You never know what you’re going to come across. And SRC is always looking for new artists. We started out with three, now we have nine.

Where will hip hop be going in the future?

Rap is huge. Elements of rap now touch rock music and R&B. Hip hop is in almost every bit of music. To me, rap has been unpredictable from day one and still is. If it wasn’t for rap/hip hop I wouldn’t be in the music business. It touches people’s souls in a weird way. It gives people a vision, a direction, and an outlook on life.

You can hear Jay-Z’s opinions about life, Big Pun’s… that’s what touches people, because they identify with it. These are personal statements, and that’s what people need. We didn’t really have that before. Bob Dylan, Nirvana, The Doors – periodically there were groups that did that. But now rap is full of it – artists reaching out and touching people.

What about the stereotype rappers?

I don’t believe there is a stereotypical rapper. There is Kanye West who acknowledges God in his music, David Banner who blends a street perspective with his faith, Common Sense who touches you on a conscience level, and there’s the intelligence and depth of Jay-Z…

There are many people who are daring to do something different. Look at OutKast , for instance – that’s a rap group. To hear “Hey Ya!” and their album was relieving because it was different. Some rappers get caught by the feeling that they have to go one way, but luckily we have those people that push the envelope. Without them hip hop would stay in one lane.

Can you still do productions for labels other than SRC?

Yes. Among my next productions are Kelis and Mario.

What’s your advice for someone wanting to be a producer?

One: stay focused. Two: work hard. Don’t just work. Work HARD. That’s what makes the difference.

What’s your own goal for the future?

To blend the concept of producing and running a record company. Like Babyface or Jimmy Iovine - to be a producer who deals with the politics of the music industry and masters that as well.

What’s the meaning of the name “Knobody”?

I went through a period when I did a lot of reading because I wanted to learn things on my own, not just what they taught you in school or what I learned in the street. I wanted to know who I am and what I am all about. “Knobody” means “knowing body”, “knowledge of Self”. I wanted to know my strengths and conquer my weaknesses. This had a big influence on me and it’s what keeps me humble in this business.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

YOU CAN'T HANDLE THE TRUTH… "Can Rap Regain Its Crown?" That's how USA Today addressed the Imus/Oprah backlash, with a June 17th weekend edition cover story that predictably declared rap to be not only morally and artistically bankrupt, but also to blame for the woes of the record industry.

The lead paragraph was just plain wrong. It declared that since The Eminem Show sold 7.6 million copies, " no rap album has sold so well." OutKast's Speakerboxx/The Love Below sold 11 million copies in 2003-2004. What's more, 20 out of 2006's top 50 albums, all selling platinum or better, feature hip hop production and use rappers throughout.

The article argues that rap is currently being outshown by country and metal. But 40 of today's Top 200 acts are either straight up rap acts or have strong hip hop identities. Of the 2006 platinum albums, yes, only seven would be called straight rap, but twice that number are hip-hop influenced and only nine could be called country at all and only three could be called metal.

After this shifty numbers game, USA Today brings in industry representatives, along with the other usual suspects, to blame rap's commercialism, misogyny, violence and racism for its supposed weak sales.

Commercialism? Virtually every genre of music has well-known artists selling beer and SUV's, yet USA Today singles out Snoop and 50 Cent for selling out with sneakers and bottled water. USA Today itself regularly carries ads for such products.

Is today's hip hop misogynist? It features 9 front women in its Top 20 while the modern rock chart, for instance, features none, not even Avril and Pink. Of the 14 female acts in the Top 40, 10 come from a hip hop background, but USA Today dismisses someone like Fergie as "quasi-hip hop" despite the fact that everyone knows her as the woman from the Black-Eyed Peas. At mid-summer, the Rihanna song with Jay-Z sat at the top of more charts than any other record.

It's almost laughable to read that metal and country are doing better than rap because it's too violent. This decade's rap has not been nearly as violent as rap in the 90s and that's obvious to anyone who actually listens. And metal and country have never been known for their non-violence. Carrie Underwood’s Some Hearts--loved to death for its explosive revenge fantasies—has been at or near the top of the country and pop charts for nearly two years.

Finally, the article argues that there's not enough variety in the music, a favorite fallback of anyone who doesn't really know what they're hearing. As we go to print, the Top 10 rap albums are by three Atlanta MCs (one self-proclaimed King of the South who gets away with his moniker for a uniquely authoritative flow, another a manic preacher with Haitian roots and the third a Macon, Georgia boy all about gravelly deliberation), some crunkers out of Atlanta mocking the double standard of rock versus rap, a Palestinian out of Miami who promises to take over, multi-platinum rappers out of Cleveland whose bestselling current single features another multi-platinum St. Louis guy raised up in Senegal, a Brooklyn rapper all over the radio right now for splitting a pro-woman single with Ne-Yo, a New Orleans-born/Bermuda bred dancehall act, a face-painting white rap duo from Detroit and a Baton Rouge kid with a brand new dance. None of them sound alike.

Like the rest of the music industry, rap's going through a transition. But it's not because the art lacks value. Nowhere else do we get so many defiant women's voices, nowhere else do we get so much celebration of lower income men and women, nowhere else is the power of unity so obvious. Rap is racist? All over the radio, Shreveport's Hurricane shouts out "a bay bay" to "white folks, gangstas and them thugs." Where else is that party going down?—D.A.