Where did you grow up?
I was born and raised in Florida, in the Sunrise, Tamarac area, Broward county. My mom was from Connecticut, my dad was from Baltimore. They linked up down here and poof, I was born and raised. Spent my entire life in broward until I moved to NY.
When do you remember first becoming interested in music?
My first interest [in music] was at the end of middle school, highschool. I started doing CD burning, with my buddy Jayme Nunez. This was probably 2004/2005. If you remember back then it would take 7 to 8 hours to burn one CD. My friend Jayme had a multi-disc burner and I would go sleep over at his house every Friday and Saturday night and we would just go through these torrent files of unreleased 50 Cent, leaked versions of whatever. This is how you got different versions of music. And we would put together these never-before-heard Lil Wayne songs or 50 cent or Ja Rule. Me and Jamie would just put these CDs together and sell them. Bootlegs. We would go to barbershops, wherever we knew that sold bootlegs. We would go to this place, Swap Shop, if you’re from South Florida you’ll know this, but it was basically this place where everyone would have a spot and just sell whatever they wanted to sell. And we would go there and just sell CDs to people selling CDs, like ”yo these are some exclusive shit! No one got these songs.” Back then, people were not technologically advanced, people didn’t know how to go on these torrent sites and just down the entire discography of Lil Wayne. Like thousands of songs. That's how I really got into it, selling music on the mixtape side and that eventually led me to Wiz Khalifa. And that's really when I started really diving into finding new artists. Started off with selling these mixtapes just to make a buck, back then I was just a hustler, I would sell used golf balls. I used to live on a golf course and I would scoop them out of the water, I was really into that shit, just making money.
How much was a mix CD going for back then?
Like 20 to 25 bucks. I would make like $300 to $400 a week and you know I'm like in middle school 8th grade 9th grade. And that's like making 20 racks [as an adult], buying all the shoes I wanted. I was fresh as fuck haha. In my school there was this super big interest in music, especially in high school. When I got to high school, my freshman year, that's when I was really selling these CDs. In highschool people had cars. Middle school kids don't have cars. So in high school I could sell to the upperclassmen, ya know, even when you had your learners permit at 15 you could drive. And where I’m from everyone liked to have fire music in their car so there was more demand. That was really it, but in 2006 when that started to die out and people started to burn their own CDs, I came across Wiz Khalifa and all his vlogs and other shit and I was like “I’m all in”, this is what I want to do. But ya when you are burning CDs you’re trying to find new fire shit. If you just downloaded 50 Cent’s greatest hits, or had all his albums you wouldn't need a CD from me. So I was trying to find stuff that you couldn't get on a regular CD. That's when it started to compound on itself. I found Wiz and this Pittsburgh scene and MySpace was coming out, Twitter was starting. I followed Wiz’ myspace and I was just all in, because I was a stoner kid and he was really talking about shit people weren't really rockin’ with, people weren't really saying “hey I smoke weed” back in 2007.
So you got into music by getting into the music business ‘informally’ how did you get into the music business FORMALLY?
Well I formally got into [the music business] by starting to write for blogs. I started to write at Daily Chiefers but then I started to want to write for other outlets like DJ Booth and ELEVATOR. I figured it was a way to really network with people. I just thought to myself, ELEVATOR DJ Booth is bigger than Chiefers, ELEVATOR is bigger than Chiefers, in my head there was like a ceiling for what I could access just from Cheifers. So like Z let me write for DJ Booth and you let me write for ELEVATOR. And I wrote for DJ Booth until they kinda stopped posting music and switched over to the long form stuff.
How did you first get hooked up writing for Daily Chiefers to then become the owner of it?
Kelvin from Rolling Loud, put out a tweet under the Chiefers Twitter account, that they needed writers. And I just knew them as a South Florida blog. At the time I really wanted to write for sports, but I realized it was actually harder to write for sports than it was for music. Which sounds crazy, but the music industry was just easier for me to access than the sports shit. There were blogs where you could just write about music and get respect, whereas if I just started my own sports blog it wouldn't really get any respect with ESPN and all this other stuff that were occupying that space. So I thought it would be really hard for me to get in so I just thought I’ll write for a music blog on something I love doing. And I’ll build a resume and then boom I’ll be a sports broadcaster. Start with music, get a resume and then intern somewhere. But I just started loving writing about and finding music and just ended up really taking over Chiefers around 2013/2014. Then this guy Sickamore , who did stuff with Travis Scott, I had reached out to him, like I’m not sure what I could do for this industry but I think I'm pretty good at it and I put a list together of all these names of artists that are doing millions of streams and timestamps when I post it. And he was like ya let's get on a call. So Sickamore was really like my introduction into the industry.
What did Sickamore have to say when you had a call with him?
Oh man, he was like “yo you’re on to a lot of shit. I don't even think you know what you're doing.” And I'm like “ya I don’t”, I just wanna make this blog big. And he was like let's sit down. He was managing this Rihanna tour with Travis Scott opening, and they had a date in Miami and he told me to come meet him. I didn't even really know what an A&R was, and I had found this podcast with Sickamore on it called It’sTheReal where they kinda explained what an A&R was, and I was like “I’m this, I can do this”. Find music, understand what it's doing. So Sickamore sat down with me and told me ‘what you are doing, people get paid to do. You’re kind of on the research side, but people get paid a good amount of money to do what you do. And he told me to send him music every week. And you know me. I just started sending him daily emails and texts about new music. So he connected me with Todd Moscowitz who started Alamo and that's really how it started and that's where I’m at.
What do you do day-to-day at Alamo?
So I’m an A&R at Alamo, but I do a lot there, I help out wherever I can. I’ve been doing this for 10 years so I know a lot of people and just connect with anyone however I can. But I do a lot of A&R work, a lot on the research side, but I go to studios and help artists put songs together, I do a little bit of everything.
How would you describe the job of an A&R to someone who doesn’t know?
Well, a normal day of an A&R is listening to production, listening to records, finding new music, watching different platforms and outlets like Youtube, Worldstar, ELEVATOR, Say Cheese and looking for new talent to bring to the label and sign. And ultimately when you sign it, you have to be the leader of the vision. So you have to come up with the creative, the aesthetic, here's the producers and videographers we should use. So I tell people you’re kind of like the liaison between the artist and the label, so whatever the artist needs, you do. Do you need songwriters? Ok here’s these song writers. Do you need production? Ok, here's some producers. Do you need a videographer? I’ll go get the videographer. Do you need studio time? I'll get you studio time. So I do all that on a daily basis. On top of that, you're looking for new artists to sign, running projects, clearing beats. Which, in layman's terms, is talking to lawyers and producers and setting terms, telling producers like ok we can give you $5k for the beat, 50% publishing and 3% or points of royalties on the record etc. It can get way more difficult and complicated than that, but just as a standard baseline example. There's so many rates now with different internet services but like a typical rap record 50% of the publishing to the producer and 50% to the artist. It’s not like a rock record with like who did the most or like ok you did the drums you get 10% you did the baseline you get 10%. Thankfully I’m in the rap world with that.
How would you describe how you work on the artist side of things opposed to the business of the label?
The main thing I like to do is help them find their sound. Like working with Comethazine, it was finding a niche in the community. You know he was on ELEVATOR early, and he was kind of making records all over the place. We would just keep making music, and like “ok this particular producer is bringing out this particular kind of sound, that’s really kind of good and let’s just stick with this for a bit.” The same thing kind of happened with Slimelife Shawty and we kinda got in with this producer 3Lthagod. It’s kind of trial and error. You can't just say “hey this is the best producer we need to work with”. No, you kinda give an artist a bunch of beats and you start to see, especially if you have a true artist ear, you see how easy it becomes for them to make records on certain productions. Whereas other ones, they get stuck at points, maybe it might get too complicated, or maybe they need more breathing room in a production, maybe the bpm needs to be dialed back so the artist has room to make their own flow. Some productions force you to have to flow a certain way because the bpm or beat has a certain pattern. You gotta kinda stay within these guidelines or I call them “train tracks”. Sometimes the productions are slower and you kinda have wider train tracks where you have room to do a little bit more and still stay within the framework. That's the most important part, it's a step by step process. You don't want to do too much else unless you got the first thing right. Like the label, it starts with A&R, if you don't have good music, nothing else matters, the marketers don't matter, the promo people don't matter, the digital people don't matter. If you don't have good music you’re just marketing mush. Then once you get the good music, what's the aesthetic, now we're looking at videographers and photography. What do you want your image to be portrayed as? And that's not like oh you got cool boots on like “oh he's got cool boots on”. Look at Rod Wave, he’s telling a story with his music videos. He doesn’t really use social media like that so his music videos are the only moment that you get to see a glimpse of his life, because he's not posting IG Lives or Instagram Stories. So it's like where do we find that aesthetic fit for every artist? That’s what comes after the good music and then after that it's just pushing that product.
How would you say that's different then say an artist manager's role?
Well they’re similar roles. A&Rs and managers are very similar. But it's to a certain point. When you get to a certain point, when you get really big the manager, you just don't have that much time to focus on the creative. If you’re advancing a whole nationwide tour, that's going to take up all the manager's time. They're not going to have time to listen to beats and pick production. You have to make sure advance money is coming in. Like 75% of this date was paid up front but this one was only paid 25% up front, so you have got to get 75% of the backend. This tour date gives you a cut of the tickets and you have to negotiate and keep track of a bunch of stuff like that. There are managers that do a lot of [creative work]. But in my opinion a manager should really be a connector of dots and someone who is actually managing the business of the artist. Like this guy is reaching out for a verse. This guy is reaching out about a brand situation, let me put this play together. But that's when an artist is really big. Early managers, you are mostly an A&R. You’re going to listen to the music, you’re gonna make music with them, you’re going to be in the studio with them. It’s very similar. There’s not that many differences between a manager and an A&R early on. When you’re an established act, streaming a couple million a week, making real revenue, you now have to switch over. But in reality, when you get to that point, you’re not focused on that early A&R stuff anyway, like finding the sound. They kind of got it down pat. But ya early on you’re making music, trying to make the artist bigger. Then once you get there and everything is moving, you gotta make that transition to tame that and make it as profitable as possible. That part is a little different. But both kinda have to be the bad guy a lot of times, which sucks but that's just the job.
How does one make money as an A&R specifically?
I get paid a salary, that’s really all I get paid. But every A&R when they sign a contract, will get a point or two from the label side of the deal. It doesn't cut into the artist royalties. You make money off that. So in the long term, say you find an artist and they’re making money, say a million a year on a record, that's another $10,000. They're making a million a month, that's $10,000 every month if you got 1% of the record. But every contract is different.
What is your process like for discovering talent? How do you go about finding music? What tools do you use? What is your standard mode or method?
For me personally I’ve been finding music for a decade. So I go through the realms I grew up on, youtube, soundcloud. Alamo has a research person, Jacob, where I go through that report as well. But mainly it's a network of people sending me stuff, like you sent me Pardayalone. I call it my portal, like the Chiefers portal, I have that. I have my writers, they put me on to a lot of dope shit. I found OnlyBino! super early. One of my writers found it, and he was from florida and I was into the soundcloud shit. So that is still the basis on how I do research. Once I find something that's dope, I check out this tool MediaView, which a lot of major labels use, and it gives you a breakdown of how the streams are going. Say you find an artist doing 5 million streams a week, it MediaView breaks it down, say that a whole million to 800k are coming from SoundCloud, you might make your decision differently then if 800k is coming from Apple Music, which pays out more than SoundCloud. You try to find things that are trending on all platforms equally. Say if an artist is trending heavily toward one platform, for example a lot of street artists will just throw up their stuff on YouTube and then they'll get it on platforms a month later. So people will get a acustom to listening to it on YouTube. So you gotta look at it like, how well is this doing and with the help of a label and the proper structure, could we grow this? But if you just absolutely love an artist and it's doing well on YouTube most of the time it should translate. But you really want to look at the breakdown of where they're streaming. Because, it is a business and you might not want to sign someone that's ONLY doing well on soundcloud and doesn't really translate to Apple or Spotify or other platforms for whatever reason. Then you’re looking at an artist who, ok, is streaming a lot on SoundCloud but isn't breaking through on the platforms that can really break an artist to the next level like Spotify or Apple or Tidal or Amazon. Mainly Apple Music and Spotify. Those are what break an artist. If you find an artist that does well on apple music, you can get them on the cover of a playlist and they’ll support it on socials and other ways that can grow the artist. So you gotta look at the breakdown of the streams, it's a very important tool. But ya I listen to guys like you [Bryan], guys like Kelvin at Rolling Loud, who throws me artists he fucks with. And I just mainly tap in with a lot of people and hop on calls and catch up. And it always brings me an artist or a manager. And being the owner of Daily Chiefers, people know the places to go. Say you're a manager and you have this talented artist that doesn’t have much going on, they come to us. Because we have a reputation of posting new artists, they go “ok, I got this new artist, I'm gonna go to Joey at Chiefers”. Or Bryan and ELEVATOR or Jake at Lyrical, because I know they're gonna support before Complex will. I know they're gonna support it before pitchfork will. So that's something that happens a lot where people I have good relationships with bring me things. Obviously you gotta have a great ear, so once you have a great ear and a network, you’re good to go.
Would you say Apple Music and Spotify are the premiere platforms then? Their main strengths being their market share and marketing?
I would say ya, Apple Music and Spotify, they control the game. Mainly Spotify but definitely Apple Music is extremely important as well. But the way that these playlists are, Most Necessary, Fresh Finds, Rap Caviar, if you get on the top of Rap Caviar, you’re basically guaranteed to do x amount of streams that are going to bring you more opportunities. They're gatekeepers really. They're the most important to focus on. Say you have a record that's doing 60k a day on Spotify, your commerce person at your label, you can take that info to them and say “hey look this song is doing 60k a day”, anything over 30 or even 10, you’ll get smaller playlists, “this is already doing 10k a day, if you put this on your playlist it will be a good look”, because your supporting something that's growing and they want to be involved with it. That happened with Rod Wave. He was already doing 5-10 million streams a week before he caught a huge record. And we would take that to our commerce person, like look, there is something bubbling here with this artist Rod Wave and they really started to support. Once that support came, things started happening. Tik Tok posts. He would go viral. So do I think you can become a successful artist without playlisting or before playlisting? Of course. The playlisting is what takes you to the next tier. It's kind of how radio was back in the day. There's a saying “radio doesn't make an artist it breaks an artist”. So you don't do radio until you have a significant groundwork laid out and that's the same thing with playlisting. You need to have a significant groundwork laid out before you go do playlisting. At the end of the day you can make a playlist and run up the numbers but if there is no groundwork laid out and you don't have a hit record, you could lose everything very quickly. Whereas an artist that has a loyal fanbase, like a lot of Detroit Artists, they're gonna do millions of streams regardless. Once they get playlists, it bolsters it, but they're not relying on it.
Shazam is a great tool to see how people are reacting to a record. People use Shazam because something they heard piques their interest. So what we’ll do is pick out all the major markets, NY, LA, Chicago, San Francisco, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, Charlotte, all the major markets or we particularly focus on college markets like Talahasee, Birmingham, places with a lot of colleges. If you see an unsigned artist in the top 50 of those charts, you know there’s a peaked interest in a certain song. Then you can go and figure out the backend, check Chartmetrics and see are they spending any money on this, is it coming from a mix show? Really you're not gonna Shazam anything unless it's a homie in the car and you don't want to let them know you like a song. It's more like, I'm late night driving and there's this mix show radio host that played this record I really like, or you're in an uber and somebody plays something and you really like it. So I use Shazam[‘s metrics] to just really see how a record is moving.
Do you think SoundCloud just has a perception that it's a more immature music platform?
No, I would say it's actually extremely valuable. It’s about trajectory. You’re not really gonna get “discovered” by the mainstream on SoundCloud. But it's about building. A lot of stuff goes up first on YouTube and SoundCloud. Two of the biggest artists in the world JuiceWRLD and Xxxtentacion started their careers on SoundCloud. So yes, it doesn't ultimately make you a lot of money but there is a bigger chance to build a base. In the beginning, you’re not worried about making money, you want to build a fan base, and SoundCloud, even Audiomack now, it's just a great place to gain fans. No you’re not making the most money out of it but you can't just alienate that out of your system. You need to start somewhere and grow. If I see an artist doing super well on soundcloud, it's not like it was back in that day. It tells me there’s an actual attraction to the song or the artist. So you need to let that be. I talk to a lot of artists who are like “don’t put that on SoundCloud” and I’m like “put it on SoundCloud”. For example, my artist Chino Cappin had this song “Lap Dance,” it did like 1.5 million plays on SoundCloud and that brought in fans and saw the track grow on Apple and Spotify. The only thing we could really pinpoint was people listening to, liking and sharing it on SoundCloud. SoundCloud has this disconnect where you can't play music on your smart tv or xbox, but people discover songs on SoundCloud and then they go download it on those other platforms.
What do you think makes a great A&R or what skills do you think the best A&Rs have? On the artist side and the label side.
From the artist side, building trust with the artist is a big component and not having it turn into a yes-man vibe. You have to earn their trust. I’m really close with all my artists. They have to be able to respect your opinion, and not have that break the relationship. Sometimes you have to let an artist make a decision, knowing it’s not the best decision for them, because that's how you build trust. There's times where I've told an artist that a record isn’t good and they're like “na this a smash”, and I'm like “ok cool”. We’ll put it out and then I will come back to them with the data, and I'll show them that the song is performing 30th in their catalog. Then I show them all the songs I told them were good and show them how they compared. That builds trust too. Me and Lil Mexico, we’ve gotten to this point where on every project, he lets me put at least 5 songs I like but he may not really like. He’s just seen it happen multiple times where I'm like “yo this is the record!” and he doesn’t like it. But we put it out and it does well. We’ve built this great repor where he lets me have a lot of input where he doesn't truly see the vision in but from me being a fan of his music he trusts my opinion.
On the label side, it’s really just staying on your p’s and q’s when it comes to the legal stuff. Don't let a project get pushed back months because you can't handle the admin and legal part of it. If you got a project and you want to get it out in a month, you just need to spend two or three days getting all the terms, figuring out all the lawyers, talking to the producers, talking to the songwriters if there are songwriters. Getting the terms set, connecting all that with your admin team and making sure it comes out in a timely manner. If an artist wants a project to come out at a certain time frame and it doesn't hit that time frame, it becomes frustrating and It becomes a problem. So having the trust so you can produce good music but then also handling the clerical work, the paperwork. Make sure the terms are all set, everyones in it and things come out in a timely manner. Not everything always happens the way you want it. Sometimes there’s a sample you don’t know of and you have to clear that. Those take the longest, because the people you have to clear it with, they’ll take their time, they don't care about your project. And Figure out how to maneuver that. We had a situation with Chino Cappin, where we had a project coming up with 3 big samples and I went to our team and said “do we want to wait a month and spend a shit ton of money on these or do we want to cut these, move on and get the project out on time and keep it movin?”. Ultimately speed and consistency is the most important thing in this industry. Don’t fixate on one or two things. You can do that when you’re big, when you’re Gunna, when you're Thugg, take time on your project so that it's a perfect project. When you’re a rising artist, you're not streaming 1 million a week in your catalog, your only focus is; try and maintain the release cycle, be in there constantly.. I always tell all my artists, our goal is 4 projects a year so a project every 3 months. That's how we move. Obviously, we usually don’t get to that point, usually it's around three. But that's the goal as we go into it every year. Every artist, 4 projects a year. Full project, 12-17 records, 3-4 times a year that's the goal. If we can't get in there, we do things to adjust. Like Mexico, we had Durk involved, so we weren’t able to get everything we needed to get, so we just kept releasing singles, every couple weeks we released a single so that he's in the release cycle and on people's radar. Consistency is a major factory and having that experience is another thing that makes a great A&R.
How important is it for a A&R to really know the legal side of things?
You need to know the legal shit. You don’t need to know ALL the legal language and verbiage but you really need to know the basics of what a deal is. All you really need to know is, here’s what the terms are that are standard, so you can get those terms agreed upon, and you can take it to your legal team and go from there and they’ll handle all that. But when it comes to putting out a deal you need to know “perpetuity”. You need to know whether it's a distribution deal or a record deal and is that record deal something like a 360 or more of a standard record deal. Is it a partnership? Is it a licensing agreement? So you have to know all these. Because licensing agreements usually have like a year term on it. So like we’re gonna do this 50/50 partnership for 10 years or 5 years or whatever you agree upon. So you need to know a good amount of legal to put out a correct deal because you have to feel an artist out. If an artist is like “yo I don't want to sign a record deal”, if they have a lot of leverage, you have to go “ok they don’t want to sign a record deal but I want to bring them in still? How about let’s do a distribution deal with perpetuity for 10 years. So whatever you release through us for those 10 year, the split that we agree upon, 80/20, 70/30, 60/40 whatever it is, that's going to be dealt through that 10 year period. And when that agreement ends then it becomes their record.” You don't need to be a lawyer but you do need to know a good amount especially if you’re putting out a deal. Because if you don’t know enough, you’ll end up just pissing off the talent you’re trying to sign and it just fucks everything up. Say this guy doesn’t want to sign a record deal and you go to your label and say “he wants this much money and this, this and this” and the label sends out a standard record contract. That guy is gonna come back like “wtf bro I told you I didn't want to sign this.” And now you look like an idiot.
What are the main deal points you look out for?
You look at royalties. If you're doing a recording deal 17-20% is the standard royalty deal. But depending on the artist's leverage, they might be asking a lot more. And you might be willing to give a lot more because they are streaming a lot. That's 80% to the label, 20% to the artist, but it changes, that's like a standard deal if you’re doing something early with the artist. And that's a deal on the masters, with an advance to the artist, it just depends on the artist's leverage. But say you’re an artist and you got several records going crazy, you’re probably not gonna do that. You’re probably gonna do a partnership, where we’re gonna get exclusive rights to release it for however many years we agree upon and you get to make the money like you are in a record deal but it's not really, you really own the masters. And at that point, 10 years isn't a lot iff you’re really banking on yourself being a true artist. At the end of the day if you make an amazing record, it's gonna last more than 10 years. You get the advance, the label support, the resources, everything you need, then at a point later, you get to own the catalog, you can choose to sell it, you can choose to add your children to it. What a lot of people do, when they get out of these situations, they’re like “alright, now I own all the music, 20% of all my royalties are going to my children, another 20% is going to my wife, and I keep the 60%”. Say you’re making a million a month, $200k is going to your wife, $200k is going to your kids and $600k is going to you. And if you can't live off of $600k a month, idk what's wrong with you. Knowing the structures is really important. Then another important part is the term. How many albums do you want to be with us? 1+2 is usually 3, 1+4 is 5 albums, 1+3 is 4 albums. So the term and royalty points are the main two points that you really need to agree upon as far as the artist, manager, A&R speaking. All the other shit your lawyer will handle. There's like expenses that go toward your recoupable fund. Some marketing costs are 50% recoupable. What that means is if I shoot a music video for $100k, 50% is eaten up as an overhead cost from the company, then 50% is going toward what you have to recoup in your deal. That is something your lawyer will fight for. You can make it 75/25, 25/75, you can figure out that split however you want it just depends on leverage. If you’re super small and a label likes you, you’re not gonna get the exact deal you want. A lot of people get caught up in the ownership shit, but it's like ok, own your master and make $5/year or own your master and make $100k/year. What would you rather do? Ultimately if you become a major artist, you can renegotiate your contract. So the goal is just to become as big as possible. If a label can give that platform to get as big as possible, you take that. When you get huge, you renegotiate and you get the deal you want. There's a lot of artists, where they sign a standard deal and they get 20 royalty points and they blow up, start streaming 50 million a week, then they go to the label and they're like im not dropping anything until we renegotiate. Then all the sudden, they're in a partnership deal. So it's just, whatever can give you the platform to become a major artist. Because once you’re a huge artist, the money just flows. You get brand deals. You're doing $40k a night club shows, where you show up for an hour. You’re doing $15k hard ticket sales, where it's like you're doing 50 dates. You're making a lot of money doing 50 dates making $15k a night. I’m not saying ownership shouldn't be on your mind or forget about it. I just run into a lot of artists, who want to own their masters, but they're only streaming 50k a week, that's literally less than $1000 a mo in streaming revenue. You're not able to live off that.
Do you think the idea of “Owning Your Master” is overrated, when most of the money is made on streaming distribution?
Owning the master gives you the right to the streaming royalties. But I guess you could do a contract for just the distribution rights and still own your masters. And ya I guess it doesn’t matter. If I’m an artist, I would give up my ownership if I knew this was going to lead me to be an absolute superstar, like becoming a Lil Baby, Rod Wave or Lil Durk. I’m willing to give up ownership to get to my brand to a certain point and you know owning 20%, 30% of something that makes 50 million dollars a year is a lot of money. You can do stuff with that, and you can then renegotiate your contract. You can make money in touring, a shit ton of money in brand deals. Travis Scott has like 4 label deals but he makes so much money because his label isn’t taking a cut of his McDonalds check. Doja Cat just did this deal with Taco Bell, I'm sure that was a shit ton of money and that doesn't get touched by the label. Look at Rihanna. Rihanna is a billionaire because she took her brand of music, made a product company off of her brand that was built in music and now she's a billionaire. Figure out the pros and cons and where you want to be as an artist and make that decision and ultimately you can always change up what you need to change up. But then you know, you have artists where that might not be their goal. Look at currency, he owns all his masters, is he the biggest artist in the world? No. But he probably makes a good amount of money because everything he puts out is his. You gotta pick and choose where you want to go as an artist. Kanye doesn't own his masters, I’m sure they've worked out some sort of license deal at this point but… Unlike starting up an Amazon-like company, you can give out the “equity” of your master and you can get it back. You can just stop releasing music and a label’s gonna realize that they have to give you a bigger piece of the pie now that you’re making money. Rocky speaks on that too. Frank Ocean FINESSED the label system. He had 1 album left on his deal, he gives them the album, buys out the remainder of his contract then drops Blonde. Blonde still to this day streams 12 million a week, just that album. And every 2 million in streams is about $10,000 in revenue so do the math. He’s making $70k a week for an album that was released 5-6 years ago. And that’s just streaming. But I tell artists there is no right answer, there isn’t an equation that is right for everyone. You can make your own formula. A lot of people want to know the answer but the reality of the situation is the answer is within you the artist and what you really want to do.
What's a partnership deal look like?
A partnership deal is something that comes up when an artist has a ton of leverage and a label wants to partner up with them. An artist is gonna keep their ownership and then the label is going to get exclusive rights to put it out and do what we do. Say we really like you as an artist, we give you a million dollars, it’s going to be a 50/50 partnership. That’s really it. 99% of the time an artist is going to start their own production company LLC or something like that, and their lawyer should consult them on that and then sign themselves to their LLC that is then the partner of the label. There’s added complication to that but a legal structure can protect your liability, can protect your personal credit, there’s a super amount of tax benefits to doing that. Waka Flocka talks about that. You got your LLC then your S-Corp that runs your LLC. Then you know if someone wants to sue you, they gotta sue your LLC or corporation and that goes deeper once you're really making a shit ton of money.
I imagine you deal with a lot of artists, at least early on that dont even have a lawyer, what then?
Personally I don’t like to do the conflict of interest shit. Where we give them a bunch of lawyers. What I do then is recommend a slew of lawyers or people in their area. Say I got an artist that’s in Atlanta, I can connect them with a bunch of lawyers and I can also connect them with some managers or some producers that have lawyers. Find a lawyer that fits you. Then figure out what you want and bring it to us. Then we start negotiating and redlining deal points and figure out a mutual deal.
When you’re doing a record deal, and ownership in a master, why is that not treated like an investor and business relationship?
I think it's just because a lot of artists just don't like business. If you think about a business mind, a good manager or a good lawyer, will kinda look at it a lot more like that. You’re an artist ya, but technically yes you are a business. And a lot of artists do look at it like that. They see a label as a partner that comes on board and gives them resources and playlisting. There's a brand called Indify that is looking at it more that way. On their platform you put out your information and music then layout that you need. You need this much money, this much for marketing, this much for creative, and there's VC people that can look at the backend and back artists with funding and set their terms.
What is an A&R and VP or Head of A&R relationship like?
Really the VP or head of A&R is the person the CEO is entrusting with his values and vision of the company. If you're handling all the business as the CEO then you’re entrusting the head of A&R to make the decision on what to sign. So the lower A&R’s are going to bring them stuff, then they’re going to make the decision like “ok this is something we should do, this is something we should sign, let's get involved with it, let's get the lawyers on the phone”. That's really what a Head or VP of A&R would do. Some labels might have a structure where there's a VP and a Head of A&R and the VP might be managing the lower A&R’s or those teams and then they bring things to the table, say “here’s 5 things are moving or heres 5 things we think we wanna sign, what do we want to do?” Then the Head of A&R can be like “ok I like these 3 artists, let's put deals out for those 3, the other two lets not worry about.” And that's kind of how it would work.
What about those artists that are a “no”. What advice would you give younger A&R’s when they're getting a “no” on talent they believe in?
Ultimately you can't really do much about it. Some people sign them to a production deal, if you have that cut out. If you’re a big time A&R and you have that in your contract where the label allows you to have your own company that's separate from the label. So if you’re an A&R and the label head says no to an artist, and you really believe in that artist, you can sign it to you. But a lot of young A&R’s will always pitch like “yo this is the guy, this is the guy” and 90% of the time it's not the guy. Then there’s some people who really have a high success rate that when they really love something it often becomes something successful. But if you’re a young A&R and you’re getting a lot of “no”… then manage it. If you can structure your next contract to allow you to have your own production company and do things outside of this when you get a no, then you sign it to yourself. That would be my main recommendation. If you keep getting “no”, then manage the artist or sign a production deal. Or you can do these things like a shopping agreement which would be like “I'm entitled to this amount of royalties when I do this, this and this”. There’s ways around it, but you have to have the legal things ironed out or you could get sued. Say your label contract is everything has to go through your label, and then you do sign something to yourself and that artist breaks. That's their artist. So you gotta know the legal side of it. Get a lawyer.
What advice would you give to someone that wants to break into the industry as an A&R? How would someone go from being able to or feeling like they can really spot talent to working at a label?
Work for a media company, or music outlet. Like a music blog like Chiefers, ELEVATOR, Lyrical Lemonade, or even something smaller, where you can have a time stamp on when you discover a certain talent. Or manage an artist. Those are really the best two ways I’ve seen. There’s other ways like interning, but I got a no from every label when I tried to be an intern. Ultimately, I just said fuck it and I had this platform I can do stuff on and I did. Then people were like “oh you found Russ in 2014, you found Doja Cat in 2013, oh you found Tierra Whack, you found Shek Wes, you found the whole SoundCloud movement”. Even if I wasn’t THE FIRST to find something, I could prove how early I was on recognizing it, with dates on articles I posted. If you go on ELEVATOR and search X, you can go up to people and be like “you know the biggest artist of this generation? Like ya I posted him 3 years before anyone else really found him.” I posted Trippie Redd in 2016, he didn't get a deal until 2018. I was on it for 2 years before they were. Yeat, who’s huge right now, I was posting in 2017. I get competitive about it. And other people will too and try to take credit. But also don’t really get mad when people say no. People get so butt hurt about that. Like that's one thing I hate about being a blogger, is artists will get mad at you, you say no once, they forget the 30 other times you said yes. Like Young Simmie got mad at me one time early on, there was one song I didn’t really like and didn’t want to post it and he was like “you’e a fuckin clown” or something, he gave me a lot of flack for it. But I had posted everything else he had sent for years. And I was just like “damn throw me a bone, I just don't like this particular song”. I did that with X too, there were some things I said no to. But X NEVER cared, he’d be like “yo it's all good”. Even Purp or Skimask. If I said no to a particular song they weren’t butt hurt about it. Now a lot of kids have a sense of entitlement, like “oh you posted me three times in a row, you have to post my fourth”. And you know, a lot of artists don’t also see what people who run blogs do behind the scenes and who they know. Like when you get posted by a blog or like an instagram promoter or something a lot of times you’re not just getting like a write up, those people are sharing and talking about you behind the scenes and have connections to resources. And with running like a blog there is so much shit to do just with upkeeping the site, and services and managing other writers, photos, design. There is so much shit to do. So even if you wanted to you can't spend ALL day going through submissions or discovering music. And so all of that, when someone posts you, they’re really taking their time to promote you and otherwise you’re just hoping and praying someone falls upon your music and that could take years. So expedite the process and get your music to influential people. Like I know ELEVATOR charges for submissions so that you can check all your submissions and that makes sense to me. Like $3.99? You’re not willing to spend like what it costs for a Wendy's 4 for 4? Then you're not taking your craft seriously. Music blogs didn't have to charge back in the day because Google Ads and stuff would make us good money, there was a time when Chiefers was making $3-$4k a month just from Google Adsense. Now it's like $300 with the same traffic, and so we have to change and evolve. These people who run blogs and stuff and the outlets themself are important, A&Rs check that shit. So it’s valuable to artists and a great way for someone to get into the industry as an A&R. Live breath and die this shit.
How do you personally evaluate talent?
I just let that shit speak to me. Do I want to listen to that shit more? Some A&R’s can fuck up and be like ”‘oh this guy looks corny” or “this guy doesn’t got the look” or whatever. For me, if I like the music, I can figure out a way around it. So for me it's just, do I love the music? Do I listen to it constantly? Or do I listen to it for a day or two and get over it? Or do I listen to it 50 times throughout the week?
What's most often missing from, or what makes the difference between an artist getting a record contract and an artist that gets passed on?
A lot of times just not knowing how the business works, not knowing what kind of leverage they have and asking for unrealistic deal points and not finding the right label partner that understands what you are trying to do and sees your vision. And don’t take too long to do that. I’ve seen sometimes deals take 2 months and then they were not able to capitalize on the moment.
What are some things that you’ve realized or were naive to before? And what of those are the most important.
Separate what you love, from the business part of it. There’s a lot of artists that I love, so early, but I go, ok there's no point in signing it because it's not ready yet and signing it is going to take away the authenticity and organic growth of it. So just understanding I might like this artist but it might not be the right timing. And then the legal side of shit. You have to learn that by being immersed in it. You can't just learn that over a couple days.
What are your biggest successes and failures?
My biggest success is probably Comethazine. Wifisfuneral, Smokepurpp. Smokepurpp’s early success I’m very proud of, same with Slimelife Shorty. Believing in my boy Matteo who found Rod Wave and supporting him through all of that. My buddy Adam, who runs data analysis for Alamo, found Trevor Daniel, who has one of the biggest records in the last 5 years and is supporting him. I like to say I see talent, in all ways whether you're someone trying to get into the industry or an artist. I see potential in all ways.
Some things I’ve fucked up on. Idk, some stuff is outa my control, say an artist I like a lot but they go to jail or they get into a drug addiction. The biggest L’s that I’ve probably taken is Sofaygo. Matteo brought him to me and I was very critical of it. Which is opposite to who I normally am. Usually I’m very open minded, I think maybe I was just in a bad mental music spot on that specific day. Sofaygo ultimately became very successful and was something we could have brought in. I had control over that one and I fucked that up. And I’ve apologized to Matteo for that one countless times. But for the most part I’m pretty proud of everything I’ve done in the industry.
What's some final advice for young A&R’s?
Flip the narrative. You’re gonna get frustrated with people not wanting to sign things, but you should just be excited and have the attitude of you’re gonna send them a million things and you’re not gonna stop. I feel like I have a lot of young A&Rs coming to me like “oh well im talking to these 3 labels reps and I keep sending them music and im not getting an opportunity.” Look, it took me 7 years to get an opportunity and I never waivered once, I'm like “I’m going to do this”. And young artists, man, you just gotta put your head down and go. Some artists take 2 years to get where they want to be, some artists take 7, there's no time table on your success. I think a lot of artists have this time table that they create in their mind. Like “I have to be a successful artist in 5 years”. But if it you have to wait 7 years to make 200 million dollars, who gives a fuck about those extra two years?