The Illusion of Patronage

Posted on October 26, 2011 by


OK, so I stole the title of this post from Seth Godin (blank stare? Then see But he was talking about the book publishing industry. He just started an imprint company called Domino, under Amazon, directly. That would be like Kanye starting a record label directly under iTunes.

Anyway, enough about the thievery (hey, I plugged his venture in exchange).

The illusion of patronage.

Gone are the days when artists were handed money and sent off to develop in a studio and grow into superstars over time while being pampered, trained, coddled, and encouraged to create masterpieces. Truth is, I work with rappers, so I don’t ever recall those days. We’ve never had traditional “artist development.”

But today, an artist is expected to be a business person, an entrepreneur, a financial whiz, a promoter, a performer, a spectacle, an engager, a marketer, a sales pro, and touring dervish– and additionally to have supreme talent while producing only music that fans will be willing to exchange money for. No big deal….

If you think signing a deal is the goal, you’ve been misled. All of the work you put in to the point of putting out a record (whether independently or through a major label), is just that–work you put in, to earn the right to put in more work. Getting the deal, or releasing your own music, is the beginning of where the real work starts.

I say “real work” because this is where capitalism becomes involved. You put out music with the intention of selling it. To make money. To make more money than you spent promoting and marketing it. Today, that’s harder than ever to do… If someone (a label or an investor) is putting money (an investment) into you, then you are expected to bring a return on that investment. And preferably a huge one. And quickly or they move on to the next potential investment.

It’s funny to me when artists ask me to “put them on” because I could “make a financial killing off them.” Oh yeah? How much? “Millions,” they always tell me. When I ask how many singles we have to sell on iTunes just to make a million dollars, they don’t know (answer is 1,443,002 singles at 99 cents each). When I ask how many full length downloads we have to sell to make a million, they don’t know that either (answer is 143,001 full lengths at $9.99 each). When I ask how much money it takes to promote their music to get to the point where someone would make millions, I get the Kanye shrug (answer is it varies, but more than $150,000 and less than $2 million).

And the truth is that even if the label was making millions on a release, I would not be, and neither would the disillusioned artist. So rather than come to someone in the industry talking shit about something you obviously know nothing about, why not invest a bit of time into learning how it all works. The information is out there (shit, I just wrote a book about it for $7–cheaper than my lunch today!!)

So, if someone plans to invest their hard earned dollars into your career, wouldn’t they expect to make it back, plus a profit? They sure would. But when you are talking about being the best rapper and that you could arbitrarily sell millions, you’re speaking a language that a financial person doesn’t understand. You’re speaking in dreams, conjecture, and hope. They only hear facts, plans, and analysis. Meanwhile, can I tweet you some links to my music? Why. Listening to your songs doesn’t convince me they will sell–I’m not able to see into the future. And even if I think you are talented, it’s not about talent. It’s about standing out from the other million artists tweeting their links around! Many of them have talent, too!!

I want to know what you’ve done for yourself up to now. How big is your fanbase without having money? How many people follow you on Facebook and Twitter? How many legitimate hits have you gotten on YouTube and World Star Hip Hop? What are the more established blogs saying about you? How many fans come to your shows and are you getting paid yet or are your shows still free to attract crowds? How many email addresses are on your monthly email list and how many of those get opened? How many downloads did your last single or mix cd get? What are fans saying about it? Are you selling t-shirts or still throwing them into the crowd for free? Are you headlining club shows or still opening for established artists when they come through town? Are your fans rabid fans or just mildly interested in you? What is your regional industry saying about you–radio? Retail? DJs? Promoters?

All this to say, no one hands you free money to hang out in the studio and record, club hop and get dap from your favorite established artists because you think you’re now their equal, sleep all day and party and fuck all night, or get on stage because you want to hear crowds scream your name.

Labels sign you because they want to make money off you (I didn’t say WITH you) and they expect to make the lion’s share of that money because they “took all the risk” (they will actually tell you this if you listen hard). It’s a pimp/ho game, and they are the pimp.

If you achieve enough leverage, or enough success, you can get a decent deal. But it’s not set up for you to EVER make the bulk of the money. And it’s certainly not set up for their return on investment to come slowly. You get one chance, in almost all cases. The days of an artist getting money for free from a patron are loooong gone. You’re chattel now, at best. And disposable, at worst.

You may as well get to work. It’s gonna get a little harder before it gets easier.

Click here to buy my eBook so you, too, will have the knowledge to succeed: How To Get A Record Deal is available at Amazon ( ) iTunes ( ) and
Barnes & Noble’s website ( )

You can read it on any computer, laptop, smartphone, or book reader (like Kindle, Nook, iPad, etc). It’s $6.99.

Wendy Day
Rap Coalition
@RapCoalition (follow me on Twitter)

“Who I am is who I want to be!”
“Everything you want is on the other side of fear.”

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