By, Wendy Day
There’s a lot to be said for trusting your gut–that little voice inside of you that tries to steer you in a certain direction, or tells you something isn’t quite right about a situation. In life, I’ve learned to trust my gut. It has saved me a lot of hassle and disappointment.
It hasn’t always been easy to listen to that little voice inside of me. For example, a few years ago, when I partnered in an on-line education company with a woman I liked but suspected wasn’t qualified, I got fucked (to add insult to injury, my lawyer pointed this out repeatedly and then got to say ‘I told you so’ afterwards). She embezzled every dime out of the company and I ended up having nothing to show for a year’s worth of work. I heard that nagging little voice prior to partnering but chose to ignore it because the end (educating artists) justified the risk (doing it for free for 11 months). Additionally, she was a publicist but couldn’t get our company any press–warning bells went off repeatedly throughout our partnership. I should have listened to my gut.
Recently, I’ve been negotiating a deal for a friend of mine outside of the music industry, which I never normally do. But my friend has trust issues, and is just a little bit gangsta, so I want to make sure he’s protected in his deal so he doesn’t ever have to go after the guy he’s doing the deal with (we’ll call him Partner A) and turn it into some street shit (which he’d do in a heartbeat). My gut is telling me this deal isn’t a good idea for my friend.
Even though I know to listen to my gut, I decided to do the proper research on Partner A, on their industry to learn what’s standard and what’s fair and acceptable, and then I infiltrated Partner A’s company and spoke to his staff to find out what his goals and ambitions with this new deal really are. The results confirmed everything my gut had been telling me all along.
If my friend chooses to do this deal, he will have less control than he needs, have no creative input, and a disappointing outcome because their goals are different: my friend wants to build a strong brand for his fans while Partner A wants to build a company and sell it for millions as soon as possible. One wants longevity and the other wants a quick pay day. Uh oh.
I remember in 2003, sitting down with one of the biggest superstars in rap to discuss setting up his record label for him. I’ve structured and organized some of the most successful smaller labels in urban music (Cash Money is a great example of one), so I was extremely excited by the potential of setting up this superstar’s label and then negotiating a deal for it with one of the major labels, once it was successful independently (like Cash Money, No Limit, etc). I was so excited by the prospect of what this label could be–no rap artist had ever run a successful label before….this would be a first! But when I sat down with the artist and listened to his plans, goals, and mindset, I realized I’d never be able to help him be successful running his own company.
The reasons small labels are successful are: 1) they are properly funded (this guy wanted to spend a fraction of the necessary budget–he felt his name and fame would bring many free favors; a terrible way to do business, by the way), 2) they put out quality product that the fans are willing to support and purchase (the artist was more interested in putting on friends and family than signing talented artists), and 3) the staff is the best staff the budget can secure, with previous successful experience, and they are motivated by the owner to succeed within the company (this guy was doing none of this: he wanted to hire family and friends who were already draining him of money and he wanted to focus on his own career instead of the artists coming up underneath him).
Additionally, I quickly learned that his ego would never allow him to take direction from a female (a white one, at that), he wasn’t serious about starting a successful label in that he was only looking for a way to stop the leeches around him from asking for handouts by putting them to work in his company, and most importantly, his pride and ego would never allow him to co-sign any other artist who might be better than him, create a larger following than him, or possibly become more successful than he was. (For those of you who ask me why signed artists rarely are successful signing artists under them, there’s your answer.)
My gut told me that although this was one of the biggest stars in the world, his company would not succeed because he would never let it. I passed on the opportunity to set up his label. It was the hardest thing I ever had to do. For weeks, he had mutual friends call me to tell me I was nuts and why I should reconsider. I followed my gut.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, because that artist hired someone else and built his label to be hugely unsuccessful. It didn’t last long. He wasted millions of dollars, signed all of his boys who now despise him because they feel he fucked up their careers and opportunity, and lost traction in his own career due to being distracted by a failed clothing company and failed record label.
Why do artists look at Jay Z and Puffy and say “I can do that!”? But they can’t. They don’t look closely enough to see that those artists hire qualified staffs, sign talented artists who have a following already in place, and run their businesses like businesses. And if they pay their staff and artists properly, they stay! But I digress….
Learning to trust my gut has been the life skill that has served me best in my career and in my personal life. I’ve learned to not question my intuition and no longer need to prove it’s right. I just follow it. When my gut says to do something or not to do something, I follow it. It’s gotten me where I am today, and consequently, that’s not so bad!