In 2012, Brooklyn-based rapper Radamiz had an idea for an album. Roughly four years later, on April 18, 2016, weighing in at 11 tracks and too many slick lines to count, Writeous was born into the world.
The album is good. Really good.
Since Radamiz is an underground artist with no label backing and no one writing him a meal ticket, it's probably more noteworthy to mention that Writeoussounds good. Really good. Top to bottom, everything about the New York emcee’s debut is sonically on point, with the kind of professional mixing and mastering that you’d expect from a much more established name.
But Radamiz made Writeous on his own, completely independently. And there’s a whole lot more that goes into that process, monetarily and otherwise, than most people would ever expect.
I got the chance to interview Radamiz about the project, and his insights paint an encompassing portrait of what’s really involved in creating a high-quality album as an underground independent artist.
“Releasing a project is no joke,” Radamiz tells me over the phone. “At least if you care about what you are releasing and you really care about the music.” His tone get’s heavy, sincere. “Writeous took a lot out of me.”
For Radamiz, the stakes for this project were high. Not only was it years in the making, Writeous is the first complete offering from an artist who takes his craft and legacy very seriously. “If I die tomorrow, Writeous is the only thing that represents me as a whole,” he tells me.
So what does going all-in as in indie entail? I asked Radamiz to break down his album budget and explain where each dollar was spent.
“The music creation itself is the part, at least right now, that I spend the most money on. Because I’m so tedious about the quality.” Radamiz’s tone shifts; he’s beaming, speaking on his art. “If it helps the music stand the test of time, it’s worth it."
What, exactly, is the price tag associated with making music that can stand the test of time?
“[For] just in-studio expenses, I spent more than $5,000 recording and mixing it. And this is all out of pocket, working at a day job scrambling some money together. I found an engineer I really fuck with, Chris Conway, we had some chemistry early. It kept building, and I was kinda like 'this is the only place I wanna record.'”
Total cost so far: $5,400.
For those not in the market, that's the price of a decent used car, which might sound like a lot for an 11-song project, but at $45 an hour, studio costs stack up for a perfectionist with his artistic vision on the line.
“Sometimes I’m in there for three hours, just tweaking the bassline or tweaking the background synth, just trying to figure out the right background levels. That’s $135 spent just on ad libs, or $180 spent tweaking the EQs.”
Part of being an artist is self-examining your work under the lens of a microscope, a practice Radamiz now fully understands.
“All of these nuances, a lot of times they don’t really get caught by the listener on the first time through,” he tells me, “but they get caught if they aren’t there, if you don’t hear it. You spend money tweaking all of those little things to make sure that the appeal as a listener is met at every level.”
Of course, the studio time is only one expense of many. “It takes a lot,” Radamiz continues. “It’s digital marketing, it’s music videos, video promotion. Digital marketing on SoundCloud, doing the cover art. There are so many more expenses that go into a project that the average consumer doesn’t understand.”
“For Writeous, specifically, the video quality was really really important to me. 'poweR,' for example, I ended up spending about $1,000 on the creation of it.” Add another $800 for “Sumner,” and video costs for the project come close to two grand.
Total cost so far: $7200.
“Then you start incorporating digital promotion,” Radamiz continues. “Okay, let me hire someone who knows how to push it on YouTube or whatever the case may be. Which, everybody does this kind of thing, anyone who is treating music like a career, it’s just the information that nobody shares.”
Radamiz’s marketing budget? $800 for digital promotion of the "Sumner" single. $1,200 on a digital marketing campaign for the "poweR" video. $1,500 on digital promotion for Writeous as a whole. $1,000 on sponsored Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts. Total marketing cost: $4,500.
“All these people on labels, they have machines behind them,” Radamiz explains. “It makes the idea of marketing dollars make way more sense when you start taking into account your own career. You’ve always heard labels set aside $300k, $400k for marketing an album but you never really understood what that meant, at least for me. I never knew what that meant.”
For Radamiz, it meant borrowing tricks from the majors to get his name out there. In addition to the digital marketing basics, the Writeous budget breakdown includes $1,100 for licensing and submission costs to get ”New York Don’t Love Me” on MTV and $600 dollars for a PR campaign that didn’t see any real results.
Total cost so far: $13,600.
Again, that number sounds like a lot, but Radamiz doesn’t have that perspective in the slightest. “This is very little money, in comparison to how much bigger artists spend on their music. It’s expensive to be an artist. To do it right, to do it with quality, it takes a lot out of you.”
A few more miscellaneous expenses: $350 for the cover art, $400 for a few cover art design drafts that didn’t make the cut, $100 for an extra hard drive, an indeterminate but immense amount spent on studio coffee.
All told? It cost Radamiz around $14,450 to produce, record, release and market Writeous.
For $15k, you could go to trade school and start a career. You could get a certificate or a credential in your field and bring in a bigger paycheck. Or, if you want to be a professional rapper, and you’re determined to get your start with a self-funded indie debut, you could release an album.
“I signed up for this,” Radamiz tells me confidently. “You can’t be attached to how much money is getting spent, you have to be more attached to the legacy that you are building, to the brand that you are building up. The fact that you’re in it for the long run.”
I’m almost nervous to ask, but Radamiz happily fills in the details when I bring up how much Writeous has brought in so far, profit-wise. “I have made $882 off the album. I’ve made $400 off of iTunes and Apple [Music]. For me, the creation of the song “poweR,” that cost $800 right there just to record one song.”
These days, however, there’s a whole lot more to being a professional artist than album revenue, and Radamiz credits every win in his career so far to the effort he put into his debut. “I’ve been compensated in other ways. For me to be on the stage with Nas, to have people come out, you get compensated in those ways.”
“I don’t take any of these things as losses,” he explains with more confidence. “I take these things as investments.”
In myriad tangible and intangible ways, that investment is paying off. As his name’s gotten out there, Radamiz has caught the attention of some powerful tastemakers. He’s done some high-end fashion modeling and is paid to play shows.
But really, that’s all secondary; Radamiz got to put his name on an album that’s he proud of. A good album, that sounds good. An album that will immortalize a moment for Radamiz the artist and Radamiz the human.
“Don’t get it twisted, I’m not complaining. I say this all with joy, there’s no angst,” he says with genuine satisfaction in his voice. “Writeous makes me happy. It’s just how the world works.” Do something you love, and do it right, and it’ll cost you.
“The fact that I get to live life in a more blissful state, that’s the biggest compensation. There’s no money that can replace that feeling.” That kind of satisfaction doesn’t come when you half-ass your passions.
Of course, Radamiz’s approach and process for releasing Writeous aren’t the only routes, and every independent artist doesn’t have to follow the same blueprint. But there’s a lot to be said for investing in your product, and making sure the music sounds like it can compete with anything you’d hear on the radio.
From a listener’s perspective, we get to enjoy the fruits of that investment, all of those hours spent in the studio. While it’s easy to not notice the "finer nuances," as Radamiz put it, it's important to remember that making great art as an independent artist isn’t easy and it sure isn't cheap.
For Radamiz, it’s also not a choice.
“I’ve never spent any money on music and felt like I’ve lost. If anything, when I spend $20 on a dinner I feel wasteful, I’m like 'damn.' But when I give $250 to my engineer and I come out with a better mix of a song, I got the recording right on these vocals, and the beat is sounding way better, it’s like nothing else.”
So, what’s the next project going to be about? “This one is about seeing the world for what it is, acknowledging the coldness of it. But also acknowledging that you will make it through.”