The-Dream is living the dream. Since 2007, the singer-songwriter and producer has released five full-length studio albums, earned 13 Billboard Hot 100 placements, written chart-topping hits for Justin Bieber, Beyoncé and Rihanna (among countless others), won four GRAMMY awards and, most importantly, was able to secure ownership of all his masters.
Of course, not everyone can achieve this level of success. Talent is a requirement, as is an outside belief in that talent from someone who can help to promote it to the masses.
When JAY-Z inked The-Dream to a recording contract with Def Jam in 2007, the recording industry was in a vastly different place than it is in 2017, but The-Dream believed that, with the help of a major label and a big-name CEO, he'd be able to achieve results much quicker than if he opted to remain an independent artist.
As a songwriter first and an artist second, for The-Dream, signing with a major label was a no-brainer decision, but just like no two artists are the same, no two record contracts are the same either.
In a new interview on Sway In The Morning to promote his upcoming VH1 series Signed with Rick Ross and Roc Nation A&R Lenny S, however, The-Dream was critical of artists who preach independence—cough Chance cough—over signing with a major label.
"Don't become no independent artist and be on SoundCloud and y'all not making no paper just to say you independent," said The-Dream.
OK, let's unpack these comments.
Obviously, The-Dream is a successful product of the major label system, he has made a lot of money over his career and he's in marketing mode promoting a TV show that is all about getting signed to one of three record labels. You don't need to be Nardwuar the Human Serviette to uncover the motivation behind his comments about major vs. indie on Sway.
And he's right, making zero dollars off your music is certainly not an ideal position for any artist to be in. No matter how passionate an artist is about their craft and their independence, the electricity bill still needs to be paid every month.
On one hand, Vince Staples took less money at Def Jam to maintain creative control, as did Mac Miller with Warner, while on the other, there's Chance The Rapper, who has stood firm against the gravitational pull of the major label vortex, successfully releasing his stream-only "mixtape" Coloring Book, which helped him nab three GRAMMY awards earlier this year.
Chance, of course, is more exception than rule, and despite his independent success, it's impossible to deny the help he's received along the way. In addition to hiring A-list booking agent Cara Lewis in 2012, the Chicago native signed a one-off deal with Apple Music worth $500,000 in 2016, in exchange for a two-week exclusive for Coloring Book.
The-Dream isn't a bad guy, nor does he give independent artists bad advice, but to act like an artist needs a major label in 2017 is absurd. As an R&B/pop artist, The-Dream traveled down the most prosperous path for him. If you want to become the next Chris Brown or the next Trey Songz, you should absolutely strongly consider a major label. Not everyone is Frank Ocean. But for the rest of the music industry, in particular, rappers, unless you have developed your sound and established a core fan base, waiting patiently until these boxes are checked before signing a potential deal is in your best interest.
Don't believe me? Ask 21 Savage.