"I guess you can call it birthing a different thought process in what you do. That is what great motherfuckers do, they change the whole way people think." —Ty Baisden
Brent Faiyaz is on fire. Over the past 10 months, the 22-year-old has melted hearts as the frontman of Sonder, burned up charts as the hook-man on GoldLink’s Platinum single “Crew,” and his newly-released solo debut, Sonder Son, is being received with admiration.
It’s an impressive feat when a fairly unknown artist begins to make noise in January and consistently remains the subject of praise all year long. Faiyaz is about to hit the road for a second time this year, this time as a solo headliner. This will be his show and people will be coming to hear his voice. And tickets are selling fast—there’s a tweet on his timeline congratulating the young star on selling out his LA show in 12 minutes. To say he’s blowing up would understate the surge of excitement burning in the underground’s underbelly.
With accomplishments and accolades come questions: How is Brent doing it all? Is he an industry plant? Is he a mindie artist, posing as an independent act while a major label like is funding the entire operation? In an era of secret signings and uncertain indie claims, everyone is under suspicion.
For insight on his current label situation, DJBooth reached out to Ty Baisden, Brent's current manager and the man credited with turning around his career, who confirmed to us that he and Brent are 100% independent.
That's not all he said, though.
Born and raised in Atlanta, Ty has worked behind the scenes for years as an artist manager, but prior to connecting with Brent all of his previous acts were based in rap. After reaching a point of exhaustion with that side of the game, his sights turned to R&B and his thoughts turned to action when he discovered Brent’s SoundCloud in 2014.
In the three years since the two connected and began mapping out how they would approach the music industry, a lot has occurred: label meetings, proposals, letdowns, and hours of studying hip-hop's greatest businessmen like Master P, JAY-Z, Diddy, and more.
This is the motherfucking gold rush, especially for black art.
Ty saw Bad Boy and Roc-A-Fella as empires that were forced into independence because no one initially cared. “We weren't forced into independence because everyone wanted to be in business with us, but their terms forced us to be independent,” he told me during our hour-long conversation.
Ty was transparent, candid, and blunt about the entire major label system, the idea of independence in 2017, ownership of black art, and treating the music business like any other business. He was also clear about his mission: the desire to educate and inform those who have career ambitions in music.
This interview has been lightly edited for content and clarity.
Yoh: Is being 100% independent the plan or have you been waiting for the right record deal?
Ty: We had a whole plan for year one. Year one was basically August 2015 to August 2016. The second year was when we were going to do the album—we were going to drop the EP, get a deal, get the label to fund it, and do the album on an island somewhere or some shit. The label will fund it, boom boom. That was the year two plan, from August 2016 to August 2017. It wasn’t until we started the process and hit these milestones that the labels started coming. When the labels started coming, the conversations weren’t real, exciting conversations. When I say not exciting, I mean, I started asking questions they couldn’t give me honest answers to. I was like, "Hmm, this shit not making sense now that I’m thinking about it." When I sat down with Troy Carter over at Spotify, he was the beginning of the nail in the coffin [of trying to get a deal]. He was like, "You need to do this independently."
What were those conversations with the labels like?
When we started to have these conversations with the labels, it was like, these niggas are trying to pay me 11% out of 100%. Just because you motherfuckers give me some money early? Fuck that. You crazy. That shit don’t make sense.
We had some really great meetings. We met with L.A. Reid, and L.A. said he loved Brent. That was the only meeting we took and actually allowed Brent to sing in an office setting in front of someone. Me and Brent respect what L.A. and LaFace did for R&B music. That’s why we decided to do it. Taking the whole team up there and doing the little performance. It is what it is, I already knew how it would end. We went and we did it. L.A. was saying how special Brent was, how he was going to be so big, and how he hadn’t been excited about an artist like this in a while. All these different things. I’m just listening and paying attention.
Then I get the deal proposal and I’m like, "Wait a minute, my nigga. This is not a special deal." That’s the problem. Those types of interactions are what led us to decide on being independent. People will say that’s how it goes in the business, they send you over the contract and you gotta negotiate. Nah, my nigga, there are principles in life. If you sit down and tell [Brent] he's a special artist, you better make sure that fucking deal is special. If not, your word isn’t as solid as what you just told me. I kept seeing a lot of that in these conversations about a deal. That was the first strike.
Mind you, we had amazing meetings with everyone. No bad meetings. Everyone was excited, they were fans, and were really passionate about the music. But when those contracts came in…
First strike? What else was in the contracts?
Like I said, I’m a principled guy, [so I had] sent out a proposal of what I wanted [to the labels]. Once I met with Troy [from Spotify], we were talking about Spotify's support and Troy was like, "I wouldn’t do anything because this is real music. There’s a big resurgence of people who like this type of music. If you guys just wait, this is going to work. I’m not saying don’t do any business with a major label, but make it so the terms are favorable to you guys."
I’m like, "Damn, you're right." But since I had already sent out the proposals before the meeting, I told Brent’s lawyer, if any of the labels that we sent the proposals to give us exactly what that proposal asks for, I’ll do the deal. Like I said, principles are principles, they don’t change because you're in a different arena or business. My principles would be the same if I was a school teacher or if I was selling pencils. So, I was like, if they give us exactly what it says, we will do the deals.
So we started having conversations [with the labels] and we're not getting exactly what the proposals say. Interscope, they were one of the conversations I had on the phone about the actual contract. I was speaking with [Interscope EVP] Joie [Manda], and I've known Joie for awhile, he’s been very supportive of me in general. When I say support, I mean always responding to emails, taking meetings, and things of that nature. The moment I was on the phone with Joie, and I told him about speaking with my lawyer and the terms I didn’t agree upon that I wanted to talk out. The terms were—Yoh, you aren’t a lawyer, but when I say this to you you’ll know it doesn’t make sense—about royalties. A major label only pays you one way: through your royalty. Now, industry standards—make note of the fact that I hate the word ‘industry standards,’ I hate it—from what my lawyer told me are that generally, a recording artist who is new and gets signed to a deal is going to get an 14% to 16% royalty payout from the label. My proposal had an 18% royalty payout from the label.
18% is far from unreasonable.
I told Joie I didn’t understand how if Brent has an album [already] out that’s probably going to be a digital-only release that’s never going to stores or [being released physically], and the label is going to acquire this body of work through a deal we will potentially do, you are saying that is too high. That’s high for a new artist, but we’ll do it anyway because we really believe in it. His response was, ‘We invest a lot of money early. Being that we invested so early, that’s why we give a [smaller] percentage. We don’t want to scale it because that’s not how it works.’ That’s the last real conversation I had with a major label. I was like we going to do this shit ourselves. This was in November 2016, [Brent's A.M. Paradox EP] was already out.
I'll commend Joie and Interscope, they were on it early. Joie was trying to sign Brent before I even put out the A.M. Paradox EP. I really believed in putting out this project independently first, though. I felt like I would jeopardize what Brent could become if I did any official, long-term business before the music was out. Joie was in the studio trying in August 2016 trying to sign the kid, before any projects were out. The project, A.M. Paradox, dropped in September.
[Senior VP of A&R at RCA Records] Tunji was early as well because he had already signed GoldLink, and Brent and GoldLink worked on the “Crew” record back in early April or May of 2016. So Tunji was already hip, I was sending him demos and things of that nature, but Tunji wasn’t putting too much pressure on it because he had so much going on and there wasn’t a body of work out at that point. I was just putting out singles here and there. Everyone was paying attention but nobody was putting a bid out. Interscope, Atlantic, and Epic were all trying to get in bed, but Interscope was there super early.
The year ends, we're getting ready to drop the Sonder album, and we have to pay for this solo Brent album. He wanted to go to the Dominican Republic and I had to figure out how to pay for that shit. [A.M. Paradox] picked up, Brent's “Poison” record is growing, the Sonder single “Too Fast” is out by now and that record is growing, so now the labels are on my head even harder to do something. So I said, I’ll tell you what: one album for $150,000, all in.
Just one album? For that amount?
One album, that’s it. I’ll do that if someone wants to do it. LA Reid said fuck that, I’m not doing it. I was cool. Mike Caren and Jeff Vaughn over at Atlantic/APG were like, 'Nah, Mike Caren wants five albums, he wants to be involved with the deal as it grows.' Okay cool, I was good.
Speaking with Tim Glover at Interscope, I said, "Listen, this is what I want: We can do this one album, see how we like each other and then keep it moving. Cut me that check for $150k, I get you the album, and we work it together." Tim said he would talk to Joie and he came back and said that they had something better. I’m like, "Listen, my G, there’s nothing better than what I offered. If he can’t do this, I’m not the meeting type, I’m not trying to have a bunch of meetings. You guys came to the studio, we’ve chopped it up, this is what we want to do and we not meeting again about it." That was the last talk. They weren’t trying to give us one album for $150,000.
It’s a preconception that black artists only want money. The motherfuckers will not say it in public, but with urban artists, there is a misconception that all we want is money. So I was like, okay then, I’ll take it away from the money. Give me $150k all in, distribution and license deal, whatever you want to call it. They didn’t want to do it. We decided to keep it moving.
The major labels have padded the numbers to make it seem unrealistic to do this shit yourself.
With no label, how have you been able to fund all the projects and tours?
Brent started to study Master P. He started to look at all these videos of P. By the time we were at the end of January and put the Sonder project out, and it started growing, he had already begun to see the thought process. He was like, "Man, Master P sold this many records? He was getting 85% of everything? Shit, I want to be like Master P." Me and Brent were funding a lot of the early Sonder shit. When Sonder started making money, it paid the company back. Then the money that Sonder is making now is funding [future] Sonder work. Literally two different companies. Sonder Global LLC. is a completely different company. Brent is a partner in Sonder Global and he used the company that he and I started to fund Sonder until Sonder was able to self-fund themselves.
What’s the company you and Brent started?
Lost Kids LLC. Completely self-funded. Sonder is a Lost Kids investment. Being that Brent is a partner in Lost Kids, he funneled the money to make sure that Sonder had rehearsals, all the small shit that it takes. All the different things until that money started to generate from Sonder’s merch, tours, screens and all that. Sonder is funding themselves and it hasn’t even been a year.
We self-funded both of the shows in New York and LA. We self-funded the Sonder tour for 11 cities. All the marketing and promo was self-funded. The “Too Fast” video, we funded a percentage of it. Noah Lee, the director, was so passionate about it that he and his team raised the capital to finish shooting the “Too Fast” video. This shit has been a community thing. Even the trip to the Dominican Republic, me and Brent invested $25,000 into that trip. We flew 10 people there, not including myself. The only person who couldn’t go was [Sonder producer] Atu, but everybody else who Brent has worked with flew out to work on the Sonder Son album.
We're not rich, we had to figure out how we would fund it. I called everybody who was involved as far as the Airbnb people, the flights, and I was able to pay off everything in three installments.
Do you think your method and process will work in the long run? Funding everything yourself?
Yes. The reason is smart investing and having great products. The amount of money we need to build a company is not the amount of money people think you need to build a company when you have a product that’s working. Now, if Brent wanted to have a Range Rover and have all the jewels and get the crazy mansion, it won’t be sustainable. But there’s an understanding of what it takes to be independent and investing in yourself more and more as you see things work.
I want to build this up how Facebook built it up, and how Spotify built it up. If I build it up and own the content, the venture capitalist world will be knocking on our door. There is a boom in the business sector that deals with music. We’ll surpass the five billion, six billion, seven billion, and eight billion revenue stream on recorded music over these next few years. And now, all of a sudden, the music business starts a trajectory back toward that 11, 12, 13 billion dollar revenue stream from back in ‘98 & ‘99.
Now, it’s not about who got the masters, it’s about who got equity, who got shares, who got stakes in the company. That’s the only business I want to be in. I don’t want to be in the “I own your masters” business. That’s the business the labels been pitching and they will continue to pitch until people like myself or anybody else decides their ownership is not worth what they’re trying to sell you. Especially in this era. This is the motherfucking gold rush, especially for black art.
Information is king in this world, especially in an industry full of dumbass people. That’s your leverage.
It’s the music business, but you want to run it as an "actual business."
I’m going to be honest with you—I told you I would talk my shit. I feel like the numbers are padded. The major labels have padded the numbers to make it seem unrealistic to do this shit yourself.
I called Fly, the CEO from T.I.G. Records. As an independent label, they have had four or five No. 1 records at urban radio. I think out of those records, they’ve been Platinum or double-Platinum. I was just picking his brain, "Bro, how much you paying for radio?" He said his radio campaign was $100k and could get up to $200k. I was like, "That’s it? That’s a nation-wide campaign?" He’s like, "Yeah." I was always told from record labels that if you trying to go to radio you needed a half-million dollars.
You're telling me that when urban music is the pinnacle of consumption, it only takes [a few hundred-thousand dollars] to have a nationwide urban music campaign? Obviously, we talking about a record that’s working and successful online. If you got a good product and you're investing in a street team, traveling, marketing, and advertising costs, everything you have to spend to market a record outside of it just being online where you identify it. When you do that radio campaign, that includes college radio and your internet radio, it’s a campaign across the board.
It’s either the people who are putting together these campaigns are overcharging the label because the label got it, or the label is padding the numbers because you in debt and they want to keep you in debt because as long as you're in debt you don’t see the light. You gonna stay in the debt, and they’ll continue to collect their percentage of their royalty. They not even taking the whole 100% of what’s made as a recoup, they’re taking their percentage off the top and then taking the rest of it and saying we’ll put this toward the debt. Man, it’s hard to get out of debt when you only making an 18% royalty.
And they don't even want you to have 18%...
Check it, this is another thing that trips me out about the music business. Let's say all the money they advance you is a loan. In any other sector of business, once you pay the loan back, you own whatever the product is. You either have no balance and you can leave, or you own what you paid for.
Imagine you finance a house for 100 racks, you pay it off in three years, and the bank still owns the house. And you're still paying the mortgage?!? That’s what the major label does to the artist. Y'all gave me the money to create this body of work, y'all gave me the money to sign with y'all 'cause I got this body of work, but when it’s all said and done, after I pay you back all the money you loaned me and you took your percentage off top, you still own me. That’s crazy, B!
One thing I will agree upon, though, is a situation where you sign an artist and no one knows who that artist is and you develop [the artist] and you pay for everything. Every situation is different. It's like having bad credit and good credit. Niggas with good credit don’t gotta put [down] a sizable down payment. Hell, they probably give you all kinds of bonuses because you got good credit. That’s what life teaches us, do good in life and you get rewarded. You do bad, you don’t get rewarded.
Why do you believe so strongly in sharing all of this information with young creatives?
I don’t believe in charging people for information. I don’t believe in being a middleman for information. The only reason why I decided to do this—I’m not trying to be no superstar or in the scene—is because I believe the information I’m gathering and learning is very important for young black men. I want to inspire the way I was inspired. If it grows outside of that, that’s just God’s blessing. I think it’s very important for us, in this position, to try not to block young kids from getting that knowledge so they can be successful. It’s not progressive for the culture to withhold information when you know you can help. You don’t have to get paid for every single thing that you do. This interview is very important to give that knowledge for anyone who wants it. It may be a woman who feels like she's not getting the right information, it may be someone who is disabled, who maybe can’t walk but is really good with numbers and they've always dreamed of managing somebody, but they feel like they can’t do it because of their disability.
I feel like information is king in this world, especially in an industry full of dumbass people. That’s your leverage.
Correction: The royalty payment range is 14% to 16%, not 11% to 14% as was previously published.
By Yoh, aka Worldwide Yoh, aka @Yoh31