Another day, another story of a producer unable to cash a hard-earned check.
The latest behind-the-boards creative to encroach on the firing line is veteran Atlanta producer and DJ Burn One, who, on March 4, found out that he won't be getting paid for his work on A$AP Rocky's career-breaking project from 2011, Live.Love.A$AP.
“Long story short, they found two of my beats on this SoundClick page that I was releasing [beats] on,” DJ Burn One explains of the situation. “The first year I was doing beats, I wasn’t playing them for anybody. Those were my practice beats. I just put ‘em up on SoundClick. Yams or somebody found them, and I get a call saying, 'Yo, you got two tracks on the project. Send us the track outs, we’ll get you an advance, send us the samples so we can get ‘em cleared, yada yada.' That was the last thing I heard.”
While Burn is bummed he hasn't seen a dime for either “Houston Old Head” or “Roll One Up,” the producer contends the situation is much bigger than Rocky—who he doesn’t even blame for the lack of payment—and is actually a symptom of the larger issue in the music industry: a lack of respect for the producer.
Rather than adopting a bitter attitude, Burn One is ready to course correct the situation, helping fellow producers realize that they are the ones with the power and deserve to be fairly compensated.
In that same breath, DJBooth reached out to DJ Burn One to discuss the backstory behind his situation with Rocky, subsequent producer horror stories, how producers can gain leverage, and the steps Burn believes producers must take to fix this mess.
Our interview, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: Break down the history of the Rocky situation for me.
DJ Burn One: I wanna say, this is a much bigger issue [than Rocky]. Since I came out with this [news], so many people have reached out. This is something that is permeating through the entire industry, and it’s happening at different levels. Some people have agreements, some people don’t have agreements, but it seems like all of that is thrown to the wind when it comes time for the business to be handled. Not all the time, but more than should happen.
As far as our situation, long story short, they found two of my beats on this SoundClick page that I was releasing [beats] on. The first year I was doing beats, I wasn’t playing them for anybody. Those were my practice beats. I just put ‘em up on SoundClick. Yams or somebody found them, and I get a call saying, “Yo, you got two tracks on the project. Send us the track out, we’ll get you an advance, send us the samples so we can get ‘em cleared, yada yada.” That was the last thing I heard.
So you were promised payment?
Yeah, absolutely. The stuff was up for lease, and they wanted the exclusive rights to it. They knew they were gonna have to pay something. I think something happened and just me being young and not staying on top of my stuff, I just didn’t super follow up with it, I didn’t extra pursue it. Six months ago, I get a work-for-hire out of the blue. Nobody contacted me and said, “Hey do you wanna release this?” They just sent me a work-for-hire, so I responded back, “Is this a joke? It’s been seven years.” Nobody responded.
So the agreement was in good faith?
Exactly. I figured it would be handled by the business people. Just being young and inexperienced, I feel like that’s where a lot of this comes from. But not everyone is young and inexperienced that gets taken advantage of. I don’t have anything personally against them, I would just like to be compensated for my work.
It’s crazy! Nobody would walk into a store and take something and not pay for it. That doesn’t happen. You go to jail. That’s the consequence. In this situation, my music was effectively stolen because I wasn’t paid. And they’re hanging on the guise of it was a mixtape and it wasn’t monetized, but the artist was monetized! It’s his first project, it helped start his career. I know what impact it had. For the endgame of that to be, well, I’m essentially gonna have to sue them, that’s just shitty. And it just shows me a lack of respect for producers, which permeates throughout the industry.
Do you feel like the blame is all on Rocky or is there blame to go around?
No, I’m not gonna blame anybody. Everything was so murky, and maybe that’s how the label system is, like, hitting everybody up and nobody’s got answers.
Have you had any similar experiences where you weren’t paid for your work?
When that happened, I kinda pulled back from trying to be involved with majors. I feel like, if an indie artist hits you up and they wanna buy beats, it’s understood that you’re getting paid. I feel like certain artists, once they get to a certain position, they’re like, “You should be grateful to have a track on here. We’re not gonna pay you, but you should be grateful.”
I just took a step back and realized: this is so much bigger than just me. I got so many calls from big producers with these crazy stories! It’s crazy! Records that have made people money, and for some reason, producers are not getting paid.
How do you gain leverage when you’re a producer working on a project that could break an artist?
As I’m reviewing my legal options on how to pursue this money, I’m like, “How do you put a monetary value on that?” I don’t know. I realized there’s other things that we have to do, that have to take place. We have to create a new union that’s updated for producers, musicians, and engineers. So many engineers have reached out about not getting paid for recording sessions. It’s crazy when a dude has a $5,000 Gucci belt and can’t give you a couple bucks for your work.
The union is the first step. The other thing is this act, which is basically where artists would have to pay producers for their performances. We have to adapt and create these new systems, and it’s gonna have to be a law, or a union, or a class action lawsuit. It’s gonna have to be something like this to wake them up and make them realize this is not okay.
I don’t wanna slander a single person. Not a single person, just tell the truth. Put sunlight on the things that these people are doing, and see how everybody feels about it. I haven’t got one negative comment back. Something has to change, and it has to be us.
What’s the most common thread from all of the producer horror stories you’ve heard?
In one way or another, they’re not fully compensated and they don’t do anything about it because they’re hoping to get a placement in the future. There’s this attitude of “At least I got something,” you know? I ain’t got my whole thing, but I got something, so let me keep pushing.
Is clout culture a toxic player here?
That’s a big part of it, ego, and feeling like, “I am a certain thing, so you being associated with this, should be enough.” I have had so many people hit me up about their beats and the artists not telling them or nothing, and then they just see the music up on Spotify. Once computers came around, it became so accessible for people to do music, and that’s a beautiful thing. It’s great that everybody can record, but on the flip side, that has come off as music is disposable, like anybody could put some ‘dundundun’ and put some drums, and have a hit!
Is oversaturation being used as an excuse to not pay producers?
That’s probably part of it, just going into [music] being devalued. I think all this stuff that’s going on, and once more people start telling their stories, people are going to get back to putting out their own music. At the end of the day, we don’t need them. Who is dropping an a cappella mixtape? Zero people. Nobody. Think of all the songs we’ve done without those beats. I've seen plenty of instrumentals be hits. We have to realize that we have the power.
In the ‘90s, everything got so bloated, and everyone got so consumed with getting on and getting an advance. But the way things are going now, you can just build yourself a great following and make a great living without having to deal with any of these people who don’t respect you. That’s what I want producers to realize.
Where do payment structures go from here?
We are so used to selling one beat one time, exclusive to one artist. The new wave is to lease beats online, and it’s like you’re selling one beat 200 times, and you got 200 chances for someone to get a hit. I’m with that.
And I’m not saying I’ll never work with majors again. I’m not saying all of them are bad. I just want to empower people with knowledge because I think there’s a lot of work to be done, but it’s all very realistic.
This has all been very insightful.
I will say, I wondered how would Rocky feel if he knew none of his producers got paid. That night, I talked to another producer, and he had got paid. So some have. At least somebody’s been taken care of, happy for him. But for anybody else that has a story, or has money out there that’s waiting for them, email firstname.lastname@example.org, gimme your story. Let’s talk about it, and let’s fix this thing. I'm speaking with everybody, and I’m more encouraged than ever.
What are you going to do with those emails?
Right now, I’m doing a little bit of Producer-Therapist. But I’ve been looking into class action lawsuits. All it takes is 40 people. I’ve got close to that now, you know? I’m not trying to be a shit-starter and blowing people out the water, but we have to get paid. Once that respect is established, it’s gonna be fine. It’s never about the dollar amount, it’s just about the respect.