Yes, even the Rico Love faces hardships. The man behind hits ranging from Usher (“Throwback”) to the City Girls (“Twerk”) is not immune to the pangs of being a songwriter in an unforgiving music industry. From struggles to get paid to losing time with his children, Love is no stranger to the difficulties of the business, despite having nearly a decade-and-a-half of experience under his belt.
On the phone, though, Love sounds measured and wizened to the game. He does not resent the grind, but rather, accepts the industry for what it is. That said, he does wish fans were more sensitive to the songwriter’s struggle.
“I wish they understood how challenging it is for hundreds and hundreds of songs to get submitted to an artist like Beyoncé, and for yours to be selected,” Love tells me. “That’s difficult. People think that you’re in, you’re Rico Love. I don’t care who you are, you have to compete with every other song that’s coming across her desk, and you have to create something every day!”
Amidst all this competition, to keep from burning out, Love avoids the race by keeping to himself and focusing on his craft.
“It’s a competition but I’m not competing,” he says. “I don’t go out of my way to try to get on anybody’s project. I just write songs every day and artists reach out… I just write songs and make it about me, about my kids, and how much I love it, and when artists come along, I’m ready.”
As for the financials, Love explains that it helps tremendously to know when to put your foot down about publishing splits. There are also services like Royalty Exchange, which allow songwriters to monetize their catalog and keep the money rolling. Either way, being your own boss and having your own creative projects are also a bonus.
“That’s what I’m doing with this project called Rico Love Presents, where I’m finding incredible talent, I’m paying ‘em $5,000 each, and I’m writing the song, producing the song, and putting the song out myself,” Love says. “I’m breaking new artists, but I’m also owning the publishing and owning the masters.”
Of course, it’s not all negative. Being a songwriter is fulfilling work, and the best part, for Love, is not the notoriety, but the impact.
“I was working out [at the gym] and they played maybe 10 or 11 of my records and nobody knew,” Rico recalls. “I’m just in there working out and everybody’s singing ‘em. That is the best part. Not when everybody knows you did it, but just know that people are blasting your songs.”
DJBooth’s full interview with Rico Love, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How did you know you had a talent for songwriting?
Rico Love: I started off as a rapper, right? When you put words together and you have to freestyle, it turns into more melodic sensibilities. This was before that was accepted in rap music. The thing that brought me into my own was [Usher's] “Throwback,” when I first wrote “Throwback” for the Confessions album, that was me taking a chance. That was the first song I ever wrote. That was me trying something.
It’s like a guy who’s really tall and never tried to dunk before. He realizes one day that all he has to do is lift his hands up, and jump a bit. That’s what it was, writing songs, for me. I didn’t realize I had the gift. I never realized I had the gift because I never had the opportunity, after doing it I realized I’m really good at this because it came so naturally. After the consistency of working hard, I saw that this wasn’t a fluke. I really have a gift.
When did you transition into professional songwriting?
Right from that moment, right when I wrote that song. The album was so big and I was surrounded by so many A&Rs because of my relationship with Usher, as soon as the song came out, it was an instant favorite. That’s when I put the hat on and said, this is about to be who I am.
What’s one thing you wish music fans understood about songwriters?
I wish they understood how challenging it is for hundreds and hundreds of songs to get submitted to an artist like Beyoncé, and for yours to be selected. That’s difficult. People think that you’re in, you’re Rico Love. I don’t care who you are, you have to compete with every other song that’s coming across her desk, and you have to create something every day!
When a song doesn’t work, they’re not gonna blame the artist, they’re gonna blame the guy who wrote it. It’s not easy to get in there and write a record. You have to consistently do it, and then if you have one, two years of not being on the radio, people will look at you and say “What happened to you?” There’s so many expectations and it’s such a difficult job. People don’t understand how daunting a task it is.
How do you keep from burning out?
It’s a competition but I’m not competing. I hope that makes sense. I don’t go out of my way to try to get on anybody’s project. I just write songs every day and artists reach out. Trey Songz might call me and say “Hey, man, I wanna come down and work with you.” I don’t put my hat in the ring, I just write songs and make it about me, about my kids, and how much I love it, and when artists come along, I’m ready. I would’ve never thought I’d have a No. 1 record with the City Girls [“Twerk”] in 2019. But I do my job, I do it well, I’m consistent in it, and I’m not chasing anything. Yes, it’s a competition, but I’m not out here stressing myself about being on anybody’s project.
Do you have any payment horror stories? Drew Love shared how bad the splits are with me last month.
Yeah, absolutely! I went through a situation even with the City Girls. People want publishing on [songs] they didn’t write, it’s part of the game. You just gotta know when to put your foot down. I would never give someone 15 percent, that’s a lot. It’s just annoying that I don’t get any of their show money, I don’t get any of their merchandise. I don’t get anything from them, but they almost expect you to give them publishing for nothing. What makes it worse, is that so many other people will do it. That’s what makes it difficult for the guys who won’t.
What’s the hardest part about getting paid as a songwriter?
Streaming has taken a huge chunk of our money. The publishing dollars aren’t the same. You have to stream 100 million to make real money. It’s difficult to earn on the publishing side. I think radio still pays very well. The key is to own your masters and put out your own project. That’s what I’m doing with this project called Rico Love Presents, where I’m finding incredible talent, I’m paying ‘em $5,000 each, and I’m writing the song, producing the song, and putting the song out myself. I’m breaking new artists, but I’m also owning the publishing and owning the masters.
What advice would you give upcoming writers who can’t do that, but need to navigate the industry?
First of all, there’s no one way to navigate the game. There’s no one way to eat. There’s no one rule or one lesson I can give you. This is a huge maze. I would be so arrogant to just give you one tip. So, what I would say is: Pick your battles. You’re new in the game, understand that there are some things you may need to sacrifice. But there are also some things that you need to put your foot down on. Becoming a man or becoming a woman is understanding which is which. Those things, I can’t pick for you. That is how you find your wings in this game, knowing how to make the right decisions and understanding how to learn from the bad decisions.
What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve had to make?
Time away from my children. That’s the biggest sacrifice in this business. Right now, I’m leaving to go to a shoot and my kids are out of school today, I’m not gonna be able to hang out with my kids today. That’s the nature of the game. I don’t get off work at five o’clock to help them with their homework. There are some days where I schedule my life to be available only after school hours so I could spend time with my kids, but there are some days where I don’t have those options. There’s no timeline for this. Some artists want to work at nine at night. Some artists want to work at midnight, some artists want to work at seven in the morning. That’s just how it is.
With all of that in mind, how can songwriters ensure they are paid more respect in the industry?
Educate ourselves! Understand that just because we heard it for the first time, that does not mean it just was created. Study, study, study. The reason I respect Quincy Jones and Ray Charles, the reason why I respect Leonard Cohen, all these people in the game, is because I understand what they went through to get to where they are. It’s impossible to respect someone unless you learn their story. You have to understand there are people who came before us.
Ending on a happy note, what’s your favorite part about being a songwriter?
I was working out [at the gym] and they played maybe 10 or 11 of my records and nobody knew. I’m just in there working out and everybody’s singing ‘em. That is the best part. Not when everybody knows you did it, but just know that people are blasting your songs. You go to a nightclub and there’s people singing your record and losing their mind when it comes on. Or, you’re talking to a girl and she starts to say “Oh, this is my favorite song.” You don’t even tell her you wrote it, you just sit down and enjoy the fact people love what you do.