Welcome to the first entry in The Colture Playbook, a series of five essays looking at talent management, artistic independence, and navigating the modern music industry. Co-authoring the series is Ty Baisden, an artist manager (Brent Faiyaz) and businessman who plays by his own rules. His company, Colture, stands for Can Our Leverage Teach Us Real Equity.
When I interviewed Ty Baisden in October 2017, I didn’t know what to expect. With interviews, you never do. Will they be talkative or timid? Boisterous or boring? People are unpredictable; you never know how they’ll act, or what they’ll say. All a journalist can hope for is a good conversation that translates into a good story.
In all my years of interviewing rappers, industry types, and fellow writers, no one had ever talked about the recording industry on the record as if they were off the record like Baisden. For 60 minutes, the Atlanta-born, Los Angeles-based businessman spoke with unabashed honesty and a willingness to share meticulous details on the major label system, royalty rates, creative independence, the value and ownership of black art, and more.
The transcript from our conversation was published nearly in its entirety. The headline: “Brent Faiyaz’ Manager Pulls Back the Ugly Curtain on the Major Label Ballgame.”
Two years later, during the last weekend of July, I met with Baisden twice in his Los Angeles apartment for a follow-up conversation. We spoke at length about the widespread reaction of our first interview, changes in the industry, and his updated perspective on independence. This time around, Baisden pulled back the curtain on his business practices as a business partner and manager.
Instead of publishing the transcript of eight hours of conversation over two days, I decided to turn the insight and information Baisden shared with me into a five-part editorial series: The Colture Playbook.
As Baisden said in our first interview, “It’s not progressive for the culture to withhold information when you know you can help.” Simply, he found what works for him and his team; maybe it can work for you. At the very least, Baisden’s playbook offers a different way of thinking about making music and doing business.
In May 2016, Baisden and his business partner, the now GRAMMY-nominated singer Brent Faiyaz, started Lost Kids LLC, their first company together. Their next venture, Sonder Global LLC, came soon after when Faiyaz formed the R&B trio Sonder with producers Dpat and Atu. Lost Kids is responsible for funding two Faiyaz EPs, 2016’s A.M. Paradox and 2018’s Lost, and the artist’s full-length debut album, Sonder Son, released in 2017. Sonder Global funded Sonder’s 2017 breakout debut EP, Into. Both companies financed multiple stateside tours.
Both Lost Kids LLC and Sonder Global LLC operate independently of a major record label. They are the blueprint for the system Baisden implements with his eight clients, all of whom are recording artists. Just like Faiyaz, each artist has their own LLC, along with day-to-day, general, or co-managers in place.
In entry one, Baisden explains the Equity Partnership Ecosystem:
Chapter I: We Don’t Sign Anybody
In a Partnership Ecosystem, everyone starts their own company, and we invest in that company as equity partners. That’s a different conversation than someone saying, “I want to sign you.” Breaking an artist is a long-term strategy. So, if you’re starting from the ground up, and you intend to be together for the long haul, it only makes sense to be involved with someone you believe in wholeheartedly. The best way to do that, long-term, is to create a business together.
We take something you can brand, like a quote, and make that an LLC. If you’re my client, you’ll own a percentage of the company, and I’m going to own a portion of it. You’re going to sign to the company as an artist. We’ll get you management and a team. Now, you have a brand, and a brand is going to protect you.
I participate in the growth of this company, but you aren’t signed to me. I don’t own you at 100 percent. I’m only a partner. It’s no different than companies like Facebook or Twitter or Spotify. Except, the business is music.
Chapter II: Equity Partner, Not a Manager
If I put money up, it doesn’t matter if I get 20 percent of the company or 40 percent; I put money up. Managers don’t put money up. I’m not playing a management role; I’m an equity partner. That means I sit on the board; I’m the janitor; I’ll be the motherfucking tour bus driver if it’s necessary.
Your manager may change, or I may want to start a family and not manage anymore. But as my equity partner—let’s say you want to start a beer company—my job is to go out and figure out how to do that while someone else manages you. I’m introducing your business to financial investors. I’m out building personal credit.
Brent didn’t have any credit when he first moved to Los Angeles. I helped him acquire a secure credit card and put $500 on it. Most music managers don’t give a fuck about your credit, but I know being black, you need it. When you have credit and money, you can position yourself differently.
Brent posted that he bought his parents a house on Instagram. It isn't because he signed a big record deal; that’s all from our strategy. He was able to position himself because he knew about the goal we were working toward. We set goals and then started working toward those goals.
I’m not a manager; I can manage.
Chapter III: The Client, Not the Commission
I have eight clients, that’s eight different people. All of them operate independently of a major record deal except for one. I treat each artist differently based on their objectives, not the dollar. I’m a role model to them regardless if I try to be or not. If I approach them like the money isn’t the most important thing, they’re more likely to treat other people that work for them or even their fans, with the same energy.
I can’t partner with a bad person. I can’t invest money in a person who has bad qualities. I can’t do business with you. It will not sit well with me, I won’t be able to sleep, and I’ll probably end up fighting you. I just can’t.
Chapter IV: How the System Works
Let’s say I have eight companies that I’m partners in, and every commission is different based on all communication. And let’s say the commission is anywhere between 10 to 20 percent. Let’s say the co-founder of the company, which is the artist, can turn around a six-figure salary to be an artist, living their lives and taking care of their families with music. All the companies are bringing in seven figures.
So, now, I’m managing eight companies that all are bringing in seven figures. I’m managing a portfolio of 10-plus million dollars. As a partner, all I’m doing is helping them be who they want to be. Major labels aren’t doing that. It’s not just majors; it’s anyone that doesn’t understand artists should be who they want to be as long as it’s not detrimental to their health.
Chapter V: The Partnership Infrastructure
Let’s say a manager introduces a producer into the company. The producer works on something, and boom, they start getting paid every month from the moment their project is released. Now, that check may be small or big depending on how successful that project is, but at least there’s a schedule that you know.
I want the companies we launch to be for people who build things from the ground up. So those people, who are putting in sweat equity, their time, their heart, their soul into it, mainly the artists and managers, can be equity partners in the things they’re building.
I’ve read too many horror stories about artists and managers being screwed over. This infrastructure benefits everyone in the ecosystem.
We base everything on timing and infrastructure. It’s better to take the proper steps and get there, rather than trying to take a shortcut and not know where you end up. I slow everything down to analyze it. I don’t want anything to happen that we can’t potentially duplicate. I can’t copy a special talent, but I can duplicate infrastructure.
By Yoh, aka Partnership Yoh, aka @Yoh31