Surviving Your First Year in Music on $30,000: The Colture Playbook

“Today, if you give a kid $100,000 upfront, they could survive off that shit for a year. But in the first six months, they’ll blow half of that.”
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Welcome to the second 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.

GRAMMY-nominated, Maryland-born singer, songwriter, and producer Brent Faiyaz was working at a Harris Teeter grocery store deli in Charlotte, North Carolina, when he met business partner and talent manager Ty Baisden in 2014. 

While residing on the east coast, Faiyaz would travel to Los Angeles for meetings with his new manager. Finally, in January 2016, the young R&B singer moved to Los Angelesno contracts or deals on the table, just money from his savings and a tax return. By May, Faiyaz and Baisden were able to secure a publishing deal with Pulse Music Group.

The advance they received from Pulse wasn’t for millions, and so they reinvested the $55,000 they were left with after taxes into their company, Lost Kids LLC. The budget was tight, but for at least 18 months, financial survival wasn’t a concern and provided stability to focus on music full-time. Working through this process with Brent is how Baisden came up with the $30,000-year concept.

In entry two of The Colture Playbook, Baisden breaks down why independent musicians must plan and budget every expense. For artists and managers who don’t want to sign a major-label record contract, a career can be made or broken based on humble beginnings.

Read Also: Equity Partnership Ecosystem | Making The Middle-Class Artist | Achieving “Healthy Success”

Brent Faiyaz, 2019

Chapter VI: My No. 1 Job

The first thing I do for a client is to put money in their pockets. Once the money is in their pockets, they can become a full-time musician. Becoming a full-time musician means we can get our hands dirty. 

Now, putting money in your pocket doesn’t mean you sign a f**ked up deal. It creates infrastructure, allows you to put out a project the right way, and helps me not take money too fast because I know how to generate income in other ways.

We might do a pub deal, or we might do something branded. Whatever the case may be, [we will do] something that will put some money in your pocket to help with living expenses so you can focus solely on music. I can’t tell you how fast it will happen; every artist is different.

Chapter VII: The LA Move

By the time I met Brent, he had tried all the shit in the world to get a deal. All the tricks. One time, he even acted as an A&R to get a blog to post his shit. This was when he was 16 and rapping. At 19, when we first met, he had a job and an apartment in Charlotte, North Carolina. He was making sandwiches at a grocery store. Right away, that showed me he understood [the importance of] paying your bills and having your own place. He was self-sufficient.

His job at the time was demanding because he wasn’t making a lot of money, so he had to work a lot to make rent. It would take Brent three or four months to send me one song. He had to record it, make the beat, mix it, and do the artwork. It took him like six months just to get two records done.

Brent flew out to Los Angeles for the first time in August 2015. The second time was that October, around Halloween. That’s when he said, “Fuck it, I’m about to quit this job.” I had to tell him, “Hold up, put in a leave of absence. That way, you can come out to LA, and if shit doesn’t work out and you have to go back home, you got your job.”

Once Brent got to LA and started recording with the community of people we built, his productivity increased immediately. Brent recorded “Too Fast,” “Crew,” “Poison,” “No One Knows,” “Insecure,” and the whole Sonder project all after moving.

Chapter VIII: The Tax Refund

I sent Brent’s music to one publisher with the intention of her just [listening to] it, to see what she thought. That was at the end of February or the top of March. To my surprise, she said, “I would love to meet him. I want to sign him.” We did the deal in May with Ashley Calhoun and Pulse Music Group.

After lawyer fees, taxes, etc., we were left with $55,000 to reinvest into our company, Lost Kids LLC, with $30,000 going to Brent for his livelihood. Before the move, we did his taxes, and Brent made a little under $15,000. We did the deal in May, so the next 18 months were supposed to be covered by that $30,000. From July to December, that’s $15,000. Once the year starts over, the other $15,000 is there. 

These were all just safeguards [in case] the music didn’t start making money yet, or if the shows weren’t coming in. If it takes two years for the music to pop off, at least he would have the same livelihood cost from his time working a day job. The difference, of course, is now he’s pursuing his passion with the same amount of money.

Chapter IX: Money Management

The average college graduate probably makes between $35,000 to $50,000 a year. That’s if you get a job out of school at an entry-level position. If you’re an artist, if you account for your cost of living, you can survive for at least one year off $30,000. That’s $2,500 a month, just from making music. 

Let’s say I’m a partner, and I say, “This is the $30,000 strategy for year one. I need you to get a job. Nothing super strenuous. Something at a boutique or something. I’m going to work to match that.” Now, you got a job, and all the responsibilities are not on me to create your livelihood, but we are partners.

If I’m giving you $1,000, that’s [money] I’m putting back into the company. That means you got a job, that’s one check. You got a support check for a budget coming in to help with shooting a nice video, or whatever the case may be. We will do this for the first 12 months. Then after the 12 months, hopefully, we’ve got a body of work.

Once we have a body of work, let’s say you get an offer for a publishing deal. I’m looking at publishing deals before I look at record label proposals. I try to make sure I get as much money upfront as possible. For three years, let’s say that number is $150,000, and they will advance you $100,000. You just lived the previous year off of less than $30,000.

For the next year, we will keep you at $30,000, except now, you’re going to quit that day job. You got the 30 bands you’re going to live off of from a check you’ll get every month. You have another 30 bands going into the marketing of your project. Then, when the music is being put out, and the money is coming in, you will get the lion's share. So that money is being put back into the company. The artist usually walks away with 60 to 70 percent of the profit.

Let’s review: You lived off $30,000, and you had a job. Now, you don’t have the job, and you’re a full-time musician. You have the $30,000, and now you have a bigger budget to market your music independently. Also, you have the publishing company involved, so now they can help you pitch for sync licensing opportunities and help you with the cost of recording sessions so your music can get better.

Chapter X: Year 3 Breakthrough

By year three, you should be making more money if your music business is operating correctly. If everything is functioning and connecting properly: Worst-case scenario, you have another $30,000 year. If you can be consistent, working in music for three years without struggling full time, by the time you have that fourth year, you can have a breakthrough.

Remember, you’re coming out of college. This is entry-level, baby. When you think about it like that, you take away the allure of the major label and being in a situation where you might get taken advantage of. Now, you’re looking at a three-year plan. Everyone I work with now, by year three, they’re seeing the money that helps them live a life better than previously. 

Money management is at an all-time low. Today, if you give a kid $100,000 upfront, they could survive off that shit for a year. But in the first six months, they’ll blow half of that. You’re gonna blow some of it. Shit, we all would blow some of it. That’s why you need people to coach you when you get that kind of money, especially if you’ve never had money before.

Read Also: Equity Partnership Ecosystem | Making The Middle-Class Artist | Achieving “Healthy Success”

By Yoh, aka 30K Yoh, aka @Yoh31

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