Making the Middle-Class Artist: The Colture Playbook

“Anybody who wants to partner with an artist, they should build a company around who the artist wants to be.”
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Welcome to the third 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.

In the first volume of The Colture Playbook, series co-creator Ty Baisden emphasized how an Equity Partnership Ecosystem should revolve around who the artist wishes to be. If making music is the artist’s passion, as the face of the business, they should have a say in how they pursue that passion. No two artists have the same objective; no two artists should be managed with the same expectations. 

More often than not, the business of music is separated by those who make it and those who don’t. The metrics defining “making it” vary, but the expression is commonly related to fame and fortune. Baisden sees room for a third option: The Middle-Class Artist. This is an artist who makes a modest living off music without the pressure of having to become a superstar.

In 2015, Baisden discovered Wintertime, a Florida rapper whose brand of weightless, minimalist rap aligns with the early, melodic-trap offerings of Atlanta’s iLoveMakonnen and Lil Yachty. Solange Knowles—while a special guest on Earl Sweatshirt’s monthly Red Bull Radio show, Earl Sweatshirt Stays Inside—discovered Wintertime through her son Julez, and said of his song “U Times 2”: “It’s sleepy, I fuck with it.”

Although Wintertime reached ears in Solange’s home, he isn’t a household name. No major rap publication covered his 2017, self-titled album. Outside of The FADER and Vice, who both premiered one record a piece in 2016, and a post on Pitchfork when Erykah Badu remixed his single, “Thru It All,” the twenty-something-year-old rapper has no presence across the web. Even so, he’s averaging more than 300,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.

Wintertime hasn’t sold merch or been on tour. He doesn’t flood the market with music or benefit from being playlisted. Wintertime lives his life, all from income made off the music. In this, the third entry in The Colture Playbook, Making the Middle-Class Artist, Baisden explains why Wintertime’s livelihood is what he hopes to build for all his clients and companies.

Read Also: Equity Partnership Ecosystem | Surviving Your First Year in Music | Achieving “Healthy Success”

Chapter XI: Live Your Life

Wintertime is a product of what I’m trying to build with every artist  I work with. His company is making money, and he can grow up. He has a kid; I think he just turned two. He can be a father. Those two years he’s been off because he had a child, that’s personal time, and the music is still providing for them. 

Wintertime hasn’t put out a body of work since 2017. He still brings in six figures a year. The other day he called me, saying, “I appreciate you being down with me, man.” 

I tell him, “Hey, bro, you have to be the face of this. You have to be ready for this. I’m not rushing you.” With artists, you have to build a company around who they are. That’s the only way it will work. Every artist should be entitled to the lives they want to live.

Chapter XII: The Find

I found Brent [Faiyaz] and Wintertime around the same time. Easter 2016, he asked me to be his manager. To keep it a buck with you, when I first started working with Wintertime, his music was buzzing on SoundCloud, and I could not understand SoundCloud. I thought Wintertime’s shit was fake.

I liked Wintertime as a person, as a kid, but his popularity online was so crazy. How did he get all these plays on SoundCloud? Every time he drops something, I asked, is this shit real? We dropped his first project, I Know What You Did Last Winter, in 2016. That following year, we dropped Wintertime’s self-titled LP in 2017.

Wintertime doesn’t rap about drugs or lean or any of that shit. He raps about basketball and balling. Wintertime wants to get money and kick it with his girl.

Chapter XIII: On Your Time

I’ll call Wintertime; I check-in. I ask him about his girl, his kid, his health. I’m checking on my business partner. If it’s a music situation, we’ll talk. He’ll give me an update.

The Equity Partnership Ecosystem allows managers to earn a salary every month, too. Again, the check may be big or small, depending on how successful the project is. But as long as there’s a product out in the world, and we have a platform like Stem that pays everybody directly, everybody gets their money every month. 

Once the system is triggered, and it’s working, every artist can take their time. You can take as long as you want to take. Fans are loyal. Fans are more loyal than pets. If they believe [in] you, and they’re a fan, they’ll stick around.

Wintertime built a fan base by training his fans on how he wants to release music. Since the beginning, he consciously bet on himself. He doesn’t tour. He doesn’t sell merch. He has zero editorial playlist on Apple Music and Spotify. Zero. He doesn’t get playlisted. All of his playlist placements are fan-made. 

Chapter XIV: Making the Middle-Class Artist 

Middle-class artists are the ones with their hands in the dirt. They build the entire ecosystem. They’re the ones who are forced to do things they aren’t passionate about because they have to make a living for themselves. The concept behind the middle-class artist is rooted in finances, but it also points to how much work it takes. 

I could get funding for a management company to hire seven more managers. I could find the next five hot, new artists, but I don’t want that. That’s not what I want out of music. Because then it turns into a machine. I’d rather break eight artists and eight companies, instead of having one act that’s going to pay for my shit while I have all these other ones just straggling around. 

I’m not a business partner who will drive an artist into the ground so I can make as much money as possible. I want my partners to be successful; I don’t need them to be successful. Success is subjective as a motherf**ker. Anybody who wants to partner with an artist, they should build a company around who the artist wants to be.

Let’s say you take ten artists and tell the ten artists: If I can position you where you can do art the way you want to do it and get a paycheck every month, you can build this world the way you see fit. Now, you’re going to have a small budget, but you get more say in that budget than signing to a major label with a budget ten times that size. I’m willing to bet, out of those 10, seven of them will want to make the music their way. 

Now, the label, they want you to be the next Drake, but not every artist wants to become a superstar. That is where the labels get into trouble. They rarely consider: How can we make our operation suitable for the middle-class artist? The artist who isn’t trying to be super famous and wealthy, but make a living off music—for decades to come.

Chapter XV: Getting Into the Groove

I’m not a fool. I’ll never convince myself that I can find another Brent. Brent Faiyaz has a uniqueness about him. He’s got something different. Even with Wintertime, his voice is different; he doesn’t sound like anyone else.

[However], I am taking the strategies I’ve learned through Brent and applying them to every new partnership. That’s what we’re doing with singer Amber Olivier, and this kid rum.gold, who is working with my business partner, Jayne Andrew. I give her the information I know about R&B so they can get into a groove. That groove is being able to make money, to be a full-time musician, and be the founder of your company.

Read Also: Equity Partnership Ecosystem | Surviving Your First Year in Music | Achieving “Healthy Success”

By Yoh, aka Middle-Class Yoh, aka @Yoh31

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