Welcome to the fourth 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.
The word “success” is ubiquitous in the language of contemporary rap music. It’s found in the lyrics of singles heard across the world and is a topic of discussion during press runs. From public interviews to private conversations, success is on the tip of every tongue.
The first time I heard the phrase “healthy success” was during a 2019 phone call with Atlanta-born, Los Angeles-based talent manager and businessman Ty Baisden. Our conversation was about mental health and how protecting happy partnerships starts with business practices. As a businessman with eight clients in the music industry, each one comes with personal boundaries best for their mental comfort.
Although Baisden’s an advocate for artistic independence and ownership, especially for Black creatives, the Atlanta-born manager and business owner knows every artist comes with their personal objectives. If those objectives require the assistance of a major label, then a deal isn’t something he will oppose under the right circumstances. Being willing to work with a major doesn’t mean Baisden is any less critical of their infrastructure.
In the fourth volume of The Colture Playbook, Baisden shares the importance of mental comfort, his views on “healthy success,” and the major-label payment system.
Chapter XVI: The Question
If one of my independent artist partners wants to sign a record deal, my first two questions are, “What are you trying to achieve? Do you want a deal because you want more money?” Signing a deal is taking on a loan. It’s not real. That’s not how you’re going to get rich. You’re going to get rich off the back end money.
The question will always be: Do you need a deal for support, or are you trying to depend on someone? That’s what you have to ask yourself when thinking about the majors. Artists say they want support, but what they want is somebody to depend on. There are artists who say they want to depend on someone, but what they want is support. There’s a big ass difference.
I ask the questions to understand their reasonings. Brent [Faiyaz] and I have had these conversations. Once we came to an understanding of his reasoning, cool, give me six months. In six months, if you feel like those means haven’t been met, we’ll do a deal.
Chapter XVII: Newspaper Route
I don’t care about money. It’s not real, so I don’t judge an artist partner based on how much money they bring in. I judge them based on if we can work together. Can we get on a call, and I say, “Hey, I think that video shoot is rushed. Let's spend three more weeks preparing for it,” and them being able to say, “Alright, I understand”?
We’re independent; we can’t afford to mess this up. That’s what I care about. I won’t treat you differently because you don’t make us a certain amount of money.
When I met Brent, he was making sandwiches at a grocery store. That showed me he understands: If a customer needs a sandwich, I have to make the sandwich. How do you want your sandwich? He got an order; he had to serve it. He understood paying your bills and having your own place. He was self-sufficient.
I [wouldn’t] manage any n*gga that didn’t have a job. You either had to have a job or have been to college. Even if you didn’t finish that motherf**ka, [there’s] just certain systematic shit, I believe you need to be successful—behavior and routine are two of them.
A lot of these artists, before they try to be an artist, need to get a newspaper route. They need to understand the impact of taking a newspaper and throwing it at somebody’s door 100 times a day because that’s how distribution works. The same person who’s telling their story has got to be willing to be the same person to knock on somebody’s door to ask them to listen.
If you’re an artist and you aren’t willing to knock on somebody’s door 1,000 times and get 1,000 no’s for them to listen to your story, signing to a major label [will not] help you.
Chapter XVIII: Defining “Healthy Success”
We shouldn’t fight over certain things. Mental health is one of those things. It’s invisible but affects everyone differently. For example, I know who I am, and I don’t give a f**k what people are saying on Twitter. But in 2017, Brent came to me about deleting his Twitter.
At the time, he was in a very privileged, but unique position to be his age and get [that] type of attention. I don’t know what that’s like, so if he says he needs to get rid of it, I can’t tell him it’s not important. It’s reactivated now, but that was his choice, not because I need him on there to be successful.
When you use success and base it on something that isn’t real, you’re building your success on a rocky foundation. Success, for me, is being happy. Waking up and doing what I love makes me happy. Being able to receive and give information makes me happy. I’m ready to be helpful to artists because I’m happy. I’m the motherf**ker that n*ggas get mad at because I’m just happy all the time.
Healthy success is being able to do what you love, make a living off of it, and not feel like you’re a prisoner to your passions. I want a healthy success for all my clients.
Chapter XIX: Major Label Payment Structure
All my clients receive their money on time. If you take away the mental worry of [bringing in] money, they can focus on everything else. That’s a part of mental comfort. When it comes to major labels, I would challenge them to completely reboot and restructure their payment system as it pertains to the artist community: songwriters, producers, engineers, and artists. Shit, even the A&Rs.
For example, when a producer signs, they get a producer advance against [their] royalties. That advance varies. They have to pay that back on their percentage of royalty, which is three percent, four percent, or five percent, depending on how big the producer is. So, pretty much, you pay that back through your royalties. Once you pay that back, they pay out quarterly or bi-annually. You won’t find too many people who can nail down exactly when they’re getting paid.
Labels should stop giving out producer advances and start acquiring the masters from the producer for a fee, plus a royalty. The fee can vary based on the producer’s master value. We get rid of the word recoup when [we] start acquiring ownership. With vendor systems put in place, the producer would know, hey, Universal Music Group schedules payments on the third Friday of every month, and they would get whatever their royalty is, every 30 days.
I would challenge the majors to start with Black music. The business in Black music is messy. If they can clean that up, and change that perception, it creates more creatives who are having pleasurable experiences in the major-label system. If anything, you’ll have more artists with positive things to say about the labels they are signed to.
Think about how, no matter how successful the artist is, almost no one has positive things to say about the label system. You got someone like Taylor Swift, who is 100 percent successful—she doesn’t have positive things to say about her previous label situation. What does that say about the current infrastructure?
Chapter XX: What’s Real?
A record label can sign as many artists as they want, but an artist only has one career. That’s why it’s essential to change the payment infrastructure and how ownership is viewed. Artists are only artists because of the IP they’re able to create. Art is their intellectual property. A label can sign them and make money off their IP for however long their contract is.
Artists owning their art is very, very important, or at least co-owning it. I don’t want to disregard the label by saying the label doesn’t deserve to have any ownership of the product. I look at everything like it’s a company. If a person buys shares of a company, they have a certain say so. It’s fair that labels co-own something they help fund. Labels should partake in this from an ownership perspective if they help to build it.
There are just too many old ideas. The whole recoupment model is an archaic way of doing business. There’s no way certain practices should've made it to 2019. The contracts are old, some of the terminologies are old. I dislike the phrase “industry standard” to the core. That shit makes my stomach turn because it’s not real. There is no standard to enter the music business. So what was the standard built off of? Because enough people said yes? It’s not real.
Humans are real to me. People are what’s valuable. People create problems when they place the value of money over the value of humans. That’s why people do f**ked up business with one another. Because they value money over humans, so that means they will pay you less so they can keep more. The creators are the ones getting shortchanged.
By Yoh, aka Paperboy Yoh, aka @Yoh31