COVID-19 has upturned the music industry. Thankfully, some seasoned music industry veterans are doing their best to continue helping artists during these unfathomable times. One of these folx is Atlanta-based Ray Daniels, SVP of A&R at Warner Records. In addition to playing a pivotal role in a major-label system, Daniels, 40, also owns his own company, R.A.Y.D.A.R Management. His artist management roster has included the likes of Rock City, 11:11, Robnhood Tra, and WikiBeatz.
“I’ve seen so many people come and go, and I was just playing a game of survivor,” Daniels tells me of his career. “So for me to be here 15 years later, making a living still doing this… I guess I could call it a career!”
Daniels’ humility is humanizing, something you like to see from an exec working so closely with his artists. He credits his being a big brother in life and his business dealings as the reason he’s been a successful artist manager for nearly half his life.
Too, to help his artists, Ray Daniels points them in the direction of TuneCore. It is his firm belief TuneCore is the “home base” for artists looking for their break in the industry. “They don’t sell you a dream,” he says of the company. “Most distribution companies lie to you. They tell you, ‘We’re gonna do this, do that.’ TuneCore tells you, ‘We’re gonna let you in the door.’ It is a place for people that wanna start off. If you wanna start in the music industry, put something out through TuneCore. It’s simple.”
Though Daniels assures me it was only three years ago he realized he had a career in the music industry, he has spent nearly two decades as a staple in the game. A wealth of knowledge, Ray Daniels called me up on a sunny May afternoon to talk about his career journey and the power of TuneCore. Our conversation, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: How did you know you wanted a career in the music industry?
Ray Daniels: I didn’t know I wanted a career in the music industry. I didn’t even realize I had a career until maybe three years ago. I’ve seen so many people come and go, and I was just playing a game of survivor. So for me to be here 15 years later, making a living still doing this… I guess I could call it a career! For me, I never wanted to be in the industry. My only goal was to find a way not to be a loser. Somebody I went to high school with asked me to help him with music. I said, “Yes.” And here I am. That was [about] 19 years ago. That’s how I got here.
When did you first start making money from the music game?
I got my first check on December 24, 2004, at 5:06 p.m. I know that sounds crazy, but… It was kinda surreal. I had an artist I was working with, and he was a little off the rocker. We got him a deal. That artist kinda flipped on me—that’s how the world works. He’s like, “I shouldn’t pay your management fee.” This kid lived with me for like three years. I took care of him; I hustled with him. He was like my son. Then we finally got a deal, and he was like, “You ain’t a real manager.” The guy who was at the production company at the time was like, “Shit, you did all the work! So I’ll give you half of my money.” I wound up making way more money than I would have because the guy who he was signed to gave me half of his money.
I remember that check. It was for $37,500. At the time, I thought I was rich. I was thinking, “This is probably the last check I’mma ever get in my life.” So I treated it as that. I remember how broke I was that year.
I had a cold for eight months. I had to go to the hospital, and when you go to Grady Hospital, they make you fill out paperwork to apply for Grady-care. I remember this vividly because I filled out the paperwork, and you have to bring in your last paycheck. So when I brought in my last paycheck, the lady said, “Where’s your real paycheck?” “That’s my real paycheck.” “Sir, it says you only made $2,100 this year.” This is November of 2004. I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” She said, “How did you survive making $2,100?” I said, “I don’t fucking know, do I qualify for Grady-care?” “Yes! You do.” That’s how I remember how much money I made.
The reason I have a company is the guy who wrote me the check was like, “Who do you want me to write this check to? Ray Daniels or your company?” I was like, “Company? Should I have a company?” “Yeah! I got a company, get you a company. Call that shit R.A.Y.D.A.R or somethin’.” I started a company called R.A.Y.D.A.R.
What about your character makes you a good artist manager and A&R?
I’m a big brother. I got a little brother and a little sister I raised like they were my kids, even though we’re close in age. My sister is a year younger, and my brother is six years younger. Being a manager is just like being a big brother. You’re responsible; you’re there to protect them. They get better experiences than you because they come behind you. Being a big brother geared me for everything I do. It took me years to figure out I had a career because I was always the guy that felt like I got lucky. I was reading [Malcolm Gladwell] books, and it helped me figure out, “Oh, that’s why that went that way.”
I treated the game with a different kind of respect. I always worked harder than the next man, because I wanted to make sure he respected me. It just all worked in my favor.
What’s the hardest lesson you had to learn in your early days in the game?
It’s a business. No matter how many times you tell somebody, you love ‘em… No matter how many times you dream [about being at the top with somebody], the reality is, it’s just a business. I got a rule: I gotta love you poor, ‘cause I’m only gonna like you when you get rich.
What do you look for in an artist before doing business with them?
Drive. The first thing I try to figure out is, “Is this person gonna make it without me?” I don’t wanna be the savior. I wanna be a partner. I wanna enjoy my life, which means you gon’ have to work just as hard as I did.
How does TuneCore play a role in your artist management?
I [did] a couple things with TuneCore. I like TuneCore because, to me, it’s like the home base… It’s the starting point for artists. I’m the SVP, right? A lot of artists come to me, “I just want a chance!” All you need is $30, and TuneCore [will] give you a chance. That’s the place I recommend everybody start. They gon’ load you up and line you up. It’s a DIY way of putting your music out. Even me working at a label, I understand you’re still responsible for your own fate. The artists that are a priority to us are the artists who know how to do it themselves. So if you can’t make it [with] TuneCore, you can’t make it nowhere.
What makes TuneCore such a resource for artists?
They don’t sell you a dream. Most distribution companies lie to you. They tell you, “We’re gonna do this, do that.” TuneCore tells you, “We’re gonna let you in the door. We’re gonna help you to do this, that.” It is a place for people that wanna start off. If you wanna start in the music industry, put something out through TuneCore. It’s simple.
How have you been managing your artists and business in light of COVID-19?
Everybody’s just trying to figure it out. It’s kinda scary, because… The live business seems to be in trouble, but the recording business seems to be thriving because artists want to put out music, to keep feeding themselves. It’s challenging us all to be creative. I’m noticing we’re learning how to be more lean and efficient with how we work in the music industry. It’s challenging us, and I love it.
Best advice you’ve ever taken?
To be in the music industry, you have to have some kind of ambition. You don’t come into this business to be No. 30. You wanna do more, but the reality is, the greats only start with one. Scooter Braun is one of the most successful managers in the game, but his first few years was [Justin] Bieber. To be super successful in this business, you just need one. It’s a miracle to break an artist.