I've gone over this before, most deeply with Dr. Dre producer Dawuan Parker, but the biggest lesson I've learned as I've moved beyond this here keyboard and started getting the occasional peek into how the music industry works is that it's completely balls crazy.
Before I started hearing stories from artists, songwriters, and producers, I assumed the flow between a song being written and landing on an album was a carefully constructed, deliberate process. Producer A gets in the studio with Artist A, Artist A selects the song for their album, all the paperwork and legal shit gets worked out, marketing plans are developed, and then the album drops. And to be sure, that does occasionally happen, but most of the time? Not even close. The music industry essentially operates on some MacGyver shit—billion dollar labels are essentially held together by rubber bands and paper clips.
Case in point, Eminem and Rihanna's mega-uber smash shit, "Monster", which has already sold well over two million copies and will go down as one of, if not the, biggest hits of Em's stellar career.
You'd think a song like that would have been the product of months of coordinated and careful planning, but, you guessed it, nope. Pigeons & Planes has an even more detailed breakdown (salute to them), but here's the abbreviated version of how the number-one hit came to be:
- Bebe Rexha was a struggling singer who got dropped from Island Records about three years ago (as the singer of the duo Black Cards with Fall Out Boy member Pete Wentz), and after losing the deal she struggled with depression. She and Jon Bellion wrote a song that channeled those struggles for Rexha's upcoming project.
- That song ending up being produced by Aalias and Frequency and sounded like this:
- The producer, Frequency, knew current Atlantic A&R, former Shady Records A&R, and Eminem's friend, Riggs Morales, and just so happened to play him the song. Morales liked the song, he thought it could work for the MMLP2 album Em was working on and passed it along. Now everyone involved in the record starts thinking, "Sweet baby Jesus, we might get a song placed on an Eminem album!"
- Ten months go by and they don't hear anything. Nothing. For essentially a whole fucking year it's just this. Imagine having to wait that long knowing that your life may be changed forever..or, you know....not at all and everything will be exactly the same.
- Bellion's lawyer hears a rumor that Rihanna is recording with Em, then Rihanna tweets, "Just recorded a monster hook." They have to assume that "monster" hook is a reference to their song, and Rihanna would sound good on the hook, so maybe the song will make the album?!?!?! They wouldn't bring in Rihanna to record a hook for a song that doesn't make the album, would they? (Side note: They totally would, happens all the time.)
- A week later the album tracklist gets posted online, "Monster" made it. Celebration ensues.
So in summary, the people who wrote the biggest song on the biggest hip-hop album of the year found out the song was placed at the same time as the rest of the world VIA A TRACKLIST ON THE INTERWEBS.
That's fucking pistachios. What other business could operate like that? Imagine if you were an engineer for Ford and submitted a design for a new truck, didn't hear anything for a year, and then saw your truck for sale when you just happened to drive by the dealership. Ok, so that's not really a good analogy, but that's the point. No other business could possibly work like this, where million-dollar decisions like whether a single makes a mega-album happens at the last minute with almost no communication. But that's what happens when you try to marry creativity with commerce—it rarely makes logical sense.
And we're just hearing about this story because it actually came through. For every Bebe Rexha, there are literally hundreds of other artists who submitted material for MMLP2, waited a year in anticipation, then has to fight off disappointment when that same tracklist dropped and their song wasn't on it.
Sweet baby Jesus, bless all of you who live that life, much respect to you. I don't know if I could hack the constant uncertainty; but who knows, sometimes your life really does change overnight. Just ask Bebe Rexha.