As a former General Manager and Senior Vice President of No Limit Records, I already know what it's like to be on the business side of music. Creating my former music label Me & Mine Entertainment also gave me even more insight on how independent labels work. So it's fascinating to watch a realistic version of it come to our television screens every Wednesday night.
Anyone with a Twitter, Facebook or Instagram account has run into independent artists trying to make it in the music industry. But so many of us see it from the artistic standpoint: we hear songs, we watch artists, we give selective head nods to a few nice-on-the-eyes models posing for those covers, and we bob our heads to the beat. But what "Empire" does is educate people about the business end while still showing off the sexier side of the hip-hop and R&B music industry.
On recent interviews with The Dream, Tyga, Timbaland, Serayah, Jussie Smollett and Quincy, artists have told their views on how they feel about the TV show and the contractual agreements. From a business perspective, I'll answer a few questions I keep hearing about the professional side of the arts.
Do you think an artist who already has a reputable name should do a show like "Empire"? Or, are artists getting too focused on television and not enough on music?
Reputable artists should consider doing a television show like "Empire." It gives them an opportunity to promote themselves in another form of entertainment. If they are trying to expand on their career by being versatile and proving that they have the ability to be actors, it is a great opportunity for them to do so. Artists need to look at ways to promote their brands. The music industry’s income has declined significantly over the last 10 years, and artists who have always struggled financially have to focus on additional ways to generate income (i.e., acting, concerts, merchandising).
First and foremost, congratulations to Smollett. After one season on the show, he confirmed on Entertainment Weekly that he's now signed to Columbia Records. Now maybe he'd have been able to do that on his own, but it certainly didn't hurt to be on a show like "Empire" with a fan base steadily growing. Fans may be disappointed to find out the "Empire" songs won't make it to his album, but that doesn't change his natural singing, dancing and performing abilities that viewers have already witnessed.
I understand why television and music companies want to own all the rights to the music. They are putting all of the finances behind the show and doing all of the marketing and promotion. The record label owners want to make sure they are compensated as the artists start to grow in popularity.
However, I understand why artists who are established do not want to sign the agreement. I believe that new (and some current) artists are more likely to become popular on a show like "Empire" than they would just signing to a label. If you are an artist that wants to build your brand, you may want to sacrifice yourself to get your name out in the marketplace. For Smollett, that worked to his advantage. While other artists' names are becoming more recognizable from the show, they can look into developing a label to sign other artists (if it's not written out of the legal contract). Having artists signed to their labels will help diversify their income and put them in a better place to succeed. The music may be their passion, but they should all be focused on creating a consistent and lucrative business, too.
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The business is fast paced, and if you are not on top of your business, others will take advantage of you. It made sense for Jamal to strike out alone. While he was singing "Keep Your Money," he was finding ways to rake in money to supplement the income he'd given up because of an ultimatum. For artists who may not have the freedom to walk away from a controlling record label, knowing your worth and understanding the contracts is extremely important. It is a dog eat dog business, and only the strong survive. Hard work is key, and you have to be relentless. When one door closed on Jamal from his father, Lucius, he kicked open the door to another opportunity. Don't miss out on the other elements that "Empire" offers to an untrained eye though. The fashion and industry parties are also given a spotlight in the show. "Empire" gives people on the outside looking in a glimpse of the business with a little “Hollywood” added.
Timbaland handles the music end of "Empire" songs for both artists and background music. Should music producers also consider this new trend in the hip-hop industry?
Music artists have been showing off their talents on movie soundtracks for decades. Even live bands have been doing it in the background of independent films and major films. Some producers must rely on a hot artist to make their beats better. A select few have such quality instrumentals that they can sell them on their own merit. But how often is it that you want to turn the volume to the top while watching a television show? Timbaland's talent is unquestionable. The music production is hot. I have to give them credit by getting an established talented producer. That alone truly legitimized the show. How they have comingled well-established actors into the fold with an incredible music producer like that creates a recipe for success.
People are people, and we are now in a time period where you judge someone by their talent. The genre of music seems to affect the speed in which some people are willing to accept that person. I think people are inherently good and want the best for others, but there are opinionated groups who are looking to judge people for reasons other than their actual talent. I am glad Frank Ocean has told the world who he is on his own terms, and I love his music. His talent is truly off the charts. It's difficult to question a man's talent when we know that first and his sexual identity second. Frank Ocean dropped that bomb in the right order. The look on Lucius' face after Jamal sang, "This the kind of song that make a man love a man," is nothing new. There will probably always be a group who will frown on the LGBT community. But that frown couldn't help but turn into a smile after seeing him perform at that white party. The blogs and the news briefs may have reported on him coming out, but there was no denying that that "You're So Beautiful" song was as hot as the songs from any other artist.
It would be difficult for an independent record label to go public at this time. If they are just doing music, there would not be enough revenue generated for investors to be interested. The company would have to be involved with movies, television, concert promotions, digital technology and merchandising to make it all worthwhile. The '90s and early 2000s was the greatest time for independent labels. There were distribution opportunities, and these labels were able to provide a sound that major companies couldn’t to the music listener. Things have changed considerably, and the only way the labels have been able to survive is the 360 deal.