Why is it that no one has built a successful record label
owned by an athlete? I want to build the
first successful independent rap record label owned by a sports figure!!! Now, I don’t mean an athlete who raps….I mean
an athlete who has business sense and wants to be in the music business. And it would be an added plus if he or she
was looking to run the label after retiring from sports, but not mandatory.
When I first moved to Atlanta three years ago, I was
interviewed for ESPN.com. I was asked
why I thought no sports figure had ever succeeded in starting an urban record
label even though so many had tried. I
was shocked by the long list of athletes who’d tried and failed. Millions and millions of dollars had been
wasted. Last month, that same journalist
called me again. Although he has since
moved on to Bloomberg TV from ESPN, three years had passed and he was following
up to see if any athletes had come into the business and been successful. Not one has been successful. This bothered me immensely, and now I am on a
mission to find an athlete with the right mindset to win big in this industry.
Still, to this day, there has not been a successful label
owned by a sports figure. I’ve danced
around a tiny bit over the past 18 years of my career with Dennis Scott, Nick
Van Exel, Jamal Tinsley, Quentin Groves, and even Roy Jones, Jr. I spoke briefly with Winky Wright a few years
ago, who eventually chose Damon Dash to help his start his label—neither of
them have labels now. I’ve spoken with
sports agents who had no interest in their athletes owning record labels, so
they sabotaged them to fail either in the negotiations or the initial stages of
them starting labels (I won’t work with those who have disinterested or
b####### agents—it’s impossible to win, so I am proud to say I’ve never been
part of the failed process). But I’ve
yet to find the perfect athlete with the right mindset, the proper funding, and
great music. And of course, the will to
win in this industry.
I’ve watched sports guys hire industry people who aren’t
qualified to help them start labels, either because they’ve never done it or
because they run competing labels themselves.
Some fall into both categories, sadly.
I have seen hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted on false starts for
artists and on elaborate parties, neither of which have anything to do with
selling records. Building hype is a
wonderful thing, but isn’t it better to build hype from the grind and the great
music than for throwing parties? This is
a b-u-s-i-n-e-s-s! I’ve watched MLB
baseball players waste millions of dollars because they had the wrong staff in
place. I’ve seen NBA super stars lose
millions on the wrong artist and waste hundreds of thousands of dollars
trusting the wrong consultants (please sue them!!) especially regarding radio
spins. I’ve seen NFL players spend
hundreds of thousands of dollars on elaborate parties to never even put out an
artist or recoup any of the spending.
To put out a rap record successfully, it takes great music,
artists who work hard, an experienced plan put together by someone with
experience and connections and a successful track record in putting out
music. It also takes proper funding—to
put out a rap act in today’s economy, an investment of about half a million
dollars per release is necessary…on the low end. I’ve done it for non-athletes with $300,000
but every penny of the income gets recycled back into the business to keep it
To break an act, you need excellent music…not just good
music, but great music. It needs to
start breaking at the street and club level and be worked in a regional area
until radio is ready to embrace it. It
then needs to be worked at radio by an experienced independent radio promoter
who can take it to the next level. The artists
need to get out on the road and stay on the road as long as possible going from
town to town and city to city, working their record. The indie label needs great, legitimate
distribution that has a hard working sales staff to get the record into stores
and onto the internet for legal downloads– and successfully collect the money
after the music sells from the stores and websites. I’m making it all sound easy and effortless
but it’s not. It’s hard work, and takes
experience, connections, favors, proper funding, relationships, and time.
As I analyze the sports labels that have come before, I have
seen a large amount of mistakes. This
advice applies to all labels, but especially to sports labels since the goal of
MANY people in this industry is to separate wealthy people from their
money. This attitude has always
surprised me because it is just as much work to make money by selling music as
it takes to scam somebody. So why jack
someone out of money when you can just do the work and be successful?
Have GREAT Music and Talented, Hard-Working Artists
The biggest mistake I see is in the quality of music. This is also the #1 reason that I turn down
consulting work with labels—not just athletes, but everyone. This is a business first and foremost! Treat it as such. When you are running a real business, you
choose the best artists with the most commercially viable music you can
find. You don’t fund your son, your
cousins, your niece, or your neighbors, unless they are worthy of that
investment. Artists must have talent,
song writing skills, and a work ethic that won’t quit. Do NOT listen to the artist or the people
surrounding you for advice when determining if an artist has the right stuff or
not. Listen to professionals (DJs,
retail store owners, fans, bloggers, etc).
If your neighbor can sing circles around Whitney Houston, that might be
a good funding choice. A regional rap
group that has found a way to press up their own CD and is already selling
independently on the web and in their local area might also be a good choice
for funding. But your wack ass nephew
who can’t rhyme or make songs as well as Jay Z is NOT a great choice for
backing, unless your goal is to write off the money you will spend as a
loss. Of course, you’ll make your family
happy by working with your nephew– until the project fails.
In terms of artist work ethic, that goes a very long
way. Given a choice between a super lazy
artist with supreme talent, and one with less talent but a get-up-and-go work
ethic, I’ll take the one with work ethic any day. But they can’t be wack! They must have talent if you plan to sell
music. On a scale of 1 to 10, the artists
need to be a level 8, 9, or 10 in talent, as judged by others outside of your
circle. On a work ethic scale, they need
to be 9 or 10 as evidenced by their current work level. An artist sitting around waiting to be
“discovered” is a bigger risk than an artist who is attending conventions and
events, performing at the local talent shows, or even trying to get their music
out there to the world via the internet or pressing CDs a few at a time and
Learn The Game Before Jumping In
The second biggest mistake I see in athletes coming into the
music business is the lack of knowledge and research about the business. Just like you didn’t get into sports without
learning the game and the other players, you shouldn’t come into the music
world cold. Learn how the industry works
and who the key players are. That
doesn’t mean the key players won’t f### you out of money, but it does mean that
you’ll have an understanding of who is who.
Once you know who’s who, you can start infiltrating and asking around
about them. If many of the same people
say the same things, it’s most likely accurate.
If you want to build a successful company, seek guidance from those
who’ve done it before. But if they
already own their own labels, they may not be the best person to help you start
yours. Do NOT be blinded by fame or
hype—99% of what you see in this industry is not real.
When you hire someone to run your business for you, choose
the best GM (General Manager) that you can find. Find someone who has run other labels
successfully (preferably more than one) and who knows what they are doing. Google them, ask for references, and check
their references. The best people can
put you on the phone with their last 3 or 4 clients so you can ask questions.
This business isn’t a scientific business, meaning that we
go on emotions and feelings a lot. If
you aren’t a good judge of other people, DO have someone who is good at that
help you out. Almost everyone who has
complained about losing money was able to mention afterwards something about
the person that made them wonder if he or she was shady. If you are thinking it, there’s probably a
good reason for it. Do more research on
them. And never, never, never hire your
boy/cousin/friend/trusted sports advisor to run your label for you. This is a specialized business that requires
connections, experience, knowledge that’s specific and hard to find, with
favors from industry insiders in order to win.
Keep Your F###### Mouth Shut
Because of those who’ve come before you and failed, it is
NOT to your advantage to broadcast to the world that you are an athlete coming
into the music business. The sharks and
vultures who want to separate money from the wealthy will hone in on you like a
sailor on shore leave looking for a scantily clad h#####. And the true professionals in the industry
will immediately assume you’ll fail as all others have, and avoid working with
you to avoid a failure on their resume.
But here’s the kicker—no one will admit this to you, they will either
just give you excuses of being too busy and bow out, or tell you what you want
to hear while they take your money and not deliver (as history has shown time
and time again). It is best to move
around in silence until you’ve started to experience some success with your
label and then announce to the world that it’s a label owned by an
athlete. In this situation, silence is
There is only one other way to do this where people already
know you are a sports guy about to start a label….do it SUPER publicly. Secure a reality show and put a giant
spotlight on you and your project. This
will scare away the roaches and snakes (people who want to steal from you will
want to do so cloaked in darkness, not with cameras rolling on national TV). The downside of this idea is that it will
attract to you people who are more driven by fame rather than the true
professionals who can help your label succeed.
The trick is to find balance.
You, as the owner of the label, need to step up in front of the camera
and let those behind the scenes do their thing.
No one wants to fail live in front of millions of viewers, which will
scare away the scammers, but it may also scare away the key professionals you
need, as well. Yep, balance is key!
My plan is to set up a label for a sports figure, but only
to inform folks on a need to know basis.
The distributor and artists will need to know where the funding is
coming from, but the fans and consumers won’t need to know until the label is
chugging along successfully. Let’s face
facts, no one cared who owned Death Row, RocAFella, or Bad Boy until their
artists were successful. If a reality
show can help add positive benefit to the success of the artists, then we will
figure out a way to do so effectively.
Do NOT Be The Artist
I can’t believe I even need to say this. If you are an athlete, do not try to sing or
rap. Even if you have incredible talent,
you will not be taken seriously. Rappers
don’t try to professionally play ball (yeah, I saw Master P try), box, golf, or
play tennis for the same credibility reasons.
Rap is especially not an arena where gimmicks are accepted. We don’t embrace actors who rap (Drake may be
the first to change this thinking), athletes who rap, or game show winners who
rap—yes, I’m talking about “America Has Talent” and “American Idol.” These may all be fine for the mainstream
masses, but it hasn’t translated into the rap marketplace yet. Thank God.
If You’re Going To Do This, Do It Right
This is a business, and like any business it takes proper
funding to build your company. If you
think this is an arena where you can come in with a small investment and win
big, you are sadly mistaken. If you plan
on investing less than $100,000 in a rap artist (the barre is even higher for a
singer), save your money. You will
absolutely end up dumping more money into your company later to save your
initial investment, but you will do so after scaring away the true
professionals who could have helped you if your budget was realistic in the
beginning. Look at this logically, you
will spend at least $50,000 to secure radio regionally (and this is a MINIMUM
budget). Most singles take $50,000 to
$100,000 to break regionally at radio.
That’s just one single. A promo
tour costs about $15,000 to $25,000 for a thirty day run. And thirty days on the road is not enough to
support the release of an established artist, let alone break a new unknown
artist. Add to these costs marketing,
promotion, publicity, advertising, video costs, touring, internet promotions,
street teams, etc.
If you are smart, you will end up paying a consultant or a
great GM $50,000 to $150,000 to guide you in these treacherous shark infested
waters, either monthly or in a single lump sum.
A great consultant will end up saving you far more than you spend on him
or her, but the point is that there is a cost associated with this. The bottom line is that if someone is
offering you a great deal to start a label, or says they can do this with a
minimal investment on your part, do more research. It is highly unlikely! It is as unlikely as you being able to
purchase a brand new Bentley convertible, loaded, for $30,000. It just doesn’t happen….something isn’t
right. If you want a Bentley, you will
pay for a Bentley. But at least with a
label, you’ll get a return on the investment.
Even if your goal is not to start a label, but to build an
artist to the point where a major label will step in and offer you a deal, you
still will need more than $100,000 in investment. As you do your research on this industry, you
will find that putting out an artist regionally and selling CDs and downloads
IS the best way to attract a larger deal from a major that will lead to
success. Meanwhile, you still need to
start with a realistic investment to properly fund your goals.
The bad business I have seen in this industry is heart
breaking. I guess it shouldn’t surprise
me that there has never been a successful athlete owned label, but it
does. I’ve seen athletes higher party
promoters to help them start their labels, spend upwards of $100,000 on
parties, only to end up doing joint ventures with their artists at a bigger
label—do you realize you just paid $100k to give up half of your artist? I’ve seen NBA All-Stars lose millions in
promoting family members or themselves as rappers, only to sell less than 5,000
CDs and downloads. Even with a $500,000
budget, that’s a cost per CD of $100 to make a $6 to $8 return. Was it worth it?
This industry isn’t difficult. Selling music is fun and rewarding when you
know what you are doing or guided by the right, legitimate people. Not everyone who separates you from your
money means to jerk you—some just promise more than they can deliver. But at the end of the day, this is a business
and we all need to treat it as such. My
goal is to find an athlete who wants to win in this business, and until I find
the right one, I’m going to keep searching.
I had a meeting last week that was VERY promising. I met with a sports figure who has the same vision
and work ethic as me. We’re both driven
by success instead of money, and the artists are tight. So we’ll see what happens…. Maybe we’ll even
build the label publicly to show you how it’s done!!