Brian Shafton & Bob Grossi of RBC Records: Dollars and Sense

    It’s hard enough these days to get on as a rapper, but what happens when something goes awry? Labels fold, albums disappoint, controversy erupts, and many artists are left without options – and rhymes that need to be heard. RBC Records is a Los Angeles-based marketing and promotions company that’s kept stars alive, with […]

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    It’s hard enough these days to get on as a rapper, but what happens when something goes awry? Labels fold, albums disappoint, controversy erupts, and many artists are left without options – and rhymes that need to be heard. RBC Records is a Los Angeles-based marketing and promotions company that’s kept stars alive, with plenty of chart appearances, gold records on the wall, and success stories to prove it.        Peruse the aisles at any large record store, and you’ll see independent releases from C-Bo, Tech N9ne, DJ Quik and others that RBC has been behind. In business for over six years, RBC has over 60 years of experience amongst its partners Bob Grossi and Brian Shafton, along with VP of Marketing/Product Development Ben Grossi. The trio all carried over expertise as executives at Priority Records, with a knack for grassroots campaigns and independent rap genius.        Amidst catastrophic sales trends in the Hip-Hop marketplace, Brian, Bob, and Ben reveal their approach to, in winning battles that seem impossible. With recent critical praise on Turf Talk’s West Coast Vaccine, RBC refuses to blink in the face of adversity, and instead, takes partial credit for bring Bo to Buck, recycling a Quik to the majors, and upholding Tech N9ne as the biggest star in rap, that radio ignores. While the majors are sinking dollars into projects, the sensibly thrifty RBC is forever making artists creep on a come-back The three of you all had various levels of experience at Priority Records. What sorts of work-ethics and values did you bring over to RBC from your experience beforehand?Brian Shafton: What we brought over was the ability to promote and market records without the aid of radio and video, but rather street credibility, hard work, grinding, and developing a realistic marketing plan for the artist, distributor, and everybody involved. We learned how to make money on records without overspending. I don’t know if that was always brought from Priority, but it was definitely brought from the early days of Priority, before EMI purchased them. Bob Grossi: We decide how profitable a project can be, and then work backwards from that to decide where to spend the money effectively – winning in areas where we can win. You said you’re not relying on video or radio. Ten years ago, maybe five, there appeared to be the theory of “if you build it, they will come.” Whether it was N.W.A., The Geto Boys, or even Mack 10…those records weren’t designed for radio, but it seemed like once the buzz was there, radio had no choice but to submit. Today, with the artists that you work with today, does that still hold true?Brian Shafton: No, not at all. “If you build it, they will come” is a total fabrication that the major labels want to portray. The reality of the situation is, we have records a la Tech N9ne, that have incredible sales, but yet radio and video have not embraced him. This is one example of many. We don’t have the financial wherewithal or the major label agenda to force those records on the general public. If you’re a brand new artist on Def Jam, you’re much more likely to be broken on radio because Def Jam can say, “I’m going to give you Jay-Z for your summer concert if you give me this amount of spins.” That’s not reflective of what the public wants to hear, it’s what the labels want, which puts the independents at a serious disadvantage. Ben Grossi: We pick and choose our battles – whether it’s our relationships with print, TV buys, street teams. Those are the battles we choose, along with Internet marketing.Brian Shafton: You mentioned our successes at Priority. We did get some spins with Mack 10, but they were never [more than] the major labels. We might have peaked at 3,000 BDS, while you’re seeing stuff that’s 15-17,000 BDS. Radio does not mirror what the public’s interest You brought up Tech N9ne, who has always had a strong West Coast following, despite being from Kansas City. Looking at your roster, why is there so much emphasis on West Coast and South acts? Is that a smarter independent sales force?Brian Shafton: We are looking for viable artists, regardless of geography, within our specialized field. The vast majority of our contacts are West Coast, and that reflects our roster. However, we also represent 8Ball’s 8 Ways Entertainment, Bonecrusher, J-Shin, Ras Kass – who lives in New York; we’ve been close to doing deals with Cormega, or Krayzie Bone. The reality is, we are national, but the focus is West Coast, ‘cause that’s our hood; we want to lock that Do you generally approach viable artists or do they come to you, knowing your strengths and abilities?Brian Shafton: It’s a combination of the two. Most of the time, the artists come to us. We’ve had relationships from your biggest artists – Snoop Dogg and Jay-Z to small, S#### or Lil’ Cyco type of artists. We have relationships with so many people that they typically come to us. The core model for us is, we’re looking for somebody with some kind of established fan-base; we’re not just listening to music and going, “This s**t is hot; let’s sign him.” However, we did recently do that with an artist called DZK from Virginia, and we’re doing a digital-release on his record, to find out what consumers think about him before we go full-boat and put out his physical How much has your business changed with the advent of grassroots battlefields like MySpace or YouTube?Brian Shafton: We’ve fully embraced it. Three years ago, we started hiring consultants to handle our Internet activity on places like MySpace. As we penetrated the market, we found that these are cost-effective tools, we hired, within our own company, a full-time director of online marketing, Brett Morrow, who came from Universal. Then we have a half-dozen people who work for him, who correspond with the fans directly, on message boards and whatnot. Without a doubt, Tech N9ne is the blaring example of somebody who has been able to do that more successfully than anybody major, indie, and so on. If a C-Bo or an 8Ball gets a stellar print review in 2007, does that really hold any kind of weight the way that it did in 1992? Are people spending their dollars based on what they’ve read in a magazine?Brian Shafton: It’s an integral part, but it’s not a stand-alone piece. You can’t hit the consumer with just one marketing tool. I think it’s crucial to have a positive editorial, but it’s not enough. You need to have all the other cylinders firing. The single most-important thing to us is retail marketing – making sure your product is available, fairly priced, and visible at music retail. That’s what we learned at Priority and that’s we [do] at RBC. If you go into any record store, that’s what you’ll see – a strong representation of our titles. Catalogue titles like Tech N9ne’s Anghellic, which is six years old, still scans over 500 units a week – and they say rap catalogue can’t sell. It made very big news when Tower Records went out of business at the end of 2006. That was a place that carried tons of your titles. Did you feel a hit from their closing?Brian Shafton: Immediately. Tower stores fit incredibly well for our demographic, specifically West Coast. They had two-thirds of their stores in California, which is where we do a lot of business. Russ [Solomon, Tower Records founder] is a fantastic guy, and he’s re-opening the Broadway location in Sacramento. Tower was a very unique animal; the stores had personality. There was opportunity to promote within the store and make a sale that way. It’s very rare to find a consumer at Tower with a single CD; most consumers walked out with multiple CDs because it was a great experience in the In the era of RBC, what’s your greatest success story?Brian Shafton: We’ve had a number of successes, including delivering Fontana their first Number One Independent record with DJ Quik’s Trauma. We’ve had a half a dozen records enter the Indie Charts at Number One or Number Two – DJ Quik, Tech N9ne, a Game record, a Do Or Die record. Even bigger and more importantly is the fact that we’ve allowed artists to become viable in the marketplace. Look at C-Bo, who has been independent all these years, who, we feel we are partially responsible for elevating him to the point where Young Buck and Cashville [Records] signed him as a solo artist. Successes to us are measured on a lot of levels. The big records are great, but the smaller records can be incredible fruitful and profitable too.Ben Grossi: We’ve given artists a way to market and sell their music in a different outlet, that may not be available to a lot of people. We’ve given a lot of artists a home that may not be able to have a home anymore. We’ve opened a lot of doors that may’ve been pushed to the wayside by the industry.