Hip-Hop Daily Dose #28: How Artists Get Screwed By Producers

This audio journal is all about my frustrating experiences trying to get exclusive music from producers for my rap projects.

I realize this may sound like it's coming from a place of complaint.

My mindset is NOT to be a victim.

I simply want to share the experiences of an artist who, on and off for the last decade, has tried to:

  • get exclusive music for my songs
  • get taken seriously
  • come up with money for vocal engineering and recording
  • $$ for mixing and mastering
  • $$ for marketing

I don't think I even talked about the band that I quit my job to join...that was a scam too.

That guy was a good producer and had me record on a whole bunch of tracks...which he never finished.

At least, I don't think.

Who knows, my work could be out there...my lyrics could've been copied by somebody else.

Another one of my many music biz "failures" that I'm sure I'll talk more about one day.

I've seen lots of producers over the years complaining about rappers wanting free beats.

For the purpose of this discussion, I'm referring to artists who make beats and instrumentals as "producers" and those who provide the vocals as "artists."

(Some do both, but many only do one or the other.)

I just want to share one artist's side of the situation...

Finished songs depend on the vocals at least as much as the music...so why is the burden of cost often completely on the artist?

Why do rappers (not signed to a label) have to pay for:

  • The music production
  • Studio time for vocals
  • Clearing of any samples
  • Mixing
  • Mastering
  • All the marketing & promo of the song

Why don't producers pay artists to provide songwriting and vocals for their tracks? 

The artist is expected to front the costs of all parts of the track...

...and gets paid zero for their labor of writing, recording, and marketing the music. 

Then, they usually split profit from the track with the producer!

It doesn't seem to make sense.

Artists can easily spend a minimum of $1,000 per song.

If you want an exclusive beat from a reputable producer, many of those start at a minimum of $500.

Then you have to put in the work of writing the lyrics and recording vocals...which, by the way, no one is paying you for.

You do free labor, which likely took you just as much time and possibly longer than the producer spent making the beat...

Then you gotta go into the studio if you don't have a set-up at home you're comfortable with.

Oh, you DO know how to record and engineer your vocals and you have the equipment?

Again, free labor that no one is paying you for (the ability to write, perform and record your own vocals...plus cost of the equipment).

These are real skills.

Good songwriting and vocal performances don't just shoot out your butthole.

It takes time and money to develop these skills.

I've seen so many producers online complaining about artists asking for free beats when all their piano lessons and gear for production cost a lot of money.

Well...

Ditto, kiddo.

Recording costs:

A studio costs a minimum of $20-$40 per hour...you're probably spending at least $100-$200 per song on recording costs.

If you're able to engineer that all yourself, you just lost $100-$200 by not being paid for that service.

Ok, so you're down anywhere from $300-$700 now for the beat and studio time to record vocals.

Now comes mixing and mastering...

A lot of internet producers aren't going to do it for free.

I've been lucky to have friendships with a couple producers who mixed my stuff for free.

But only for a song here or there, not for a full project.

Clearly, it wouldn't be appropriate to ask for free help very often.

Mixing and mastering costs vary, but I rarely see it cheaper than $50.

Let's put the range at $50-$200+.

Waitttt...you also know how to mix and master yourself?

Another $50-$200 no one paid you for.

Man, this really sucks so far.

Alrighty, this track is finally done and we've spent or done labor that's worth at least $350...

...and that is very very low.

It doesn't include any pricing for the services of composing song lyrics and the actual performance.

It's strictly the cost of a cheap beat, cheap studio time, and cheap mixing and mastering.

Ok, marketing.

Even if you don't spend much $ on this, you're probably going to spend a lot of time sending emails, social media posts, and messages.

If you have a podcast show, if you make videos, and you promote your music on here: this counts as time and money spent on marketing.

You gotta write press releases...pay for submission to distribute the music...pay for cover art...

You need to get interviews and features on other people's podcast shows, radio and/or TV if possible, and written publications.

Is the producer there for any of that?

Have you ever seen Beyonce's producer interviewed instead of her?

Let me know if you have...

Did the producer work with you on marketing strategy for any of this?

Wait and you spent like $1000 for a song that's 50% theirs? 

Sounds like a scam if you ask me.

Btw, where did you get all your marketing prowess?

You mean you spent time and money on courses, masterminds, reading articles, trying strategies and failing, spending money on ads, programs and marketing tools...over the course of the last several years?

Daaaang.

So since the song bears your name on the cover, you're burdened with the cost of literally everything...

...and likely still have to split profit 50/50 because you don't actually own the whole song.

I think I've clearly shown that songwriting and vocals are worth at least as much as music production (if not more), depending on experience and resume. 

There's a reason why Nicki Minaj spit: "$50k for a verse, no album out!

It's not just cause she's famous, it's cause her lyric writing and performance skills have REAL VALUE. 

Whether it's the producer paying that fee or another artist, doesn't matter. 

The point is her songwriting, performing, and marketing value were worth that much at the time she wrote that lyric.

Producers are probably saying:

"Well, you've got to prove yourself first.

Nobody knows who you are and I don't know if you're going to market it well...it's a risk for me.

I have to make sure I'm compensated for my work."

A. Everything is a risk

B. Does anyone know who you are either? If not, it's equally risky for me to buy beats from No-Name Producer too!

C. Even if you're respected in the local hip-hop scene, if no one (other than artists who need beats) is buying your stuff...you're a No-Name too fam. Sorry. 

D. If no one's gonna buy the finished track based on your name brand either, then how come I'm not getting paid for my work by you?

Let's make some assumptions from the producer's side for a moment...

The producer needs lyrics and vocals in order to have a hit track, or a finished track that end consumers are interested in buying.

BUT...

A lot of producers probably get most of their revenue from artists needing beats, and not from the actual finished product with vocals.

For many producers, the finished product is the bare instrumental.

Producers wanting to get more rotation in iTunes accounts, however, probably need a lyricist/vocalist.

After vocals are added and the song drops:

Many artists are lucky if they make $50 back per song..

Why is that?

For starters: Obscurity, lack of marketing skills, lack of budget (hey, you'll learn about marketing for free on this site if you stick with me)...

Let me ask you...

Would you say a song is equally 50% music and 50% vocals?

Would a music fan say the vocals and lyrics are more important?

My guess is, many would.

If the end consumer (the person we're making the music for, the buyer of the music) deems vocals 100% necessary for them to consume the song, then why wouldn't the burden of cost at least be split evenly?

Why isn't there a more defined trade/barter system between producers and artists?

Throughout my 20's, I bought catalog beats that hundreds of others also bought...because that was all I could afford.

Lots of these beats have samples...

I eventually just avoided all sampled beats if my intent for the track was commercial release.

I didn't want to deal with trying to clear the sample.

Didn't want to deal with the possibility of having a breakthrough song and getting in legal trouble.

I find it insane that producers sell beats with uncleared samples.

From my understanding, that's illegal.

And I believe it's unethical...

I've always felt if you have copyrighted samples in your work, you shouldn't sell it.

If I can't sell the finished product without getting the sample cleared first, why would you think it's ok to sell it to me?

Any music with copyrighted work in it would just be given away as a freebie by me.

That's the model given to us by rappers who make mixtapes off bootleg beats and give it away for free.

And there have been a lot of legal implications with that as well.

I want to clarify that I do like beat catalogs and still plan to take advantage of flash beat sales...

...just not for a proper studio album or EP.

Those are good beats for freebies/mixtape material (in my opinion).

This episode of Hip-Hop Daily Dose covers my frustrations and gives specific examples from my career.

All I ever wanted was an exclusive product that no one else has made, that I can legally sell, that is worthy of marketing the crap out of.

Sure, I know this is very possible to get...

But doing it on a budget?

Getting people to take you seriously?

It's not easy.

To be fair to producers (whom I'd very much like to hear from), I know a lot are great at marketing.

A lot do help the artist promote the end product.

Producers have to have their own brand and they're very hip to that.

And I have a ton of respect for production...which should be clear, because I want my project to be done the right way with great production.

How could I not want to give people the very best project I possibly could?

To monetize it and make a living off my work...

To partner with other artists, producers, brands, and businesspeople.

That's the dream.

I just want to present you with messed up stuff I've experienced from the side of someone who writes and performs song lyrics.

Just like the producer invested time and money into their craft to provide a service, so has the artist.

Music fans value the vocals and lyrics just as much as the music (Right? Would a Nas track be a Nas track with just Large Professor on the boards?).

To act like the music should be paid for ahead of time but not the lyrics and vocals is just crazy to me.

There should be more collaboration on the marketing if profits aren't solely going to the artist.

Live performances are also part of marketing the music.

It takes time and money to develop a live show and the skills to crush it.

Artists have to dodge scams and pay-to-play...they get paid less than they should.

All venues are in the business of paying as little as possible for entertainment services.

There's an entire system of venues and online organizations taking advantage of talented artists.

I think we need a better system of doing things so artists don't get screwed over as much.

Perhaps we could all come from an even more collaborative place in the future...I'm hoping for peace and great music.

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