Wendy Day is the founder of the non-profit organization, Rap Coalition. She has been an activist on artists’ behalf for more than twenty five years, having negotiated deals for Master P’s No Limit Records, Cash Money Records, and Eminem. She also has managed some of hip-hop’s greatest talents. She later changed her direction into helping artists build their own independent labels. It is very likely that she has helped make more millionaires in hip-hop than anyone else.
I reached out via Instagram and she kindly agreed to do an interview to discuss her career and current trends in the music industry as someone who has selflessly helped some of your favorite artists build sustainable careers. If you are interested in having a career in the music industry, she has some great advice. Below is my Master Class interview with Wendy Day.
Ryan Glover: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Being the founder of Rap Coalition, and brokering deals for groups such as No Limit and Cash Money, what was your entry and desire to be in the music industry in the first place? And how did that develop into you brokering deals for artists?
Wendy Day: The quick answer to that is insanity is what drove me; I’m being funny (laughs). I came into the music industry as a fan of the music. I started listening to rap in 1980 — which makes me pretty old — but I came to the music industry as a fan of rap music. I loved the energy and the passion in the music. I was in corporate America before I was in the music industry, and I was very fortunate I was making quite a bit of money in corporate America. I was in sales, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I wanted to do something that I was passionate about and gave a sh*t about. Is it okay if I curse?
Ryan Glover: Of course.
Wendy Day: Cause I’m kind of a sailor. I wanted to do something I was passionate about and I took a class about pop music. The teacher was Bert Padell, who, at the time, he was like the accountant to the stars. He was the accountant for all the biggest rappers, pop stars, and R&B singers. In his class, he was talking about how when an artist was no longer profitable, that nobody wanted to help them; and that really pissed me off! I heard the stories of Eric B. & Rakim having difficulty with their label; I heard about X Clan; and they were my favorite artists, my favorite groups at the time. And I just thought, “If nobody is gonna give a sh*t about them, I’m gonna step in and help them.” And I realized that they were at a point in their career where they didn’t really have a lot of money, and I knew they didn’t have a lot of money because people were helping them. ‘Cause in this industry, if someone can make a buck off of you, they will. So, I stepped in and started Rap Coalition, which is a not-for-profit, and we don’t charge artists to help them. Although I never got to help Eric B. &. Rakim or X Clan, I’ve been able to help hundreds and thousands of artists become more educated about the music industry and get out of bad deals. But I realized around ’94 or ’95, that just getting someone out of a bad deal wasn’t enough. Because, if your dream is to become a famous musician, or a famous rapper, or a famous singer, then pulling someone out of a bad deal isn’t enough. I realized that I needed to be able to get them into a good deal. I kind of figured that, at the time, I had seen so many bad contracts that, if I knew what all the pitfalls were, I should be able to get somebody into a good deal; Which turned out to be true. I didn’t know that at the time, that was just kind of speculation. I started negotiating artists into good deals and was able to work with Do or Die, Twista, No Limit, Cash Money, Eminem, David Banner, Boosie, Webbie — just a lot of different artists around 2005, when 360 deals came into vogue. A 360 is when a label signs you but they want a percentage of all of your income, not just your royalties. They want a piece of your show money, a piece of your publishing, a piece of your merchandise. In 2005, these deals came into vogue and the labels weren’t really helping the artists to get shows. If they wrote a book, they were taking a percentage of income from that; If they starred in a movie, they were taking a percentage of income from that. But they weren’t helping them get the book deals or the movie roles; They weren’t helping them get onto tours. They were just kind of profiting without doing any work and I took exception to that. So, at that point in time, I decided to stop helping artists get signed to labels and help them stay independent instead. Here we are in 2018 and thats still what I do. ￼I help artists make money with their music. So, if an artist has an investor with money on their team, I help set up and organize the structure of their independent label. I kind of teach them or show them physically how to make money in the music industry by putting out music.
Ryan Glover: That’s great. Nowadays, it seems their is a lot of income is to be made in streaming.
Wendy Day: Yes, if you’re independent.
Ryan Glover: Right. What are your thoughts on how artists should approach that? Should artists try to be on every streaming site or the main (leading) ones?
Wendy Day: I think they need to be on every site. One of the things about a new artist, before people really know who you are — before you become as big as Drake, or Future, or Taylor Swift — you’ve gotta meet your fanbase wherever they are. So, if you’re only on Spotify, then you’re missing all the people that listen to music on Tidal, Deezer, Apple Music, Google (which is now becoming Youtube). You kind of miss a huge chunk of the marketplace. So, I just think that artists need to be everywhere — everywhere that their potential fans are. That’s the great thing about having a distributor. The distributor is gonna get you on every platform that matters so you don’t have to worry about it. You can go through DistroKid or TuneCore, if you’re brand new. If you’ve got a little bit of a budget, and you’re a little bit more saavy about how to market and promote, then you can go to AWAL (which is Kobalt), or you can go to the Orchard, or you can go to Stem, or ONErpm, or Empire. There’s different levels to this; It just depends on what your budget is and what your level of knowledge in doing this is.
Ryan Glover: For sure. What’s the best way for a new artist to test a song and see if they should be putting money behind it?
Wendy Day: The way that I test songs… I do it a bunch of different ways. I’m a little bit spoiled because I’ve got relationships in the music industry — and I realize that as I tell you how I do what I do — but hoping that the listeners will try to build and get to this level. One of the ways that I do it is, I send out songs for feedback to DJs, because the DJs are on the frontlines, especially the club DJ’s. They are the ones that break records, they are the ones that know what type of music the current consumer is looking for. They know what gets people on the dance floor and what clears a dance floor. If you don’t have a relationship with DJs, you can do a listening session at a high school; You can set up a listening session and invite your target market. You gotta know who your market is. Like, if you’re Yo Gotti, your market isn’t the same as Drake. All rap is not the same. The same exact person doesn’t listen to all rap music — all fans are different. So you gotta know who your fanbase is. If you pull people together in a room, offer them wings, beer, pizza, and whatever. Okay, not beer to high school kids. But if you get everybody together in a room, and play your music, and get feedback, that’s probably one of the best ways to do it. It’s very time-consuming to do it that way because it’s in real life, but you’re able to see their reactions and ask questions. Instead of a ‘yes or no’ question, it becomes, “What did you like about this song? What didn’t you like about it? Okay, you don’t like that there’s too much Auto-Tune. Would you like it if it had less Auto-Tune? Do you like the subject matter of this song? Do you like the hook? Okay, you don’t like the hook. Why? Oh, its too long. The song is too fast. The song is too slow.” You can really get some great feedback that you may not necessarily be able to get when you test something online. And that’s the last way I test stuff online. We’ve got access to the dashboards of Spotify, Soundcloud, Instagram, and Twitter. Pretty much all of the sites have backdoors in them, where you can go in and see whose ￼listening to your music. Okay, I have three songs on Soundcloud, and one has over a 100k listens but the other two have less than 5k. That tells me that the song with more listens is more popular and I should put more money into that song. One of the great things about Soundcloud is that people can leave comments; It’s also great about YouTube. Of course, it’s a lot of trolls out here that are gonna say dumb sh*t, but every now and again you’ll get someone giving you real, legitimate feedback like, “Man, this song is so good, but the hook is just a little bit too long.” Or, “It’s not mixed properly. The sound is off when I turn it up.” You can get some really great feedback from potential fans that can help you make a better record or tell you which direction to go. I have a client right now that can sing and he can rap and he doesn’t know which he wants to do. And it’s very expensive to market in both directions, so he is testing his rap songs and he’s testing his song songs on his Soundcloud page. At the end of a 30-day period or six-week period — whatever length of time he’s chosen to test it — he’s gonna have a feeling for which is more popular, his rapping or singing.
Ryan Glover: That sounds great. You’ve talked about the difficulties in the music industry. From your experience, what does it take for artists to succeed in the music industry? What are the qualities that successful artists have?
Wendy Day: I love that you asked that. First of all, they have to make really great music. Not good music, not mediocre music, but great music, because there’s so much talent out here. The music industry is oversaturated. We’ve got too many rappers, too many producers, too many singers, too many songwriters — too many everything. Everybody wants to be in the music industry, so, you’ve gotta be better than everyone else. And that’s really hard to do. Not only do you need to be better, but you need to have some budget. It’s a very expensive industry; You’ve gotta pay to record, pay to mix, pay to master, pay to market, and promote. At the very least, you’ve gotta pay your internet bill or your phone bill so you can get on to social media to promote. You’ve gotta be able to promote in the real world. So, it’s not a free industry. Another quality that artists have to have is that they need to outwork everyone else. Aside from being more talented, they have to be willing to outwork everyone else because there’s all of these artists at the entry level. It’s like a sea of artists; it’s super, super crowded. The ones who succeed are the ones that kind of pop up from above that sea of artists. And there may only be 50 or 100 of those that stand out from the thousands and thousands and thousands that are trying to get on. Of this 50 or 100, maybe five or 10 will succeed out of that batch. It’s sort of like trying to win the lottery, or trying to become an NBA basketball player. You’ve gotta really have the talent, you’ve gotta really outwork everybody, and you’ve gotta stand out.
Check out the full interview: