Hey guys it's Spose.
So, Cracked.com fixed the article and added a disclaimer so it's all good!!! If you wanna read the original version with fewer jokes it is still available below. Shoutout to Robert Evans for his help in rectify this situation and being an all-around good dude:
Spose / Robert Evans
A lot of musicians dream of getting signed to a record deal. It’s like the musician’s equivalent of a high school ball player making it to the NBA. I was no different. Barely two albums into my career as a rapper, a song of mine became very popular and before I knew it I was being flown to New York and Los Angeles and playing on the same stages as my idols. One week I was broke, trying to finish college between changing diapers and delivering pizzas in my hometown of Wells, Maine. The next week I was in what used to be Puff Daddy’s office in Manhattan getting offered a recording contract that would net me over a hundred thousand dollars in just a few months. Of course, like all good things, it had to come to an end. My fairy tale lasted 11 months before they abruptly dropped me from my recording contract without ever releasing my album, despite my first single going gold (selling over 600,000 copies in just a few months). In that short time, I got a crash course in the record industry: how it works, how they have no clue what they’re doing, how they exploit and manipulate young talent, and how to go from having nothing to everything to nothing again in a very short period of time. Luckily for me, succeeding in the age of Twitter and Facebook allowed me to maintain a small number of the fans the record label success garnered for me, and today I’m able to make a decent living off just my music with no label help at all. I’m thankful for the things I learned in my short time in the “industry” and probably wouldn’t be where I am today without it. It was still some crazy shit, though. My name is Spose and this is what I learned after getting a record deal.
1. Labels Hunt for Unique Voices
My song blew up on the radio first. ‘I’m Awesome’ got played at my local alt. rock station, which was that station I grew up on. It quickly became the most requested song there, and then jumped to the local pop station. Keep in mind I’d only self-released two albums at this point. I was very new to the game, and suddenly the two biggest local radio stations are playing the shit out of my stuff.
The way the world works now if you’re blowing up on the radio you’re killing in iTunes too. I think there’s an intern at Universal who goes through the regional iTunes charts every week, from Des Moines to Albuquerque, and looks for outliers.
‘We know all the other guys on here. Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, Ke$ha…who the hell is Spose?”
So this intern looks at the Portland sales and sees that I’m the #1 tune. I doubt I cracked the top 200 nationwide, but that was enough to get their attention. At this point, I’m 24 years old and totally broke with a new kid on the way. The day Universal sent me a $35,000 check for signing on with their label, my bank account was at -$800. I couldn’t even buy gas for my car.
2. They are Casting a Role
When I was making music by myself, I’d make a song and show it to my friends. And if they liked it, that’s enough. I’d add it to my show.
But in the record industry you might make twenty-five songs and NONE of them ever sees the light of day. You develop real thick skin. I’d pour my heart into a song; spend all day making it…everyone in the recording room is up on it. We’d all be stoked, and then I’d send it to Universal in an email and a few minutes later, “Ehhhh…” To get that response to your work for the first time was A. shocking B. disheartening and C. a wake-up call. I realized then we were at the “you either win a grammy and sell lots of records or goodbye” point.
I grew up on Biggie and Jay-Z, these artists with real intricate lyrics. And that’s what I love about music. But that’s the opposite of what my label wanted. I got in the studio for the first time and spent like five hours writing only to hear:
“The verse doesn’t even matter man, write that shit tomorrow. We just need the hook. All Universal really cares about is a catchy chorus.”
And that’s what the industry runs from. You write the chorus, the pre-chorus, the melody and then just fill in the blanks. When it comes down to the music, the labels have a very narrow idea of what they want, and no new artist is going to change their minds. The producer they paired me with did a lot of dance music ‘bottles in the club, bitches on my junk’ type stuff. I don’t do that, and the song that got me noticed was nothing like that. But once I was signed, that’s the only thing they wanted from me.
I thought universal wanted me, my style and my music. But they just wanted to take my name, my sorta-notoriety from one hit, and plug ‘Spose’ into a bunch of pop songs. It was like showing up for a football game in…soccer boots, or whatever soccer has.
3. It’s a ridiculous numbers game
For people in the recording industry, the whole world revolves around the “second single”. I recall one specific email exchange between Mike Karen, head of A&R at Atlantic, and Imran Majib who is the head of A&R at Columbia. We’d just made four songs in a night and they were convinced one of them was my ‘second single’. And in the course of a single week, they made me do sixty revisions of this song.
There was this guy named Owl City who got signed around the same time as me. We reached out to see what he thought about the label, because his song Fireflies had been a big hit and he was in the midst of trying to find his second single. Universal stuck with him, but he didn’t end up finding it for a couple of years. Until Carlie Rae Jepsen came out with ‘Call me Maybe’ and on her second big hit, he sang back-ups. Universal kept him around until they found a place to slot his voice in.
For every Macklemore who has a hit song and follows it up with another hit song, there’s a hundred more that never have a second hit. And I’m one of the latter. After eleven months, they didn’t a new VP came in and they dropped me.
4. The Internet is a Blessing for One Hit Wonders
There’s no facilitator or middle-man between the artist and the fan anymore. If the fan likes you, they don’t need to be enabled by the label to like you. They can find you on Twitter or Soundcloud. I grew up listening to a lot of alt rock, so I think of the band Nottasurf when I think about one hit wonders. Now failing to follow up on a big success doesn’t mean you’re back to flipping burger, and it’s all thanks to the Internet.
My first big video ‘I’m Awesome’ got something like ten million views. When the single released on iTunes 850,000 people actually paid to download it. When I released my Mixtape recently, about 8,000 people bought it. So I was able to keep like, 1% of my fans paying. Just do the math: if you put out something for $10, and 8,000 fans buy it, that’s enough to sustain you as a musician. My album ‘The Audacity’ came out in 2012 sold the same number, $10 a piece. iTunes took a chunk, and then the cost of making that album (production, printing, studio time…) was probably six thousand. So I made a profit of $70,000.
I reinvested about $40,000 into new projects, but that left enough to cover rent and food and a nice Christmas. It’s not yacht-money, but I don’t have to play that game of trying to keep up appearances with fancy clothes and cars. That’s part of traditional rap nonsense, but my fans don’t expect that. The more I relate to my brokest fan, the more albums I sell.
I released the songs Universal hadn’t wanted in a free album called Yard Sale, and used that to advertise my Kickstarter. It brought in $28,000. And now that I have that small, loyal fan base I’m able to keep releasing music that’s uncompromised. I make all the money from my iTunes sales now too. I pay $35 to list it and get close to a dollar per sale. When I was with the label I made .16 cents per sale. I’ve made as much money in the last 3 years as Universal ever gave me.
5. The Labels Convince Naïve Kids They’re Rockstars
They definitely seek out young people, and they are extremely good at making you simultaneously feel like their top priority AND like you’re fighting against a ticking clock. As soon as they called me the first time, they offered to fly me to NYC. I was in Suffolk College at this point; I step out of class and see I have 25 missed calls. I call back. Imran picks up and says, “We’ll fly you and anyone else you want out, first class right now.” If my MySpace had said ‘I like the Celtics’, they’d have had me courtside that very night.
They flew Monte Lipman in to meet me in NYC. He’s one of the tiny group who runs the record industry, and he came over to chill with me and have dinner. He’s like, “You wrote this song all yourself?”
I say yes and he starts flipping out, telling me to get my passport ready because I’m about to be huge.
Then he sends me an email on the weekend, mainly to let me know he never sends emails on the weekend. ‘I want to get this signed by Monday morning. Your song played huge when we tested it in Miami, we want to sign you and fly you down.’ But at the same time he’s like, “These references are VERY current and your record will expire really soon. YOU HAVE TO SIGN IMMEDIATELY.”
I’m sure that’s a common trick. But the industry does shut down completely by 5pm on Friday. That’s a fact. It was all just smoke being blown up my ass. Monte sent excited email after excited email about how big I was about to be and how we were “just getting started”. I think the last “just getting started” email hit about a week before the label dropped me.
6. They Have Minions For You
The labels do a great job of making you feel like the center of the universe when you’re recording. The studio had these guys called runners. Usually we’d arrive at 3 PM and go till 3 AM. Sometimes we’d make one song, sometimes 4. The runners were there to keep us from needing to ever leave. We’d say, “We need Heinekens, Seagram 7, ice cubes, a quarter ounce of weed and we’re also going to need sushi.” A half hour later, the runner came back with a bag full of all that stuff, courtesy of Universal.
I met a lot of people who were caught in the record label game. This dude Matt Toka was one of the writers they brought into help us. I think a lot of these artists get signed for their writing abilities, not so much their musical potential. These guys all want to be stars too, but writing lyrics FOR stars pays the bills. There’s a probably a thousand of these guys who could’ve been like the biggest musicians in Duluth, or wherever.
These guys are like the label’s cronies. They can write or sing, and the label uses them like Swiss army knives and just slots them in wherever needed. And then when Bruno Mars gets the grammy, you get a plaque.
7. You Write Songs by Committee
Writing songs by committee is real weird. It’d be me, the producer, and then four writers all sitting around listening to the melody they picked just trying to figure out lyrics.
I was in a session with Mike Karen and the writers, and we had a cool melody but they were trying to figure out what the song was about. Finally Mike says: “You gotta make it about a party…a party you like, filmed! You filmed all these chicks! And the refrain can be ‘…and I got it on caaamera’. They started getting deeper and deeper into brainstorming this song. They were shocked when I pointed out that this wasn’t at all the kind of music I did.
You get caught in this downward spiral where everyone’s a yes-man to the producer and the producer’s a yes-man to the label. So producer decides he wants to do a “caught it on camera” song, and no one wants to contradict him so they just build on this shitty idea.