A recent interview between frequent Wiz Khalifa producer E. Dan and BeatStars sparked a huge conversation after E. Dan accused Atlantic Records of retitling albums as mixtapes in an effort to underpay producers.
“The Khalifa album, I don’t know what they called it, a ‘street album?’ They came up with some really clever name that essentially meant, ‘Everyone involved, you’re going to get paid half what you normally do.’ I’ve seen it happen often over the last few years. Anything to save a buck for these labels,” he said.
Quite a few producers have spoken up via social media regarding the allegations against Atlantic Records.
REVOLT sat down with a few of hip-hop’s most notable hitmakers, DJ Mustard, Rook of J.U.S.T.I.C.E League, Sonny Digital and London On Da Track to have them weigh in on the Atlantic Records claims and discuss their experiences while working as producers in the hip-hop music industry.
What are your thoughts on this Atlantic Records situation?
Sonny Digital: First of all, everyone took what I said the wrong way. I’m actually signed to Atlantic as an artist. Everybody keeps coming at Atlantic but as far as putting out albums and calling them mixtapes, but all the labels are using this formula. I’m not defending them, but from an artist aspect, I don’t think they’re doing it to cut people out. You have to think of it in this sense: a lot of these projects, everyone is looking to be compensated but if you take it back it wasn’t always like that. 5 or 6 years ago when all we had was LiveMixtapes to prosper off of, me, Lex Luger, all of us were producing on all those projects and do you think we were getting paid? Think about all the mixtapes Gucci Mane used to drop. Imagine how many producers sacrificed on that end just trying to build their name. Right now the battle people are fighting is that they’re not getting paid enough for something that’s basically a mixtape. At least you’re not getting bootlegged in a gas station. That’s what happened to us.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: It’s not just Atlantic. People are making it seem like Atlantic is just some big monster but it’s not just them. It’s pretty much all of the labels that handle black music. whether it’s Universal, Interscope, Warner, whatever. What they do is they label it a mixtape, they pay you a minimum amount and they put it out.
What is the monetary difference between a song being placed on a mixtape vs. an album?
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: I think it all depends on the artist’s contract. It depends on their deal with the label. If they have a certain amount of budget for an LP, that budget will be allocated to the LP. If they label it as a mixtape, they can get around that verbiage. Generally, that means you’ll get paid less but it’s still going on all the streaming formats so you’ll still get your publishing. Where people get confused is they’re thinking about advances. You might only get $500, $1500, $3000 from a label for a mixtape but that’s still an advance on your royalties which has to be recouped anyway. So, whether you gave them the beat for free or you sold it to them for $30,000, it still has to be recouped.
You can still get royalties on a mixtape. As long as it’s on a streaming platform like Spotify, Apple Music, etc. People are used to producers getting these big upfront checks and you still get paid but it’s not as much. It’s really pennies now, especially if you don’t own the masters. When you do an agreement with a label to sell a beat, you give up your rights to own the masters, so they get a bulk of the streaming revenue.
London on da Track: There’s no difference. Right now music is based on streaming, not just regular sales. Mixtapes stream too. Just like “Roll In Peace” by Kodak Black ft. XXXtentacion, it made money off of streaming, not sales. Either way, I’m getting paid off my brand. As long as my brand is large, I’m always going to accumulate money. I get paid on the front and backend and depending on who it is, some artists stream heavy off of mixtapes so I get more on the backend. Some artists don’t stream at all so I charge more on the front end.
DJ Mustard: When you’re a producer on an album they’ve got to pay you. What producers are not understanding, and I’m not knocking anybody I just think a different way about money, producers don’t understand is all that sht is is an advance on your own money. Unless you have a sharp lawyer and your lawyer is saying, ‘we want a non-recoupable advance,’ but you have to be the biggest of all time. At this point right now, for up and coming producers, that’s not happening right now. I’ve gotten my advances and sometimes I’ve given beats for free. Like *Rihanna, I didn’t charge anything “Needed Me.” I could have, but it wouldn’t make any sense, I want my backend money. I don’t want to have to give them back whatever they gave me.
Sonny Digital: On a mixtape, when you recoup that, you start making royalties at that point. Even on a mixtape. Many (new) producers don’t really know. We’re at a time where people don’t even have to buy your sh*t, they can just stream it and it “feels” like it’s free to them. We’re at a different point and people have got to understand, at least you’re getting paid for a mixtape.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: If a song from a mixtape becomes a big hit record, you’ll start seeing performance royalties through BMI, ASCAP, SEESAC etc. Let’s say I produced “Bodak Yellow” and I was only paid $500, that $500 would be recouped and then whatever my agreement says, I’ll get those royalties, the sales/streams and the performance royalties.
What are performance royalties?
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: Radio, performances in public arenas, jukeboxes, stuff like that.
Do you believe producers are not getting the credit they deserve?
London on da Track: I definitely feel that way, but what you put in is what you get out too. Some people are just lazy and they’re scared to take risks. If you’re a producer that’s on his grind and is going to turn up and brand yourself with the artist then you’ll get out what you put in.
Sonny Digital: It’s a two-way street. There are some producers who genuinely do not get their recognition and there are some who just don’t have it in them to go out there and step into the light. They don’t have a cool factor.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: I see it. We’re not really artist/producers, though. We’re more traditional behind the scenes, like Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. We just sit back, make the hit records for you and never really show our faces. Sonny Digital, Metro Boomin and all those guys, they’re dope. They’re artists/producers, it’s more about being seen and they’re right about some hip hop producers not getting recognition because you have guys like Calvin Harris who puts out a song with just Rihanna singing and it’s Rihanna featuring Calvin Harris. It doesn’t really work that way in hip-hop. I think Sonny Digital, Metro and all those guys are big enough to garner a featured slot on an artist’s record. I think they’re slowly creating a lane for that to be possible in hip-hop.
DJ Mustard: I don’t know if that’s a real thing. I mean, I get what they mean by wanting more recognition but that’s on you. You know what you signed up for and what you signed up for was to be a producer and not a rapper. If you want to go get show money, go be a rapper or go learn to be a DJ. You can’t be mad at the artist because that’s what you thought would happen anyway. You just play your position and you control your destiny. I’ve had a residency in Vegas for 4 years. All of these producers can do the same thing. I was never mad at Y.G. or Ty Dolla $ign when they would go make show money. That’s why you charge the advance that you want and you work as hard as you want. Look at Khaled, he’s one of the biggest superstars in the world right now. You just have to work. You can’t complain about getting credit.
How about hip hop producers being underpaid?
DJ Mustard: That’s more like a label thing. They don’t want to pay. They paint a picture to the artist saying, ‘I thought that was your friend, why is he trying to charge you $50,000?’ Then the label doesn’t want to pay and encourages the artist to talk to the producer. Nobody wants to pay for anything. That’s just how the world works. You just have to have a lawyer that gets you your money. Have your business right. Other than that, everything is up for negotiation.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: I see it. We’ve done songs on mixtapes recently where they couldn’t afford us. So, we just give them the beat for free and keep our publishing. It happens. That’s why you have managers, lawyers, you make a name for yourself. They come to us. You don’t go to a Porsche dealership to drive a Toyota.
Sonny Digital: If you look at the split between an artist and producer, it’s 50/50. I feel like that’s the way it should be all the way through. In some instances, it’s a 10/90 going on in favor of the artist.
Sonny, you’ve mentioned wanting to start a producer’s union to make sure producers are getting their credit and getting their payment. Where are you with the producer union at this point?
Sonny Digital: The union began as an idea I had up in the air. It would be something where the same access to things I’d have, the producers in the union would have. I’d do little awards and stuff. I have lots of ideas that I’d like to see happen. However, I don’t believe the producer union is something that’s going to happen in my lifetime. I think it’s going to take a while to actually happen, we’re just popping off the conversation right now, though. All of the concerns we’ve had, it’s not like it’s something that’s just started to happen. It’s already been going on way before me. I’ve just been talking about it and people are listening. Also, there’s a lot more producers now so there’s a lot more people who can relate. Right now, if I do the producer’s union it’s going to call for a lot of my attention and defer my time away from what I’m really working towards.
What does it take for a producer to get their name out there?
Sonny Digital: You’ve got to build your sh*t up. You can’t come out the gate charging crazy money. People have to trust you before they will give you $5,000, $10,000 or $15,000. They have to trust that you’re going to give them something they’ll love.
J.U.S.T.I.C.E League: I think now, it’s definitely your relationships. Relationships are #1. You have to also sacrifice your time, energy, money and some of your work. You’ll have to do a couple of things for free as an investment. It’ll pay off once you get a hit record. We’ve done a lot of records for free back in the day for Jeezy, for Rick Ross, a lot of those guys.
DJ Mustard: If you catch a wave and you become a hot producer, stand your ground. At a point in my career, I was scorching hot. When you get hot, you make your own rules. You tell the labels what you want to do. If you don’t want to work with Atlantic, you don’t work with Atlantic. You stay hot, you do what you want to do. Nobody can tell you nothing when you’re the hot dude. Once you can make hits one time, you’re capable of doing it twice.
London on da Track: As a producer, you can’t be behind a curtain. If you’re behind a curtain, you’re not going to get paid. You have to turn up and show social media something different because that’s what this music industry is now based off of. If you show your talent, inspiration and motivation to the people, you can brand yourself and accumulate money.
If you’re not big on social media yet, build with an artist. If you’re a producer, you have to find an artist you believe in and be consistent with that artist. Make good music with that artist and remember good things don’t happen overnight. It takes 24 hours to build a Toyota and 6 months to build a Rolls Royce. To keep it simple, stay down until you come up.
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