Read the online-only extended version of Remix Magazine's Cha-Ching article by LRoc below
Understand the business ins and outs of getting paid to be a full-time producer
I was producing and writing part-time when I was in the U.S. Army. I decided after four years that it was time to go for it all the way. I moved to Atlanta in 1989 and teamed up with a production team that focused on developing artists and getting them deals. We broke big a couple of times, but due to unfortunate circumstances—record companies folding, artists changing labels, groups breaking up or product getting rejected—we never really got it going. You learn a whole lot of valuable lessons from these situations.
I started collaborating with other producers, including Lil Jon. We were doing a lot of remixes, most of them for Jermaine Dupri because Lil Jon was working for So So Def. I was also a keyboard player for a band called The Chronicle. My experience creating music onstage every week, working with a production team and doing remixes and original songs with Lil Jon finally started to pay off financially. One day, I got a two-way page from Jermaine Dupri, who was looking for a keyboard player to start writing with him. I took the offer and kept my writing relationship with Lil'' Jon.
If you want to be a producer, you have to have a lot of confidence and believe in what you want to accomplish. Faith, persistence, consistency and focus are key. Having good relationships with people have also helped me a lot. Since I walked off that army base, I''ve never looked back.
Where can a producer go to learn about starting a production company and handling the business of it?
Being a producer for a living means that you are ready to do business, and the product is music. There are a lot of good books out there to learn the steps, but it''s best to use a lawyer, manager and or accountant. As for references, This Business of Music, 10th Edition (Billboard, 2007) is a good book to help you understand how the music and the business fit together and explains contracts and what managers and agents do. There is also a book called Music, Money and Success: The Insider''s Guide to Making Money in the Music Industry (Schirmer, 2006). It explains how royalties work and is helpful in understanding the dollar side of the songs.
As for my production company, I started it when I began producing tracks instead of just selling beats. The production company is a business that handles my production projects, and there is a publishing company that handles my share of the songs. It''s all business stuff, but it''s important if you''re making a career and planning to do this for a long time.
Do you always use a contract? Are standard contracts good enough, or should they always be specific to each deal?
You should always use contracts or at least have on paper what is agreed upon. Do split sheets on the songs you write, and do production agreements on the records you make. A split sheet should have the names of all the writers on the song and what percentages go to each writer. Standard contracts don''t always work because all deals are not standard. Even if you have a standard contract, it should be modified to fit each situation or project. This Business of Music has a bunch of basic agreements and forms that can give you an idea about what to expect and what to look out for. Also, remember that there will be different versions of agreements because the production agreement has to fit the production situation.
What percentages do you ask for on the publishing and mechanical royalties?
I have a co-publishing deal through EMI, so the terms as far as mechanical royalties go are pretty standard at either the current statutory rate or a reduced rate based on the particulars of the deal. The mechanical royalty rate is a little over 9 cents per song, calculated on the number of records of the song sold. A producer royalty is usually about 3% to 5% of the retail price of a record and is calculated after deducting the producer fee or advance, recording costs and other expenses. A new producer should ask for a royalty of 3% and grow from there. You always want a producer advance or fee, and those terms are always different and negotiable depending on the specifics of the situation.
Do the percentages change if you are working on spec?
I don''t work on spec a lot, but the projects I have done on spec usually mean a higher fee or producer royalty when the deal is done. Spec means you are paying the production costs (including your time) and will only get paid if the label uses the track. For example, if you usually get a producer fee of, say, $10,000 per song and a producer royalty of 3%, and then you do a spec project, you would try to up your fee and, if possible, bump your royalty up a half a point as well.
If you've been working on spec, how do you know when it's time to step up and charge up front?
Turn on the radio. If you''re on it, you shouldn''t be working for spec. It''s a matter of opportunity and demand. You want to work on as many records as you can, and once your stuff starts to get released and your name gets out there, people will open up to your work, which helps get your price set and also helps position you to work on more projects with more and bigger artists. It''s a growth thing.
If producers are making beat CDs, where should they be sending them?
Beat CDs can be a problem because by the time you send them out to the A&R people, artists, managers, etc., and somebody hears a beat they want to record, two other people may have already recorded the same beat. I am not a big fan of beat CDs. I prefer to work directly with the artists and craft a beat and build a track that is right for that artists, which may not be right for 50 other artists who somehow get hold of the beat CD. If you are starting out and you have to send out beat CDs, don''t put a lot of beats on it, and be sure to keep good notes of when and to whom the beat CD is sent.
What steps should you take if a client who owes you money is a deadbeat?
I work mostly with major labels and artists (not to say there aren''t any deadbeats among them). I usually leave the collecting and dialing for dollars up to manager. But before that, I sold beats out of my car, lived in the clubs handing out beat CDs to artists, managers, A&R people...whomever I could get to. It''s called hustle your ass off.
What other lucrative avenues have you found for your music other than selling beats to artists?
Selling beats is a starting point. Building the tracks and then writing more of the whole song is the goal. As far as other revenue streams and uses for the music, there are new ones coming along every day. I write stuff that we make into records. We also write product commercials that sound like records. Our music is recycled with kid-friendly lyrics, which is another use, and then there are film and television uses, ringtones…. The beat, the track, the song all become worth money, which is why you want to take care of the business side so that when the stuff blows up, you can get paid for it.
To that end, copyright your beats or songs and put your name and a copyright notice on your beat CDs or MP3s. Doesn''t always stop someone from trying to rip you, but it makes it harder if it''s clear that you created the beat or the song. And once you have a record that gets released and you do begin to have a little success, pay attention to your business to make sure it''s being handled. A little success, and a lot of people will be coming at you. They may not all be the kind of people you can rely on and trust to help build and maintain your career. Get a team around you that understands what you are trying to accomplish and that you can trust to help handle your business so you can stay focused on creating.