Rubin & Russell’s Foundation, Joie Manda’s Reign: #DefJamBack

“…Def Jam, the world’s most important hip-hop destination.”

–       Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)

As the holiday season rolls around, record labels often scramble to put out albums from the biggest artists on their rosters. With the constant struggle to sell albums these days, it is important that labels go into the fourth quarter of the year full speed ahead to meet quotas and achieve financial success. But what if your label puts out five of its major releases in the summer, and still has a few more highly anticipated albums expected before the end of the year? If you were to ask Joie Manda, president of Def Jam Records, he would probably tell you that that is expected of the historic label. “The Def Jam artist roster has always been synonymous with the greatest in hip-hop, and I intend to carry that tradition into the future,” explained Manda in an official statement in March 2012 when he became Jay-Z’s successor to the Def Jam throne.

Joie Manda, President of Def Jam Records

Sure Lyor Cohen, Kevin Liles, and Jay-Z, all made lasting impacts during their reign’s as Def Jam presidents, but in a time where the entertainment industry has completely changed and become dependent on social media, executives are now dealing with things they’ve never expected. Take Frank Ocean for example. In July, the R&B singer opened up about his love for another man shortly before his debut album Channel Orange was released. In a world where homophobia is such a sensitive topic, Def Jam, as well as many others in the industry, stood next to Mr. Ocean in support.

“Today is a big day for hip-hop, your decision to go public about your sexual orientation gives hope and light to so many young people still living in fear.”

–       Russell Simmons (Founder of Def Jam Records on Frank Ocean’s announcement)

Yes, Frank Ocean’s announcement is a major stepping-stone for the entire music industry, but maintaining the well being for an artist and what they do in their personal lives isn’t a major corporations top priority; record sales are.

As the summer comes to an end, no other major hip-hop record label had as big of a summer as Def Jam. What’s special about their summer release strategy was that they catered to different forms of the urban culture: underground, street, and R&B. To date, the five major releases put out by Def Jam have done very well.

Def Jam Summer 2012 Releases & Record Sales

June

  •  Big K.R.I.T. – Live from the Underground (As of Aug. 15h 83,000)

July

  • Frank Ocean – Channel Orange (As of Aug. 5th 238,000)
  • Nas – Life Is Good (As of Aug. 5th 226,000)

August

  • Rick Ross – God Forgives, I Don’t (As of Aug. 15th 400,000)
  • 2 Chainz – Based on a T.R.U. Story (As of Aug. 21st 145,809)

Big K.R.I.T. & I – April 2011, Ithaca, NY

Upcoming releases:

  • Kanye West & G.O.O.D. Music – Cruel Summer
  • Ludacris – Ludaversal
  • Ne-Yo – R.E.D.
  • Big Boi – Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors

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“A lot of people get into the trappings, but it’s really about the music, I’m excited about making it the most forward-thinking, premier record label.”

–       Joie Manda (August 2012, Billboard Magazine)

Manda really is a forward thinker. One week prior to the official release date [July 17th] of Channel Orange, Frank Ocean appeared on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon and immediately released his album on iTunes after his performance. This move is not uncommon for Def Jam as we have seen it with the release of Jay-Z & Kanye West’s collaboration, Watch The Throne. Whether it is to avoid album leaks, or just great marketing, the method works. As of August 5, 2012, Channel Orange has sold 226,000 copies, with limited singles and videos, & Watch The Throne has sold over 1.5 million copies and grossed $48 million in tour revenue.

A premier record label wouldn’t be anything if it didn’t have a premier artist such as Nas on their roster. In July, Nas released his tenth solo album, Life Is Good, to favorable reviews. The experience Nas brings both physically and literally give listeners something to look forward to and other artists to emulate. Whether Life Is Good sells 1 copy or 1 million copies, Nas continues to keep true to himself, musically, during a time where the formula for making an album is completely structured and governed by record executives.

Ace Hood Album Listening Session – July 2011, NYC

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“I step in Def Jam building like I’m the shit / Tell them give me $50 million or I’ma quit” 

–       Kanye West (“Mercy”)

Great accomplishments for Def Jam are expected. Not only is the roster of talent very impressive, but also is the list of executives:

If defense wins championships, then Def Jam is going to continue to win. Each one of the names above brings uniqueness, knowledge, and passion that are needed in order to succeed the music industry. We’ve seen what Sha Money XL did for 50 Cent, No I.D. for Kanye West, and DJ Khaled for Rick Ross. Ultimately, the overall experience the Def Jam executives bring to the table will befit every artist and give them the sense of security and confidence they strive for from those who support them.

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“Def Jam on my heals, should I sign to it? / Million dollar advance for me to rhyme fluent”

–       Rick Ross (“Rich Forever”)

Another strategy the label has inplimented this year is acquiring talents who have successfully laid their own groundwork. With the Chicago hip hop movement on the rise, Def Jam signed Lil’ Reese & Lil’ Durk to solo deals, 2 Chainz proved that a name change and consistent features will make you a household name, and a cocaine snorting, pill popping wild boy by the name of Gunplay has the potential to successfully step out from the shadows of his mentor Rick Ross.

Manda and his staff have proven that if you allow a major artist on your roster to open up their umbrella that they too will breed other artists to reach the same magnitude they have already achieved. Under Kanye West’s direction, Big Sean is growing into a top artist and someone who Def Jam can count on to create hit records, while Pusha T’s lyrics have become deeper and more powerful then ever. Even Jeremih, an artist who was on the verge of being dropped until 50 Cent rejuvenated his career, is putting out music that people are beginning to appreciate even though his music has been solid all along.

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“Let me be clear, Def Jam is on fire.” 

–       Barry Weiss (Chairman and CEO of Universal Republic and Island Def Jam)

No doubt about it, Def Jam is on fire and consistency is the driving force behind their success. In the last few months, there hasn’t been a week that has gone by where you haven’t seen a new Rick Ross video or heard a new 2 Chainz verse. Rick Ross has never been phased by all the scrutiny and ridicule 50 Cent tried to pin against him, and 2 Chainz never let being in the shadows of Ludacris hold him back; they deserve to have #1 albums and have Def Jam present them with countless opportunities to further their careers and brands.

Def Jam office interviewing Jeremih for ThisIs50.com – Summer 2010, NYC
Interview Link: http://youtu.be/kYw5wG5jsmY

Within the last two years I have been to the Def Jam offices and fortunate to attend Def Jam events in New York City. Personally, I can tell you that those who work there are ectremely dedicated and connected to artists attached to the label. A strong sense of community can go a long way. Don’t be surprised if you continue to see the hashtag #DefJamBack on your Twitter feed into 2013. With the strategies in place at Def Jam, every artist that steps in to the house that Rick and Russell built will come out winning.

UPDATE: Joie Manda liked my article!!!

Joie Manda Tweeted my article to 30,000+ followers

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Interview: Hunter Lyon Films

No dream is too small. Just ask Hunter Lyon, an 18-year-old film student from Connecticut. For anyone who spends time on some of the most popular music blogs, you’ve definitely seen his name. In just a short period time, Hunter Lyon has directed videos for Internet favorites Jitta On The Track, OCD: Moosh & Twist, and more. As his stock continues to rise, so do his visions. In the near future, his videos will be, “next-level productions” and bigger than ever. Below is what Hunter says is his, “first big interview,” and I’m honored to have been granted that opportunity.

Who is Hunter Lyon?

Hunter Lyon is an 18-year-old kid from a small town in Connecticut. I grew up in Connecticut and my senior year in high school is when I started directing music videos because I saw the need for local up and coming artists to get affordable visuals for their music to gain fans online.

How did you get into filmmaking?

I got into filmmaking when I was around 12 years old. I found an old camera at my grandparent’s house and just messed around until my dad saw I had a gift for a 12 year old and he got me a little camera.

Monty Python and The Holy Grail inspired me; it inspired me to make little Lego movies. I also skate boarded so I would film videos and edit them and you know, just make little YouTube videos of random funny stuff.

What are some of your goals?

I just want to be successful doing what I love, you know? That’s what everyone wants. I don’t want work at a job that I hate going into everyday, so I want to really just be a positive influence on people and make great films. Eventually in life I would love to work on real feature length movies, but you gotta to take it one day at a time.

Who are some of your inspirations?

From a music video standpoint, I’d really say Alex Nazari. That dude is amazing at creating an atmosphere and feel for every video he does. Although I’ve been working on a lot of outdoor, daytime locations, in the extremely near future you’re gonna see some really crazy next-level production. It’s awesome. I’m really excited for everyone to see the stuff me and a few other artists have been working on! Another director not too much older than me, Jakob Owens, has been a big influence on me, he’s another dude who pushes the limit of independent music videos and his grind is crazy man. My dad is also a huge inspiration to me, because he never stops working. He’s taught me many times over that hard work pays off, so that’s why I keep working and putting out videos.

Was it your intention to become a music video director? Do you have a musical background?

It was actually not my intention to become a music video director at all. I actually thought I would hate doing them, until I actually did. Now I can’t stop making them! I’m a huge music head. I’m one of those kids who always has headphones in his ears, listening to music 24/7. Like I said before, I was really into music for a lot of my life. My dad and grandfather were both big musicians “back in the day” which definitely has a huge effect on me, as a director. It helps so much to connect the song to the video. I actually dabble here and there with producing some beats, but nothing serious.

You’re only 18 years old and some of the most popular artists on the blogs (OCD: Moosh & Twist, Tarik, Jitta On The Track) are coming to you to help them capture the visuals for their songs, how were you able to develop a relationship with all these artists?

Jitta and I got linked up way back last year, and we shot one video and I really liked his stuff. He’s from Connecticut too, so I was pretty cool with that. To be honest, I didn’t think him and me would be grinding together like this, which I think is awesome. He’s now one of my really good friends and we’re making big moves, we really push each other to be the best we can.

Jitta is hooked up by a clothing brand called I’m Possible Club and I was talking with the owner [Mike Williams] of that one-day, and he mentioned he also works with Tarik, who at the time, I had really looked up to, because his message and music is just awesome. I asked Mike from I’m Possible Club to put in a good word hoping I could work with him, because his mixtape TRIGS was on constant spin, and next thing you know, we were talking about videos! Now we’re just an unstoppable force! As for OCD, my really good friend who’s an insanely talented producer named A-Rayz Productions, put in a good word for me, which I thought was gonna go no where. I mean, I used to sit and listen to City Kids and Dream On in my room and literally dream about filming a video for them… and this summer I went down to Philly and kicked it with them and filmed a music video. So surreal!

What is your overall process for shooting a video?

Basically, the artist will send me a song and I’ll just listen to it over and over and just think of what it would look like. Just imagine what each scene would entail and what vibe it’s giving off, that kinda thing. I’ll send over my thoughts and we’ll just bounce back and forth some ideas and come up with new ones, and what not. Then we set up a date, and I pack up and we do it! Quite a bit of it is on the fly, to be honest. You never really know what locations you might drive by and be like, “Omg, we gotta do a scene there,” you know? We try to get a really solid idea and feel for it ahead of time, but anything can happen on the spot.

Most music videos these days, from both local and major artists, aren’t major budget projects like they used to be. What is your technique for making videos and adding another element to a song?

Creativity. That’s all it is. You have to use what you have and make the best of it. You have to just dig deeper in the song and see what you can pull from it to add that extra element that separates your video from someone else’s. I really try and focus on getting diverse things that you haven’t seen before. A lot of songs call for a typical video that you’ve seen a hundred different times, you know, in the club or whatever, but you have to make it stand out.

You’ve directed most of the videos for Jitta On The Track – with the success he’s had and coming off the Club Paradise Tour with Drake, have you started seeing any benefits from it? (New clients, bigger opportunities, etc.) 

I was so stoked, yet so bummed when he told me that he was going on tour. Drake is literally my favorite artist ever, and I am in school right now in NYC at the New York Film Academy, so I couldn’t go! Hahaha – I was talking to my parents about… dropping out… but obviously they said no and a minute afterwards I was like, “Yeah you’re right that’s the dumbest thing ever.”


I’m so proud of Jitta and the whole Lumber Life team for putting in work that had a big pay-off. We have actually seen a lot of benefits from it, not necessarily in terms of clients hitting me up, (although the kid from Zoey 101, Chris Massey, hit me up on Twitter and said I need to do a video for him lol) but definitely opportunities. These next few videos with Jitta are just unreal. They are gonna take things to a whole new level and I’m really excited for everyone to see what we’ve been brewing up.

I’m sure you get tons of requests from aspiring artists to direct their videos. What do you think about all of these artists trying to make it into the industry and what kind of advice would you give them?

I get a lot of requests from a lot of up and comers. I think it’s simply awesome that people are doing what they love and are able to make music in their HOUSES! It’s great. I think that if you want something, go get it. Nobody is stopping you from doing what you want to do beside yourself. I live in a small town in Connecticut and I’ve been to California, Barbados, etc. for music video jobs, so where you are from is not an excuse for what you can do.

My advice is to just to do it. If you want to make music, make music. A few things to keep in mind are that things require money. That’s it. I bought my own camera, computer, equipment, etc. Be prepared to spend money on things like recording time, beats, music videos, etc., because if you are working hard it’ll come back to you! Try to find a team of people who can surround you and who are as hungry as you are for success because that is the only way it’ll happen. Also, if you were given the gift of music, use it wisely. There is a lot of negativity in the world, and I always encourage people to be positive and use their gifts and talents for positive reasons. Just be a leader and show people that they can do what they want to do if their heart is in it and they work hard, you feel me?


What’s next for Hunter Lyon Films?

Who knows! Actually, a lot of big things; THAT I can promise. All of the artists I work with are just working hard to take things to unheard of levels from where we are at now, all for you guys. We’re really turning up the notch and are going to be putting out really high quality videos and music. They don’t make music so they can sit and listen to it, they do it so they can satisfy people’s needs; they do it for the fans. Same thing with me; I make music videos to give people something to watch and help out these artists, and because I love making art.

How can artists, managers, etc. get in contact with you?

They can get in contact with me through email! My email is hlyonfilms@gmail.com, you can follow me on twitter – @HunterLyon or check out hunterlyonfilms.com

Thanks for your time, Hunter and congratulations on all the success and recognition you’ve received thus far!

Thank YOU! I appreciate you reaching out and I’m honored to do this for you, keep it up and God Bless!

Power Of A Dollar

“Musicians are poor, there’s no getting around that. Freelance musicians have to tie together a lot of different things to make a living, and don’t have a lot of support from their teams. There are successful musicians — but the vast majority of people aren’t that.”

– Jean Cook (Future of Music Coalition, July 31, 2012)

As I conclude my summer internship here in New York City, I feel that it is important that I share a part of my experience with all aspiring artists. Sitting in my cubical at this medium size accounting firm, gold and platinum plaques fill the hallways of the music department. Some of the plaques belong to recognizable names of hip-hop, rock, R&B, and everything in between; at the same time, some of the plaques may have you questioning who the artists are and how did they manage to sell 500,000 to a million copies of their album. To me, this symbolizes how the music industry has completely changed over the years and how technology has clearly transformed everything. As we know, records aren’t selling like they used to and artists are often left struggling and searching for royalties in order to survive. Ironically, Cassidy said it best, and he’s probably one of these people,

“Royalty checks come, like, once in a blue moon” 

– Cassidy (“I’m A Hustla“)  

This summer, I have seen first hand some of hip-hop’s legendary DJs and rap groups, who many of you would kill to meet and have your music heard by, reach serious financial difficulties. These difficulties stem from many things: poor business management in the past, buying unnecessary items (the hip-hop stigma), and not paying taxes. If there is one thing that I’ve learned this summer it is that Uncle Sam and the IRS want, and will get the money they are owed. Right, Young Buck & Beanie Sigel? Bottom line, whether you are an artist with a big budget or you’re an artist with a smaller budget, but has consistent touring and strong merchandise sales, please hire a good business manager/accountant. Their services will take off a lot of your financial stresses.

By this point in the blog I would hope that you would be asking the question, “How do I make sure that I don’t reach that point?” Simple – Branding and Touring. Let’s start with branding.

Branding

Many of today’s top artists are getting bored with just rapping. Swizz Beatz, for example, designs cars, paints, and is an executive at Reebok, Pharrell has about 6 clothing lines, a book coming out, and a new multimedia company called I Am Other, Lil’ Wayne decided to hop on a skateboard, and Snoop Dogg decided to change his name to Snoop Lion in order to become a reincarnated Bob Marley. Additionally, we’ve seen Diddy take over the alcohol industry with Ciroc and of course, Dr. Dre is the staple of headphones. All of these guys have found ways to stretch their money and image, yet still remain household names and attract different demographics. A recent Huffington Post article suggested,

“According to industry experts, the only way to make money in the music business is to turn an artist into a brand — then do everything in your power to maximize that brand’s value. Songs make an artist famous in the first place, and allow the artist to define his or her brand.” 

– Joe Satran (Huffington Post, July 31, 2012)

That statement alone clearly exemplifies the importance of giving and earning respect within the music industry. Major corporations aren’t going to endorse artists who have weak followings, a poor image, or a criminal record – as we’ve seen with T.I. and his loss of Chevrolet and Axe sponsorships.

Touring

A recent survey conducted concluded that musicians made an average of about $34,000 off their music in America, before deducting expenses from touring and recording. Trust me, after doing payroll tax and completing tax forms 940 and 941 all summer, I have learned that there are many people that need to get paid on behalf of the work they’ve done for you if you want to have a legitimate entity. Just because the overall average of revenue earned in America is low, doesn’t mean that affects every artist. Take legendary band The Who for example, they are about to embark on a 37 city tour in 2012/2013 on a $20 million dollar budget! Unfortunately, not every artist can successfully do that. The days of having one hit record + million albums sold + tour = longevity are far gone; in today’s market, you may only remain relevant for 6 – 8 months with that formula. That’s why the new formula is consistent music + strong/loyal fan base + continuous touring + merchandise sales = success. Ultimately, it’s up to you and your team on how you want to approach your career.

There you have it readers, and in the words of a fellow South Floridian, “Always pay your taxes, never pay these hoes” – Rick Ross (“MMG The World Is Yours”). I hope that my insight will lead you on a path of great fortune and fame; just don’t forget to give me the 10% I’m entitled to for teaching you a thing or two! Until next time…