Earlier this month, we posted about Chance The Rapper talking about why he releases music for free instead of selling it. DJ Burn One, a veteran producer who has worked with artists like Gucci Mane, Young Dro, and A$AP Rocky, responded on Twitter: "Great for him. Sucks for his producers."
"Artists tour, have endorsements, sponsorships," he added. "What's left for producers now that album sale dollars have turned into streaming pennies?"
It's a valid question, and one that doesn't often get brought up in conversations about the new streaming-ruled music economy. Artists and labels are adapting, working out new revenue streams and strategies to capitalize off shifting music consumption habits. But producers are often left unconsidered. Some—like Metro Boomin, Mike WiLL Made-It, and TM88—have branded themselves so well that they're able to demand the same kind of attention that rappers and singers get, but for every one Metro Boomin, there are thousands of behind-the-scenes beat-makers who get left behind.
Burn One doesn't have all the answers, but it starts with bringing these issues up and getting that discussion started.
I saw what you were saying on Twitter and I'm interested in hearing more from your perspective. For us, free music is cool and it’s great that all the artists are finding other ways to make money, but can you break down what you were saying on Twitter about producers? You think they're kind of being left out of the discussion and not getting paid fairly?
I think it was even more of a question. I’m just wondering how the producer fits into the new model of what’s going on. Artists like Chance can make money multiple ways and essentially avoid selling an album. I’m sure there are probably royalties off of streaming that he’s probably getting. But as far as up-front advances, artists have found a way to diversify, and it’s time for producers to find their own way.
We’ve kind of found different avenues, a lot of licensing and sync stuff. We had something placed on a Hulu show recently, Difficult People, and then something for a film that just played at the Venice Film Festival called Are We Not Cats, then we did some sound design that’s going to go on some Hollywood movie trailers.
Artists like Chance The Rapper can make money multiple ways and avoid selling an album. as far as up-front advances, artists have found a way to diversify, and it’s time for producers to find their own way.
But I’m just wondering where the producer fits in the new business model now. Is Chance giving his producers an advance? Or are they just down for the cause and along for the ride? Is Nipsey Hussle taking care of his producers off that $100 album? I’m directing a video now, and I don't see this happening in the video world. People know they have to come with a budget, and everyone who works on the video gets paid. But it’s something about production that’s been devalued to where people expect to get beats for free.
If I do a session and it’s not for a "major album," things can get a little funny, a little weird. A lot of times, artists have this attitude that they're popping so they deserve free music, which is crazy to me. I think I have more questions than answers.
Do you think some of it is because ever since SoundCloud starting getting popular there’s such a low barrier to entry? There are so many producers now that it's become less valued.
Yeah, I definitely think saturation has kicked in. When we're in the studio, people will come in there and for the first two or three hours of the session, they'll go to YouTube and type in "Mike Will type beats" or "Zaytoven type beats" and literally rip it off there and record on it. To me, that is crazy. Every part of that is crazy.
We have to find a way to get it back to where production was valued. When I was growing up you had to be creative. Everyone had their own lane, from Outkast and Goodie Mob to Kris Kross. I'm sure there were biters, but producers knew they needed to stand out. I don't see that as much. I see so many producers who want to make beats exactly like Vinylz, or whoever, and that's what they do. I think that's a big part of it.
I think artists don’t understand the producer-artist dynamic and how a producer can make them better. It’s not just a track. Dre and Snoop were legendary for a reason, certain combinations are legendary for a reason—they're pushing each other. They’re helping each other create something. Now producers are trying to copy sounds and make beats that sound exactly like other producers' beats, and to the artist it’s like, "Well it’s close enough." They don't recognize the difference between somebody who’s pushing the sound forward and somebody just replicating what’s already been done.
Do you think Metro Boomin is an example of a future blueprint for producers? There are thousands of producers trying to make beats exactly like Metro Boomin, but people are so familiar with him as a brand that just knowing that it’s a Metro Boomin-produced track adds credibility in a way. Do you think producers need to brand themselves?
I think that’s what it’s moving to. Producers are focusing more on pure branding. You see the one’s who have the strongest brands—like TM88 and Metro—they have recognizable tags. I didn’t even use my tag outside of mixtapes for the longest time, and now I’m starting to put them back on beats.
A lot of times, artists won't credit the album properly and people listening to it don't know who produced each track. So a producer tag is like a stamp. David Banner started it. That was the original beat tag. Different producers, like J Dilla for example, had their own sounds and effects, but as far as saying your name and making it clear who produced it, that was David Banner. From there, everyone started adding "on the beat" and "on the track." Metro has some nice tags and that helps him stand out when he's on a mixtape with a bunch of other people. That's brand recognition. I never felt like every time I sent a beat out, it had to have a tag on it, but now I'm feeling like I have to or it may get lost in the sauce.
Before, you could be a producer and make a pretty good living by staying behind the scenes. I don’t think that is really going to exist in the same way. It’s almost like America right now: you have the top one percent who are getting most major placements and big looks, and then you have everybody else. It’s not like producers aren’t going to be able to make money anymore. It's not like we’re all going to be poor. But we need to find ways to adapt.
It took artists a minute to realize that instead of hating on free music and illegal downloads, maybe they can move to the streaming model. That took 10 years to really work out, so now I want to call attention to the producer's situation. Let’s wake up, producers. I always hear people talk about we need a producer's union, like an actor's guild or something, and I don’t even know to start it but I would be a part of it. I would love to see something like that to guide people and set some industry standards.
It took artists a minute to realize that they can move to the streaming model. That took 10 years to really work out, so now I want to call attention to the producer's situation. Let’s wake up, producers.
Even with sync placement, you have to know somebody. I met someone through my lawyer. You have to have those relationships. In the '90s you could send beats out or play your beats for people. There were plenty of producers not named Swizz Beatz who were staying behind the scenes and living very comfortably. I think it’s important for producers to figure out how we're going to adapt and I wonder where artists find us fitting into the equation.
Do you think there's a way around this where producers can be seen more as writers and composers of songs, and not just producers?
As long you produce it, you own 50% of the song. I think that’s definitely a way. Another thing we’re doing recently is creating samples. We also make a lot of live music, play a bunch of instruments, so it’s like this is another avenue. Making beats in your house is not going to cut it anymore. I think that’s the bottom line of where it’s at. I’m interested to see, because I’d hate for most producers to have to base their income around leasing $100 beats on SoundClick or whatever it is.
You were saying that you were getting placements in movies and trailers. Is this this stuff that you guys are creating originally for the purpose of being placed?
Yes. We do some of it on set. Like we worked on a Lexus hoverboard commercial that we didn’t get after a month of going through different takes, making music specifically for that. They ended up going with some EDM stuff which was nothing like what they asked for. The Difficult People placement was a record from an instrumental album we put out three years ago that just happened to find it’s way in there.
It's good for producers today to have a catalog. Even if these records aren’t blowing up, build your catalog. And don’t sample. Do not sample. Because soon as you sample it takes way more to clear a record, and you can't handle it directly yourself. They want as little hassle as possible. Musically, that means taking it to the next level, to push yourself and try different things and create something totally original.
I hear a lot of stuff right now that is so derivative. I think we all imitate our heroes to a certain extent, like when I started to make beats for the first year, they all sounded like DJ Toomp beats because that was one of my favorite producers. They sounded like fake versions of that, so I held on to them and didn’t put them out, and the next year I developed my own sound. That’s when A$AP Rocky got some tracks and used them ["Houston Old Head" and "Roll One Up"]. But this goes back to where the producer fits in. I haven’t really told anybody this, but I never got paid for those A$AP Rocky tracks, and he’s touring around the world performing them.
I haven’t really told anybody this, but I never got paid for those A$AP Rocky tracks, and he’s touring around the world performing them. PRODUCERS JUST FALL THROUGH THE GAPS.
Producers fall through the gaps. I’d just like to see artists take care of their producers. If we don’t produce for you, you’re not going make beats for yourself, unless you’re DJ Quik or something [Laughs]. You need us, just like we need you to do the song, but there needs to be more mutual respect there.
So what were you thinking when you did the Rocky beats? Did you go into it thinking you’d get paid?
I went to New York and tried to find him for like a week. I wasn’t able to find him. Then I get back, and I get a call from his label that they picked two joints for his project, and he’d already recorded them, and they needed a mix. And it was funny because I was like, “How did he get these tracks?” It was a couple of tracks that I wasn’t going to do anything with, so I threw them up on SoundClick, and he found them on there. And I guess he downloaded and recorded on it.
We had discussed payment, and then I sent them the files so they could get it mixed and get it all done. And then I wanna say his A&R got locked up or something, I don’t know what happened, and it fell between the cracks. Then they put it out on the mixtape, so it’s not like they technically owe me money. There are a lot of loopholes that could be tightened up right now. The rap game is way more unprofessional than any other business. It’s very strange.
I’m not salty, this is just a call to action for producers. Everyone else has figured it out for themselves. When you see a music video you see the director credited, when it’s a feature you see the featured artists listed. But not the producer. We need more of a conversation around the producers. Like, who even knows if Rocky knows that I didn’t get paid. It’s not a personal thing against him at all. I would just like to see the business of producers take more of a priority, and I think we’d all be a little happier.