Whether you’re an artist, label owner, or just an avid fan of Hip Hop, Wendy Day has probably impacted whatever your intersection of music… and your fave’s fave too. Having a knack for helping negotiate groundbreaking deals (No Limit and Cash Money Records)… to helping 2 Pac get out of his Deathrow deal, and even helping discover Eminem, Wendy’s career has earned her the designation of “Godmother of Hip Hop.” For almost 3 decades she has been behind the scenes applying her business and activism acumen to advocate for independent labels and artists alike. Literally, wheeling and dealing for the culture…
I recently caught up (virtually of course) to talk about her career in the music industry, her educational background, her businesses Rap Coalition, and Powermoves, and to also pick her brain for some ideas she has for her clients post-COVID. Wendy dropped some gems! Some details are highlighted here. But stay tuned for the interview audio. It was a pleasure to speak with one of the industry greats. You won’t be disappointed.
Why Hip Hop? What drew you to this genre in particular?
No one ever asks me “Why Hip Hop?” But I love it. I started listening to Hip Hop in fall 1980 at UPenn. I went to see Bruce Springsteen’s band and I got to see Grandmaster Flash and the Furious 5. The energy and passion of the music made me want to learn more about the music and the people. I began as a fan first and didn’t get involved in it until 1992, twelve years later.
I heard a Chuck D lyric about Malcolm X. I wanted to learn more about Malcolm. I was able to find many of the books that he read while he was incarcerated and that took me on a journey to pursue my masters in African American Studies from Temple University. Loving the music has given me the entire calling for my life of understanding the struggle of people of color and wanting to make a difference to help people who throughout history have been oppressed and disenfranchised.
How’d you get your start in the industry?
I just really was a fan and loved the music and wanted to give back to the artists who gave so much good music to us. I wanted to combine my two lanes of education. My MBA Marketing from McGill University and a degree in African American Studies at Temple University. I’m a proponent of “Do for self” and I believe in people owning their own shit.
I chose to become a conduit for artists in the bay area, midwest, and south build their careers and leverage them in New York where a lot of the major labels were.. Nobody tells you it’s gonna take some time to build your reputation. It took 6 years to make money. It’s not been a fast lick by any means. Part of that is because of the choices I made. I’m not willing to do what it takes to get rich in the industry which is own someone else’s publishing. When you look at some of my contemporaries like Puff or Jay-Z, the artists that I’ve helped build careers, we’ve sold and streamed more music than those guys combined. And I’m super proud of that.
(She talks about working with Eminem, Twista, and Do Or Die)
For anyone who’s unfamiliar, how would you explain Rap Coalition & PowerMoves, and what’s the difference?
Rap Coalition is a Not for profit organization I started in 1992 to pull artists out of bad deals when they found themselves in an oppressive contractual situation with a production company, management company, and/or record label. Since then, due to the influx of oppressive contracts, it’s evolved to help artists who are signed to major labels negotiate better deals. She explains, “Our goal is always to help the artist make money with their music so that it makes sense for the label to continue to support them. It’s a last resort to negotiate an artist off a label or break the contract.”
(Wendy also elaborates on issues with getting out of contract with smaller labels, dealing with labels in court, and how Rap Coalition helps to educate)
Powermoves is her for-profit business created to serve as a hands-on program that teaches artists how to make money with their music independently. Powerhouse works with artists who have investors already on board, and by investors, I mean people who have the necessary funds to get to have a music career, not 10k, bc it’s infinitely more expensive And once they get to a certain level, they can choose to stay independent or accept a deal from a major label. But that’s once they’re in a position where that deal makes financial sense to them.
(Mentions book and website that drops in fall and 3-year artist accelerator program)
Is it true that you sold your condo, investments, and car to start Rap Coalition?
Yes. it’s true. I really put my money where my mouth was. It took me 6 years to start making money in music. I funded the Rap Coalition with almost ½ million dollars. It was my goal that I would help artists get out of bad deals and they’d get better deals and give back. And that just wasn’t realistic. I’m not trying to become a billionaire in the music industry. I am trying to teach artists to succeed and get to the next level without the middleman.
(She explains why it wasn’t realistic for her or the artists and having to rebuild after a bad deal)
What are some ways artists can capitalize post-COVID?
Yes, marketing. All of my clients continued marketing during this and everyone had more engagement. Their streaming numbers are climbing. Even for the ones that we’re struggling before COVID are doing better. But until we can go out and have the meet and greets and shows, I’ve doubled down on the digital numbers. The way artists get paid is usually show money, first. COVID took away those options. So we’re being creative.
The way we market music changes every 6-9 months. The best example is we went from influencer marketing on IG to influencer marketing on Tik Tok which is super effective. Marketing is advertising to an audience without them feeling like they’re being advertised to. No one wants to feel like you’re shoving something down their throats.
(Drops some virtual ideas and examples of how her artists have leveraged COVID)
Has the industry changed since Tupac and No Limit? What has stayed the same?
Oh god yes. Elements have stayed the same but it’s mostly changed with it going digital. But the biggest way it’s changed for me is that it’s become more researched-oriented. Like when I was putting out Po’ Pimp (Do Or Die), we chose that song as the single because we went with our gut. After listening to all of their music, we decided on that one. We took it to some DJs in Chicago, a DJ through it on the radio and club and that’s how we tested music. But that was one One Club, one city. One time. Now I can literally log into a client’s dashboard of Soundcloud, Spotify, or youtube, and see which songs are performing better. There’s no middle man. I can actually test music and it greats.
Advertising has changed too. The music industry is so oversaturated that advertising is more used as a way to start word of mouth now. The goal of advertising today isn’t to get everyone to click on it like it used to be. Now, it’s to get influencers to like and take it back to their crowd.
(Wendy goes into detail about influencer marketing and the difference between IG & Tik Tok)
How do you stay so relevant?
Two things, trusting the artists that they know what their fans want and I surround myself with 18-24. The fans are 18 – 26. I’m not the market. My era was the 80s & 90s. I stay relevant by working with those who the market is for.
What is the one thing every artist you choose to work with has?
Actually, every artist has to have 3 things.
- Marketable music.
What I think about it doesn’t matter. Does the artist know their audience? Can their fandom create returns?
2. Funding that’s necessary.
Marketing is 150k. I’ve tried to do it for less but even with my pull. We spent 322K on Trouble. We made it back. But that was the initial investment.
3. Work ethic
I don’t want to work harder than my client. Some of my clients think, “Oh, Wendy’s just gonna sprinkle me with her fame juice. It doesn’t work like that. You gotta outwork everyone. When I’m choosing a client, if they don’t have the work ethic, This is an industry where people take advantage of everyone. I’d rather keep a great relationship with someone and not be able to deliver.
You’ve worked with No Limit, Cash Money, Tupac, Eminem and more, how does it feel to have helped broker some of Hip Hop’s most influential deals to date?
You know I don’t think about it. I realize how crazy that sounds. But I don’t focus on my successes. I actually am more driven by my losses. My pride in those deals isn’t really that I did those deals. My pride is that I didn’t sign them to myself and then go get a deal for “Wendy’s records.” For instance, David Banner was the first deal in the history of the music industry where he was signed to Universal under Steve Rifkin’s label, SRC, and contractually, was allowed to put out music, separately and independently from Universal. It was in 2003 5 years after I did Cash Money’s deal. I am actually more excited by Banner’s deal because I was able to help him get a new deal after he left a bad one. And while I didn’t negotiate Trouble’s deal with Def Jam, I was able to help build him up where he was able to get Interscope to give him a 3 year, 8 million dollar deal.
(She reflects on how 2Pac gave her a much-needed pep talk when she first started in the industry and talks about helping Trouble secure a 3 year, 8 million dollar deal with Interscope.)
It was a pleasure to interview her and get both industry insight but to hear about the history and evolution of Hip Hop until now. And with 2020, time being of the essence has failed to ring truer than now for many of us. So In true Drink Champs fashion, it was an honor to chop up the game with a great and give her her roses while she’s here.