Clouting Our Judgment: Are Labels Overspending for SoundCloud Hype? (Guest Column)

Writes Maverick's Nick Jarjour: "Are we living in a gilded age or in a glut?"

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A recent Goldman Sachs report projected that recorded music would balloon to an $80 billion business in the next 10 years. But walk through the halls of a major label’s urban department these days and you might think we’re already there, especially when you consider the seven-figure deals being offered to artists with “clout.”

First, it’s important to note, that we are living in a golden age for all music but especially for hip-hop, which last year became the most consumed genre in the U.S. Even barely a month into 2019, we’ve seen a slew of new releases from Future, J Cole and 21 Savage. Think back at recent years and consider the number of artists that we took notice of. Juice WRLD, Trippy Red, Gunna — it’s like new stars are popping every month!

This exciting time for hip-hop as a culture and as a genre has coincided with a sea-change for the music industry. Big streaming numbers on services like Spotify and Apple Music have finally started to pay off, and in 2018, streaming became the industry’s largest revenue source. As a result, for the first time in about 20 years, record labels have a lot of money to invest in signing and promoting new artists, and they are certainly spending it.

Recently, there have been a few notable bidding wars for hip-hop’s newest stars. Lil Pump was famously able to renegotiate his deal with Warner Bros. for a reported $8 million. Acts like Juice WRLD, Lil Xan, SahBabii, and Shoreline Mafia have all reportedly received deals over one million dollars, some getting as high as two or three million. It seems that labels have found an easy cash grab in signing so-called “SoundCloud” rappers who rise to prominence after a few popping singles and a video. A lot of artists are following this exact career path towards success and it’s because the industry is receptive to it.

This is a sign of a healthy industry. Artists are earning, labels are making money, and fans are getting flooded with music. But are we living in a gilded age or in a glut? Are today’s stream-today-gone-tomorrow acts akin to the glam metal days of the late 80s? Think about how much of today’s music feels watered down or derivative. And how many artists are looking for attention from labels and tastemakers by emulating the sound of rappers who have already “made it” instead of going out and crating an organic fanbase or sound of their own. To be blunt, this is watering down the genre.

“A lot of it sounds the same,” EMPIRE A&R executive Tina Davis recently told me. Labels “sign five of the same thing, to see which of them will work. They’re grabbing them and throwing them at the wall like spaghetti.”

It’s an age-old rule of record companies: sign five acts, hope one hits and drop the rest. But if you’re an emerging artist, playing the lottery with your career shouldn’t be your goal. You don’t want to be one to these artists. Your ambition should be to put forward the best version of yourself and your music. The artists of this generation that will have longevity in the industry are going to be those that develop a unique sound, perspective and fanbase. Don’t simply focus on going viral, hone your songwriting and production skills.

I love a trend as much as the next guy but I believe the industry should be looking for long-term investments, and not just the latest influencer with ice or a face tat. A true artist is someone who’s able to stay relevant and innovative for years to come and deliver hit songs!

Nick Jarjour is a partner at Maverick Management (representing in-demand hitmaker Starrah) and an A&R executive at Atlantic Records. Follow him on Twitter at @NickJarjour and on Instagram