Monday, January 7, 2008

The Straight Dope On The Rawkus 50

Taken from Audible Hype. Click permalink for full story.

The Straight Dope on the Rawkus 50
Justin Boland
Jan 06, 2008

RAWKUS RECORDS will consolidate the cumulative fanbases in the interests of the co-operative. As one of hip hop’s most trusted brands, RAWKUS, will select 50 members ideally suited represent our logo and to work together.

In addition to the RAWKUS 50’s comprehensive myspace marketing strategy, RAWKUS RECORDS will provide the following opportunities:

* National Full Page Print Campaigns Trusted Hip Hop Magazines
* National INTERNET marketing and promotion
* Sponsored NY and LA SHOW for the RAWKUS 50 to perform
* Blog and Podcast hosting, marketing and promotion

Two things: I admire the spin control of calling Rawkus “one of hip hop’s most trusted brands” right up front like that. Problems? What problems? That kind of aggresively fake PR is definitely taking a cue from White House press releases.

I also find it hilarious that someone would advertise, proudly, with a straight face, having a “comprehensive myspace marketing strategy.” Yeah, don’t we all. They cost about $50 and you feed them keywords and let them add people automatically while you go do something else. Just to make it all sound even more painful, they go on to advertise “National INTERNET marketing and promotion” like it was just translated from the original Chinese.

Social Networking, Dood

So basically, Rawkus did a big talent contest and started an online label with the 50 winners. They got ahold of a lot of excellent unknowns like Atllas and established underground monsters like Protoman. It’s quite a lineup.

The key question is who benefits more from this relationship? Is it the artists who get a unified brand to promote themselves? Or is it the Rawkus label, that gets credibility, grassroots promotion, and a huge catalog of online albums?

In addition to the cool logo with the razor blade, Rawkus has another trick up their sleeve—a social networking site for underground hip hop, My.Rawkus. Having a built-in audience through onsite social network is a dope concept, in theory. Of course, there’s no point in promoting your art to a bunch of other artists who are all promoting themselves, too. (It does provide a perfect visual metaphor for hip hop as a whole, though.) Recently, Rawkus has started solving that, bringing quality blogs onboard to get traffic and search. This has clearly brought on a lot of new members who are signing up in order to comment on the content.

I know all this because Humpasaur Jones has an account there.

The Benefits for Artists

I’m not going to argue that Rawkus 50 is a scam or a hustle. It is and it’s not. It does offer some very real benefits to the artists on the roster. I can assure you from firsthand experience, digital distribution is a bitch to do right. Professional and reliable online sales involves a nightmare amount of back-end work that is totally invisible to the user.

Rawkus is providing everyone on the roster with professional and reliable online sales. I wish I could at least say they did this right, but...well, check out their catalog. It’s a list of Amazon and iTunes links. So Rawkus isn’t actually adding any value here, either. Everyone on the Rawkus 50—in fact, everyone reading this—can get their album on Amazon and iTunes. Check out TuneCore, who do this on much more generous terms: $20 per album per year for hosting and maintenance.

Remember, with iTunes, having a label involved is no small matter. It makes a 48% difference in your royalty payments!

However, hustle is hustle is hustle. I can’t hate on Rawkus 50 as an operation, it’s full of talented artists and they’re going to make 2008 a more interesting place. Most importantly, everyone on the roster is free to pursue contracts with other labels and deals with other companies.

From an interview with Uganda/Illinois rapper Krukid, who explains the setup like this:

The thing is Rawkus understands that the record industry is evolving, while major industry is dying. Is coming to a process where things have to evolve. And right now on the ground level, the music that’s really moving is the music people feel.

There’s a difference between an artist who’s on TV with a video out, and a dude that actually gets on stage and can actually rock a crowd, rock a show. Half of these dudes can’t rock a show. Half these dudes can’t hold their breath long enough to rock a show. I mean we could get into so many things on that. But like cats underground, like Murs, like rappers who have their own festivals. The touring artists are the ones that actually put there time in and go out there. You actually have to go out and people feel you so you actually have a support.

Those are the cats that just started to get respect right now. Common just got number one spot for his album. What Rawkus is doing is basically supporting them dudes that could actually rock a show, and allowing them to use their name in that manner, and helping artists to support each other, because most of the people in my city don’t know 49 of these cats.

So through a process like this, it builds a name, so is like a push kind of thing. Brian and Jarret are doing a beautiful thing with that, the camaraderie of the artists are beautiful. I’ve already done a couple shows with artists. Rawkus is helping to push a movement that has already started.

Bidness Sense

Slopfunkdust is the guy who went through all of the submissions for the Rawkus 50 contest. (Which must have been an absurdly huge undertaking.) In his interview with Onetwoonetwo, he let a very critical point slip out:

Slopfunkdust: if you look at CD sales… They definitely aren’t what they use to be. Digital distro is where it’s going to be at soon.

The Rawkus 50 could be viewed as a cynical attempt to use their leftover brand recognition in order to lock down a quality digital catalog at an insanely low cost. It’s also a valuable digital investment. All the artists on the Rawkus 50 are young and busy, and unless they change their names, Rawkus has over 50 people working full-time to promote their products, regardless of wether or not Rawkus continues, or even starts, to pay them.

But looking at Rawkus 50 like that is selling the artists short—it will become whatever they make it. Everyone on board already had a strong career, and that will not change in 2008.

Total Hick Ignorance.

Of course, this is all total hick ignorance, patched together from online research. I’ve talked to a number of artists on the Rawkus 50, but never asked them too many specific questions about the business end. If anyone reading this has experience they’d want to share—or if anyone from Rawkus thinks I’m full of shit—let a mammal know.

1 comment:

Cartel said...

Really good article. I'd like permission to reprint it on my Hoodgrown website.