Interview with RAY COPELAND, manager for DMX - May 21, 2003
"Artists should keep an eye on the market to see what's selling out there, and study and understand their craft before they get involved."
Until very recently, Ray Copeland managed DMX, the US multi-platinum rap artist, and now manages the US gold rap artist Drag-On, US Top 50 rapper Yukmouth and urban producer Dame Grease for his BAR Management Company, which is based in New York.
How did you get started in the music business and how did you become a manager?
In 1995, I started helping out my nephew DMX, just by doing little things at first, until I found myself helping him more and more. Later on, in 1996, I started my company, BAR Management. DMX was our first artist and then we went on to sign other artists, such as Drag-On and Yukmouth. Weíve built a team that consists of a lawyer, a manager and an accountant and weíre basically a company that develops artists through education.
Are there any particular experiences that have contributed to your skills as a manager?
Networking with everybody at all the different departments within record labels, sitting down with music lawyers and accountants, and learning about everything that goes into artist development.
What do you think of todayís rap scene?
Artists are becoming more and more knowledgeable about the business and are getting better contracts from labels. As opposed to when the Fat Boys and Salt'n'Pepa started out, artists are now paying more attention to their lawyers, accountants, and looking more closely at their deals. Theyíre more business-oriented and thatís a plus for the team that they work with, because it makes their work a lot easier. Artists used to leave things up to managers, lawyers and accountants, but now, for example, they get involved in plenty of different meetings that they didnít show up to back then. They help negotiate the deals and they get involved in the business.
Bootlegging and downloading from computers is really bad and labels and artists are lobbying against Congress to try to get some of those things changed, in order to protect the art form. Some of the violent things that go on in the rap music industry are bad too. We have to work as a team in order to change that, and not just sit and talk about it.
How did DMX sign with Ruff Ryders?
We had a deal with Ruffhouse first, a long time ago. We had a single that we were trying to release but then Ruffhouse shelved DMX, so we waited a while until the deal was over and then went shopping to various labels and created a bidding war. We decided to go with Ruff Ryders and Def Jam because we thought it was the natural thing to do at that point in time.
What were the important factors in the breaking of DMX?
Definitely the streets, the mix tapes.
How did DMX start acting in films?
Irv Gotti and Hype Williams were casting for the movie Belly, which Hype directed. Hype had shot videos for DMX and remembered how dramatic he could be on film, so they asked if he wanted to read for the movie, which he did. They loved him and thatís when he started his movie career. Iím building up lots of relationships in the movies now. Movie business people are interested in artists who make successful records, because records sell tickets.
You helped DMX set up Bloodline, his own label, with Def Jam, and then you stopped working with him...
DMXís lawyer set up Bloodline, and I just helped him put everything together with his lawyer. When he said that he wanted to do other things, we talked about it, we came to an understanding and he moved on.
What artists do you currently manage?
Drag-On, who is signed to Ruff Ryders; Cashmere, who is signed to Bloodline; and Ronny Jordan, a jazz artist. I also manage the rap and r&b producers Dame Grease, who did most of DMX's albums and who has also scored movies; Darren Wittington; and a few others.
Are you currently looking for more artists?
If an established artist came to me and I was interested, I would say yes, but as far as developing artists is concerned Iím currently busy with things in the pipelineóI have all the artists that I want to grow with. Iíll be looking at new artists soon, but in the meantime I still go to meetings and talk to people and search out a wide range of artists, from jazz and r&b to rap and pop.
How do you find new talent?
People send in demos, I go out and meet people and I go to showcases.
Do you accept unsolicited material?
Yes, I do, because thatís sometimes how you end up finding that person you've been looking for. I usually ask for four songs, a picture and a bio, so I can get a taste of what the artist is like. A couple of high school and college students, another staff member who does A&R work for me and I sit in a team and listen to all the music we've received. We vote and then we call people back, even the people we donít take. Two of the people Iím going to work with were actually found through demos.
How important is the music when you listen to a demo?
I listen to the music, to the lyrics and to the vocals. If itís just the music I like, Iíll probably try to hook up with the producer. If itís the hook and the lyrics, Iíll be more attentive to the artist.
What is most commonly lacking in the artists you hear but do not sign?
The production, more often than not. Many artists get frustrated because they think theyíre hot and they donít want to change anything. That's the type of artist that you donít necessarily want to work with.
What area of the music business should aspiring artists learn more about?
Artists need to do their homework and realise that that's their job. They should keep an eye on the market to see whatís selling out there, and study and understand their craft before they get involved.
Is a middle level missing in rap? There are the major and underground levels, but what about a level where artists can live from their music and concentrate on developing?
Nowadays, production companies and management companies help develop new artists, so thatís the best way for many artists to go. There they can grow in order to get out there. A lot of young rappers understand that theyíre young in the game and that they need time to develop themselves into more mature rappers.
Do you support artists financially so that they can focus on the music?
I have to support some of my clients, yes. Lawyers and accountants will tell you not to, but I have done it. If the artist is in that middle ground, itís going to take a producer or a manager to develop him or her before they sign to a label. However, if the artist is signed to a label, it should be the label that takes responsibility for development and financial support.
Do you devise development strategies for your artists?
Yes, we get together and try to help the artist get to where they need to go next. Itís important to have a strategy if you plan to stay on in the industry, and you have to have a two- to five-year plan ready almost immediately. Tomorrow that next artist might come on the scene and knock you out of your box so you have to keep your game up, keep it live with the mix tapes and understand whatís out there on the streets.
How much input do you have on the songs and the productions?
I go back and forth to the studio constantly, no matter where my artists are and even if I have to fly there. I listen to the songs, and if necessary I tell them what I think should be done differently and how I think they could make it work.
There are often a whole host of producers involved in the production of a single rap album. Does this hinder the development of each artist's individual sound?
Youíll find artists that are changing producers every album because they want a different sound. For some artists, itís not about production, itís about their lyrics taking over the whole situation. In DMXís case, it always was his lyrics that took over the music.
What are the differences between working with majors and independents?
Woking with major labels involves a lot of networking and going from one person to another, whereas you usually deal with just one or two people at independent labels, which makes the process a lot smoother. Major labels have an enormous amount of relationships that they have to cater to, involving marketing, radio, videos, shows, etc. Independent labels do not have these constraints, so itís easier to get in the door when you have an unknown artist. Also, major labels get involved in politics when signing artists, which indies donít do. Still, in the end it just depends on what the best situation for a particular client is.
What do you think about the radio situation?
I have a lot of friends working at ASCAP, SoundScan and within the radio industry who say that people at radio are getting paid off to play certain songs, but I think that good music will always overcome anything like that. You wouldnít have to pay someone to play that 50 Cent song, ďIn Da ClubĒ: anybody could have gotten on that beat and ridden it.
Should the costs of making the videos and albums with the record labels be recoupable from artistsí royalties?
Most videos are 50% recoupable, but once youíre successful you can have your videos only 25% recouped and you can dock it down even more the more successful you get. Success gets you what you want in the music industry; it changes your relationships and opens doors.
If artists share the costs, should they also share ownership of the masters?
The masters are their art and even though the record label is taking a chance in investing in that artist over a period of time, once the artist becomes successful the record label should give them points towards ownership of the masters.
What aspect of the music industry would you change?
The way new artists get signed to labels but they don't get developed. Developing artists is really important. You canít expect every artist to come to you developed and ready to goóitís the record labels' responsibility to help mould and develop the artist with the rest of the team. If as an artist you have created a buzz on the street and people know you, a label is likely to take you, but I think that labels should sometimes help create an artist, like Berry Gordy at Motown used to do back in the days. The Supremes and the Temptations weren't released until he knew they had the right songs; he knew he had talent in his hands and he nurtured that talent and made it into something. Today, weíre still listening to and sampling every act that he worked with back then, which goes to show that artist development is really important.
What has been the greatest moment of your music career?
Having the opportunity to work with a great artist like DMX and having played a part in developing him into the multi-platinum artist he is today. Also, working with my other artists, no matter what level theyíre at, and helping them reach their goals.
What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years' time?
I see myself moving onto different things in the music game, whether as an executive or doing something else within my own label. There are also some other business ventures I want to pursue, and Iím making the floor plans for them right now.
Interviewed by Jean-FranÁois Mťan
Read On ...