It hit a few hip-hop blogs over the weekend, VLADTV.com being the largest, that legendary artists Raekwon and Ghostface of Wu-Tang Clan are offering 15-minute opening slots to independent artists on their upcoming Ragu Tour for $1,100. The deal is this (according to digitalmusicnews.com) artists who offer to pay the $1,100 fee and are accepted (not every applicant will be accepted) will be given a 15-minute performance slot. They will also have a section available to them should they wish to set up a merchandise stand. Travel and accommodations will not be provided, and all other expenses must be covered by the performer. Also, there are no guarantees that a large crowd will be in attendance during the performance as concert goers often arrive late.
This type of discussion is one that I have a lot with the Cheats Movement Podcast crew and independent artists that I have the pleasure to work with and even book on occasion. As an advocate for hip-hop culture and building a community, I don’t like any of the pay-for-play games that plague the hip-hop. I don’t see those types of practices in other genres of music and it seems stereotypically exploitive when you’re talking about historically poor and minority communities. But then, I decided to promote a few shows around my hometown of Richmond – and more importantly, I started paying the fees to host these shows. I started paying the venue fee, the sound fee, the artist’s riders, the hotels, the drink tickets, etc. the list goes on – and started to understand that a lot of times, the promoter may not make any money at all unless there is a successful paying audience in attendance.
Opening acts can do a lot to help promote a show. They have the potential to bring in a solid local crowd and almost guarantee a paying audience. On the flip side, selecting the wrong opening act can really sink the event and cause everyone involved a lot of money. So I see both sides of this issue, and have come to the conclusion that there is no single right answer. Every artist needs to decide for themselves if paying for a position to open for a larger act is in the best interest of their own career.
As an advocate and a small-independent promoter, I’ve decided not to charge for opening acts – though my team and I were damn close to offering a raffle-form opening act system at our last show, which was very similar (I was immediately talked out of that idea by our community of artists). However, I know several independent artists that would easily spend $1,100 on marketing in other ways and to be honest, those other methods of promotion may not be as beneficial as performing in front of an sold-out audience waiting to see Rae and Ghost. And yes, most of the tour dates on the Ragu Tour are already sold out. The artists that looks at this offer like a business investment – it may workout for them.
Let’s be clear on one thing, this is an opportunity. No one is forcing any independent artist to pay this fee — any artist can pass on it or even look down on it but by definition it’s an opportunity. At the very least the artist may get some new fans and possibly some time with Rae and Ghost. It’s by far not the worst practice I’ve seen in hip-hop to get money out of independent artists – these mega showcase for record executives and club owners are pretty much criminal. Honestly, this is only making news because Rae and Ghost are legends that probably don’t need to do this and $1,100 for 15 minutes is a fairly reasonable price.
As we all know, the money in music is not what it use to be. The reason musicians like Rae and Ghost tour so much now is because it’s by far the best financial return on investment. This may not be the case for Rae and Ghost but more than a few artists, even in 2016, are locked in to 360 deals which mean their labels are still getting part of their show and merch money. I say that to mention that adding new revenue streams are needed in hip-hop (and all music). Wu-Tang are pretty much pioneers in the generating revenue area and have been since their unprecedented deal with Loud Records, followed by Wu-Wear, even to the sole Wu-Tang album that went up for auction. This may just be the most recent way to maximize capital and give an independent artists and opportunity – if that fits. I don’t love it – I don’t event like it – but I understand it.
I hope this type of opportunity doesn’t become the standard in hip-hop. I’d love for more established entertainers to find up-and-coming musicians that they really like and respect and put them on – but only time will tell how these types of moves play out. #WESEEIT
Marc Cheatham @CheatsMovement is the founder of The Cheats Movement Blog – The intersection of hip-hop culture and community activity. #WESEEIT Contact him at: TheCheatsMovement@gmail.com Photo by Robert Fields.