Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

Music business lessons from Chief Keef and Fish

What rapper Chief Keef and veteran singer-songwriter Fish can tell us about music biz economics.

Tue, Feb 5, 2013, 09:26


Chief Keef and Fish have, on the face of it, absolutely nothing in common. Nada, zilch, nowt. One is a Chicago hip-hop youth with a penchant for weed and bragging who is currently locked up for 60 days for violating the terms of his probation by handling a gun while doing a video interview for Pitchfork at a shooting range (yeah, P4K, gun, video, what could go wrong?). The other is a Derek Dick, a veteran Scottish singer-songwriter probably best known for fronting Marillion back in the day who also appeared in one episode of The Bill. Yet what we’ve learned from both in the last week or so tells us quite a lot about the current state of the music business.

Let’s start with Keith Cozart, the rhymer behind the ace “I Don’t Like”. The terms of Cozart’s record deal with Interscope were made public in a Cook County court filing and make for interesting reading. The Chief’s advance from Interscope was $440,000, with $300,000 to pay for the recording of his debut album “Finally Rich”. The three album contract could be worth as much as $6m if he hits certain sales targets, but it also swings in the label’s favour if things don’t go to plan. For example, if his debut doesn’t hit the 250,000 mark by the end of this year, Interscope can get out of the deal (the album has already sold over 150,000 copies so he’s on his way).

Chief Keef does the math

There was also a seperate deal with Interscope for Keef’s Glory Boyz Entertainment label. This provided another $440,000 advance, with a $180,000 salary for Keef and his manager Rovan Manuel and $200,000 for “expenses”. Keef and his manager own 80 per cent of the company, rapper Fredo Santana (who got a $40,000 advance) owns 10 per cent and the remainder is owned by Keef’s uncle, Alonzo Carter and Anthony H. Dade. Profits (if any) from the label will be split equally between Glory Boyz Entertainment and Interscope, though the latter can get out of the deal if losses exceed $4.5 million.

That really is a lot of cheddar for a Chicago teen, albeit one with a really great cocky anthem to his name. But at a time when we keep hearing that the record business is on its uppers, it will be astonishing to many to see just how much money a label like Interscope is prepared to spend on a young, unproven talent. While you assume that the deal will also cover Keef’s earnings from non-recorded music sources and that he’ll be slinging tunes for quite some time to pay it all back, it’s still a remarkable upfront payday.

It also shows that the record industry is quite willing to – and able to – spend large when they want to grab an artist. There was an A&R scramble for Keef so lots of other labels were also prepared to make similar offers to woo the kid. Indeed, Keef may not be the only act in recent times to benefit from such record label largesse: you can imagine that any young act who’ve been the subject of a record company scrum of late, like The Strypes for example, can point to similarly impressive set of signing-on figures.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the scale, there’s Fish. Last week, he wrote about the costs of touring on his blog and showed how much it cost to keep the show on the road. Using the example of a show at a 700 capacity UK venue last May, Fish demonstrated who would have got what from every single penny of the £12,731.25 which came in at the door on that night. He lists all the costs which had to met on the night by either the promoter or himself, from paying the support band (£50) and ticket fees (£2245) to band wages (£750) and merch facility fee (£50 – some venues demand much more or a percentage of sales).

Fish eyes the figures

Using those figures, Fish says he’s looking at a loss of £6500 across a 12 date tour. He points out that a complete sell out tour would mean “around 45k profit” and, even with “the bogey man of HMRC and corporation tax at 24% taking 6k and leaving 19k”, he knows “it’s still a lot of money which I would be lucky to be able to make in this day and age.” Yet he also says that that was the only UK tour he could do “for at least another 18 months” without a new album and it was his first tour with a full electric band since 2008.

It’s a fascinating insight into how much it costs a heritage act like Fish to stay touring and how he can still afford to do so by cutting some corners (such as driving in his own car from gig to gig rather than hire a bigger splitter van to transport all the band and crew). It’s also a world removed from Chief Keef’s contract because it’s highly unlikable that an act like Fish, someone even with an established audience, is going to be on Interscope’s radar.

While this is a gig Fish is “eternally grateful” to have, he knows it can’t last forever. “There’s gonna come a time when I have to pull over and park up and cut down on the driving as I don’t want to end up a casualty. I’d like to slow down and take in the view for a change as there’s still a lot of things i want to see and do. I am very aware of the changes that are occurring and not all of them I like or want to be part of. It’s always been a rough ride being an artist but there’s only so long I can keep this off roading up for. This year will be a challenging year for us all and it’s going to be interesting to see where I end up when the dust clears”.