How To Navigate The Music Industry And Get What You Deserve
"You are the CEO of your own career, so you're not just an artist. You might be putting up the money. You might be doing creative direction. You might be posting. You might be in rehearsal. You're a leader. You’ve got to develop yourself."
Baby Rose’s new album 'Through & Through' was released April 28 via Secretly. Listen here. She will be on tour in North America with Q, starting May 28. Tickets and dates here. Words by Baby Rose, as told to Andrea Aguilar.
When SZA found out about me through From Dusk Til Dawn, which was a mixtape I put out on SoundCloud, she was really supportive out the gate. Just that little bit of encouragement, it meant a lot to me. It was a reminder to keep going. J. Cole found out about me after I snuck into the Dreamville camp and really proved myself with my work ethic and the music I made. The rest was history, and I got to tour with Ari Lennox and everything like that. But just living in Fayetteville for so long, J. Cole had called me on the side and said, “Whatever you do, I'm here to support you. I'm here if you ever need advice or if you ever need anything,” and he just really stood on that.
In the beginning, when I put out From Dusk Til Dawn, the team was me and my roommate Chantelle. She had been my roommate for all but a week. I was like, "Yeah, girl, so I feel like I should inform you I sing by the way." We took an edible and I had a whiteboard and figured out the whole creative… the name, the tracklist, the concept of the album, my outfits I would wear for stage, my set design. We figured out all of that within three hours. My brother took the photo.
Before you're so pressed to have a manager, you have to build something to manage. In the beginning, you should feel freedom. Throw sh*t at the wall and see what sticks. Be shameless about promoting it. When I started promoting, TikTok wasn't even out yet. I made my debut on Instagram. My brother had a nice camera, so I would go out and perform and he would take photos of me. It gave me the encouragement to start sharing them and looking forward to the responses. Start where you are, use what you have, and all the other things will come after that.
Figure out how you want to market yourself, how you want to put your music, your art out in the world, and do that shamelessly. Start doing it and management will come, and then management will reach out to the publicist, agents, and all of that will spring off like little leaves. Take hold of your art. Feel empowered by it.
After hearing From Dusk Til Dawn, my now manager KJ called me. He was just very passionate about working with me. Mitch, my former co-manager with KJ, saw me at an open mic and they teamed up. My mom brought me to the damn open mic. It's about having people around that see you for who you are and are very passionate to go through the fire, the mud, the sleet, the snow, whatever.
From the start, people were desperately trying to make sense of me instead of understanding who I was. I don’t make straight ahead music in one genre. I delve and dabble, but a part of my whole mission and everything that I stand for is reclaiming spaces that we f*ckin' created: country, classical, jazz, pop, folk, rock. Spaces that, if you go back in time, the originators looked like me.
I see artists like Steve Lacy, SZA, someone like Kendrick Lamar putting Bono or Portishead on his album. I see people actively in that same frame of mind as me. Beyoncé with the dance music like, they’re reclaiming it. I feel that in the air, the zeitgeist of what does a Renaissance actually look like? What does a revolution look like? It looks like feeling things and not numbing things. It looks like being active instead of passive. Really forging a way and leaving a mark. Everything I do feels like a flow. None of it is forced. It's a flow. It's a mission.
A part of my whole mission and everything that I stand for is reclaiming spaces that we f*ckin' created: country, classical, jazz, pop, folk, rock.
The idea of being independent and owning ideas comes from Black artists who literally died over that sh*t, like Sam Cooke. It's happened again and again to Black artists, being cut at their knees because they’re just trying to expand and grow. If not only for you, do it for who's next. I feel like if I'm giving a nod back to my ancestors or for those that paved the way, I have to own my art. Even if I don't understand all the ways that I could leverage it just yet, even if it's not making money just yet, I own it off the principle. This is mine.
You are the CEO of your own career, so you're not just an artist. You might be putting up the money. You might be doing creative direction. You might be posting. You might be in rehearsal. You're a leader. You’ve got to develop yourself.
Learn how to make music on your phone. Learn to make music on Logic or Ableton or whatever. Learn the type of music that you want to make without a producer, like Summer Walker did for "Session 32" from a YouTube beat. Think about Steve Lacy, his iPhone is in the Smithsonian Museum in D.C. because he made all of his albums on it. We’re in a state of self-reliance—the more you can do on your own, the more you can expand naturally. At the core, understand your responsibility in it and take the reins on that. Your sound is your responsibility. The music that you make is your responsibility. Learn how to make it on your own as much as you can.
Building a Team
When I started building a team I started by looking at what I had around me. I had enough to sustain, and prior to me even signing any deals, before Dreamville, any co-sign, anything, my management had introduced me to Danielle [Quebrado of No Other Agency], who's my publicist now, and my booking agents, Jackie and Eve. It was just us. We took a trip to L.A. to take meetings, and all we had were the demos.
I moved away from my former manager with love because life was taking him in a different direction. Replacing him with my mom made sense. She has always been the unofficial third part, holding things together. My mom’s always been involved since I was a kid. Since I was 12, [she] brought me to my first studio sessions. Her stake is the biggest outside of myself in my success. It made much more sense, so now I feel like the foundation is really strong. For lack of better words, it feels like John Monopoly and Donda West at the beginning of Ye’s career-type sh*t. I feel comfortable, and I love the way things are. I think it's meant to be this way.
When it comes to the team, let it build naturally. You have to learn, you have to ask questions. Be very adamant and tenacious about the business portion of your career, or else you can deplete quickly. I had to learn that too. If you’re going on tour, do you know where the money is coming from, where it's going, who's paying for it? Because more than likely, it’s you! You need to know ahead of time and understand the intricacies of budgets so you can speak on your behalf.
When it comes to the team, let it build naturally. You have to learn, you have to ask questions.
Learn how to delegate and learn that your team is there for you, but you also have to be there for them. Start to see each other as reflections, and not so much me versus them. We can be very honest with one another about our humanity, our limitations, our expectations. If you don't have that on the team, you need to build that ASAP. You need to work on that. That is your foundation. Not, “What can you do for me?”
My marketing person helped me come up with the name for the new album, Through and Through. Danielle is not just my publicist, she helped me get on Snoh Aalegra's tour. She will go above and beyond the call of duty. Everybody's roles stretch. I'm in a space where it's not about roles. It's not about pressing people. It's about a partnership, and y'all are here to help me help you, help all of us. You have to be in that mode.
Shout out to Kevin who's on international and Eddie at Secretly Canadian who's my A&R ‘cause he fought, and he’s a real one. I love him. Love my project manager, Rachel, and my art director, Miles. It's small and mighty. I have my glam team now. Christiana’s my stylist and Bernadette in New York. They’re like a duo… Juanice on my face and Anittria on my hair.
Know Your Worth
I did my rounds. There was one label that I'm not going to name. Their whole approach was so funny. They told me, “It’s just like an assembly line. We're going to give you your publicist, and we're going to give you your stylist, and we're going to give you your creative director and your radio person, and we're just going to build you into who you need to be and that's that.”
There was a period where I met with each label, and they were all so sweet. Very nice people, but the main point for me that was really nonnegotiable was that I wanted to own my masters. I didn't want the label to own them in perpetuity, because I didn't feel like that was fair.
It got really quiet, outside of one label, which was Island. Darcus [Beese], who signed Amy Winehouse and Florence and the Machine, was just very passionate about who I was in my rawest form and wanted to license To Myself. That took me out of survival mode. I was able to retain my masters and get what I wanted.
I think that when you're starting out, [labels] don't know your full capabilities, so they’re just trying to handle it the standard way. Their mindset is, “We own your masters. Once you prove it, maybe you could come back, and we’ll renegotiate.” I just didn't want to start like that. It can't just be me working for you, and you reap all the benefits of everything that I do. It doesn't feel ethical, so I encourage every artist: It may get quiet, but stand on that. Don’t be so quick to sign that part away.
Do not negotiate your own deals. Get a lawyer. Meet with three or four and find the right fitt. They don't have to be too aggressive during the negotiation portion and rub people the wrong way. Present your non-negotiables up front, instead of waiting to see what you’re offered. Lead with what you want, and then have the label respond to that.
Find a Partner Who Cares
When I signed to Human Resources in June, 2019, it was a very new company. J. Erving and Troy Carter were working together with Suzy Willow. It was like The Avengers—all experts big in their fields. It just felt like a no-brainer. The contract I signed was one sheet of paper, down the line. There was no minimum or maximum. It was just like, “Here, let's f**kin' do this, and when you upstream to another label, you write us into the deal, and we’ll be part of it.”
Even when I later partnered with Island, Human Resources were still a part of it with me, and it was out of good faith. I felt like I had so much support and help. I loved working with them at that time. That was really incredible, and they funded me being able to go on Ari Lennox’s tour and opening for Snoh Aalegra when I went to Europe. It was really perfect timing.
It was really dope to work with Island, starting at the beginning of 2020. I mean, the timing was impeccable because when I signed, it was right before the pandemic. When the check cleared, child, I was like, “Damn, God, that’s crazy.” Everybody that put in their hard work for building To Myself without any expectation of what would happen got to get a check from that. It was beautiful to be able to do that.
Darcus Beese at Island was very freeing in his approach and so was my A&R Kevin. Their approach when it came to building my next album was, “Just let us know when you want to go to the studio. We don't have any notes. Just go crazy.” I felt like I had freedom to operate and create a lot of beautiful music, so I'm very grateful for that experience. It gave me freedom.
They were so gracious to not keep the music when they dropped me early in 2021. They were so gracious to not do that. They returned the rights and ownership to me. When I talked to Kendrick Lamar about it, he said, “You know that never happens, right? You’re very blessed.” I was like, “Damn, I didn’t know that, but praise God.”
Everybody that I’ve kept in my corner has always had my best interest at heart. They've always seen me and seen me growing. Even with going to Secretly Canadian, my current label. Was it as big of a deal as Island? No, but the team, the taste, the curation, everything just makes sense. I’m genre bending more than I’ve ever done in an album. I’m being told, “More. Be more you. Don't hold back,” instead of some of the narrative that I used to be given before that I have to focus on R&B.
I went from one deal to another, so naturally not everything came with me. Some people naturally fall off and faith gets shaken. I know I have to keep f**kin’ going, so if I'm noticing a lack of fervent energy and a lack of passion, I'll save you the trouble. I'll just cut it off. “I think we should move in a different direction,” and that hurts.
That's why I moved out here to Long Beach, and I didn't sign my deal with Secretly right away. I needed a couple months to just grieve, grieve who I was, grieve everything that had transitioned and prepare for what’s next. I'm out here on my own and it hurt, but from somewhere deep within, I found my power. It's been great for me because I used to be scared to travel without hella people. Now, I love being alone. I look forward to my moments alone, and I look forward to being very honest.
Now, I love being alone. I look forward to my moments alone, and I look forward to being very honest.
Secretly Canadian is a good fit for me because they’re very off-center in their approach with artists. They are patient when it comes to growth. They understand that everybody has their own unique path to success. They care about me. They care about my vision. They come to my live shows, and they appreciate each of their artists like that.
They put a big emphasis on going on tour. It dispels that idea that social media followers adds up to what your show will look like, which is f**kin’ lies—the biggest myth of it all. I appreciate them for standing on that and being there for the bill. If you're willing to fight for what you believe in, you can get what you need. You are not just making money from streams. You are making money from syncs, sponsorships, and publishing. There are so many ways to make money, but you have to be aware of that as an artist.
The Mission Continues
It's a mission. I'm very grateful for where I am now. I'm grateful that I can look around and I see some of the same people that have rode with me when there was no deal, when there was a huge deal, when there was a quiet space of time of no one knowing what is going to happen next.
As an artist, skip trying to impress the big execs and really impress yourself. Then other people will feel impressed by you and you'll feel more rooted in your purpose. If people just like you for being you, then what you want will follow. They’ll call you. Believe me.
You'll have to decide from there with your lawyer's advice: What do I want? What are my principles? Do I care about what my career looks like for the next 10 years or am I just trying to be hot and get what I can right now? Not that we can really predict the future, but you can at least lay a foundation for what your future could be.
Think about what little you would want to do, and then think about the older you, who is 50 or 60. You don’t really want to go out there and do the song and dance, but do you have bread in your account? Can you have that farm? Can you have your kids and your kids’ kids handling their dreams off of the seeds that you've sown in your 20s and 30s?