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28 Nov

How Much Money Do R&B Artists *Really* Make? –

How Much Money Do R&B Artists *Really* Make? –

Welcome to The State of R&B, ESSENCE’s take a look at the past, present and way forward for rhythm and blues. On this piece, ESSENCE editors Jasmine Browley and Brooklyn White investigate the R&B bags secured—and lost.

In 1997, Kelly Price sang “the mo’ money we come across, mo’ problems we see.” But what happens when there are rumors of no money? 

You address them, head on. 

“R&B has never not been lucrative because R&B could be performed world wide,” J. Valentine, a singer and songwriter with N’SYNC, Omarion and Mario songs to his credit, says to ESSENCE. “You don’t need as much insurance to guard the venues,” he says, hinting at hip-hop’s more rowdy shows. “So, the reality of the matter is, there’s all the time been money in R&B. It’s where you go to seek out it.” The issue isn’t all the time making the cash though. Sometimes, it’s a matter of not getting the slice you deserve. 

In 1991, R&B girl group TLC signed a famous recording contract. The deal was the grounds of a dispute that led the singers to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 1995, citing debts of $3.5 million. In late 1996, the group settled for an estimated $10M, effectively severing ties with their management and inking a direct cope with their label. 

Earlier that 12 months, Tionne “T-Boz” Watkins and her TLC bandmates, Rozonda “Chili” Thomas and Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes, shocked the world after they revealed they were “broke as broke could be.” They broke the news while holding two freshly-won Grammys a chunk, in front of a slew of journalists. At the moment, the group had sold greater than 10 million albums and accomplished a successful tour. 

“We just knew we were open, and we’ve never been hush mouth about nothing,” Watkins tells ESSENCE. The group’s honesty seemingly broke the unspoken code of silence amongst artists who felt they weren’t being treated fairly. The silence further perpetuated the cycle of unbalanced record label contracts. 

“It was unheard of for artists, especially women, to talk up. So if we needed to be the primary to do it, so be it,” Watkins adds. 

How Much Money Do R&B Artists *Really* Make?
LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES: Members of the musical group TLC hold among the awards they won in the course of the thirty eighth Annual Grammy Awards 25 February in Los Angeles. The group won three awards including best rythmn and blues performance by a bunch and best rythmn and blues album. AFP PHOTO/Jeff Haynes (Photo credit should read JEFF HAYNES/AFP via Getty Images)
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Entertainment lawyer Aurielle Brooks was not involved with the suit, but shed some retrospective light onto the case. She shows how TLC’s filing was an upward move that allowed past labels’ debts to be alleviated. 

“One thing that could be missed is that upon filing for bankruptcy, the expectation of recoupment or a label making the a reimbursement that they’ve invested now becomes a thing of the past,” Brooks says. “The primary angle here is within the event an artist becomes a superstar but their label is refusing to renegotiate their antiquated deal, that is an option they selected to force them to the table and relinquish among the extensive debt they owed to each hand of their pots.”

When the group filed for bankruptcy, they were unable to afford it. They borrowed the money from Lopes’ on-and-off again boyfriend, Andre Rison. 

“Andre Rison had to offer us $15,000 a chunk. So $45,000. We would have liked to have $45,000 to go bankrupt since it costs to be bankrupt on certain chapters. So the chapter that we would have liked to be, child, we was too broke to even file,” Watkins says. “We paid him back after we got our money.”

Devo Harris, a former songwriter who worked with Aretha Franklin and launched the profession of John Legend, has thoughts that counter the idea that R&B is indeed a money maker. Race, in fact, plays an element. 

Harris mentions working as Legend’s deejay within the early 2000s. Some nights he would watch the singer bring hundreds of audience members to a venue, only to have much less popular rock acts perform the nights before and after Legend. Because the singer’s fans were majority Black, he wasn’t all the time capable of land the venues he deserved as a multi-platinum selling artist. The scale of a performance space directly impacts turnout, which in turn affects the money flow.

“So, as a Black artist and as a typically Black genre, it’s harder to get butts in seats,” Harris says. 

The streaming era has only made it harder on artists.

“Streaming has completely modified the industry for the more severe, a minimum of where artists are concerned.” Shari “Truth Hurts” Watson says. “We don’t make any money from it and the streaming structure also politicizes the industry in a way that makes it hard for artists to deal with the art.” 

In case you’ve noticed that song lengths have gotten shorter and shorter over time, for this reason. Hottest streaming platforms operate on a pay per play basis, wherein low streaming music layouts have caused song length to shorten so listeners are encouraged to replay the song more often, thus bumping up the quantity artists earn. 

Since a platform like Spotify pays major artists between $0.004 and $0.008 per stream, this incentivizes artists to create shorter tracks. It doesn’t hurt that short song clips have the potential to go viral on platforms like TikTok. 

Watkins suggests today’s latest artists take the independent route to assist maintain control of their funds and the way their songs are used. She revealed she’s re-recorded all of her vocals on TLC’s albums.

“I re-recorded my [vocals] on Crazy, Sexy, Cool; Oooooooh, on the TLC Tip—every little thing I’ve ever sang. And I own the masters of all of my publishing that I even have ever written. Period. I own every little thing.” She starts rapping the hook of GloRilla’s “F.N.F. (Let’s Go), before saying, “I belong to no label, I’m free.” 

Watson agrees. 

Also know by her stage name ‘Truth Hurts,’ she rose to fame together with her hit single “Addictive” in 2002. Watson was signed to Dr. Dre’s Aftermath label, a subsidiary of Interscope Records and says that despite the early success of the song and eventual album, she didn’t feel valued as an artist and sued her way out of her contract. Because of this, Watson says she was blackballed. 

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“After filing suit to get out of my contract, Dre was really fair to me,” Watson tells ESSENCE. “He let me go easily because he knew I actually desired to go independent as a result of my profession stalling under the deal I used to be under at the moment.” She says a label executive wasn’t on the identical page. They were reluctant to let her go after having not recouped the hundreds of thousands of dollars the label fronted to provide Watson’s Truthfully Speaking.

Following her departure from Aftermath, she says opportunities were blocked. 

“[Labels] ensure that you can’t secure and procure one other situation with a label or a conglomerate that might pay so that you can do anything,” Watson says. “They could be really greedy.” she adds. 

With many years of working under his belt, James “Jimmy” Maynes, a former A&R executive with Jive, has gotten perspective from artists and record labels after playing a pivotal role in signing stars like Alicia Keys and Joe Thomas, amongst others. 

Although he empathizes with record labels and knows they shell out money to develop artists, he says he understands the plight of ravenous, undereducated artists as well. 

“They need to go independent in the event that they need to break into the industry now,” he advises, adding that with social media, it’s easier than ever to self-market and distribute music, two of the primary appeals of record labels. 

“There’s money and talent in R&B, I don’t agree with Diddy when he said the genre is dead,” Maynes says. “We just should help the brand new generation figure it out. But overall, they’ll be okay. The children will likely be alright.” 

Read “Never Too Much? A Look At Sexually Explicit R&B Lyrics” here.

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