Take care of yourself and get some trusted people in your life who are going to help remind you of your value.

Ray Ross

Former Music Industry Manager

Know The Limits of The Scarcity and Permission-Based Music Industry

The Art of Lying To Artists


What do you know about the music industry?

I’ve been in the music industry for 12 years. I worked for free for about nine of them because that’s just the name of the game and anything artists related, you gotta prove your value, prove your worth. Um, and I, once I started getting paid in the music industry, I then moved out to Nashville. I started in the music industry as a stage hand, worked my way up to front of house engineering, studio engineering. Found out that I was pretty good at building relationships and networking, which brought on a whole different Avenue of artists, management, consulting, booking the works. So over the last 12 years, I’ve dipped my toe in the pool of possibilities with every Avenue of the music industry.

Do you have to work for free?

You continue to work for free despite what your family and your friends are telling you in the sense of, Hey, you’re working 60 hours a week and you can’t even pay your phone bill and you do it. Because on the other end of the spectrum, you have record labels, management companies, and booking agents telling you you’ve got an awesome personality. You’ve got the energy we’re looking for. Keep it up, kid. You’re going to go places. So you claim to that hope. And that’s the thing about the music industry, which I feel like based off of our conversation kind of bleeds into anything that is artist related, creative related. Yup. Is the rule is you are objectified for the value that you provide without being accepted and valued as the human and the intrinsic individual that you are.

Was there sexism?

I actually started going by Ray because when I was sending out emails to book for my clients, when they found out that I was a woman, they wouldn’t respond. So I started calling myself Ray Ross because I had a higher response rate and then when they met me in person, they were in for quite a surprise. Let me tell ya, it was something that happened on a day to day basis.

What happens to artists?

Artists are treated as products, so you just provide whatever you can to the product as long as you’re making money off of them. So when an artist tells their manager or their booking agents or their record label, I need a mental break. I feel like I’m going crazy because of how much I’m producing. The fact that I am traveling 10 months out of the year and in the music industry you call it road dogging.

When you’re on the road, you are on 100% of the time. Anytime you step outside of your hotel room or step off that tour bus, you have to be charming, engaging, energetic, everything that people expect when they know who you are and when they’re excited to meet you. So when you come to that mental break, and let me tell you, mental issues, anxiety, depression is real in the music industry and it’s because of how hard you’re pushed and how you exceed your limit on a regular basis and you’re encouraged and challenged to keep pushing on. Or Hey, we may not sign your contract once you’re con this contract is up. We may not renew your contract or you’re so easily replaceable because everybody can do what you do. So if you don’t do it on our terms, then we’re on to the next and greatest. So it’s this hustle and it’s exhausting. And I’ve seen so many people break because of it.

How does copyright work?

In the music industry, the first thing that you have to do is you have to copyright your song. That is with lyrics and music. Once you are told by ASCAP, BMI C SAC or another company that you’re not stealing from somebody else, you’ve retained those copyright laws. Anytime your music is used, you get a percentage of the royalties based off of who collaborated. So those royalties are broken up. Um, I would say I’ve seen some people get point 12% of Realty’s and I’ve seen 50% royalty and companies like BMI as cap see SAC also reach out to literally every business establishment that plays music on speakers or has karaoke or has life cover bands needs to pay a fee for that music so the artists can get paid. Trying to get those people on the phone to get licensed to play music legally is nearly impossible. And it comes to the point where you have to threaten a lawsuit to say, Hey, these artists need to get paid to write. So if you’re not willing to pay X amount of dollars in your area a month or a year to be able to play music, then we’re going to take away those rights altogether. So there’s kind of a balance to it. But getting back to royalties, there’s still not a lot of money to be made out of. It is specially since everything is strained. That is fractions of pennies.

What’s happened to musicians?

I worked with an ALS client 10 years ago. They made millions and millions and millions now because of streaming, they make maybe $60,000 a year in streaming. And that’s millions of plays a year. There’s so much money coming in from these purchase subscriptions still. So Napster did pave the way for convenient music playing, and also screwing over artists. Right? But now there are other major platforms that are doing the exact same thing. And how they’re getting away with it is because they’re paying for subscriptions and then they pay the major clients, Justin Timberlake, Adele, fall out, boy, bands like that. And then all of the underdogs who have less than 20,000 plays a month, but they have a consistent following. Those are the people that aren’t getting paid out. Those are the people that are a part of that class action lawsuit.

How are musicians making money?

Those is all shows. And having the right seller behind that merch booth to charm people into buying more . Cuz if you think about it, first of all, the artist has to be appealing enough to get people to come to the show. So the venues a huge deal, marketing’s a huge deal. The booking agencies, productions, promoters, everybody on the back end is making this happen because that’s how they get cut a paycheck, right? Which the artist gets a percentage, a little, little percentage of light for how hard everybody works. Um, and when you get on that stage, you have to be engaging and charming and on fucking point to get those people to go back to that merge booth and buy your t-shirts. And people don’t even offer CDs anymore. They offer a free download of their albums. Uh, posters are a huge deal. So if you’re listening, you’re an artist who’s looking to make some money face to face your posters that you can provide that might be unique in a really good quality, you’re going to be a huge asset to you as well.

What’s the rule in Nashville?

I am targeting Nashville in this retrospect simply because I lived there for a few years and I saw how it breaks people’s souls because Nashville originally it’s a Southern city, right? It’s in Tennessee, so everything’s about relationship and building and taking care of your neighbor and that got manipulated and twisted into, don’t ever be honest because you might upset the wrong person and you need to network your ass off so somebody else can be intrigued by the relationships that you’ve built and people will climb and clamor all over each other to steal the relationships that you have busted your ass for and make their own living. And it’s really first come first serve and it all depends on how aggressive you are. Again, there are exceptions out there. I’m just speaking to the rule, but it’s the rule for a reason because ultimately as an artist, you are able to draw emotion out of somebody, which in itself is nearly impossible to do on an individual interaction basis. So the fact that you have such a significant level of creativity that you can make somebody feel something by a visual or audio experience, you’re a fucking genius. You have to know your worth, especially if you’re an artist, a photographer, a videographer, a painter. Yes, somebody is asking you to do something because they see the value of your eye and your perspective.

Why are artists so powerful?

The powers that be think that they can, they have this illusion of control if they can control and monopolize art, but guess what motherfucker? You don’t have any control over that because ultimately the artists that are under the radar that are playing the game and allowing themselves to be manipulated and exhausting themselves just to be in some bougie ass, super blank, a distributor in New York or California, those are the people that are getting recognized underground. Those are the ones that are going to start making money because they’re saying, Hey, what I’m doing is I am sharing my deepest most intimate self with you, and that feeling is 100% replicated reciprocated by all of their viewers.

What’s your advice to artists?

Any artists who are listening, I highly, highly, highly recommend taking care of yourself, clean eating, meditation. If you’re not a huge workout person like me, go take a walk, go take a 10 to 15 minute walk, get those endorphins moving, get you out of your own mindset. That’s going to help with your creativity as well, but take care of yourself and get some trusted people in your life that are also going to help remind you of your value. I think that the, the culture and the community that you’re providing these artists who have so much value to provide to the survival of human beings. Yes, and the no-bullshit stance you take so they are reminded of their value and they are empowered to do what they need to do is amazing. You are that single voice and an ocean of art industries, plural, that is speaking truth to empower these artists. And I’m so grateful for it because 12 years later I finally meet you and I wish I could’ve had this conversation 12 years ago. You know? But you’re doing it and I’m grateful for it.

One Response

  1. So powerful! Really enjoyed listening to Ray Ross. She sums it up so well, illustrates her points with examples of gritty, harsh and painful examples from her industry. Thanks, Ray and Ann.

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