The following is a conversation with Dame Ritter, CEO of one of the hottest independent labels, Funk Volume. It was conducted for Digital Music News by Dan Polaske of Mayo Music.
Dan Polaske: Funk Volume artists are known for being extremely engaged with their fans on social media. What platforms are you focused on at the moment, and are you experimenting with other platforms?
Dame Ritter: You know the usual suspects at the moment. It began as Twitter and Facebook. But we’ve really worked at diversifying our efforts. At first it was primarily Facebook but then Facebook started doing some things with their algorithms and limiting the visibility of our posts and things like that. It showed us the importance of diversifying our efforts. Not only diversify our efforts, but trying to get the contact info of our fans so that we can control that communication. Focusing on building our email database, our phone number database.
We focus on that and still I think that’s kind of the next wave of importance for an artist.
It’s very important that artists have access to their fans. We haven’t implemented it yet but there is a tool that Ryan Leslie has developed called Disruptive Multimedia. It’s an app that you put on your phone, but it’s a kind of a phone within your phone which allows you to text your fans and call your fans. We haven’t implemented it yet but we should be doing that shortly over the next few months. Again, I think it’s very important that we take control over that communication with our fans.
Dan: I’m curious now, in terms of the email list building and the phone number collection how does that fit into what you’re doing now? Is that all through your Funk Volume homepage?
Dame: Yeah I mean it’s the homepage. We encourage people to join our email list sometimes, but not too much. We’re not like saying it every day on Facebook but sometimes we’ll just ask people. Also, when people make purchases on the site, we collect emails there. We have our annual Don’t Funk Up Our Beats contest, we get a lot of emails then. Yeah those are the points, it’s not a very easy thing to just get a bunch of emails. The application that we use is one that we have been using in the past to run our contest. It allows us to get fan emails from their Facebook pages.
Dan: Does it vary between your artists or do you kind of encourage all the artists on your roster to be on the big four platforms?
Dame: Yes, I mean they do a pretty good job. I would say Dizzy is probably the most active on all platforms. Hopsin used to be very active and has scaled back a little bit. It’s not a requirement to the point where it puts some tension on the relationship if they don’t do it. I think Dizzy has the most momentum right now. Outside of his music and his work ethic, I think social media plays a part in that for sure. So hopefully they kind of see how things are happening with him and understand that social media is a part of that. They’ll get their social media game up to that.
With social media, even with myself, it’s kind of gets tedious and boring depending on if you have something to say. If you don’t have anything to say or you are going through some shit that you don’t want to share, you’re probably going to dial back a bit.
There’s some natural ebbs and flows to their social media. So that’s why I don’t stress it like, “Oh you have to post 20 times a day etc etc” There’s no rule like that.
I just continue to communicate the importance of it.
Dan: That’s a great lead in to my next question… I definitely see a lot of artists, in my opinion and I think you would probably agree using social media poorly. They are not using it to engage with their fans but instead to push, push, push or sell, sell, sell. Do you guys have some kind of overarching philosophy as to how you approach anything you do on these platforms?
Dame: I mean the guys just kind of get it. Yeah I see that as well. I see artists who are always pushing their things. I think a lot of times, those are the artists that have somebody else controlling their social media. It’s super important that the artists themselves are talking or if you have someone that knows your voice.
The fans have to believe that it is the artist, or the engagement is going to be poor.
Jarren is probably our weakest social media person, he’s kind of terrible at it. From time to time I just give him tips. You want to engage people, you want to ask questions, and you want to invite discussions. To the extent which you’re comfortable you want to open up and share your true thoughts and feelings because a lot of times, your fans are. You know these artists are real people just like the fans are. They are going through real problems just like the fans are. If the artist is willing to open up and share those thoughts and feelings, you’re going to get a pretty solid response because it really lets the fans get to know you. It lets the fans know you’re real. It lets the fans know you’re dealing with some of the same issues that they might be going through at times. Again there’s probably not a rulebook that I’ve written, but just encouraging them to open up. Encouraging them to post fairly often with the exception of Facebook.
On Facebook you know you should probably post at most three times a day.
Because each platform is different. Facebook’s algorithm is different than Twitter. Well, Twitter doesn’t have an algorithm yet, so all the posts show up in Twitter. Twitter and Instagram at the moment should be different than your use of Facebook. I share things like that with them. And as I’m researching and understanding how Facebook is being used, I’ll communicate what I learn. Use Facebook this way, Twitter and Instagram this way is fine etc.
Dan: Do you guys use paid advertising on these platforms? Promoted posts and stuff like that?
Dame: Not very much. The only time that we will promote a post is when they’re on tour. Sometimes we’ll promote geo-targeted posts on Facebook. That’s pretty effective. If they’re in L.A., we’ll send out a post about the L.A. show just to the L.A. people. Then the only other time we’ll consider promoting posts is around the time we’re releasing a project. Obviously that’s very important, so that everybody knows about that. I mean with the amount of fans that we have, especially on Hopsin’s page, to reach all his fans it’s ridiculously expensive. It would be like $10,000 plus and at that point it’s like, “Okay, we can spend $10,000 on promoting a post or we can spend $10,000 on a really dope ass video that will probably get millions and millions of views.” We could probably do both, but we’re not going to sit here and promote Hopsin’s posts all day for $10,000 that would be a waste of money I think. That’s how I look at it at the moment, but again I’m always trying to stay up on what Facebook is doing and trying to determine what’s best for us.
Dan: Let’s talk about music videos, which have been a huge part of Funk Volume’s success. What’s your approach to a video, starting with when you take a single and decide that you’re going to make a video. Do you guys have your own in-house team that does these videos? Or do you contract out?
Dame: The process is different with every artist. They pretty much have the flexibility to do a video for whatever song they want, if it’s a song they are pretty passionate about. I don’t ever say, “look we have to do a video for this.” But once again every artist is different like Dizzy has the most videos out at the moment. He drops a video it seems like every month. He knows that creating visuals is very important. He is getting more involved in the process in terms of working with the director and telling them what he wants and things like that. He’s open to working with different videographers.
Hopsin’s more hands on. He directs and typically edits his own videos and he has a crew that he works with all the time. Jarren is less hands on. He’s cool with me lining things up, but he’s fairly involved with the process as well.
Then SwizZz is pretty hands-on too when he does put out a video. Again it’s different across the board but honestly in terms of selecting a single, I might have some input, and I’ll have my suggestions and a lot of times there’s no pushback. I feel every song should have a video and if it shouldn’t have a video, then it probably shouldn’t be a song. If you have the budget to do it, I’d suggest a video to every song that you have. That’s what I would tell any artist, because people are so visual these days, they want to see you.
Dan: How do you come up with a budget for these videos? How does that balance with the creative process?
Dame: We’re stepping it up, so now going forward our videos are going to be more expensive. We just want to work with better people to really take our videos to the next level. Up until now, our videos are probably costing about $5,000. A lot of that can get recouped just through YouTube and even make money. Especially if the video starts getting million of views, then it’s probably going to make money as opposed to just trying to recoup.
That’s another reason why I say, “Shit, make as many videos as you want, if they’re good videos.”
You can recoup or make money through YouTube. Our YouTube channel is just another social network really. If we get more subscribers, we’re growing our base. It’s really an easy decision, once you get to that level, and you are getting that kind of views. Now if you’re not getting those kind of views and it is just hitting the budget and you’re never recouping that, then it would probably be a different discussion.
Dan: It’s kind of a snowball effect. You are able to make a video for $1,000 and then recoup. Then next time you have more subscribers and a larger base so you can make the $5,000 video.
Dame: Yeah, YouTube is crucial for artists, they shouldn’t just be releasing music videos. This is something we haven’t been that good at, but everything doesn’t have to be a full on music video to grow your subscriber base. I mean, you can do vlogs, you can do prank calls, you can do whatever it is to grow that base and get some interest in your YouTube channel to grow your subscribership. Let the fans get to know another side of you maybe, and then when you do launch the music video, you have a bigger platform to get your music some exposure.
I don’t think there are very many artists that have utilized YouTube well. I don’t think we’ve utilized YouTube well.
I mean, we have some big videos, like Hopsin’s. A lot of that is attributed to him being a controversial artist. Then we’ve done some good things in terms of branding certain series. You have, ‘Ill Mind of Hopsin’ and then you have ‘Good Morning SwizZzle’. I think that’s cool because it gives the fans something to look forward to. They kind of know what to expect to a certain extent. They know when to expect it. It gives your channel some consistency. I think that’s a good thing to do, to kind of come up with a cool branded series where you do something. We have a good YouTube base but I don’t think that we even use our YouTube base that well. We can do it a lot better.
Dan: That is interesting you say that. You mentioned doing something consistently like a series is something that you think would be a small step in the direction of being even more effective on YouTube?
Dean: Yeah, if we came up with more series or maybe doing some kind of skits, because all the guys want to get into acting. We can go about that ourselves you know, and the guys are pretty funny. They are always playing jokes on each other, so we can expose the fans to that. I f we were consistent doing stuff like that, we’d have way more subscribers on YouTube.
I mean if you go to our YouTube page, we don’t drop videos that often. It’s just that every time we do, they get a pretty good response. If we filled in that gap of when we’re releasing music videos with some of the other things, I mean that would be good. I continue to tell the guys this, but it’s just something that we haven’t utilized just yet. I think we will eventually. I’ll continue to get on them, and they will get it. I mean, a lot of times with artists you just have to tell them things a million times. Once they do it, and then they see the impact, “Oh okay, I get what you’ve been telling me for the past three years now.”
Dan: When a new artist comes across your plate one way or another, what are some things that impress you?
Dame: Right off the bat, I don’t claim to be any super A&R guy, but I’ve been around music for a long time just as a fan. To me, the guys that are really polished, and where it’s obvious that they are actually working on their craft to get better, to become a better artist. Those guys just kind of standout. Like when I saw Jarren’s video for ‘Skitzo’, you could tell that he didn’t just start rapping yesterday. You could tell that he’s actually been focused, and works on his craft. To me, those artists just kind of standout.
You can tell that they have great control over their flow. The beat’s not controlling them. They’re not trying too hard. It’s just an effortless sound. In terms of their music, that kind of stands out right away and that doesn’t happen with a lot of artists. A lot of artists it just sounds like they are trying but are not quite there. They are not catching the beat right. Again, I don’t claim to have any superior music knowledge. Just as a fan that’s listening, you know it just doesn’t sound right a lot of times.
I look for that, I look at what they are saying. Are they being unique with their topics? If it’s a video that I’m watching, do they look comfortable on camera? That’s a big piece too. A lot of artists don’t look that comfortable on camera, so it looks a little awkward. When we’re looking for artists, I mean there are so many things that we look for. The music has to be good, the live performance has to be great, the work ethic needs to be there. I typically would just watch an artist and to see how they move by themselves just to get to a feel for how they work already. To see if they’ll plug in well to what we do. It’s definitely not a situation where you would join us, and then everything’s just happens on its own. I mean there’s a lot that the artist has to do, with the social media, being super-active and willing to go out on the road to meet and touch people. So, it’s a lot of things.
Then culturally, the chemistry needs to be right with the fellas because the biggest asset if a new artist joins us is going to be the cross promotion. Everybody’s on board with promoting each other even if they are not releasing music at the time.
If the guys don’t agree with me bringing on a new artist and they are going to be reluctant to support them, then they’re losing out on what is the biggest reason for joining the team.
If they don’t get cross promotion, it’s kind of like you know… I mean Funk Volume itself we’ll give them a boost. But to have Hopsin’s page, Dizzy’s page, Jarren’s page, and SwizZz’s page all supporting what you’re doing… That’s a lot of new people you’re getting in front of on the first day.
We saw that with Jarren’s Skitzo video. If you go to Jarren’s Skitzo video and look at the statistics, his video was probably at like 30,000 views when he joined us. It’s now over two million. You’ll see it’s like the day we announced it, the graph starts growing on a different trajectory. That’s the power of Funk Volume. But we look at a lot of things, it’s a long process. I think we gotta hit a home run every time because we don’t have the time and I don’t want to waste any of our resources in terms of stuff that’s not going to work out. We take our time and make sure all the boxes are ticked before we bring someone on.
Dan: If you don’t mind, I was actually going to ask you about a couple of your artists that joined Funk Volume after the formation of the core group which was yourself, Hopsin and SwizZz. I wanted to ask you about Dizzy Wright, I actually talked to him a little bit about it in his interview. Could you tell me about Dizzy and how that relationship started and how he ended up joining Funk Volume?
Dame: Sure, so before I even met him, I came across his video called ‘Somebody or Nobody’. It was just really dope. I really liked the song, and I liked the topic. I like the fact that Dizzy is able to straddle that line between being positive and cool, which is very hard to do in hip-hop. A lot of times, the artists that are super positive, are also being seen as super corny. Dizzy’s able to not do that, you know he’s just himself. He’s very authentic and he’s just a cool dude. That resonated when I saw the video. I just followed him on Twitter, followed him on Facebook, and just kind of watched how he moved. Then I went into a local competition here in L.A., to support a friend of mine. There were two competitions in one. There was an R&B portion and a hip-hop portion. I was going to support my friend that was doing the R&B portion. It just so happened that Dizzy was in the competition too. He was in the hip-hop portion and he won it.
That was the first time I got to see him perform and I went up to him afterwards. I mean a lot of people were coming up to him, so I get why he kind of gave me the cold shoulder but I still give him a hard time about it. Then as part of him winning that competition, he got the opportunity to do some other shows in the L.A. area. I made sure that when he came back, I went to the show again and introduced myself. I reached out to his manager at the time. His manager at the time knew more about who we were than he did. T hat just started the conversation and we just continued to develop the relationship. We eventually invited him out to our show. He saw us in Denver, he saw how many people came out to the show. We had a good time, he performed and the rest is history after that. It was a longer process but it all started on the internet.
Dan: Well you touched on Jarren’s story as well, with the video you saw. Is that how that relationship started? You saw the video and then where did it go from there?
Dame: Yeah, I think initially somebody had posted his video on Hopsin’s page and we saw it was really dope. Reached out to his manager at the time. Then again, same thing, we invited him out to a show that we were doing in Arizona. He saw kind of what we do. I think coming to the show kind of makes it all real.
You can see the numbers online but when you come to a show, you can see the energy, see the passion that the fans have, and you can have a good time. So coming to the show it’s kind of typically the selling point.
It kind of brings everything together. So the same process. Eventually, we gave him a contract, signed it and rest is history.
Dan: On Audible Treats, I read a post about Jarren and his XXL cover. In there, it said something about how he was offered a deal with Def Jam, but he went with Funk Volume. I know this is something you talk about a lot, and I’m sure it is something you use as a selling point with artists. What is it that an artist gets from Funk Volume that you would not get with a typical Def Jam type deal?
Dame: I think that one of the biggest differences is we built Funk Volume from the ground up. Like literally, fan by fan. Funk Volume itself has fans. It was built very organically, and it’s a very real connection. People feel invested in Funk Volume almost in the same way that we are. When you join Funk Volume, you get a wave of real people looking at your stuff that are already kind of interested and curious and investing in what we do. Where we might not have as much money as like at Def Jam to put behind what you’re doing. You’re gonna get access to fans. Then it’s on you to kind of win them over, so that they become a fan of you as well.
Joining Def Jam, they’ll have money to put you in front of people. So you’re trying to win people from the jump, you know the fans aren’t already invested. You’re really just paying to get in front of people. You’re just kinda starting from zero. You know Def Jam itself, I mean it’s brand, but you don’t see too many people following the label anymore.
Def Jam used to have a lot of fans and you used to know what you were getting with Def Jam. But when Russell sold it, it’s gone in different places.
I think that’s the biggest benefit you will get joining Funk Volume as opposed to Def Jam. I wouldn’t say we’ve caught up in resources yet, but we continue to do well financially. You know to put more money behind projects and we have more resources now. In addition to that, there’s just more transparency in what we do. I told Jarren and Dizzy, if you just ride with us, I can show you the progress. And now that we can measure our progress through social networking metrics, views and things like that, you’ll immediately see the impact. You can see how you’re growing.
Say you sign to Def Jam tomorrow, there’s nothing really that they can do, unless you’re part of a crew, then it’s different.
But if you just sign to the label, there’s nothing that they can do tomorrow to get you ten thousand new fans or tens of thousands of new fans.
Dan: What is the focus of Funk Volume right now? Is there anything exciting happening in the near future we can except?
Dame: This year, although we didn’t put out that much music, from a business standpoint we really focused on trying to solidify our infrastructure and get the right resources in place so that we’d be able to support the continued growth going into next year. We are redesigning all of our merchandise, just taking that to the next level. All of that should be out before Christmas. In terms of each of the guys brands, how they are presenting themselves through their merch, their logos and things like that. We’ve recently signed a deal with Warner to do a label services deal.
I guess you can argue whether or not that’s really independent or not, I don’t really care. We still have full control over what we do.
There’s no creative input from Warner. We can release a song tomorrow if we want. There is no ownership in Funk Volume, it’s purely a percentage of sales deal. That gave us more resources, gave me more help, and hopefully gives our projects more reach as we release projects in the future. But before the year is up we will have some projects out. Jarren will release an EP in November and people will hear from SwizZz as well. He’s going to be shooting a video over the next couple of weeks and hopefully that jumps starts him as well. There still will be some music, but I think this year is really just a huge step forward in terms of firming up our infrastructure and making sure we have all of our ducks in a row and are an actual label.
I mean we’ve been an actual label, but in terms of understanding publishing, making sure royalties were paid out accurately and getting the right people on board to help with that to make sure it all happens. I want to make sure we’re legit. I want to make sure the guys are supported, I want to make sure the guys know exactly what’s going on.
I think we’re ready now. All we have to do is make the right music and I think we’ll be in a different place next year.