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Tunde Balogun on Developing R&B Superstars, LVRN’s Journey, and Mental Health in Music

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Tunde Balogun is the co-founder and president of Love Renaissance (stylized as LVRN), an Atlanta-based record label that is focused primarily on R&B music. We talk about Summer Walker’s latest release and how LVRN has prioritized mental health services not just for its staff but also its executives. Tunde then weighs in on the differences between running an R&B label versus running a hip-hop label. He also shares his thoughts on the trends he is seeing in the music industry such as NFTs and other emerging technology.

If you are looking to change the game and make things better for artists overall, this is the episode for you!

Episode Highlights:

[02:18] What Tunde is hoping to achieve with Summer Walker’s latest album

[04:38] How LVRN stays a tightly-knit company

[09:00] The LVRN executives’ history

[12:22] What lead them to the decision to invest in group therapy

[21:42] How they balance their artists’ welfare with making a profit

[25:20] Tunde’s thoughts on Tiktok and cryptocurrency

[33:35] What LVRN does differently compared to hip-hop labels

[40:55] On investments in the African market, how education is key, and streaming

Listen: Apple Podcasts | Spotify | SoundCloud | Stitcher | Overcast | Amazon | Google Podcasts | Pocket Casts | RSS

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

Guest: Tunde Balogun, @tundetun88, Love Renaissance

Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo

Transcript

Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital Podcast, I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place for interviews with hip hop’s heavy hitters, music industry executives, industry leaders, and more.

 

And on today’s podcast, kept that promise, we had an interview with the one and only Tunde Balogun, who is the co-founder and president of LVRN. That stands for Love Renaissance and it’s a record label based in Atlanta that is focused primarily on R&B music and the record label is distributed through Interscope, which is part of Universal Music Group, and the record label is home to Summer Walker, 6LACK, Cruel Santino, and a bunch of other artists.

 

Tunde and I talked about a bunch of topics. We talked about Summer Walker’s latest release and everything that went into that album and what they wanted to achieve and how that album, in many ways, achieved a lot of the same metrics and success that you see from some of the biggest pop artists in the world right now and what that means for them and how they wanna continue to complete that success and really take things to the global level. 

 

We also talked about how LVRN has prioritized mental health services for their leadership team but also for the artists on their label as well and how important and impactful that has been.

 

We talked about some of the differences of running an R&B label versus running a hip hop record label. And then we also talk about investment in Africa, what some of LVRN’s future plans are, how Tunde sees some broader trends in the music industry such as NFTs or other emerging technology. 

 

This was a dope conversation and it’s inspiring to talk to the leaders like him who are changing this game and really making things better for artists overall.

 

Here’s my chat with Tunde Balogun.

 

Interview

 

Dan: All right, today, we got Tunde Balogun, co-founder and president of LVRN. And, Tunde, we’re checking in today a couple weeks after Summer Walker’s latest album coming out, and you all put out a big statement before, right? You said you wanted to open the floodgates for the genre. And here we are a few weeks later, she broke a bunch of records with the release. How’re you feeling?

 

Tunde: Feeling great, man. I felt like we starting to — I feel like we’re not mission accomplished yet. Mission isn’t accomplished but we took a huge step into accomplishing that — you know, just opening up the floodgates. So feeling really good about the start.

 

Dan: Nice. So what would mission accomplished look like?

 

Tunde: Mission accomplished would look like R&B really getting the respect, recognition, money, investment, time that it deserves globally. It’s not about the States, it’s about the world.

 

It’s very important for us to note that, you know, music is already very global and it’s becoming more and more global every day and, you know, if you don’t look at your releases and just music in general from that perspective, in due time, you’re definitely gonna fall behind. 

 

So, it’s very big for us, especially with majority of our music being R&B rooted and black music rooted, that we push this narrative forward because it’s gonna be very important in the years coming up.

 

Dan: I hear that, and especially with her, she’s someone that, in a lot of ways, has been one of the flagship artists that you’ve had and I think for a lot of people, especially for a younger generation, she’s able to bring something out that you just necessarily haven’t seen a lot of other artists do. 

 

And, of course, I think having a strong base in the US helps but everything — you gotta be global with everything that you’re doing so I feel like you take steps with it, right? So I’m sure you probably had some, you know, smaller milestones like you’re saying, yes, you know, breaking it up, what does this look like, like what do the steps look like until we can get to where we eventually want things to be.

 

Tunde: Absolutely. 100 percent.

 

Dan: Yeah. And with that, I mean, I feel like for you all, you’ve been building and growing the label for some time, but over — throughout the years you’ve done it, I think it’s been almost a decade now, but you’ve been able to keep a pretty tight knit group, which something that I’ve always been impressed with because I think there’s just so much turnover, especially among music executives in the industry and for you all to keep that tight knit group and focus says a lot about what you’ve built.

 

What have been the main things you’ve done to keep that together and how do you see that continuing to expand or evolve over time?

 

Tunde: Well, first off, when we first started this, and, you know, LVRN was already previously there before Sean and myself joined in 2012. Justice, Junia, and Carlon had already started with our first artist, Raury, and we came in and joined because we just had this similar mindset creative, aesthetic wise, but Sean and I had our foot in the music industry a lot more than them so we just combined together to form a super team and, ultimately, one of the first major steps we did was we agreed to leave all our egos at the door.

 

You know, a lot of stuff in business, people say it’s not personal, it’s very personal. Business is very, very, very personal. Anybody that does business says that they don’t have emotion, that’s cap, like we are all humans, there are some sort of emotions in something that we do. 

 

So, you know, especially with us being men, it’s just like all men have egos and this is that and there’s five of us. It’s gonna work if we generally agree that we have to leave that at the door.

 

And, sometimes when we’re humans and we forget that we have an ego, we all agree, all right, hey, it’s on all of us to check each other and you see often most of us like, you know, guys get on me all the time, “Hey, you trippin’,” and we do the same thing all around, and, you know, it’s never from a bad place, you know? And sometimes you may not agree, sometimes you may need to step back and be like, “Yo, am I trippin’?” 

 

But, you know, that’s what kept us together because when you’re not able to be, you know, corrected and criticized or challenged, it makes you just feel like you’re just on top of the world and nothing can take you down when, you know, everybody has their slow times. Everything will not always be great. Every great company or great empire has its ups and downs. 

 

And you’re really judged on how you get up from that so, you know, that’s really the biggest things that we’ve been able to put us together. And, you know, just to be transparent, you know, we like started off like very nimble, like when we first got our JV, we put all of our money into our infrastructure, like we hired people, we got an office, we got this and, you know, we were making good money but a lot of our peers and people we saw were putting money into things that we couldn’t because our money went back into our business. So, you know, as time went on and we did better, of course, you know, with business, you make money and stuff like that so you get better and you’re able to afford nice things and whatnot.

 

And even at the point when that came, we were like, man, like, you know, we’re doing pretty well for ourselves. This is a new journey for me, for us, we should probably like have some conversations. And that’s when we started group therapy because, you know, at a certain point of success, you have to realize that money, women, fame, people getting in your ear and stuff does come up, like it’s impossible for it not to come up.

 

And, you know, you need to make sure you’re as close as possible and that everything is square and good before you kinda go down that route. And, you know, I’m lucky enough for my business partners to be my best friends. So, with that, you’re not always seeing eye to eye with your best friends. It’s just like, “Yo, leave me alone.”

 

So, you know, there’s been things through the years that we may not agree on, friend wise, that may actually affect business between us. So, when we actually got that out the way, we’re unstoppable, like, you know? If we have a fight, it’s like, oh, okay, we went through it, we talked, we say, you know, what, cool, boom, done, next, you know?

 

I really put that towards our like mental health department, you know, all the work that we’ve individually done to become better people, but that’s honestly how we’ve kept this so tight this whole time.

 

Dan: And I think the piece about you all being best friends and actually having that close connection made a big difference, because I think anytime you’re starting a business with co-founders, there are the challenges. And I’m curious for you all, how close were you all before LVRN?

 

Tunde: It’s crazy. All of us weren’t the closest. Sean and I were rivals, were rival party promoters in high school. We actually did not like each other. Yeah, no, we were rivals because I was throwing parties on the east side of Atlanta, he was on the north. He was in Gwinnett County, I was in DeKalb County.

 

Man, you know, most people didn’t really cross those lines but, funny enough, like there were like high school gangs and they used to call us beasts so when we used to have parties, gangs would come to the cab and vice versa. 

 

It’s just chaos. So like, then I started going over there and check it out. And, one time, I went to Sean’s party, he didn’t know me and he tried to charge me and it was like a common thing, like promoters don’t charge each other. 

 

So I paid him and I was like, okay. And that time I really paid. So, you know, he came to my party, I think, a few weeks or some time later and I just refused to even let him in, pay or not.

 

So it just got petty and stuff, and then when we got the high school, he was like, “This is stupid, like let’s make some money.” So went from that and Sean and I teamed up in college to start throwing parties. 

 

So Sean and I were roommates and throwing parties, geez, for at least five, six years, or whatever. And then so, of course, we were close and whatnot. And then, you know, we always knew Junia, Justice, and Carlon in and around because Carlon threw parties, we were always around, we were in the scene and stuff, but it was no beef, was never like tight, tight, tight, but something about like just having same morals and values, all first-generation immigrants, you know? There was just certain things that come about where you just saw that mesh. Man, everything wasn’t perfect from the beginning but it felt special and we all had a common goal of just being great. So, yeah.

 

Dan: That’s what’s up. And I hear you on the first-generation immigrant thing as well. I mean, similarly, my folks are all from Jamaica so I feel like growing up and growing up right outside of Hartford, Connecticut, for me, so many people that you met, even if there are only a few interactions, like you’ve got a vibe with me like, okay, you know, you were definitely in a similar situation. So a lot of that makes sense. I could resonate with that. 

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: I think one of the things that stuck out to me when you were telling your story, and I wanna go back to it, was about you all, a few years down the road, starting the group therapy together and realizing how you wanted to be able to grow and evolve and, one, commendable because you all bringing the awareness to this, something that you don’t see a lot, (a), talked about in the music industry, but then talked about amongst black men, I think that is great that you all are setting the precedents for this just given how many challenges we see in the industry. 

 

But, secondly, and this is the question I have, I imagine that there was likely something that may have, whether it sparked that or, you know, whether it’s, you know, positive or whether it’s something that happened between the dynamic with you all that said, “Hey, there’s an opportunity for us to go deeper here and think about not just what we can do for ourselves but what we can do for our artists.”

 

So, talk to me about that decision and what things were like leading up to it and how it’s been since.

 

Tunde: Right. So, really what led up to it is us just paying attention and just choosing not to be a part of the continuous path of people ignoring the troubles people go through in the music industry, from the top of artists to the bottom of employees or people that work for them.

 

And, you know, as glorious as this industry is, you can go from being poor to rich in a matter of months or a year based upon your talent. And I think, especially in black culture, like we’ve always shunned the white — sometimes shunned away from being proud of us being in music, you know? 

 

Be funny, like, you know, I’ve luckily been able to travel in first class for a while, but, of course, I get those looks like, “So, what do you do? Are you a ballplayer?” And I used to be like, “No, I’m a scientist,” kinda like trying to run away from the music industry but now I’m proudly saying, “Yeah, I’m a music executive like, and I’m well at it and I do good at it,” and in the same time of, you know, knowing that music industry and then us as black people in general have trauma, like we have a lot of issues to work through and then work in a very stressful industry where it’s work, work, work, no sleep, blah, blah, blah. 

 

Then you’re gonna look at where we come from where we have to work a hundred times harder than people who don’t look like us to achieve so we almost get this thing of like we just work until we’re sick. 

 

And it’s just like, “This money will take care of everything,” which is — I think a lot of problems would, especially black men is just like, you know, our solution to trauma is get the money and having fun and just doing whatever, which is cool, but it’s like it’s good to handle the underlying issue, which is we don’t take care of ourselves and actually address things that we went through when we were younger. 

 

And that’s not something that we wanted to be a part of so, honestly, it really came about — a lot of artists were going through a lot of things on tour, I mean, especially, we had one of the most popular ones at the time, Summer. 

 

And, you know, especially with like just mental health and therapy, like you can’t — people have to wanna do it on their own time. So it’s not on us to push that journey but it’s interesting because we put out the Over It album on Summer, of course, she was on the news and stuff and we were being praised. “Oh, the rollout’s crazy. The music is good. You guys killed it. You guys broke another one.” And then, a month later, we were being crucified. 

 

“She can’t perform. Why you all put her out there like that?” blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And we were like, oh, shit, like, one, we didn’t force her. It was something that she wanted to try. And, two, you know, there’s something to be said about facing your fears, you know?

 

If she’s always scared to perform then she never performs and how is she ever gonna get better? Especially in this age where, you know, artists should work hard but, at the same time, like, in this day and age, you have zero time to go from putting out a song to star.

 

You put out a song and it goes on TikTok in a week, you need to figure it out. But, you know, just humans in general, when fans don’t really give you time to just — to being a star. They want it now. And then so, you know, you kinda have to be prepared mentally for the criticism which a lot of folks aren’t. 

 

So, you know, she was very public about her issues and stuff with shows and stuff and, you know, our current head of our mental health division, Syreeta, who’s like a full-time therapist, licensed and everything, everything is also fully aboveboard, like as patient-client confidentiality, like it’s the real thing. 

 

And, honestly, we got the idea from Billions. I don’t know if you watch that show but Wendy Rhoades kinda — and like, you know, she’s there to kinda help everybody out in general. So, I met Syreeta when Summer was playing Camp Flog Gnaw. She came up to me, she said, “Hey, I’m aware of some of the stuff you guys have been going through, here’s my card, I feel like I can help you,” and I was just like, “Cool, great.” And, you know, I never called her but for some reason, like maybe like two, three weeks later, I was headed to London for something and something had happened with Summer again on the road so I just called her and I was like, “Listen, like I can’t speak for Summer but there’s something going on that we’re not addressing that I think we need help with, we don’t even know what it is.”

 

I was like, “Would you come consult for us and just come around and just see if maybe you can give us suggestions to like help her out?” She was, “Oh, wow, like I never heard that before.” I was like, “I’m desperate. Like, you know, I’m really trying to help her really through this and we would love some help.”

 

Just also just putting everything aside and being like we want to genuinely help artists in any way that we can. So, she came around for like a week and just was like, “Hey, try this,” going backstage, you know, just like small things after she learned who she was and those small things really helped out.

 

You know, everybody has their issues and just she’s still very public with it, like, “Hey, like, I still have my issues with social anxiety, everything,” but, at that point, we felt like we did our part and supporting our artist through her time. 

 

So, after that, you know, even with all that downfall, it was still a bunch of success, obviously. And we were going into a new tier of our careers. 6LACK and Summer are doing well, the company’s growing, people know us. 

 

Yeah, so now, we’re kind of in the big leagues. We should probably get on the same page and that’s when we went into our group therapy sessions after the album came out. So it was just really us thinking about it. 

 

It was just like — I was like, “Hey, would you all wanna do this?” and everybody was like, “Yeah,” like, you know? And it wasn’t, you know, it was — the first couple months weren’t easy. And it’s not supposed to be. 

 

If you’re really getting in there and addressing like things in your past, like it’s gonna be tough. But that’s honestly the best decision we’ve ever made and I commend all of us for really going down that journey.

 

Dan: Yeah, and I think it shows a lot of awareness too for you all to be able to take this step forward with this. If you think — I think back to something you had said in an interview that I had listened to, you had said that artists and the people you’re working with themselves, these are people that have gone through challenges, they’ve gone through difficult things in their life which inspires them to make the music that you all enjoy.

 

And if we are going to have a business that is working directly with them, how can we best support them and everything they’re doing? So, it’s not coming from the perspective of, “Oh, something is off with this person,” it’s, no, by design, for better or worse, these are people that have dealt with several things in their life which inspire them to be in this position to begin with, how can we just put as much support around them to be as great as they can, and I think by extension that extends to you all as well as the executives for all the reasons you had laid out earlier of all the challenges that you have. 

 

So, I think the more people that hear that and the more people that see that will, ultimately, hopefully, that becomes the standard for the rest of the industry.

 

Tunde: Yeah, I think, ultimately, like the music industry has taken a stance of, “It’s a business and we’re not in charge of your wellbeing,” that’s bullshit, like, you know? Like, yeah, like we somewhat are, you know? 

 

Like we benefit off these artists singing and rapping about their trauma, least we can do is make sure they’re okay. The least. The least.

 

And, you know, from us working these long nights, the staff and executives and stuff, same with us, like I just don’t — I want to try our best to not be part of stories where an executive dies at 45 of a heart attack because he works too much or an artist taking their own life, you know what I’m saying?

 

Like, you know, we can’t do everything but we can at least try our best to not be a part of that so wanna make sure we’re doing our part. I tell people like, “Hey, this isn’t about us being the first company this or the best,” we don’t care about that. 

 

We want to put out there, I tell people like, “Hey, if you want to do this, call me. I will link you with Syreeta, she’ll put you in the right direction,” because it’s not about just us, it’s about the whole industry in general.

 

Dan: Definitely. And I think part of this too that you’ve all done as well that I think helps with this is the expectations that you set on what artists should do and how they should measure their success, especially given the way things are with social media and the expectation to always feed these algorithms with content, or setting streaming records on these streaming services or trying to follow what billboard says for, you know, how well your album is performing. 

 

So — and I think it’s good to do those but I also imagine as well that you’re running a business and you likely do have some benchmarks or some things that you are at least trying to measure or monitor success or track performance for. How do you balance all of that?

 

Tunde: That’s a good question because it’s really hard, man. Like it’s really hard because — it’s almost like — not even just the music industry, profiting in general is almost set up where you have to almost ignore being a good person to like make money, which isn’t how we want to operate by. So, I’m not saying you have to because there’s good people who make good money but you have to literally almost go leaps and bounds over to do the right thing all the time to make money and benefit. 

 

So, I think that one thing we — the balance is patience, like, you know, most labels wanna sign and try it right now, if you’re not realizing a profit in about 18 to 24 months, maybe you’re not — time’s running out for you. 

 

Like labels have a shorter and shorter window now that they’re gonna invest without seeing a return. For us, our window’s longer, especially being rooted in R&B and artist development, we know our things may take two to three years and that’s fine because, in the long run, it’s beneficial.

 

So, for us, that’s the balance because usually when we take our time and really focus on something, it really pays off. It really, really does pay off. 

 

And, you know, it also gives the artist time to actually develop and get comfortable with themselves. We’ve had times where we’ve snapped our fingers and pushed our magic LVRN button and the artist shoots off and we’re like, “Whoa, they were not ready for that.”

 

And the worst thing you can do is put an artist in a position that they’re not ready for, because they will fall. They will fall and they’ll be looking back at you like, “Help me,” and you have to be there.

 

So, more than ever, we always want to make sure we put our artists in a position where they’re gonna win in general, not just for us, the label, for them, just overall. So the balance for us is patience, man. And it’s tough. It’s really hard.

 

Dan: Yeah. Because I hear that. I mean, the record labels, yeah, definitely — or the majors definitely have that shorter timeframe. You all can extend that, but you still have a timeframe, right? Like —

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: — there is still is some expectation, you know?

 

Tunde: Expectation of like, “Hey, let’s —” and, you know, for us — it’s the hard work. You can see when our artists are like, man, like you’re struggling, but you’re so talented that I’m gonna stay with you. 

 

The only time it doesn’t work out is when we find ourselves wanna get more than them. It’s like, “Oh, this isn’t gonna work out,” because, ultimately, we want global superstars. Like, simple, if you just want to be local, not saying that’s bad, you could make a good income off of it, this is the wrong place for you. We want the best. So, yeah.

 

Dan: Yeah. I feel like you also mentioned the flip side of that too, with just artists that can grow too fast and there just isn’t enough, (a), infrastructure for them that they’ve set up themselves or just their understanding of what to do. 

 

And I gotta imagine that that’s a pretty big challenge now in the TikTok era where people can literally blow up so fast before they even know how to go to the next step of their career. 

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: What — yeah, what has that been like for you all? Because I know that TikTok in general has been pretty popular, not just top of the funnel, but a popular place for A&Rs trying to find talent, and how does that look like for you all? Because I know that R&B is a little different, of course, then pop music or some of the other genres, but —

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: — yeah, how’s that piece been?

 

Tunde: So I will be honest and say we were somewhat late adopters to TikTok because it was like, “Is this thing here or is it gonna go?” And, as you really dive into it, TikTok is really fucking amazing, just to be fully honest, because it’s almost like you can really be yourself. Like over the past years of like Twitter and Instagram, I think everybody got in this vacuum or box where we wanna be perfect. Perfect tweets. We wanna be funny. If we didn’t get enough likes and this is that.

 

Instagram, you know, you sit there for an hour trying to get the right caption and the right filter and everything and if it don’t hit, you’re almost like, “Damn, I’m a failure.” Over a picture. When you don’t even understand algorithms and stuff.

 

TikTok, you do something dope, it’s gonna go, like whether it’s music or cooking or something, like it’s almost like there’s so many verticals there for you to appeal to people and really be yourself. 

 

Like I sometimes get sucked in just — if I’m having a [inaudible] and I just start laughing and I don’t find myself of the Instagram depression and being like, “Damn, man, I’m not doing enough today.” So, sad to say, you know, the way we’ve been doing it is educating our artists that, “Hey, like don’t think of it as just dancing and stuff, really go check it out.”

 

Like what are you into? Do you like to cook? All right, here, go all and they’ll come back and be like, “Oh, my God, I found this recipe and I posted this and I posted that,” and they find their way onto the platform without even any music. 

 

Now, of course, we’re a label, we’re gonna tell them, “Hey, when you can, post this or post that or try something with your music,” but, ultimately, when you just get them using it organically for themselves, it’s a lot easier than being like, “Hey, we need these 10 posts up,” blah, blah, blah. 

 

So, you know, that’s the challenge of that is like we really trying to educate our artists on the platform so they know how to use it rather than, “Hey, record this,” and we’ll post for you. Of course, that happens but, you know, whatever new platform, there’s education, like artists have to adapt. Have to. Have to adapt. 

 

Like I noticed like, oh, everybody wants TikTok on this is that, well, that’s where everybody is. So, in the age of adoption, you kinda have to adapt, like technology will leave you behind. Like technology waits for nobody. 

 

So if you don’t kinda adapt and move forward, you will be left behind. So once again, that’s another challenge that, you know, we’re dealing with but we’re getting a lot better at it, for sure.

 

Dan: Yeah, that’s what I’ve been hearing a lot. I feel like there’s a lot of hesitation at first but, yeah, once you lean in, you see where that’s where an audience is. It’s not like it would stop everything else. Find a way to incorporate this with what you’re doing right now. 

 

Tunde: Exactly, yep. 

 

Dan: And I feel like in music as well, the other thing that has been getting a lot of attention is NFTs and tokens and things like that and how not just artists are using them but how record labels are using them as well. 

 

How have you all looked at that or how have any of your artists specifically looked at that?

 

Tunde: Once again, late adopters on purpose. Don’t wanna be a part of the gold rush and really not know — I’ve been in crypto in general since 2017 so, you know, I’m educated in that space in general. I know 6LACK and a few of our other artists also, but when you get into that type of level of this new technology involving fans paying money for stuff, you know, our artists’ fan bases are so like sensitive and not passive to the point that everything has to have a meaning.

 

Throwing up an NFT just to make a couple hundred grand just because doesn’t really resonate with a lot of our artists’ fan bases. So it’s more so it has to really mean something, like would I have loved to put up an NFT for Summer’s rollout? Yeah, but Summer isn’t into that fully yet right now.

 

Hopefully, I can get her onto that, you know? 6LACK is so maybe for his rollout, but, you know, really with the NFT community and really with crypto, you know, they really respect people who know what they’re talking about. 

 

And, you know, there are people who can just get away with this and that but you will get embarrassed if you throw up something just for some money and people feel like you’re just doing it for that, you’ll get shunned out. 

 

So, once again, you know, it’s really important that everything lines up with our artists’ brand fully. So, hopefully, in the future, we’ll definitely be there. You know, this is really just the beginning, like meta, you know, gaming, like it’s gonna get really expansive and there’s definitely gonna be room for sure.

 

Dan: Definitely. That’s the thing I’m always hearing and I’m always reminding people as well. We’re still so early and I think that a lot of people a year ago had very less understanding and familiarity with what NFTs were so we just think about how much has changed since February of 2021.

 

So, there’s been a lot of movement there but, to your point, there was also a lot of grift. There was a lot of people just trying to get a bag for the sake of it. And I think that, I mean, generally speaking, I don’t think that’s a smart business practice but I think it could work for some places and I think some people made a good amount of money doing that. 

 

But if you are building an artist and, more broadly, a record label that is built on R&B music, it isn’t necessarily the type where if you know that there is a certain amount of income, let’s say, that this fan base is willing to spend on music per year, is this the product that you wanna put it towards?

 

Tunde: Exactly.

 

Dan: You know what I mean?

 

Tunde: Exactly. It’s very — you have to really, really understand your consumer base. And education is key, you know? Like let’s understand like most of our artists’ fan bases are black women. I have to research the adoption of black women into crypto and NFTs and whatnot and putting something — and first of all, even if the fans had the money but didn’t understand, that’s still not good because you’re putting your fans’ money at risk, which isn’t good. You want your fans to understand what you’re doing and really understand because the point of NFTs is for the artist to benefit and the fan, long term.

 

So if you’re just doing it to get a check and you do a rug pull or a carpet pull on your fans, like what is that? So, you know, that’s what I’m —because, you know, I have my artists tell me like, “Yo, let’s do an NFT drop.” All right, cool. What’s an NFT?

 

“Uh…” No, no, no, let’s get you educated first, because the NFT, you have to be hands on. What design do you wanna use? Because if I’m doing all the work, like you have to really, really be hands on with — and you don’t have to but, like I said, like if you really wanted to be like real with your fans or whatnot, which all of our artists are pretty authentic, then we have to think about those things. 

 

So, you know, it’s baby steps into a really big world. So we’re gonna head there, for sure.

 

Dan: Yeah, I hear that. You brought up another thing that I wanna go more in depth in, the fact that you are serving an audience that is predominantly black women and understanding that customer, the R&B fan, and I think that, oftentimes, people may group your record label with hip hop record labels and even though I think we both know that the audiences are different, both from gender but also from race as well, given, you know, a lot of the folks that I think now especially listen to more mainstream hip hop, and from how you all may choose to monetize not just pushing records but pushing live performances as well, what are some of the ways that you all go about things differently as opposed to, let’s say, a hip hop record label would go about things that, you know, the average person may not see the nuance of that but you do?

 

Tunde: Good question. There’s a lot more care and thought that really goes into every single thing. I’ll go out on a limb and say a black woman’s probably like the smartest woman on this Earth, they really don’t miss anything and they can call out bullshit a mile away, like literally like — literally, if you do something that’s not aligned with your brand, they will call it out and, you know, black women run social media, like it’s all of that. And, you know, if you’re not paying attention to what the culture is doing and saying, you’re gonna fail, like — and that goes into like, you know, let’s, we had two — Summer’s rollout, we had it planned but it was ever changing, based upon Summer, because she’s very authentic with who’s — I should say, everything was public, everybody saw it, very authentic with who she is so we had to adjust with what she was saying and going through and whatever and how people took it. End of story.

 

So there was times in the rollout we changed stuff, add things in for more context for the music, you know? People don’t understand like we turned in the master for Summer’s album like in August for us to have physicals when we released it, because we knew that her fan base would want that, something tangible, something that they can look back to because they’ve been following the story forever. We know most rappers turn in their album two weeks before it comes out. We turn ours in three months. And that was intentional because, a year before, I was talking to UMG, I was like, “Yo, I want Summer’s album to be really one of the biggest R&B releases like forever.” 

 

Like we want it to be really big globally. I was like, well, that was like, “Give me the pop plan. Whatever you do for your pop artists, whatever you all did with Olivia Rodrigo and Ariana Grande and — let me see that.” I was like, “Oh, this was it. Okay, cool. Gotcha.”

 

And we worked from last year up until talking literally speaking to UK, Germany, Australia, all these markets here just like really, really, really, really, really going in and knowing our audience and, oh, so Summer’s doing well in Brazil. Okay, cool. Let’s target there. 

 

She’s doing well in South Africa. She’s doing well in UK. Cool, let’s tap in there. France? Okay, cool. Boom. Like those types of things that you have to really look into because R&B, like hip hop, you can get lucky with something on hip hop, something goes on TikTok or something. 

 

R&B, if the music’s not good, it’s tough. It’s really not too much luck that you’re gonna come from that. And with the music, definitely do the research. Can they really sing? Are they good live? Are they good? 

 

So you have to find out everything that’s special about the artist then be like, all right, cool, which part of this music sphere or this fan base is gonna love this? Focus on them, and they’re gonna help you spread from there and go so, once again, it’s very hard. 

 

And it’s not a perfect system. That’s why we’ll throw out a single or an EP and whatnot and can try things out and if it works, cool, and if — you know, we’ll throw out a single and be like, “Oh, this is good,” and be like, “People don’t like it? Okay, cool. Try this.” 

 

Like people praise us for our wins but we be having L’s too, like not everything we do is a win and, thankfully, it’s not because you need to learn a lot. And I’ll say we — part of the process is trial and error. A lot of it. A whole lot. So, yeah, it’s not perfect but it works for us, for sure. 

 

Dan: Yeah, I think the — you pushing the physicals piece makes a ton of sense, especially given the audience, that’s not something that you’re gonna see as much in hip hop where so much of it just relies on streaming. 

 

So, yeah, they can, you know, turn in and just like do it, you know, at a much, you know, faster turnover rate. 

 

But I like how you said you went to UMG and you’re like, “Hey, give me that pop plan. Give me that Olivia Rodrigo, give me the Ariana Grande plan.” 

 

And how do you feel like it was, I guess, now that you’re on the other side of the release compared to what you had seen more recently from Ariana or from Olivia?

 

Tunde: What do you mean exactly? 

 

Dan: Like in terms of the support that UMG and, more broadly, like how much support they’ve given Summer Walker with still Over It compared to what you saw with what they had done with like Arianna or Olivia?

 

Tunde: They leaned in. They leaned in. I mean, we’re really annoying when we want something. I’m talking about like really, really like — we’re gonna research who’s in charge of that, who’s in charge of that, who’s in charge of this, like, you know, we literally spoke to everybody in charge from Lucian to top of UK to everybody and we just told them our goals.

 

And I think it’s one thing to be said about labels, like everybody has their opinions and whatnot but, ultimately, their goal is to make money. So, if your goals align with their goals and you all have a plan, they’re most likely gonna support you on those goals, if they make sense. 

 

And our goals aligned and we had this grandiose plan of moving Summer into the global conversation. And, you know, we haven’t fully achieved that but we’ve made a giant step in that direction and that’s just towards proper planning.

 

And linking with our partners globally and letting them know that and that’s getting the information of how to do that. Info is so important. 

 

You know, speaking more, you know, besides the label, I called a lot of the other managers, whether it’s in the pop, R&B, or rap space and just was like, “Hey, like, how do we do that? What was your experience with this? What was your experience with that?”

 

Because, sometimes, we’re kinda scared to call the people because we’re like, “Damn, we’re gonna show weakness,” or something, no, like people will be like, “Oh, for real? Man, do this, do this, do this, do this,” because people actually enjoy helping you out when you ask.

 

So we did a lot of that research, like research on music, like, okay, cool, these are some of the biggest R&B albums in the past 10, 20 years, what do they all have in common? Okay, cool. Where did they blow up at? What countries? What streaming services? What songs? What were the tempo of those songs? What were the keys of those songs?

 

Like, I’m talking — what were the features? I’m talking about every — what radio stations? I’m talking about every single thing that you could look into why something was successful, we researched it. 

 

And it took a long time but it paid off. And that’s what it really takes to build R&B in this time and age, time, a lot of research and energy and great music.

 

Dan: I hear that. 

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: You all broke it down to a science and you have to, right? Like you have to be able to get that detailed and that serious, especially if you’re trying to do something groundbreaking. 

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: That’s what’s up, man. That’s what’s up. One of the things I wanna get your thoughts on, not on LVRN specifically, but more broadly with the music industry. The past few years, we’ve seen more and more investments made in Africa. We’ve seen more of the major record labels starting their own divisions in different sections of the continent. 

 

What are your thoughts on how things are going? And, based on your experience and what you’ve seen in the industry, what are some things that you would like to see different or things that you think that they can improve upon?

 

Tunde: I don’t have a full answer on how it’s going. Still a very emerging market. Labels should be careful. Africa will swallow them whole if they’re not careful. Like the African market and the artists are very smart. A lot of them do know their value when they speak to the right people. 

 

I think the biggest thing is not letting the same practices, the same predatory practices that have happened in America or are still happening in the music industry perpetuate there because you don’t have big governments and stuff like that to help regulate a lot. 

 

It’s, you know, there’s something to be said about talent, you know, here it’s like you find somebody maybe in the hood or the ghetto that’s very talented who lived in poverty a majority of their life and have the opportunity, some people who live in poverty but may come from a real village that doesn’t have anything, that’s been living in real poverty strictly their whole life, you could get over on them a lot easier.

 

And, you know, I’ve seen instances where it’s happened and I’ve seen, you know, some people have done a great job of stopping it, but I definitely see it happen.

 

So, one, over time, just realizing that, you know, the labels that do bad and people who do bad business, people speak and it resonates heavily and, pretty quickly, you see artists speaking and people speaking, they’ll get shunned.

 

So, you know, that’s one thing of just doing fair and smart business, like I’m really big on like — I think contracts mean something. When you sign, you agree, but you should really get your full fair chance fully to fully negotiate that agreement to your best advantage. With your lawyers, with your terms, everything, fully understanding to the point that if you guys can’t come to a common understanding, you too can walk away, simply. 

 

And I think that’s something that we forgot that everybody should always have their fair chance to speak their mind on what they want. You can’t come to an understanding, move on. And I think that’s the biggest things of education, like workshops, teaching, everybody knows what things are because I feel like when people are educated, things are a lot smoother. 

 

You don’t get people mad in the future and whatnot and everything’s meant to be renegotiated and done over but, from the beginning, I’ve learned that when your relationship with your artist is like fair from the beginning, they’re like, “Wow, you really like listened to me and stuff like that, and we couldn’t agree on everything but I feel good, you feel good, great, cool.” 

 

And that is going to help the industry, that’s gonna help artists, that’s gonna help everybody make money. And there’s so much money out there in the long run, like I really see Africa being like similar to what happened with Latin America in the past 10 years of that uptick in, you know, as more countries get more online, solar, data, internet, you’re gonna see an even bigger explosion of, you know, new independent labels, new independent artists, new majors maybe that come out of that place,

 

because I’m seeing something right now, especially with just African music is that, you know, it really is global. It’s fun. It’s love. It’s everything. 

 

And, you know, it makes me feel good that it’s traveling like this but I do wanna make sure that the artists and the creatives from there and the entrepreneurs really get to benefit from where it is because, you know, that seems like that’s going to be our biggest export, like entertainment of the world and the people should be able to benefit from that fully. So, that’s the hope.

 

Dan: Yeah, definitely. I’m with you on that. I’m excited. I think — I’ve been happy to see the investment. I think that there’s a lot of things that clearly showed the indication and we all know there’s the talent there, you know —

 

Tunde: Yeah.

 

Dan: It’s so abundant. It’s everywhere.

 

Tunde: Huge, huge.

 

Dan: The piece I’m curious to see to how it plays out, and this will probably change over time, but the streaming piece, because I think this is a culture that downloads are so popular with how people consume music and you’re getting people to now shift their behavior to what, in many ways, has made the US market bounce back due to streaming, how does that play out and will that behavior shift in the same type of way? I don’t know. I mean, I think there’s some signs and, obviously, all the streaming services are pushing it. 

 

And that, as you mentioned, you know, definitely could continue to improve with the broadband expansion and things like that —

 

Tunde: Yeah, yeah.

 

Dan: — but I’m curious to see how that piece plays out.

 

Tunde: Hopefully, it’s really gonna come down to energy. Once like African countries figure out their power and energy and data function, you know, Africa is the youngest continent, really, the youngest, and with a rising middle class and if those kids are really empowered, you’re gonna see something incredible happen, really, and I’m gonna say something from the Ghanaian president. He said, you know, black people around the world will be fully respected when people respect Africa fully. 

 

And I see that being hand in hand with a lot of the issues I see people trying to solve now so, you know, the future’s bright.

 

Dan: Definitely. Yeah, can’t wait, man. Can’t wait. Well, hey, Tunde, this was great. We covered everything. I feel like you dropped a bunch of gems in this but, before we let you go, bro, is there anything else you wanna share, any other upcoming releases from LVRN that you wanna plug or let the Trapital audience know about?

 

Tunde: I’ll say this. I’m gonna go on a tangent and say that we probably have the best developing roster in music. Like new acts aren’t a problem. Like from hip hop to R&B, it’s gonna — it’s very special. Also look out for some major, major executive additions to the crew. 

 

And our expansion. We’ve secured two pretty large real estate transactions in Atlanta and LA that people will be hearing about very soon for our new offices and studios. In 2022, we are coming to really put our flag down in music globally. Just like that.

 

Dan: Love to hear it. Hey, you all called your shot. You said we are opening the floodgates and this is how you do it. 

 

Tunde: Yes, sir. 

 

Dan: This is how you do it, yeah. Tunde, this has been a pleasure. Thanks again for coming on —

 

Tunde: Absolutely, man. Thank you, man. 

 

Dan: Appreciate it.

 

Tunde: All right, man. Holla.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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