*Back in the mid-90s I was having a conversation with my father, Bill “Bunky” Sheppard, who was President of 20th Century Fox Records’ black music division at the time and we were discussing the success of my rapidly developing music career.
I had recently written, performed and produced the theme song for the hit television series called “Dance Fever” and shortly thereafter I had written and produced a major hit record on my first recording act I ever assembled for Island Records called “By All Means.”
What made this record so special was that it was the first black/urban-music hit Island Records had in its history. We were also celebrating the
fact that my father was having phenomenal success at 20th Century Fox Records where he personally established the careers of the Platinum selling
recording artists Barry White, Stephanie Mills, Carl Carlton (“Bad Mama Jama”) and Leon Haywood (I Wanna Do Something Freaky 2 U”)
I also took pride in his success because I was his A&R Director.
During this discussion, the conversation shifted to “how much money” 20th
Century Fox Records was making off of Black Music at the time and how little control Black Music executives and artists had in this process.
Being hungry for knowledge, I asked him why he thought things were set up
this way and he flatly stated “because we, as people of color, were always thinking locally and regionally when we should have been thinking nationally and globally and focusing on ownership rights.”
That statement always stuck in my mind. As the years passed, I was blessed with continued success and I was given a multi-million dollar Production deal in the mid-1990s by Motown Records President Jheryl Busby and while there, I wrote and produced two number one singles by the artist Gerald Alston (“Slow Motion”) and The Temptations (“Special”) as well as 5 Top 10 singles on the R&B charts. Life was great, I was making money, but in the back of my mind I always knew I was nothing more than the “hired help” getting a paycheck for services rendered. No ownership, no decision making abilities and basically “no real clout whatsoever.”
Then one day, I got a call from my attorney and he told me that Mr. Berry Gordy wanted me to come to his home for a private meeting. Obviously, I was very excited and when I got to his beautiful estate, he sat me down and
proceeded to set up a tape recorder in front of me before the meeting started.
I asked him why he set up the recorder and he stated that he wanted to discuss a business proposal with me concerning Motown Records, but that
all of his meetings were recorded and did I have a problem with that? I said no, but I also asked him why he recorded everything ? He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “because I am the owner of Motown Records, I make the rules, and I want every word we say on tape for accuracy purposes.”
Mr. Gordy eventually offered me the position of President of Motown’s publishing company called JOBETE MUSIC for a period of 18 months. But there was a pre-condition attached to the offer. Mr. Gordy wanted to “own my production company, my artists, my publishing rights and anything else I had under my control.” He stated, “I’m into ownership and this offer is
non-negotiable.” After a great deal of thought, I passed on the offer, but once again I saw the power of “ownership in action.”
Fast forward to the year 2011. I look around and unfortunately not much has changed in Black Music as far as ownership is concerned as it applies to people of color. Yes, we have some Black Music labels that are making millions of dollars on a yearly basis, but each and every one of them is owned/distributed by a major corporation. The most successful of these labels are the ones who are headed by young guys from the “streets” and have rap music history at their core.
I personally know how lucrative the money can be in rap music because in 1996 I established a rap music powerhouse on the West Coast and the artists and producers I launched and managed during these past 15 years have sold over “20 million albums world-wide” generating hundreds of millions of dollars for the major corporations we were distributed by. Again I thought, “we are creating and promoting the music but we don’t truly own anything.”
That leads me to my final thoughts on this ownership subject. Why don’t these young multi-millionaire rap music label owners sit down with one another and pool their substantial financial resources into one pot and develop a new “mega company” that would finance the recording careers of new and established artists in rap/R&B Music and buy publishing catalogs out in the marketplace today? Why don’t they set up a “mega distributor” for this music that will market it world-wide? It’s absolutely amazing to me why they have not done this yet! Every day I go to the Internet and visit various Rap/R&B web sites and I read articles about artists who are locked in contractual disputes with the major labels they record for. They are screaming about how they are mistreated and cheated out of their money on a daily basis and how they want OUT OF THESE AWFUL DEALS because it is killing their creativity. Then when they get out of the deals, they run to another major corporation and get right back into another abusive situation! Yeah… that’s really keeping it real as they say! In my opinion, when they do this they should just shut up, stop crying, take the cash and forget about controlling their careers and owning their music.
Please stop this madness and wise up because it’s not too late to change things. We all know these corporation don’t respect you or even like your music to put it bluntly, yet you keep running full speed into the arms of the so-called enemy asking for assistance and love. Who’s the REAL FOOL in this business relationship? It sure isn’t the major corporation who owns your music … so who’s left?
Contact Stan Sheppard via: [email protected].