What does it take to make it in “the biz”?
Is it talent? Patience? Hard work and decades-worth of knowledge about how records go from the studio to the radio, and all the revenue in between? For seasoned music exec Julius “J” Erving — “Jr.” if you know who his famous dad is — it’s all of those things balled up into one. He’s combined them altogether to create a new age record distribution company that’s reshaping the mold to put the power, money and ultimately the ownership back into the hands of the musician.
In our sit-down with Jr., we got down to exactly what is Human-Re-Sources — the non-record label ringing in 400 million streams between their roster, which includes R&B crooners Brent Faiyaz, Jussie Smollet and current rap star out of Alabama, YBN Nahmir. In addition to that, we also get down to the topic of power players, a few life gems to live by, and how aspiring artists can make it in the biz using simple tips from a guy that’s been doing it for a minute now.
Keep scrolling for our Source Exclusive with the boss man Julius “J” Erving:
The Source: Let’s jump right into it and let the people know who you are. What would you say is your primary business role when considering how long you’ve been hustling in this industry?
Julius “J” Erving: Well for most of my career I was a manager, and I was partners with Troy Carter for a lot of my career. We managed talent and represented artists over the years. About a year ago, I launched a distribution venue called Human-Re-Sources — it really speaks to digital distribution and giving artists and executives another option in terms of distribution to major label systems. Over the years, I’ve done tons of record deals for artists and it always kinda felt like we gave away too much in terms of ownership. The way we structure our deals now is we only charge a distribution fee; that’s it. We don’t participate in ownership of the masters, we don’t participate in 360 [deals] and we don’t participate in any other revenue stream except our distribution fee.
We’ve had some major success after launching, both in the Hip-Hop space and pop space. One of the first records we distributed was this kid from Alabama named YBN Nahmir. His record is called “Rubbing Off The Paint,” and it’s now a platinum single. His second record “Bounce Out” is close to platinum. He was one of the first artists we distributed, and there’s also this kid Brent Faiyaz, who was on a massive [Grammy-nominated] record last year called “Crew.” We put out a record on him called “Make Love,” a song that is really starting to work. I feel like he’s up to be the next big superstar in that alternative R&B space. His manager Ty and the whole team is really strong, and they’ve been great partners for us. We were able to put out Black Thought from The Roots’ Streams of Thought Vol. 1 record, which performed really really well. We really have the streets talking in terms of Hip-Hop and where it’s at right now, on some real rap shit.
So for those who don’t know or just to clarify things, can you break down what a distribution deal is and what a 360 deal is exactly?
We feel like music consumption is changing. I have three teenage kids, and I watch how they consume music. They’re not getting in the car and turning on the radio; they’re connecting to Bluetooth or the aux cord, listening to their music on Apple Music, Spotify, Soundcloud, or YouTube. Our primary focus is speaking to those millennials to see how people are consuming music nowadays. We do a heavy push on all DSPs — we’ll distribute to all the DSPs [Editor’s Note: A “DSP” is short for Digital Service Provider, used to describe the place you buy digital music (i.e. iTunes) or stream it for revenue (ex: Spotify)]. On Spotify, we’ll push for playlisting — a lot of our records have playlisted on a very high level, based on our relationships with Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Deezer, YouTube, Amazon and Pandora. We’ll distribute our music to all of those platforms and really do more. We have the ability to do physical distribution, but primarily, in terms of where we market and promote and really push, it’s on the digital platform.
When it comes to going up against the big labels, how does Human-Re-Sources work towards combatting what’s currently out there?
The labels are paying bigger advances, and in exchange they attach themselves to those artists for a long term and for more ownership. Most deals these days, new artist deals anyway, will be some advance with four or five album options, which means that if you sign to them you’re committed to releasing your next four and five projects with them. They will want to own your masters, which means that the music master that are created by the artists will be owned by the record company. A lot of times they even ask you to participate in what’s called ancillary revenue — touring, branding, merch and other areas in which you generate revenue based on your celebrity as an artist.
“I’m a firm believer that we are the makeup of the six people that we spend the most time with…I think surrounding yourself with like-minded people that are hustling and on their job is important.”
— Julius “J” Erving, Human Re-Sources
In our deals we charge a 20% distribution fee, and that’s it. We don’t participate in ancillary revenue, branding, merch, or none of that. We don’t own your masters, either. We license the masters for a term, but the ownership would remain with the artists and the creators of the music. That’s kind of how our deals differentiate from major label deals. We have a small team, and one thing that separates us from other distribution companies is that we’re not just taking records and placing them on DSPs or on these platforms. We’re actually working the records that we’re releasing. We have a vetting process, or A&R process, and want to only release music that we’re passionate about and that we believe in. The volume of releases wouldn’t be as heavy as some of the other distribution companies, but we feel like if we pick the right projects we could make them count. We do digital marketing, digital strategy, playlist solicitation, on-platform promotion solicitation on all of the DSPs. We do all those things in house. We have a creative person that helps with videos, photoshoots, creating tools for social — Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. We really push heavily on the digital side as well.
In your opinion, why do you feel that artists should take the music side of their business more seriously? Or rather the music-business side, I should say.
I mean, I think with all of the tools that these artists have now, they have more of an opportunity to operate from an independent space. I think with the power of having the ability to stream music, the Internet, and all of the social platforms, you don’t have to wait on anyone to start to market, promote and push your music.
When I was coming into the music business 20 years ago, you kind of needed a record company to help facilitate a lot of that and be able to have reach beyond your block or your neighborhood or even your city. Now, with all of the tools that are out there that artists have access to — smart managers, also! [Laughs] — they don’t have to wait on a record company, including us. I think that we can be helpful though in giving some structure to it and really building on how things kind of magnify the exposure and the reach.
With everything that you do for artist development and the service that Human-Re-Sources provides, it’s obvious you have some life gems to share. Can you give us five tips for any up-and-coming artist, a rapper or musician in general, that they can live by on the road to a successful career?
First thing’s first, what gets lost in the business of music a lot of times is the music itself. All of us need to be responsible for creating great music — this is the music business at the end of the day! It all starts with great artists and great music. Working hard sounds kind of cliché or obvious, but I don’t think it’s as obvious as people may think. You have to really work hard and dedicate yourself to your craft. Loyalty is important, building relationships is important, and just being honest and honorable is important. For my son, who’s a producer and a DJ at 17 years old, those are the kind of things that I try to instill in him — work hard, stay focused, build great relationships, make great music and really understand the business at hand.
Being a manager, a lot of times we’ve had to wear many different hats over the years, and that’s everything from father to brother to business manager to therapist [Laughs]. We wear whatever hat we have to. Our job is just to get it done, by any means necessary. I’ve tried over the years to give the artists I’ve worked with some direction, just some advice and help where I can. I think it’s important to find good people and surround yourself with them. I’m a firm believer that we are the makeup of the six people that we spend the most time with, so I think surrounding yourself with like-minded people that are hustling and on their job is important.
One last thing: you could, without a question, be considered a power player in your career. What’s your definition of the term if it had to apply to you?
It’s funny: I think for me, over my career, the goal post has changed a bunch in terms of what determines success or power. I think people will think it’s money or accolades; For me, I think in terms of where I’m at and what I see in my peers and people that I look up to. I feel like those people are power players, not just in the game but in life. What I mean by that is, if I’m talking to one of my friends or someone who I consider to be a power player, and there’s an idea or a concept or a goal, they have the ability and the resources to achieve that in a real way. That’s not about money; that’s about really having solid relationships, really having access, really being able to move folks when you need to move them and really being able to deliver. That, to me, is the definition of a power player — someone that really has the ability to execute whatever they set their mind to.
Find out more on the Human-Re-Sources movement by heading over to the record distribution company’s official website.