(Todd A. Smith)

Entertainment and business mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs recently made headlines for giving back publishing rights to some of his former Bad Boy Entertainment artists like rapper Mase, R&B singer Faith Evans and her late husband, The Notorious B.I.G.

Publishing can become the lifeblood of a musical artist because if a person writes or produces their own music, they will make money every time that music gets played in a public venue such as the radio, television, night club, sporting event, movie, commercial, etc.

Many musical artists that released one major hit still make a good living off that song because they own their publishing, which every writer and producer should.

I recently met Houston rapper Lil Troy while appearing on the talk show “Isiah Factor Uncensored.”

If my memory serves me correctly, his worldwide hit song “Wanna Be a Baller” still generates him around $250,000 per year just from spins of the record on various platforms like radio and television.

Lil Troy augments that $250,000 by making even more money owning his own trucking company.

Suffice it to say, one hit and being a true businessman and not someone putting all their eggs in one basket, has afforded Lil Troy a very affluent lifestyle.

Although “Wanna Be a Baller” might not be the best-case study because the song interpolates “Little Red Corvette” by Prince.

That reality should have cut into Troy’s earnings because technically Prince should own some of Troy’s publishing.

However, Prince liked “Wanna Be a Baller” so much that he did not charge the Houston entertainer for sampling his work.

But “Wanna Be a Baller” is a good example because it was Troy’s only big hit.

Yet, it keeps him paid.

Just think about artists like Mase, Evans and Biggie who had multiple hits.

In fact, Biggie wrote for many other artists, gifting them with big hits.

However, because he signed some, if not most or all, of his publishing over to Diddy, much of the money that should go to his mother, widow, and two children, had gone to Diddy and his family.

Even while alive, Biggie knew that he had made a mistake giving away some of his publishing.

Therefore, when he wrote rhymes for his proteges from Junior M.A.F.I.A like Lil Cease and Lil Kim, he put the publishing in his proteges’ names with the understanding that they would break him off some of the money that was really his to begin with.

West Coast rap legend Snoop Dogg did not know he did not have to sign over his publishing to Suge Knight when he signed with Death Row Records.

As a result, Knight pocketed publishing money for himself that should have gone into Snoop’s wallet.

Unfortunately, many Black artists, not just hip-hop artists, come from less than lucrative backgrounds.

Many do not have parents or elders in their lives that understand the music business and how money is generated.

Even if some have some knowledge of business, understanding legalese can become difficult too.

Texas rapper Bun B recently spoke about how when he and Pimp C of UGK signed with Jive Records in the early 1990s, the record company placed an approximately 100-page contract on the table with tabs sticking out of certain pages.

The tagged pages contained portions of the contract that gave UGK what they wanted.

The other pages probably got ignored by the Port Arthur, Texas group.

Those other pages screwed the Underground Kingz out of a lot of money because they failed to realize what they had signed.

Even artists smart enough to hire lawyers do not always retain lawyers who are versed in entertainment law.

Getting a lawyer who practices corporate law and not entertainment law is like getting a general physician to perform surgery.

They do not do the same thing even though they work in medical field.

Because of all these horror stories, more creatives need to understand what they are signing before they sign because once that signature hits the paper, it is too late for a redo.

Rap group Black Sheep had to disband after their major 1991 hit “The Choice is Yours” just to get out of a bad contract.

Prince had to change his name to an unrecognizable symbol to free himself from Warner Bros. Records.

The musical genius never told artists not to sign certain contracts, just to understand what they were signing.

Owning one’s intellectual property should be a must for all creatives, regardless of what field they are in.

Moguls like Tyler Perry and Oprah Winfrey became billionaires because they own their intellectual property.

Many others have died broke because they did not understand what they should or should not own.

Recently, my male panel talk show “Regal Roundtable” finally saw the light of day via the CGM TV app.

I kept two seasons (26 episodes) of “Regal Roundtable” in the can because I did not like the user agreement from YouTube, which allows them to own your content, even though the creator owns it too.

The YouTube user agreement is the real property equivalent of buying a home with your own money but putting the deed in your name and YouTube’s name as well.

YouTube has all the same rights in the content as the creator.

That did not fly with me.

But it took me reading the user agreement multiple times, with all the legalese, to realize YouTube was taking people’s content as their own, making more money off it than the content creator.

However, it is not YouTube’s job to educate users on media law.

It is the content creator’s responsibility.

Unfortunately, too many people want to be famous and go viral instead of being wealthy.

True hustlers, like YouTube and music executives like Diddy, will use that reality to make themselves billions, while leaving the artists broke.

But while those type of people should receive blame, creatives truly need to fully educate themselves on the business they want to get into before losing millions, or more, to educated thieves.

Todd A. Smith
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