The office walls of urban music marketing and consulting firm RBC are lined with gold and platinum discs by artists the company’s partners have worked with over their many years in the business. Jay-Z, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, N.W.A. — they’re all represented, crowding out all available wall space. But RBC’s success doesn’t just lie in multi-platinum albums, it’s also in the numbers.
At a time when the major record labels are seeing their business erode, RBC is thriving as it nears its tenth anniversary of existence, with $18 million in gross billings and 30 percent growth in 2010 alone. Competing with the majors, RBC’s clients have notched three No. 1’s on Billboard’s Top Rap Albums chart, 10 albums on the Rap chart for three consecutive weeks, as well as numerous albums in the Top 10 throughout the year. Also in 2010, RBC scored an organic radio hit with E-40 (“Bitch/Trick”) and helped reinvigorate the career of legendary hip-hop artist Rakim with his current album The Seventh Seal.
Praised by urban music bible The Source for “aiding in hip-hop’s move toward independence” in the magazine’s annual “Power 30” List, RBC has flourished at a time when the music industry is in freefall by taking a nimble, profit-driven approach to a niche business. RBC provides label services and infrastructure for nearly 20 artist-owned independent labels, including Tech N9ne’s Strange Music, E-40’s Sick Wid It Records and Heavy on the Grind, DJ Quik’s Mad Science, C-BO’s West Coast Mafia, EPMD’s EP Records, 8Ball’s 8 Ways Entertainment, Too Short’s Dangerous Music, and Raphael Saadiq’s Pookie Entertainment. The management team — which consists of partners Bob Grossi, Brian Shafton, and Ben Grossi, Vice President of Sales Fred McKendree, and Director of Marketing and Publicity Brett Morrow — determines an artist’s value in the marketplace based on prior sales. They then plug such cost variables as manufacturing, promotion, and co-op advertising into a proprietary formula to determine a realistic budget. RBC takes these steps to limit risk, enabling them to see a profit on nearly every release within two months of street date, a return that is foreign to the major-label way of doing business.
RBC’s careful methods have earned them a stellar reputation among artists, who are walked through each step of the marketing process, many for the first time in their career. This allows them to be in control not only of their creative destiny, but also of the decisions that impact their bottom line, such as whether to hire a publicist or make a video. RBC’s system also satisfies the company’s distribution clients, which include Universal, Fontana, E1/Koch, EMI, Warner Music Group, RED, Select-O-Hits, and Navarre. Distributors rest easy knowing that RBC is holding the purse strings and allocating their investments in an effective way.
The idea for RBC was born in 2000 when the founders began to see that burgeoning digital piracy was leading to corporate downsizing and the jettisoning of many artists from label rosters. Bob Grossi, Shafton, and McKendree met as executives at Priority Records, which was known for its development of a pioneering “street-based” method of underground marketing that bypassed mainstream radio. A 35-year industry veteran, Grossi was head of sales and distribution for Priority for 14 years. During his 17-year career, Shafton rose to vice president of sales at Priority before joining JCOR Entertainment. In these capacities, Grossi and Shafton helped build the careers of Jay-Z, Snoop Dogg, Ice Cube, Dr. Dre, Mos Def, Master P, N.W.A, Mack 10, The Geto Boys and a host of others, as well as such prominent labels as Death Row, No Limit, Rawkus, Ruthless, and Rap-A-Lot.
When Priority was sold in pieces to EMI beginning in 2001, Grossi and Shafton recognized a niche business opportunity in taking on below-the-radar, yet still commercially viable artists and providing avenues for them to continue to make music and release it in the marketplace. In doing so, RBC has created a legitimate economy for the independent urban music community, and given a voice to artists who are often stifled in the major-label system. With RBC’s experienced guidance, artists accustomed to operating only on the creative side are now able to run their own companies, retain their own master recordings and publishing rights, and finally, to sink or swim based on their own decisions.
In addition to its core competency of providing general management for artist-owned labels, RBC has other revenue streams, including its wholly owned label RBC Records, which has released more than 40 albums, including those by Krayzie Bone, C-Murder, Canibus, and The Ranger$ — a Los Angeles-based emerging hip-hop group whose videos have attracted more than 74 million views on their YouTube channel. RBC also handles sales and distribution for SMC Recordings (The Jacka) and Hidden Beach Recordings (Jill Scott), utilizing the partners’ long-standing relationships with both big box and independent retailers to draw attention to their releases. RBC’s Music Supervision arm has garnered song placements for its clients in several feature films (Alpha Dog, Hostel), television shows (CSI, Entourage, Keeping Up With The Kardashians, Psych), and video games (Madden, Midnight Run). In addition, RBC handles online marketing for such artists as Ice Cube and Kymani Marley, and is engaged in several merchandising endeavors, such as T-shirts, CD overstock sales, and artist-sponsored energy drinks (past projects include Nelly’s Pimp Juice, Lil Jon’s Crunk Juice, and Ice T’s Liquid Ice).
As RBC heads into its tenth year, the company is celebrating its longevity with a slew of new projects. In 2011, RBC will work new records from indie hip-hop stars Tech N9ne, E-40, Too Short, Canibus, 8Ball, EPMD, Jay Rock, Krayzie Bone, Killer Mike, Layzie Bone, and Brotha Lynch, among others, proving even further how its mission to deliver on its promises and make money for its artists and distributors has enabled the company to compete successfully with the majors as the music industry continues to evolve in the digital age.