‘Since 2018, there’s been three crazy deals in the record business. I did two of them…’

TikTok’s changed everything.

Major record companies have become  hell-bent on getting priority records trending on the Bytedance platform – which is fast becoming the blockbuster music industry’s go-to springboard for a new campaign.

The masterclass: Drake’s Toosie Slide, with a lyrical instruction tailor-made for TikTok (“left foot up, right foot slide”), has become the world’s biggest COVID-19 lockdown hit since being released three weeks ago.

For a reality check on just how popular Toosie Slide (and Bytedance’s platform) actually are, digest this fact: videos carrying the hashtag #ToosieSlide have now been viewed over 4.3bn times on TikTok.

Then, for comparison, digest this fact too: the biggest video of all time on YouTube, Despacito, has been viewed 6.7bn times – and it was released over three years ago.

You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Dooney Battle through this link.

Yet some in the music industry were wielding the star-making power of TikTok even before TikTok was TikTok.

Tha Lights Global is the Florida-born, Los Angeles-based music company that’s a mix of artist management house, record label and digital marketing empire-for-hire.

Before TLG became best known for the two industry-shaking deals referenced in our headline above (which we’ll come back to), it established itself as the place to go if you wanted your artist to go viral.

That’s because TLG’s founder, Herbert ‘Dooney’ Battle, built a network of social media influencers under his company’s banner with an estimated reach of 160 million followers.

At various points, this roster included the likes of Lil TerRio, the child who became a dance sensation on Vine in 2013, and Loren Gray, who went on to become the most-followed individual in the world on TikTok until last month (and still has 42.7m followers on the platform today).

Battle estimates that, at the height of its influencer involvement, his company represented the “first five kids to hit a million on Musical.ly”.

Karaoke app Musical.ly became a sweet spot (as he calls it, a “niche”) for Battle and his TLG co-founder, Timothy Lowery, a few years back.

The duo used their influencer clients to promote songs to a voracious audience of Gen Z’ers on the platform.

This exact tactic has now firmly entered chapter one of the music biz playbook, of course, thanks to Musical.ly being acquired by Bytedance for $800m in late 2017 – and now powering what we now know as TikTok.

Eventually, having promoted singles on Musical.ly and other platforms for the likes of Atlantic Records (D.R.A.M’s Broccoli, 2016), Tha Lights Global became a ‘proper’ music company in its own right – signing, then using its envied promotional tactics to blow up, two artists from Florida: Lil Pump and Dominic Fike.

The major labels soon came flocking: Lil Pump signed (technically, due to legal wrangling, re-signed) an $8m recording contract with Warner Records in 2018, while, in the same year, Dominic Fike inked a deal believed to be worth in the region of $3m-$4m with Columbia Records.

Fike now releases his music on a JV label through Columbia – Sandy Boys – and continues to be managed by Tha Lights Global.

Battle offers bountiful praise for Columbia CEO/Chairman, Ron Perry, who, he says, has “been doing super-great with [Dominic], killing it over there; Ron’s definitely one of the people in the culture who inspired me”.

As for Lil Pump? That’s a different matter entirely.

After 19-year-old Pump – real name Gazzy Garcia – released his second album on Warner Records, Harverd Dropout, in February last year (No.7 on the Billboard 200) he became a free agent.

Pump and Tha Lights Global, according to Battle, took their time deciding on their next move, safe in the knowledge that the artist already had a “built up” fanbase on YouTube (17m subscribers), Instagram (17.7m followers) and elsewhere.

In the end, Tha Lights Global and Lil Pump decided to go independent – releasing new single Illuminati (ft Anuel AA) last week on Tha Lights Global’s in-house label, via distributor Vydia (which has a reputation for particularly speedy digital delivery, and has been used by the likes of Kanye West, Akon and Post Malone in the past).

“We were offered $5m+ to do a deal for Lil Pump [by a major record company] before we put out this Illuminati record.”

Dooney Battle, Tha Lights Global

Battle says that all three major record companies (Universal, Sony and Warner) made offers to nail a fresh deal with Lil Pump, whose biggest hit to date remains 2017’s Gucci Gang (No.3 on the Billboard Hot 100).

How big were these offers? Big big.

“Every major label in the business wants to sign Pump – we have an offer from every major label in the business,” says Battle in a new MBW Podcast.

He adds: “In the last two years, there’s been three crazy deals in the music business: you had Lil Pump [to Warner] first, then Dominic Fike and then another kid called Arizona Zervas with the Roxanne record. I did two out of those three deals – so I know huge checks. And I know from experience what [money] records generate; Dominic Fike’s song [3 Nights] has been out two years now and it’s still in the Spotify Top 200, still doing 600,000 streams a day. You’ve got to know the numbers.

“We were offered [$5m-plus] to do a deal for Lil Pump [by a major record company] before we put out this Illuminati record. And I’m like, Pump hasn’t dropped a music video in one year, he hasn’t dropped a song in nine months, and y’all want to give us $5m?! And that wasn’t even $5m for a label [deal] – that’s for a partnership. So imagine if I put out his record on my own, you know?”

“Pump looked at me and was like, Why we got to do [sign a $5m+ deal]? We’ve been independent this whole time in the past year, let’s just put the music out ourselves.”

Battle’s point: no major record company offers $5m-plus checks for fun. The TLG boss has learned, he says, the simple logic that if a record label is laying down this kind of money, it’s because they believe an artist could make even more.

Adds Battle: “Pump is 19, he’s been with me since he was 16. It’s my duty as his manager to [explain to him] the deal – a 19 year old kid who’s just had a check for $8m [from Warner], and here’s another check for $5m. It was truly up to him to believe [in going independent].

“He looked at me and my partner [in TLG], Jordan [Tugrul], and was like, ‘Why we got to do [sign the $5m deal]? We’ve been independent this whole time in the past year, let’s just put the music out ourselves.’

“He’s like, ‘I’ve got 17m subscribers on YouTube. I’m pretty sure if I put a video out we could do a million views in one day.'”

On release, Illuminati, says Battle, “did a million views in seven hours”. It’s since added 10m more.

When asked which one piece of advice he would give to a young manager – one maybe working with a fast-rising artist and attracting major label attention – Battle says, in no uncertain terms: “Do it yourself… If I had to do 16 year old Pump over again, would I sign him to Warner? Of course not; I would do it myself.”

Battle says that Dominic Fike’s major streaming success (with over half a billion Spotify streams) has helped teach Tha Lights Global an understanding of the continuous earnings potential of enduring artists.

He nods to The Weeknd’s management-cum-label team, Amir ‘Cash’ Esmailian and Tony W. Sal , who run XO Records, for inking an especially artist-friendly contract with Republic Records for the Canadian megastar’s latest releases.

“If I had to do 16 year old Pump over again, would I sign him to Warner? Of course not; I would do it myself.”

“Look at what The Weeknd’s doing – look at the bottom of the [credits on Spotify],” says Battle. “XO’s only distributing that through Universal/Republic. They’re not signed to a record deal.”

Battle’s done his research. The credits on streaming services under The Weeknd’s After Hours album read: The Weeknd XO Inc. marketed by Republic Records, a division of Universal Music Group. There is no mention of a license.

Battle continues: “I think record deals are gonna be over soon. ’cause all the major labels are signing kids to record deals and after their [big first] record is over, what happens? The kids are done.

“You may as well do that on your own. Why take a 17% royalty when you can make 80% to 100% of the song [releasing independently]?”

You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Dooney Battle through this link.

Amid all of this chat about independence, an important clarification is required.

Media reports in summer 2018 suggested that, following its Dominic Fike deal, TLG had inked a more wide-ranging agreement with Sony Music, worth in the region of $10m-$20m, which would see Sony partner on a range of artists with Battle’s company.

“It’s something that hit the papers that actually wasn’t solidified,” Battle says of the headline. “We’re not with Sony Music. For Pump and Tha Lights Global we’re completely independent.”

Speaking of Sony and Columbia, Battle applauds Ron Perry for beating his rivals to sign the two biggest TikTok-driven hits of the past 18 months – Arizona Zervas’ Roxanne and Lil Nas X’s Old Town Road.

“We’re not with Sony Music. For Lil Pump and Tha Lights Global we’re completely independent.”

However, Battle suggests that the culture of major labels spending big for hit streaming tracks from independent artists won’t always end well; especially if: (a) the label is seeking longevity of success with these acts; and (b) if the label doesn’t move fast enough once the deal is done.

“I believe in a lot of [cases], the book’s already written,” says Battle. “Who’s to say Arizona Zervas is going to have another record?”

Addressing that hypothetical young manager again, he adds: “How does a new artist get on Spotify or Apple Music playlists? What’s the story you’ve got to have? You have to have a story on TikTok… the game is to build your TikTok up.

“Kids are blowing up on TikTok. [Then] it takes four weeks to ingest into the label system, and another three weeks – so that’s seven weeks – for them to shoot the music video. It’s over.”

“The major labels can’t do nothing for you on TikTok – they’re out here hiring companies like us and another company called Volume that do [TikTok promotion] for you. Now, you can do it yourself.”

Adds Battle: “I’m gonna tell you what’s going on with a lot of these TikTok kids: they’re blowing up on TikTok [then getting signed to labels]. It takes four weeks to ingest them into the label system, then it takes another three weeks – so that’s seven weeks – for them to shoot the music video. It’s over.

“In seven weeks, nobody wants to hear that no more. The kids are on to the next song.”

Battle concedes that for artists at a certain point in their career, and with the right crossover pop ambitions, managers and indie artists will “have to use a major label” eventually.

He cites Dominic Fike – an artist Battle believes can amass a global following the size of Ed Sheeran or The Weeknd’s – as a prime example.

However, for the majority of lucrative artist careers, Battle believes that avoiding a major label agreement, even if it means turning down those seven-figure checks, is the right way to go.

“When I put out my next independent artist, watch how every label tries to sign them.”

“Everybody should watch what I’m doing with Pump,” says Battle, when asked if he has an over-arching message for the industry.

“We’re rejuvenated, we’re starting over a little bit… When I put out my next independent artist, watch how every [major] label tries to sign them.

“Just continue to watch. I have the blueprint – I know exactly what to do.”

You can listen to the MBW Podcast with Dooney Battle through this link.

[Pictured, main, L-R: Timothy Lowery; Jordan Tugrul; Lil Pump; Lil Skies; Dooney Battle]

Related Posts