R.M.L. (Man Bites Dog Records) Interview
R.M.L. started Man Bites Dog Records four years ago. At the time, it was just another record label. But now, it’s home to a diverse cadre of established and up-and-coming artists ranging from Roc Marciano to Copywrite to Eddie B. Read up on the rising label and Ryan Lynch’s (R.M.L.) thoughts on what it takes to succeed as an artist in the 2013.
Man Bites Dog has continued to grow since the first projects, the Megahertz Table Scraps album in 2009 and the Killah Priest and Count Fif album The 3 Day Theory in 2010. You’ve made a lot of big moves since then. What do you attribute the growth of Man Bites Dog Records to today?
The biggest thing is consistence. When we first came in, people told us we were going in the wrong direction. We were running and everyone else was running out. We’re from Northern Virginia and really, that’s very close to D.C. so most people consider us D.C. and D.C. has always lived in the shadow of punk rock music and go-go and hasn’t really had its own face for hip-hop, let alone for indie hip-hop or underground hip-hop or conscious hip-hop. So that was a struggle in itself when we first started the label. We started with guys that were from the area that were super-talented. Priest was one of the first artists we signed besides Copywrite.
Putting Priest’s record together, we learned a lot. We started that back in 2006, 2007, right around when he was putting together The Offering, but we made an agreement with him to let that and Behind the Stained Glass come out before we put out that record. Then we released Copy’s Life and Times and then we started coming more consistently with releases. We focused a lot on getting music videos and a visual image because most of the guys we had on the label up to that point didn’t really have a lot of visual images out there, especially guys like Vast Aire. Before we started working with Vast Aire I think he had one and a half videos. Besides Cold Vein, he had already done three other solo albums but whoever he was working with, they just hadn’t made music videos a priority.
The music video is arguably more important today than ever.
I think it’s absolutely necessary to make that connection with your fanbase. People want to feel like they have some sort of connection to the artist that they’re investing in. The money is a small thing. It’s the time and the energy that people are investing. That’s the major investment. The money is chickenscratch and most people get caught up. You can go to McDonald’s by yourself and spend the same amount of money on one meal that you can spend on an album that you can have for the rest of your life.
How were you able to convince artists to sign with you and trust in you when you were new and unproven?
I think anytime that you work with people, nobody wants to be your first. No matter what you’re doing in business, no one wants the virgin, as funny as that may sound. People want to see how you work with other artists before they go down that path. I think the more artists that you work with, it’s inevitable that more artists will reach out to you and want to work with you in the future. We just try to offer a different type of niche. I’m actually a video director myself, so maybe not a lot of labels do that. I can go direct projects and keep costs down so that we can afford to do four to five videos per project. We try to do creative ideas for our projects and we really try to get press and try to step out there. I think when artists see that we’re aggressive in our marketing, they see how it helps them because they can turn their enterprise into something big. Successful artists can make a lot of money off of shows and if they’re able to get their star high enough in the college circles and the press, they’re able to exploit it and sell merch and they’re also able to sell beat, or sell verses, or whatever it is that they do. So foremost from an artist standpoint is making sure that the label is a) presenting a really good marketing plan and getting their music out there and b) being aggressive and creative with that plan.
When we went to SXSW recently, we brought 700 cassettes out with us. We gave cassettes out to everybody from Simon Rex to Big Sean’s manager. We were building with all sorts of people and really just approaching people and letting them know that we were going to give them our music. People said they just found their cassette player the other day and were excited. There’s a big resurgence in nostalgia and you can work with that. Other people saw that Man Bites Dog went down there with a survival kit and we partnered up with big companies. We’re just trying to step out there and get our brand known and at the same time putting our artists’ brands across. People see you working with somebody and from that they can just base their opinion on if you did a good job or not. For people to work with you, there has to be some reason for it.
And this was the first time you guys went down to SXSW right?
Yes. It was very welcoming. I used to promote a lot of shows back in the day. I was a concert promoter for three years in the D.C. area. You would hustle flyers, postcards, whatever you were hustling. Most people would look at you like you were a leper or a plague and if they touched the postcard they would catch something. The environment at South By was that not only would people take postcards, they would ask what you were doing. People were naturally curious. People are just primed. They’re there for the music and they’re already thinking outside of the music and they’re there just to take it in. When you go there to do something creative, you’ll do well.
There’s a reason Monster Energy Drinks go there and they are just passing out energy drink after energy drink. Companies recognize that this is a chance to get to tastemakers and that when they go home, they let all their friends know about it. If you go to South By and you have people that are really receptive to what you’re doing, you’re going to do well. We had these tote bags ready to go with the logo on it and a beer-cuzi because most of the events there had cans, so the beer-cuzi was perfect. We gave them a bottle opener, chapstick, sunscreen, and rolling papers, a tray, and tips. Everything was there to go and they also got the music, a cassette and CD.
So for us, building with people was fantastic. We got pictures of people with the product and they were just happy to do it. They were really receptive and it was good. We were out on the street and I was passing out tapes to people and some of my interns were there too and this guy came over and told me how genius he thought it was. Maybe he hasn’t seen the underground movement in hip-hop but when he goes back to work with his artists, maybe he’s going to talk to them about cassettes. It’s one of those environments where you’re going to meet all sorts of different people and you’re going to connect with other artists. Because Roc Marciano headlined our show, a lot of big artists came by like Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$, Wais P and Statik Selektah. We were fortunate. We also had a lot of diehard Roc Marciano fans come out and they just knew every word. Seeing all those kids repeat every word that Roc says is ridiculous.
And I know there are people I had met down there that we’ll connect with. I met this one artist and since I’ve gotten back, he’s already shopped a project to me. It opens up the door to talk to other people. I feel like it was good for me to be able to see that. I hadn’t seen Roc live before and I got to see him by standing on the stage and really being able to see his live show and to tell you the truth, man, it’s better than I imagined. Sometimes you get disappointed in this industry because you don’t know if they’ll be able to meet the expectation that you built up for them in your head.
No doubt. There’s a lot of big projects coming out for Man Bites Dog. What are you most excited about?
On the sixteenth of April, we’re doing a project with Illogic from Columbus, Ohio. That’s an amazing project that’s entirely produced by Blockhead. That’s called Capture the Sun. It’s a really, really deep, amazing record. It’s very musical. It’s not just what hip-hop needs but what music needs in general. It’s cross-genre. It’s really open and it’s really out there and it’s something that we’re really proud of. We dropped a single “Capture the Sun” which features Slug on the chorus. I think that’s a really big, strong project for us.
We also have a couple other albums that we’re dropping too. We just dropped Man Bites Dog Volume 2. That’s free and on our SoundCloud. We’re also working with Copywrite on his new project. We also have a project with Eddie B and Harry Fraud called Horsepower. That’s another free project that we’re going to be releasing and that’s going to get people ready for what we do have coming on the retail side of things, like the Eddie B and Harry Fraud project. We also have Roc Marciano’s next project. We’re going to start mixing that project in the next few weeks. We’ll be doing a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff for that record and let the fans see what it’s like, going inside to see how a Roc Marciano album comes about.
We have Copy’s next two projects. His next project is actually called The Puppet Show and it’s a producer album. A lot of people don’t realize that Copy also makes beats. He’s a producer and this is a full-length producer album. He produced everything and he’s obviously going to be rapping on the project. There’s going to be a lot of surprises. We’re also working on Bronze Nazareth’s producer album. We have a couple of projects with Stu and Vanderslice. The first one is going to be Blaq Poet’s new record, Blaq Reign. We have a Reef the Lost Cauze and Blacastan record produced by Stu and Vander and then Stu and Esoteric made a record called Machete Mode that we’re also going to be putting out. We’ve got quite a bit going on with the Brutal Music guys.
We also signed Curly Castro and dropped his free album about a month ago. He went down to South By with us and rocked out. We’re dropping things off of that and some videos. There’s some stuff that he’s working on. We’re excited about it.
How did you guys get to working so closely with Brutal Music?
Stu Bangas is a diehard Redskins fan, as am I. We usually text like crazy every Sunday, praying for the ‘Skins to not implode. Stu’s from Virginia originally and I’m from Virginia and we just get along. And when you work with somebody who’s talented like that and you can get along with each other, it just makes it a breeze, man. He’s also a businessman, so you can also cut through some of the emotional tape you have with guys and get straight to the business. He’s super-talented and it’s my kind of sound. I grew up on a very hardcore East Coast hip-hop sound because I came from punk rock and metal. I had to go into something that was going to be hard. I wasn’t going to go into something soft that didn’t make sense. When I was a kid I liked hard New York hip-hop. I liked Boot Camp and shit like that. Stu and Vanderslice’s beats are hard. I think the first time I heard Stu was on the Heltah Skeltah album, the “D.I.R.T.” record.
And then Copy told me about Stu and I heard what he was doing on God Save the King. I talked to Stu and he’s working on Jakki’s record. He’s sending me constant beats and then the Jakki album had to be put on hold. With how much him and Vanderslice were doing, we decided to do the D.W.A. album and it took us six or seven months to do that and we were on our way.
Do you have a favorite Man Bites Dog project right now?
It’s tough. You don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings. It’s just that when I don’t mention something, it’s because we’re doing a lot right now and just because I didn’t mention something doesn’t mean it’s not coming out, it just means that it’s not programmed in right at this second. It’s the same thing with picking records. There’s been a lot of great records to come out and it’s hard for me to pick one. I even produced “Swashbuckler” with Count Fif and I would be partial to say that, but you just don’t pick. You’re related to everything and especially when you’re the label and you’re extremely hands-on with stuff. We want to be involved, man.
There’s a lot of independent artists who see what you guys are doing and might not have your resources. What’s the most valuable advice you can offer to artists?
Get a team. If you’re an artist and you’re out there by yourself, you’re out in the wilderness. You gotta have a team, man. You have got to have a team. I can’t stress it enough. And you have to separate your real life person and your alias. If your real name is John and your rap name is Trash Can, then Trash Can needs to be treated like a sole proprietorship or a corporation and make Trash Can put in what anybody would put into a job, and that’s forty hours a week, minimum, and you have to separate your life from Trash Can’s life. You have to make sure that you’re sitting down and spending forty hours a week on Trash Can.
Recording is really not enough. You have to say that maybe you’ll spend a month and a half recording and the rest of the year is spent promoting what you recorded. If you just try to be the artist and do everything yourself, you really have to have a team behind you and be checking in to put in that work. Otherwise it’s just going to end up going nowhere and you’re just going to end up wasting other people’s time. So if you aren’t being paid to be Trash Can, you have to really look at it as can you work two jobs, the one to support your life and the one to be a part of Trash Can, LLC. Can you really devote that? Do you have what it takes to do eighty hours a week?
And if you do and you love what you’re doing in your day job, maybe you should just enjoy that and be a fan. If you don’t hate your daytime job, then that means that music is not really where you want to go. You can’t have both. You’re going to have to pick one or the other. If you really want to be a rapper, you can’t love that daytime. You have to be doing it to provide what’s necessary and then leaving it as soon as you possibly can because holding a balance to both is tough unless you want to work eighty hours a week.
You work on you getting up to forty hours a week and then you have to recruit like-minded individuals and recruit a like-minded alliance and have them be willing to put in that forty hours a week, whether they’re going to be your manager or whatever the hell they’re going to do. If everyone can put in a team effort and everyone can put in forty hours a week, you’d be surprised, man. A lot of these rappers don’t put in no time. If you take a new artist who’s got talent and he puts in a solid 160 hours a month into his rap career, shit. If he can get another person or two to do the same thing, and make sure you’re focused on your time. You can’t just smoke and write rhymes and sit on internet all day and do nothing, you can’t do nothing. But if you participate, not spam, with all of these websites, you can make waves, man. You can make waves.