Quenching the Thirst: Giving the Fans What They Want, When They Want It

These days in music, when something's hot you have to seize the moment, or it's over. It's all happening at warp speed, and it's our job as label executives to keep up.
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I know some of y'all must've been wondering what happened to me these past few months. I put this column on pause because I've been busy working and getting out new music like I'm supposed to. I've been producing on the latest albums by Usher, Mariah, Nelly and all my new artists, running Island So So Def, and putting together a deal for a brand new label, Tag Records. On top of all that I've been continuing the campus tour to talk about my book: "Young, Rich and
Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul."

But most of all I've been thinking hard about some of the things you've said right here on this blog, and what the kids in my lectures on the music business at Wharton and New York University have been telling me.

I heard y'all say how much more aggressive record companies should be in making full use of all that the Internet has to offer. We need to build websites that feel like blog sites for our artists and do more to utilize platforms like MySpace and YouTube to their fullest capacity. I had one student at NYU's Clive Davis School ask why are record companies' websites the worst of any industry in representing their products. I agreed with him. Our own web sites should be leading the way in the digital space. But they're not.

For starters, the term "New Media" needs to be changed. Labels tend to hand off all that's digital to these departments, and deal with regular magazines like Vibe separately. But that's the wrong kind of thinking. The Internet's not new. This stuff should be integrated. It's all one media, and these days the digital space is way more powerful than outlets like print and television

Besides that, we need to rethink our whole approach to promoting artists. I have something up my sleeve that's going to put all this into play with a new artist I signed. But first, let me tell you how it all came together...

Late last summer someone told me to check out this girl out on YouTube named Phatfffat. She was sitting in her room in Dallas singing covers of other people's R&B songs. That didn't interest me and I was skeptical, but something told me jus' check it out.

First it was 250,000 views, then it was 500,000, then 900,000! I couldn't believe it. She had thousands of messages from kids who were fans. I thought, "What the fuck is this?" I figured someone had faking the view count, so I checked out her videos and yeah, she was the goods.

The whole thing hit me the way it did when I discovered Bow Wow and Da Brat. When I signed Brat I wasn't even interested in female rappers. When Bow Wow came along I knew it had been 10 years since Kris Kross and the world was waiting on another. They each had something so different and so compelling that I knew with these artists I could create my own lane and make history in the music business. I have the same feeling with Phatfffat.

This lil' girl — who's called Phatfffat because she can kill a 12-slice pizza in minutes — has something no other artist I've developed from scratch has ever had: a built in fan-base of close to a million kids. This is something I need to jump on NOW. With this artist I can harness the power of her presence in the digital world and turn how the music industry operates on its head.

Every day for the past month I've been filming what we're doing at my studio and posting it on my YouTube channel, JD1472, so that her fans can be involved in the making of her first album (in stores July 29). They're hearing the songs as she's recording them and they are letting us know how much they like the records by doing their own covers and posting them on their own YouTube accounts. Thousands of kids are blogging from all over the world, telling us how much they love Dondria a.k.a Phatfffat.

To give you some idea of how real and how intense this love for her has been, me, Johnte Austin and Dondria were having a lil' exchange over what she should be called: Phatfffat - her YouTube nickname - or Dondria, her real name (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C9uHEPpsmF0). I wanted Phatfffat, because that's how thousands of kids already know her. Dondria wanted Dondria, coz she didn't want people calling her Phatfffat when she's 70-years old. I posted a YouTube video showing our debate, and told the kids they had three hours to write in and let us know which name they preferred.

We had 5,000 people post comments. Fans from London wrote in, telling us not to forget about them in England when the album dropped. And by the way, it was Dondria, hands down! That won the debate.

Now as you probably know, the traditional way of releasing an album by a new artist, or any artist, is to put out a single, test the reaction of the audience, see how many spins it gets on radio, then drop the album. We in the music industry have basically been trying to make fans learn who the artist is and listen to their music all at the same time. And it's not working.

But with an artist like Dondria I don't have to worry about that. I see her fans and I know what her numbers are. If I can get just 10% of those fans to support her and buy her music, everything changes.

The fans are getting the whole album in two months I'm giving them access to the entire process of making the album. We're showing everybody how we get down in the studio. I'm posting raw, uncut video on YouTube that keeps the audience involved in her life and expands on what she already started. The people who follow her are investing their time and sending messages and feedback on the music by the thousands. They care about what she does next.

That's why her album has to drop as soon as possible. When a person is thirsty, you don't give him water two weeks after the thirst hits. Her fans are thirsty for Dondria's music now. They want to buy it now. These days in music, when something's hot you have to seize the moment, or it's over. It's all happening at warp speed, and it's our job as label executives to keep up.

What I want to know is, how many of you understand my thirst theory? Do you believe that this is the direction record companies should be taking, with new artists or any artists?

Hit me back and let me know. Over the next few days I'll be watching this space for your answers.

Jermaine Dupri, who was named the most successful R&B producer of all time by the Guinness World Records 2007, is a Grammy-award winning music producer, president of Island Urban Records and author of Young, Rich and Dangerous: The Making of a Music Mogul (Atria, October 2007). For more information about this blogger, click here.

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