Russ has never been one to hold his tongue when it comes to matters on the the music industry. During an appearance on TMZ Live on Thursday (June 2), the veteran indie rapper shared his candid thoughts on the major label system, a jig he believes will soon be up.
“I do think at some point [major labels] will become obsolete, just because the juice isn’t worth the squeeze,” he said. “You don’t need them; they’re not doing anything for you that you can’t do for yourself. I just think that some artists are not very business-minded and they kinda just want to be the artist, so that’s why they go the label approach so that they have a team that does everything for them.
“But you can get a team to do everything for you and still just be the artist without the label. Artists in today’s day and age, they’re their own digital marketing. I think digital marketing is one of the biggest facades in the music industry. You get with the label and they’re like, ‘Here’s your digital team.’ And it’s like, ‘What do y’all do exactly?'”
When asked if major labels are “scared to death” of their long-term viability, Russ replied, “I don’t think I’m great for their future. I think they have an opportunity to extremely change their business model and their deals to make it more artist-friendly, but I think that a lot of times they just don’t care. They’re greedy and they know there are some artists who will still take the bait, so unfortunately they’ll be around for a little bit longer, I think.
“All you really need is consistent quality music and some sort of online presence where you’re engaging with your fans on a consistent, authentic basis, and you’ll be completely fine. All the other stuff — radio, PR — it’s just to help amplify a little bit, but it’s absolutely not necessary. I mean, I’ve been doing big venues for a long time now and it wasn’t because I had crazy PR or crazy radio.”
Russ’ gripes with major labels aren’t simply an outsider’s observations. In 2017 he signed a multi-million dollar deal with Columbia Records and released three albums on the label — There’s Really a Wolf, Zoo and Shake the Snow Globe — before departing for the independent route three years later.
While he admits that the deal was actually pretty favorable, there were other aspects to his Columbia experience that soured his attitude toward major labels.
“Just giving other people money for things that I know I could do myself — that was the worst part,” he said. “I was in a good deal; they didn’t own my masters, I could pretty much do whatever I wanted, drop whenever I wanted. But it just got to this point where it was like, I’m pulling all the weight doing everything, I’m the digital marketing, so why am I giving y’all 50 percent of the profits when y’all are not putting up 50 percent of the work? It just didn’t make sense anymore.”
Aiming to be the change that he wants to see, Russ and his longtime business partner Bugus launched their own record label DIEMON (short for Do It Everyday Music or Nothing) in March, with a focus on creating a more “artist-friendly” environment. Bay Area rapper LaRussell and San Diego-bred TikTok star Ktlyn are the label’s first two signings.
“Everyone owns their masters; everyone owns their publishing,” he explained of the venture. “We don’t eat on your merch or your tours, and everything’s a profit split deal. We’re not looking to invest in an artist just to change their music. If we like an artist enough to sign them, it’s because we like what they’re doing.
“It’s just a super artist-friendly situation, where we’re here to provide resources and mentorship to artists that we believe in.”