My name is Laurise McMillian, and I lead R29Unbothered’s social media team. Welcome to About My Business, our brand new career column. For years, I was getting tons of DMs like “How can I negotiate my salary?,” “I don’t know how to discuss mental health with my boss,” and “Why does this white woman insist on asking me everything just because I’m Black?” This is a safe space to answer your questions while spilling my guts, tips and tea.
I’m so excited to share this installment of About My Business with you all for hella reasons:
Not only did I learn a lot about the behind-the-scenes hustle of a thriving independent artist, but I’m absolutely obsessed with my interviewee, Joyce Wrice. Oh you haven’t heard of her, yet? Allow me to put you on! She’s an R&B legend in the making who I've dubbed baby Jhene Aiko, and you’ll learn why by the end.
Like many of her hundred thousand followers, I met Joyce Wrice’s music on YouTube and Soundcloud around 2013. She was publishing these amazing ukulele R&B fusion covers of some of my favourite throwback songs, and popped on some of my favourite playlists from incredible music collectives like Soulection. Fast forward to 2021, and Joyce isn’t just “popping” up on features anymore. Baby girl dropped her very first debut album, Overgrown this year and signed a marketing and distribution deal with The Orchard's (Sony Music) newly launched Artist & Label Services division while maintaining her own masters.
Yes, you read that right. This 20-something Black and Asian woman owns her masters and finessed a deal that allows her to receive services like music and video distribution across all digital streaming platforms, digital and physical sales marketing, advertising, publicity, brand partnerships, and radio promotion.
Mind you, she did all this with no formal music training or business education. She’s so self made, and that’s why Wrice’s story is so important to me. I got to have the fangirl chat of my dreams when I Zoomed her last month. Get into our conversation below:
Laurise McMillian: Yo this is so crazy to see you on my freaking computer screen. I literally listen to your Overgrown album all the time.
Joyce Wrice: “Oh shit! I’m cheesing. I love that! With music, as a kid, growing up and being exposed to R&B and hip-hop and those two sounds coming together really opened up my world. So I’m so happy that I can have that same impact with my music.”
Overgrown, which dropped in March, was your debut album — but OG fans have been on Joyce through social media. How did you get so poppin’ online and what’s your advice to others?
JW: “I started doing YouTube covers with my friend Arielle, and we were covering R&B and hip-hop songs with a Ukulele. I think that was really different and unheard of, and we were covering a lot of popular 90s and early 2000s songs. That nostalgia was really fun for people. I picked covers that connect with me: Tamia songs, Brandy songs, Aaliyah songs, SWV. I would do records I wished I’d written I always think about, and with positive responses, I kept doing it.
I moved to LA and started working with independent rappers like Dom Kennedy. That led me to becoming the girl singing backgrounds and hooks on these gritty, hip-hop songs, which also made me standout. Also, I really enjoy social media, so I liked being on Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter meeting people who were interested in the same things as me, and who were music nerds. So I was pretty active. I think maybe that helped me. I also started out on social media fairly early on, before it became popular, too.”
Okay so you dropped some precious gems here!:
1. Find your niche and jump into those communities on social media.
2. Being an early adopter on social media really helps. Tiktok is a breeding ground for emerging musicians. If you’re not on there, you’re already behind!
3. Add value. What do your followers want? Entertainment? Do some music covers on IG reels. Do your followers want access to places they can’t be? Go live from the studio!
4. Post often. Consistency counts.
Now let’s pretend I’m a rapper named Yung Reesie. How do I find a manager? I know you have a different situation. Your manager is your real-life best friend, like ya sis forreal. I done seen the baby photos!
JW: “Oh my gosh, wow I’m dying! Yes, she is, and yours doesn’t have to be your best friend. Just remember, you cannot be desperate and you cannot rush the process because this person will need to be your biggest fan, your biggest supporter, and they have to know everything about you. You have to be so vulnerable with this person that they can protect you from the reality of the music industry which is sometimes a little bit scary. So, I think it’s important to talk to other artists, see what they look for in a manager. Ask what’s working, because it’s up to you to know what you need.
I would also write up a contract that gives the person a trial run of a few months in the beginning before a long term commitment. And then always have a lawyer in case shit hits the fan or things fall apart so you're able to handle it professionally. My manager, Jasmine and I have known each other since we were in junior high school and we are both Black and Japanese. We can really relate to each other. We both grew up really big music lovers and being best friends helps us and has taught us not to take things personally and bring emotions into the business aspect. It’s been really great to develop that and work through that partnership.”
What is it like to be a Black and Japanese woman who owns her masters? Because not even a ton of white artists are doing that. It’s so refreshing to look at you and feel like it’s attainable to own your work.
JW: “I remember moving to LA and meeting people like Dom Kennedy and Polyester the Saint Marz Lovejoy, Casey Veggies. A lot of these independent artists were emphasizing owning your shit, being in control of your creativity and what you want to do. Unfortunately, I saw people who got major record deals, would do a whole album, present it to the label, and the label wasn't happy so they shelved the album. That is one of the biggest fears that I had early on as an artist, and because I had used the record label’s money to do this album, they had a right to do that.
Because that’s such a nightmare for me, I wanted to be in control, and I knew what kind of sound I wanted to have. I knew what kind of music I wanted to make. Even though I was still finding my sound at the time, I was very sure that would not happen to me. I started working a lot of odd jobs and investing and funding my own things so that if things didn’t work out, the only person I could blame was myself. And I was okay with that. Because I always had this mindset, I knew I needed this budget to create the ideas that I had. I started learning about distribution deals and licensing deals and I was able to work with The Orchard. They distribute my music for me. And with the incredible people featured on my album or who worked on my album, I wanted to give them the percentage and credit they deserved, even though I didn’t have a record label backing me. It’s a lot of work, because even with Jasmine and The Orchard, you still have to function like your own label. You still have to budget everything.
Who is your core team?
JW: “I have my manager Jasmine, my co-manager Eddie who doubles as an A&R, and a distribution company. For the album [Overgrown] I hired a creative director. Jasmine also manages this videographer named Yavez Anthonio and luckily me and him really see eye to eye. He’s directed all my videos. It’s very collaborative.”
I love that. I know you’re in LA, but that feels so Brooklyn. Everyone here is always just like, “I know a guy. Let’s do it!”
JW: “It’s the best!”
Let’s talk about money. As MC Reesie, how much should I be charging for verses? For IG live performances? Anything you can share? Because I think people just don’t know.
JW: “When you’re up and coming, you can’t be too picky or selective. You have to understand that investing in yourself sometimes means doing things for free [not to be confused with doing things for nothing], because it could really pay off for you. You will have more to leverage once people see you, and hear you. It’ll bring you an audience. It’ll bring you feedback on what you can do better, and it might end in a collaboration or opportunity that holds weight. Obviously, you need to always ask if you can be compensated. But don’t get discouraged if they aren’t able to pay you”
I’ve done features for free. I’ve done backgrounds and hooks for free. When I was young, it was a great look for me — networking! And then, once you’re more familiar with the hustle that comes with the independent music industry, you understand budgets better overall. They may have a budget, but not for you or not for that bit of the project, likely because it wasn’t a necessity to begin with. And now that I’m understanding that more, one thing I like to do is feature swaps. I do a feature for you, you do one for me, and just make sure that you have that negotiation in writing."
It seems to me that when you’re an upcoming music artist, the best thing you can do is manage your budget. Period! Get your money up. Like you said, you did odd jobs — don’t be bougie! Wait tables if you have to. Know how much your vision will cost and get to saving and bartering because it’s possible, sis.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.