By: Lauren Whiteman | @itsmewhiteman
Black folks are no strangers to making lemonade out of the lemons life gives us, and our musical history is no different.
When 1970s budget cuts to education caused public schools across the country to gut their fine arts programs, a generation of musically-inclined people were left without the access to act on these passions and inclinations. As a result, they began manipulating their parents’ record collections, mixing and scratching until the classics that inspired them became works of art that would be considered classics for a new generation.
Even now we see this continuing as people love music, but don’t see themselves as the singers, rappers, or musicians. The reality is that while some people are inspired by the artists—the Biggie’s, the Aretha’s, the Michael’s—others, are inspired by the folks behind the artists: the Diddy’s, the Barry Gordy’s, the Kevin Liles’ the Clive Davis’.
You don’t have to be a singer, rapper or musician to be involved with music. You just need to love it.
Loving music is how Vince Valholla went from aspiring actor to Chairman and CEO of Valholla Entertainment, an independent record label, management group and marketing company based in Miami.
Vince grew up on the products of Barry Gordy’s work at Motown, and was always intrigued by the idea of starting a label. While he had an appreciation for the classics, it was seeing Sean “Puff Daddy/Diddy/Brother Love” Combs that inspired him to actually work with artists and music. “I was a big Bad Boy fan.” He says. “It was almost like seeing him do what he was doing kind of inspired me to say, ‘I would love to produce music, release it, work with artists.’ It really became a thing at that point.”
But he doesn't strike me as someone you'll see dancing all in the videos, though.
Vince got into the music business by doing concert promotions with his brother, learning the industry and honing his marketing skills until it was time to take the next step. Eventually that led to an opportunity to do marketing for a producer.
“I figured if I could provide what I knew on the marketing side, I could make a difference.” He says.
His marketing knowledge, and the knowledge he gained around how publishing, the industry, and the music business works gave Vince what he needed to follow those Gordy and Puff footsteps and start Valholla Entertainment in 2005.
"My story starts with patience . . . We took the long road. It’s about persistence and consistency."
He envisioned a label that would represent a new era in music. Differing from the various sounds Miami is famous for, Vince describes the label as a representation of a new Miami. Something not centralized to a specific sound, but gives a Miami product with a universal feel that translates across city and regional borders.
His early work with a Miami rap group led to heavy press throughout Florida just two years later, followed by national press through outlets such as Fader. And as both the brand and the artists grew, Vince saw that the label needed to also.
“A lot of the artists on the label didn’t have managers, so the management division was started out of necessity.” He explains. The expansion included guiding his younger artists through the distribution process, giving them the tools to transition from SoundCloud to Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal.
For over a decade, Valholla Entertainment has seen growth in its roster, services and notoriety in the southeast. So much so that it has attracted the attention of several big labels. But the company has held on to what it built.
“I held out for what we deserved.” Vince says of the group. “We have very little turnover. A lot of the artists I’ve been working with for years are still with us. They know that we know what we’re doing. I would hate for a major to come in and kind of take things in a different direction we don’t want to go in.”
Whether they stay independent long term or they entertain joining a larger group, one thing is for certain: they are going to do things on their own terms.
Valholla Entertainment currently boasts a roster of 11 artists and groups under the label or management arms of the company, including production trio Track Burnaz, who have collaborated with with Zoey Dollaz and production legend Rodney “Darkchild” Jenkins. Track Burnaz boast both writing and production credits on Big Sean’s “Inspire Me” from I Decided, and Future’s “Use Me” from Hndrxx, which resulted in the group receiving plaques—two gold and one platinum.
Singer Kirby Maurier, 2016 Grammy Amplifier winner, had one of the highest selling independent R&B projects in the South Atlantic, and also has established fan bases that stretch to France, the Netherlands and South Africa.
When asked about what advice he would give to people interested in the music industry, he reflected on his own story, and what he’s seen, and landed here: A lot of artists get overwhelmed because they know the music but not the business. Vince makes sure to help and push his artists to learn both.
“People have to be real with themselves about what kind of career they want. Do they want a career that’s gonna be three years, one hit record, and a tour that runs six years or four years? Or do they want a career that’s 20 years. And it depends on the artist. And it’s hard for them to be real with themselves if they don't know the business. The more artists know about the business, the better it would be for them.”
“I really study the industry, I study the numbers, I study how record sales are doing internationally.” He says. “Even if artists don’t do it themselves, they have to work with someone that knows the business. This is how they can know if they’re going into a good deal or not.”
And for those who, like him, entered the industry without being an artist? Start with what you can do first. Vince’s journey began by doing marketing. Rick Ross was song writing before he became a headliner.
“Start doing what [you] would do for free without any problems. The money will come,” He says. “Dive in with what you have and learn as you go.”
As the label enters into its 13th year in the industry, Vince reflects on the journey and admits that, like many things, things didn’t always come together like he originally thought they would. “Things we envision for ourselves usually never happen exactly how we want, but it happens as it should.” And what’s happened? Growth, press, plaques, partnerships, and the feeling that they’ve successfully taken on the southeast.
So what’s next?
More growth. The same vision that wanted to push a new sound in the southeast has expanded, and Vince and Valholla Entertainment recently established a second home in LA.
Being independent doesn’t mean you can’t have reach. Not being an artist doesn't mean there is less room in the industry for you. But when you make the most of what you can do, and commit to learning the game, you just might find that what is meant for you, won’t miss you.
Lemonade was a popular drink and it still is.
Lauren Whiteman is from Dallas, she eats Rudy’s, it’s been a while since she’s been to Big T though. She has a couple of degrees from the University of Oklahoma and is now an educator in Dallas area. Lauren’s work focuses on advocacy, student development, and the miseducation of Black and African American students in higher education. She’s a TEDx presenter and hopes future generations never forget what to do for the 99 and the 2000. For her twitter shenanigans, visit @itsmewhiteman.