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The A&R Report had the pleasure of linking with the CEO of one of the hottest independent labels in the world, Funk Volume CEO – Damien Ritter. While out in LA we linked up with the young executive to speak about his recent success. Funk Volume is a label co-founded by American rapper Hopsin and Damien “Dame” Ritter in 2009. The label is also home to additional artists Dizzy Wright, Jarren Benton, SwizZz, and producers DJ Hoppa and Kato. Gain some insight from one of the top young music executives below:
Congratulations on getting another one of your artists, Jarren Benton on the cover of XXL for the 2014 XXL Freshman list. How does it feel to have your third XXL Freshman cover?
The fan vote is pretty much locked in. We have a pretty significant influence and the fans are pretty engaged. When we activate the fans they get very active. We’ve been able to garner so much support over the years. We’ve been online pretty much every day for the past 6 years. We’ve built that relationship. The fans really get to know us. I feel that’s what ultimately creates that natural organic engagement. We’re pretty active on and offline and that’s what creates our unique relationship with the fans. Even at our shows, the guys are pretty approachable – shaking hands, staying after the show.
Was being a music executive your first career choice?
No, I was a management consultant and got laid off at the end of 2008. That’s when SwizZz my brother hit me and told me that he wasn’t really feeling school and that he wanted to take a shot at music. Since I had time away from work, I had time to re-evaluate my next move. He also had a high school friend which was Hopsin who was signed to Ruthless at the time and wanted to get out of his deal because they weren’t pushing him or anything.
The idea of Funk Volume has always been Hopsin. He always wanted something separate so we put out an album through Ruthless. It didn’t do too well so they didn’t pick up a second option. With that, we got out of our deal and ever since then me, Hopsin and SwizZz have been rocking.
I really didn’t know anything about the music industry. I knew business very well. I got my MBA through Stanford. Worked in Financial Services, pretty much all corporate stuff.
What’s your thoughts on the current state of hip hop right now and how do you feel Funk Volume plays a role?
I think it’s great. Obviously with the internet it’s a must to be able to get to the fans directly. We don’t have to necessarily wait on anyone’s approval or a budget to be passed to put out anything. So we’re able to prove what’s dope by ourselves. We’re able to do our thing without anyone else telling us what to do.
Personally I feel like there are a lot of people calling shots, who aren’t necessarily in tune with what the young people need, so I think Funk Volume is helping put voices in hip hop who were silenced. A guy like Hopsin who wasn’t necessarily a cool kid, is speaking on a perspective of an outcast. I don’t think mainstream would ever pick that up.
What do you think makes Funk Volume different as a label compared to others?
Not everyone has seen this yet. But people don’t realize how dope each of them are. I can’t wait till everyone sees the maximum potential from every single artist. Everyone didn’t grow up together. I hope to continue to grow and be able to present the best talent that represent different regions. I’m looking to capture a different demographic and a different voice for every artist we sign. That’s the plan.
What variables do you look for in an artist when it comes to signing?
The music’s got to be dope. You have to be able to rap. You can tell when an artist has take many years to hone their craft. When you hear someone rap and it’s just effortless. It’s just natural. I love that. The live show has definitely got to be on point. You have to be humble, not everything will come right away. You have to be comfortable and build on ‘small wins’
What do you love and hate about being independent?
I love the independence. I love being able to do what you want. Now that we’re financially stable I’ll support anything to the best of my ability. I allow my artists to be comfortable with all of the decisions we make. I feel that’s important.
I get annoyed sometimes because I don’t feel we don’t get the respect that we deserve. Maybe it will come with the next level of success. Even though we’ve been on Xxl, that’s cool but there are still some people who haven’t caught the attention. Regardless it doesn’t stop us.
Any inspirations you’ve had as a music executive?
I look up to Russell Simmons, knowing what he did with Def Jam. I love that he’s positive. I try to let kids know that it’s ok to be cool and positive. Russell is pretty cool. He’s giving back to the community and helping people’s lives and making a difference.
Would you look at your relationships with your artists as partnerships in a sense?
It’s more than a business relationship. I’m trying to help these guys become young men. From a financial standpoint, just getting them to manage their money better. Make sure their taxes are taken care of and that they are setting up retirement accounts. I feel artists need that kind of support. I’ve been through a lot in my life so I feel I have much more to share than just the music business. It’s a friendship; we’re all cool.
What artists you excited about?
Phora he’s pretty dope. He’s an artist I started managing. I like IAMSU. I like that whole movement as well.
What immediate plans do you have for Funk Volume in the near future?
I don’t even know. Everyone’s working on something. We don’t have anything on the calendar. In the mean time we’re just tracking back and re-branding and working on our foundation. We’re just making sure that we’re solid operationally. We’re investing software to make sure royalties are calculated right. As we’re growing it’s becoming harder so I’m just making sure we work to support our continued growth. I just want to make sure everyone’s taken care of and being transparent, so that as I learn they learn. Everyone knows what the deal is, and everyone’s comfortable so I think that’s important.