Tour Tales | Clifford Joseph gets candid about the importance of riders, streaming, and media manipulation

Keith Nelson Jr

 // Sep 11, 2018

Raheem Powell

Musicians are barely getting a slice of music industry revenue, largely eating off of live performances instead. For 'Tour Tales,' we dig into the rider requests, delayed shows, diligent preparation, and future of touring by talking with the multitude of people that move behind the scenes. Record executives, photographers, tour managers, artists, and more all break down what goes into touring and why it's still so vital to the livelihood of your favorite artists. What happens on tour stays on 'Tour Tales.'

—by Keith Nelson, Jr.

If there was a such thing as a rapper whisperer, it would be Clifford Joseph. The 33-year-old is the Product Manager and Head of Marketing for rising rap stars Smokepurrp and Wifisfuneral. Mega talent agencies like ICM Partners and Paradigm Talent Agency book the tours for artists, and Joseph is the one who lets the companies know who the artists are--as people. He reminds them of their schedule and what underwear they need backstage. (And that's in addition to his job as Head of Marketing at Alamo Records.)

For Tour Tales, Joseph spoke with REVOLT about reminding Smokepurrp and Wifisfuneral that being a rockstar requires sacrifices, why he often has to think on behalf of the artists, and the story behind the "fuck J. Cole" chant.

How closely do you work with the tour manager and what have you done with Purrp that can illustrate your importance to him on tour? [There's] constant communication once touring starts. Due to my role, and me being so wrapped up in everything that Purrp does, I have to know everything that a tour manager is doing. It's making sure that they're equipped with certain information like knowing the rider, knowing the tech rider—what technical equipment is needed on tour—[and] the kind of food and things of that nature that Purrp messes with. Also, understanding who Purrp is as an individual. We're talking aesthetic and comfort level because we're going to be traveling and moving around. With Purrp, when we were in Philly, we were having the conversation of reminding him that, at the time, Meek was locked up. So, you have to be cognizant of the neighborhood heroes in those respective cities. So, just reminding him to give Meek a shoutout. Drop a Meek song. Don't forget to say "Free Meek." He went hard for Meek on his show date. Ironically enough, the very next day Meek was actually released unexpectedly, and Purrp went online and said we spoke Meek's freedom into existence the night before [laughs].

Moments like those, to outside fans, seem spur-of-the-moment. Yeah, they're doing so much traveling, they're up all night. They're performing and everything. The days start to blur in with one another. That's when it's on our end, the tour managers, the managers, the product managers, like myself, to always be mindful that you have to sometimes think for them. It's not necessarily parenting, but you have to overthink and over-communicate, because you are dealing with people who, for the most part, are up until four, five, six in the morning, recording, taking a few hours [of] sleep before getting up, then they have to do soundcheck, then they have to do a meet-and-greet, then they have to do the performance, then they have to do the actual show date, then do another meet-and-greet afterward. It's just so much happening that you have to be mindful for them as well.

Smokepurrp's live show was a point of controversy earlier this year when he was telling his fans to say "Fuck J. Cole." Did you speak to him about that or did you just let him go? When I first came across it, I was just like, "Where does it come from?" Again, we live in a generation of trolling and, if we take it a step further, media manipulation, in a sense. You say something so outlandish as "Fuck J. Cole," now attention is drawn towards you like, "Who is this guy talking about this person like that?" and it could just snowball from there. There was never any ill feelings towards J. Cole, to that magnitude. All press is good press. Tekashi 6ix9ine has made a living off of being a troll. Love his music or not, you have to at least, all the time, pay attention to him because you just never know what's going to happen next. It's real life drama, in a sense. To be honest with you, It's no different than what Nicki [Minaj] is doing. Nicki is going completely overboard with all of this stuff, but it's drumming up attention. Whether good or bad, it's drumming up attention.

Purrp stopped saying it a while ago. But it's something that took [on] a life of its own. But, if we're really honest, J. Cole was able to take that and leverage it, as well. Him going out his way to have a sit-down with Pump, it allowed him to be relevant to a demographic that's significantly younger. So, let's say you're a Pump fan, and you're 11, 12 years old and you really aren't familiar with J. Cole or his music, but you hear Purrp say "Fuck J. Cole," now you're wondering who's J. Cole and why is the artist I love saying 'fuck him.'

How important is a rider to artists like Wifisfuneral and Smokepurrp? Super important. Those are some of the things that help get them in the mood. Purrp eats like a nine-year-old child. It's chicken fingers and pizza. So, for Purrp's rider, it's two large pizzas, lemon pepper wings, preferably from Wingstop. Shout out to [Rick] Ross. A bottle of Jameson. He doesn't even drink, but a bottle of Jameson for his people that come with him. Backwoods to roll the weed in. Face towels because he sweats a lot on stage. Fresh T-shirts, fresh boxers. I'm trying to remember off the top of my head the candy that he likes and wants, as well. That's very important, because it just helps set the mood and get the individual right, for a bunch of different reasons. One, you feel good going into a place knowing your favorite things are there. That already puts you in a better mood. Two, if you're hungry, now you're fed. Three, when you come off of stage, again, you're sweating and everything. So, to have fresh towels, fresh boxers, fresh T-shirts, so you can change, is huge. Oh, also Gatorade, and a lot of water.

According to Pitchfork, artists only made 12 percent of the $43 billion in revenue that the music industry accumulated in 2017, and most of it came from live performances. From your experience, how does that align with what you've seen? It very much makes sense. That's why you see so many artists go on tour now, more than ever before, sometimes without even having new music. They'll go back on tour and work old projects. Sometimes they never leave the road at all. That's the only way to make the most money via merch sales, tickets sales, and things of that nature. Of course, when you do these tour dates, later on in the evening if you want to do the walkthrough, that's money you get to keep for yourself. So, with streaming being the predominant factor as far as music consumption is concerned, we also know that those numbers aren't the highest, in terms of returns back to the artist. It does force you to stay on the road, so you could really, truly eat, and live the life that you desire to live.

Wifisfuneral and Smokepurrp are the new generation of artists who owe a lot of their success to how streaming is calculated. Have they ever used the reaction of a live performance to dictate what song to push next? Oh, without a doubt. You definitely are noticing the effects of performing these songs on stage, and then it translating into greater streams. Sometimes we'll even take those touring show dates to see the reaction on a song's potential in the future. A prime example is the "Juveniles" record between Wifisfuneral and YBN Nahmir. We performed that at SXSW weeks before we actually came out with the song, just to see people's reaction and how they vibe to the record. The love was good, the pick-up was good from other outlets that were just like, "Oh, there's a new record coming out with Wifi and YBN Nahmir." So when it came time to actually drop the record, people were somewhat waiting for it. It was evident because it is, to date, the best performing song from Wifisfuneral, ever. It was doing a million streams a week. We were able to better prepare for the marketing of the record and the video, and it going out on DSP[s] (Digital Service Providers) because weeks prior we decided to perform it on stage before the song was even known, and the response was just so good it was just like, okay, this has to be the focus.

Have you ever used or seen people use streaming analytics to plan tours? Recently, we just signed Lil Durk. He has an amazing project called Signed To The Streets 3 that is coming out. We recently just dropped two songs, "Home Body," as well as "Spin the Block" featuring Future. We knew we were going to do something in Chicago, but we didn't know that Atlanta was the second largest area, as far as the streams and sales go, for Durk. So, it was just like, "Ok, great, we should definitely do advertising in Atlanta" because if we do advertising in Atlanta they're going to respond well to it, because we have a huge fan base there. On top of that, I've had artists before in the past, that were like, "I had no idea that I was streaming this much in the UK" and then, boom, before you know it, they're doing UK tours. This is why you see more new artists going over to Europe than ever before, because the playing field is leveled, so to speak, and the U.S. and U.K. are getting the music at the same time. You could be a huge hit in the UK and, in turn, find yourself being able to tour over there a year into your career. Whereas back in the day it used to take years for you to make that crossover.

I was just thinking about how it was possible for an artist as new as 6ix9ine to already tour overseas. 6ix9ine just went on a U.K. tour run. Lil Pump was out there. Purrp was out there. They went ballistic. They knew every word. In London, they knew the Pump and Purrp song "Nephew" before the song ever came out, based solely on watching his teaser of the song on Instagram. They said they were going to surprise the crowd by performing "Nephew." Pump came out during Purrp's London show, they were performing it, and the crowd was singing along. [Pump and Purrp] were like, "Did this shit leak?" [Laughs] Nah, they just kept watching it on the Instagram. The fans be dedicated.

You're young, but you're in your early 30s, and artists like Wifisfuneral and Purrp just turned 21 this year. Are there any words of wisdom you give them while on tour? Look, we're taking long periods of time that people are on the road. They miss friends, they miss family. They miss having a life outside of having to move around. Everybody wants it until you get in it and then you realize how much work it actually takes to maintain the rockstar lifestyle and status. So, you get artists that are discouraged and you have to remind them that your fans pay to see you. These moments you don't get back when they're gone. Go make a memory.

Touring has changed over time. You can buy tickets on your phone instead of at a box office. Artists can learn about their interest overseas through social media and streaming. What is something about touring that you wish could be improved? That's a tough one. The reason why it's so difficult is because a lot of these platforms have done a great job of getting information. Shout out to Apple Music and Tidal, but Spotify's analytics are so user-friendly and fire right now. Not only can you figure out where you're the most popular at, and which song is popular in each respective city and state, you can also see in each respective city and its state which other artists are popular in those areas. In turn, it makes it easier to get other acts to tour with you. It just so happens the people that love Purrp also love Juice WRLD, also love Wifisfuneral, and also love YBN Nahmir. Let's all go tour together because these numbers and analytics and information tell us people that who listen to Purrp in the UK, also listen to these artists that do well there, as well. It's almost like a cheat code.

Clifford Joseph by Ebony Hadley

Come back next week for another installment of 'Tour Tales'!

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