Media personality Joe Budden recently rejected Spotify's offer to continue podcast exclusivity. Up in September, their partnership lasted for the past two years, but, according to Budden, the relationship soured after the company gave competitors like Bill Simmons's The Ringer and Gimlet Media much better offers. The problem, he says in a recent podcast, is that his self-named show is considered "talent" instead of a "business being acquired." We often conflate the two.
(Warning: Colorful language ahead.)
[Spotify is] calling me "talent" to keep me in this talent box. What talent means is that you don't participate too much in the back-end nor do you know anything much about it ... You wouldn't refer to Nick Cannon as "talent." You know why? He's proved himself with a billion-dollar asset. Tell me, would y'all refer to Kevin Hart as "talent"?
I've seen the talent trap hit many creators, particularly non-traditional entrepreneurs doing side hustles, solopreneurships, or other ventures from the proverbial kitchen table. The more humble the beginnings, the harder it is to see when your simple act has become a real business. And corporations can take advantage of those who don't know the true value of what they have.
Worrying about selling out is your weakness
The starving artist myth is alive and well today. How many times have you heard someone say, "He's been broke for years, but he keeps creating. It is for the love of the art." The problem is it implies the opposite: If he were able to make a decent profit from his creating, then we wouldn't be so sure that he really loved his work. But he's broke, so that has to be the reason.
Tidal media platform owner Jay-Z, who worked with Budden when they rapped in the early aughts, broke down how companies can take advantage of this common weakness:
They are like, "You're an artist. You shouldn't have money!" [and you're like] "I'm an artist. I don't want any money. I want to be a pure artist!"
It's worth watching the entire Instagram interview clip.
Underpricing what you deliver
This "pure artist" mentality has two major ramifications.
First, when you start your business, you're not going to price your product or service right. If you are just "talent," then you'll take a more mercenary approach: Delivering a good, humbly taking what they offer, and moving on to the next customer. The relationships become transactional because you're worried that charging too much will push potential customers away. After all, you're just talent--not giving a service or product you and your business are uniquely suited for.
Underpricing your work means you'll have to do more to bring in less. As a solopreneur or very small business, you have only so many resources, particularly time. The quality almost inevitably suffers, turning your fear of being unremarkable into a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Not seeing your worth
Second, as Budden addresses in his recent podcast, you don't actually know the worth of what you are giving. If a bigger entity is interested in, say, acquiring your business or giving you an investment, then you'll be ill prepared to get your value. How do you know your value? By listening carefully to your audience, understanding as many parts of the current ecosystem as possible and always -- always -- knowing your options.
When my bootstrapped startup Cuddlr began acquisition talks, we already knew our deep stats, as well as the stats of our competitors. As CMO/COO, I also had tight communication with our quarter million users and knew how much we worked to create a specific community. That has a value. And, because we bootstrapped, my co-founders and I were able to negotiate on our own terms.
But we started just a year earlier as three remote co-founders doing a side hustle, just as Budden, in his words, began sitting on a couch talking to his friends and recording it a few years ago. Most businesses start humble. It is our job to keep a pulse on what value we are giving to the world, as our price points and our internal valuation should reflect it.
Of his soon-ending contract, Budden said he didn't worry about being valued right next time. "I'm a walking proof of concept."
As we all are.