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How Rihanna's Hit Single "Man Down" Cost Over a Million Dollars to Write, Produce, and Promote

A rare and fascinating look into the monetary mechanisms of pop music, including writing camps, strobe lights, and flying doves.
 
 
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Getting a song on the pop charts takes big money.

 

Def Jam started paying for Rihanna's recent single, "Man Down," more than a year ago. In March of 2010, the label held a writing camp in L.A. to create the songs for Rihanna's album, Loud.

At a writing camp, a record label hires the best music writers in the country and drops them into the nicest recording studios in town for about two weeks. It's a temporary version of the old music-industry hit factories, where writers and producers cranked out pop songs.

"It's like an all-star game," says Ray Daniels, who was at the writing camp for Rihanna.

Daniels manages a songwriting team of two brothers, Timothy and Theron Thomas, who work under the name Rock City. "You got all the best people, you're gonna make the best records," he says.

 

The Cost of Rihanna's Man Down

Notes

These are rough estimates based on interviews with industry insiders. The figures have not been confirmed by Rihanna’s label, Def Jam.

 

Here's who shows up at a writing camp: songwriters with no music, and producers toting music tracks with no words.

The Thomas brothers knew producer Shama "Sham" Joseph, but they had never heard his Caribbean-flavored track that became "Man Down."

According to Daniels, the brothers listened to the track and said, "Let's give Rihanna a one-drop! Like, a response to 'I shot the sheriff!"

They wrote the lyrics to "Man Down" in about 12 minutes, Daniels says.

To get that twelve minutes of inspiration from a top songwriting team is expensive — even before you take into account the fee for the songwriters.

At a typical writing camp, the label might rent out 10 studios, at a total cost of about $25,000 a day, Daniels says.

The writing camp for Rihanna's album "had to cost at least 200 grand," Daniels says. "It was at least forty guys out there. I was shocked at how much money they were spending! But, guess what? They got the whole album out of that one camp."

A writing camp is like a reality show, where top chefs who have never met are forced to cook together. At the end, Rihanna shows up like the celebrity judge and picks her favorites.

Her new album has 11 songs on it. So figure that the writing camp cost about $18,000 per song.

The songwriter and the producer each got a fee for their services. Rock City got $15,000 for Man Down, and the producer got around $20,000, according to Daniels.

That's about $53,000.00 spent on the song so far— before Rihanna even steps into the studio with her vocal producer.

The vocal producer's job is to make sure Rihanna sings the song right.

Makeba Riddick didn't produce Rihanna's vocals on "Man Down," but she's one of the industry's top producers, and has worked with the singer on many songs, including the two number one hits in 2010: "Rude Boy" and "Love the Way You Lie."

When Riddick works with a singer, she'll say, "I need you to belt this out, I need you to scream this, as if you're on one end of the block and you're trying to talk to somebody three blocks away."

Or maybe: "Sing with your lips a little more closed, a little more pursed together, so we can get that low, melancholy sound."

Not only that, the vocal producer has to deal with the artist's rider. The rider is whatever the artist needs to get them in the mood to get into the booth and sing.

 
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