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WRKSHP Puts Artists First
Arts & Entertainment Business

WRKSHP Puts Artists First

April 7, 2022

Detroit music-based and lifestyle brand WRKSHP is inspiring a new rhythm for the record industry by putting artists first.

BY PATRICK DUNN

Don’t call it a record label, and don’t say it “signs” musicians. But do expect the new Detroit music-based lifestyle brand known as WRKSHP to challenge music industry norms by prioritizing artists over executives.

Founded in January 2022 by Dan Gilbert and multi-platinum producer Che Pope, WRKSHP aims to reach far beyond the scope of a traditional label by releasing not just music, but a wide range of other products related to the artists it “partners” with — WRKSHP’s preferred alternative to the traditional “signing” terminology.

WRKSHP Puts Artists First

WRKSHP co-founder and multi-platinum producer, Che Pope.

Pope comes to WRKSHP with an all-star resume, including producing for Kanye West, Lauryn Hill, and Jay-Z, and serving as COO of West’s GOOD Music label. He says he’s seen “a lot of tough stuff that artists had to deal with” in the business and that he had long dreamed of starting a company that would function as an industry Robin Hood, working “to bring more resources to the artists.” Pope attempted to launch a label called Cops N Robbers over a decade ago but says those aspirations “never really got off the ground.”

Gilbert — and Detroit itself — helped Pope realize his ambitions. Pope, who has been based in L.A. for nearly two decades, first visited Detroit in 2004 to work on Eminem’s album Encore. Although the album was largely recorded in Ferndale, Pope also visited Detroit and was drawn to the city.

“I really resonated with the artists and the climate of art — not just music but art, visual art, photographers, all the different creatives, and the energy of what was going on in the city,” he says.

Pope returned to Detroit in 2015 on an invitation from his friend Josh Luber, co-founder of StockX, who introduced him to Gilbert. Gilbert and Pope stayed in touch, and in 2018, over dinner in Santa Barbara, Gilbert asked Pope if he’d be interested in starting a new company with a satellite office in Detroit.

“I actually pushed back and said I would prefer to have my headquarters in Detroit,” Pope says. “He asked me the same question everyone’s been asking: ‘Why?’ If you’re starting a new business, you want to give it the best chance to succeed. It’s like planting a seed. If I’m planting a seed, I want to plant it in the most fertile soil I can.”

WRKSHP Puts Artists First

Disrupting the music industry was important to both Pope and Gilbert. Pope says the traditional record label’s approach of primarily releasing music is “very limiting” for both artists and executives. He says WRKSHP will market artist-branded apparel, festivals, NFTs, and other products comparable to Dr. Dre’s Beats headphones or Jay-Z’s Armand de Brignac champagne, in addition to music. “

Each artist is going to have their own universe around them that others can engage with,” says Emma Spencer, WRKSHP’s creative director. “Once you do see a music project drop, it’ll be coinciding with some other cool projects to soon follow it.”

The diversified model also creates a more appealing value proposition for WRKSHP’s investors, whereas music-streaming revenues alone provide rather paltry profits.

“In 2022, music has influence in many spaces and many arenas,” Pope says. “So you’ve got to be part of that.”

WRKSHP also aims to buck industry norms in the way it draws up legal agreements with artists. Pope says it’s important that artists own their work rather than signing it away as they do in many record deals. WRKSHP will emphasize profit-sharing deals with artists instead of traditional royalty deals, which often see artists receiving only a small share of the revenue from their work. Pope says “transparency” is key — crafting simplified contracts, explaining deal points to artists, and ensuring artists have legal representation present when they sign a contract.

WRKSHP Puts Artists FirstPhoto courtesy of WRKSHP

“If the artist understands … their responsibility to the agreement and their commitment, that’s just a much better space to do business,” Pope says. “I think that’s not asking a lot, to be honest. And in 2022, it’s way overdue.”

Having launched in January, WRKSHP is now furiously ramping up to begin releasing products by building out its staff and physical space. At press time, the company had a staff of seven working out of a temporary office space at 1265 Griswold where a permanent space, including two recording studios, is under construction. Pope couldn’t divulge any artists WRKSHP had partnered with but said the company would primarily emphasize pop, hip-hop, and R&B acts.

Although Pope says WRKSHP will be open to partnering with artists from anywhere, the company will “look in [its] own back-yard first and foremost” for talent. Pope will split time between Detroit and L.A., where he’ll also have studios available for artists on the other side of the country. But he expresses a commitment to investing in Detroit’s creative community, as Berry Gordy did with Motown Records nearly 65 years earlier.“I hope we’re building something that’s here to stay for generations to come,” he says. “For whatever reason, Motown left. Berry [Gordy] had aspirations of Hollywood and so on and so forth. I want this to be something that stays, long after I’m gone.”

 

For more information about WRKSHP check out their website wrkshp.club and follow them on Instagram @wrkshpclub.

 

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