Spotlight: The Midwest's Very Own WRKSHP

3 / 4 / 2022

WRKSHP squad
WRKSHP Behind The Scenes
WRKSHP Behind the scenes

The entertainment industry is a glimmering, two-headed leviathan that will lure you in only to swallow you whole if you can’t learn how to tame it. With sites like YouTube and TikTok, the ability to grow a dedicated audience may be easier than ever, but it also creates havoc and saturation when anyone with a cell phone and Wi-fi can begin creating one of the most boringly overused words of our generation… “content”.

It’s the age we live in. You don’t have to hand out mixtapes on street corners anymore or tour the United States in a beat up van with your bandmates, playing show after show in tiny venues for gas money and chicken wings. You can get signed to a record contract and walk virtual red carpets from the comfort of your own home. Then what?

As your audience grows and the heat of the spotlight increases, the path towards success becomes more fraught with peril and the ability to maintain control over the leviathan seems more uncertain with every post to your feed.

Say hello to WRKSHP: the future of the entertainment industry.

Led by acclaimed music producer, Che Pope, WRKSHP is a music-based lifestyle company built to help creators grow audiences on a global scale. Their mission is to help artists navigate the choppy waters of their respective industries, all the way from strategy to execution.

WRKSHP’s mission is a lofty one and will inevitably lead to rewriting many of the rules that have long been set within the music and film industry. This task might seem impossible were it not for the company’s fearless leader, Mr. Pope. A fact I learned more and more as I got to know him through a series of interviews trying to learn exactly who Che is and where he came from.

Che Pope is many things. He is an award-winning record producer, composer, and songwriter. During his nearly 30 years in the music industry he has worked alongside Dr. Dre and produced songs for The Game, Eminem, ASAP Rocky, Kanye West, and many, many fucking more. He also maintained the role of Chief Operations Officer at Kanye West’s record label G.O.O.D. Music and the Vice President of A&R at Warner Bros Records for a time.

He has worked as a staff producer for composer Hans Zimmer and he won his first Grammy for producing one of my favorite albums of all time, The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill. This list of accolades was playing on a constant loop in my mind when we began our interview.

I could have spent the majority of our time together asking him questions like “What’s Kanye really like?” or “Why hasn’t Dre released his album yet?” but I chose to refrain. And for good reason, outside of being an incredibly talented producer and businessman, Mr. Pope is incredibly wise, with lots of insight into what it takes to make it as a young person in the music industry.

“There are kids in this world who are prodigies. That wasn’t me. Not to say I wasn’t musically talented. For me it was about my work ethic and studying and learning nonstop. That’s still my mantra today. Have and maintain a good work ethic.”

Before Che got his start in the industry, that work ethic is what allowed him to be seen by the right kind of people that would help him through his career. He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He wasn’t born with a family full of connections inside the industry. In fact, Che recounted for me some of the jobs he had growing up before he first got signed by Teddy Riley.

“One summer back in Boston I worked managing a liquor store. That wasn’t the worst job I had but that was kind of a funny job because I was only 19 at the time and I wasn’t technically even supposed to be in a liquor store.”

We both laugh as if we are two old friends talking about the past, all the while Che’s accolades roll like the credits of a movie in my mind.

“As far as my worst job, in Boston they have these state jobs that are pretty terrible. Working for the city cleaning up shit on the side of the road and shit. I think in one summer I got stung by a bunch of bees and put my hand in some ammonia and all the skin fell off my hand. Stuff like that happened a lot so it was probably my worst job. That was when I was 15 or something.”

I think to myself how at 15-years-old I was still getting money from my grandfather to cut his lawn and I am quite positive that he had to mow the lawn again each time I left. I never got stung by a bee once.

Che continues…

“At that time music was still something I was passionate about but I never thought I could do it for a living. I didn’t have equipment yet and could only use equipment at the music store because it was all still really expensive - so music was still a fantasy.”

I ask him what he thinks about the changes that technology has brought to the industry and if making equipment cheaper and more easily accessible is necessarily a good thing.

“That’s the thing about technology, right? Everyone has their opinion on kids having cell phones and what technology is doing to kids. To me, technology and progress are inevitable. It’s happened throughout life - for better or for worse. I think it’s great that more people can have access to making music and it becomes cheap enough to start at a younger age, but at the same time it does that, the world becomes more saturated with music and not all of it is good. It can create a lot of noise and a lot of traffic that can distract from the people who have real talent. It might be harder to find those great artists with so much noise out there.”

“If you haven’t mastered [social media] yourself you need to align yourself with someone who has. If you want to be a performer or an artist in the entertainment industry you need to have a solution for that or have a team around you that can and then, on top of that, you need to master the art of networking.”

Trying to be all these things is a fool’s errand. Most artists I know would like to focus on creating things, not on learning how to tell clever anecdotes at parties. Still, getting in with the in-crowd is how you get people to pay attention to your work, and that’s what most of the artists I know also strive for - to have their work seen by as many people as possible. This dilemma is why Che wanted to start WRKSHP.

“It’s a music-based lifestyle company. The foundation of the company is music but it can do many things. It can be a clothing brand. It could be a film production company that makes documentaries, or films or animations. It could work with the Metaverse and NFTs. It’s what a music company in 2022 and beyond should be. Because music is much more than just the music. In 2022 you can’t rely solely on making a profit off of streaming your music. You’re going to have an extremely hard time if you do. So you need multiple income streams especially if you don’t have a catalog of music to help you generate revenue. WRKSHP will find the different points of monetization with music as the foundation.”

Che’s explanation of what WRKSHP actually does is intentionally vague. There is no reason to define what WRKSHP can and cannot help an artist with. It’s meant to be an incubator and facilitator for talent in whatever aspect they need. They remain undefinable in order to maintain infinite growth.

So why would a producer with as many connections in the industry want to move such a forward-thinking, ambitious company away from his home in Los Angeles to the heart of Detroit?

“Detroit is like a lot of places in the country where people think they need to leave in order to make it. They have a lot of talent but that talent makes them feel like they need to go to Nashville or Austin or New York or LA to make it. Even with the internet making it possible for people to create a following from inside their homes, there is still a belief that to be successful I need to leave my community - I need to leave my home. That just isn’t the case. Ya know, Detroit used to be a premiere city for arts and culture with Motown but when Motown left that sort of went away. But Detroit has always had a thriving art community, underground or not, it has always been there. There’s a swell of talent in Detroit that makes it extremely attractive for setting up shop there."

"When I was first asked if I would put an office in Detroit, I said that not only would I put an office in Detroit, I would put my headquarters in Detroit."

"I want to build an artist community where a thousand artists share information and resources. That to me… that’s powerful. That’s much more attractive to me than being in an over-saturated LA market.”

Placing WRKSHP’s home base in Detroit is an important next step in creating opportunities for Midwest artists. It has the ability to bring back the days of Motown and solidify the Midwest as a leader in the music industry. Their team is ready for the task. Detroit is ready for exposure. I hope the rest of the world is ready for what comes next.

Photos of WRKSHP's team were taken during our Visual Mission Statement video shoot. You can watch that and find more behind the scenes photos by following the links.

Written by:

Kalvin Lazarte

Photography by:

Xavier Cuevas

Photography by:

Clayborne Bujorian