I just did a swing of shows in New England with MC Observa and Coach K. While I was up there, the homie, DLabrie, out of Oakland had just finished doing a couple of shows in the area, and wanted to hop on some of our dates. Naturally, we made it happen. Crazily, our first show was randomly with another “tour” friend, Lejend, and his fiance, B-Marie out of Dallas.
After the show, we all crashed at my hotel room. I know cats are thinking, “Damn, y'all had all of those people in one hotel room?” The correct answer is yes, but there’s levels to it. The first level is that I upgraded my room to a two bedroom suite, and Observa canceled her room once I realized everyone was going to be crashing with me anyway. Second level is that when you’re touring, you have to save money anyway you can. If that means someone is sleeping on the floor, then that’s what it means.
At some point in wee hours of the morning, we started to reminisce and tell old tour stories. After all, I’ve been playing shows with Dlabrie since 2006; which means, we have a lot of fucking tales, and we love to debate about the them because we obviously have conflicting accounts.
One particular time though, we agreed on what happened, but we disagreed with the method. It was on one of the “Bring Your ‘A’ Game Tours,” a series I ran from 2005 to 2010. We played a couple of shows in Texas with a hip hop legend that will remain nameless.
After the Austin show, the legend walked up to my merch table, told me I was dope, and grabbed a CD. I said, “Hey bro, great show. That’ll be $10.” He put the CD down, said thanks, and moved on. DLabrie felt like I might’ve come off a little disrespectful in my delivery. Which in hindsight, maybe it was possible that how I said it was a little raw. In all fairness though, I was thrown the fuck off by dude just assuming that I setup and sat at this merch table just to give it away.
DLabrie also believed that I should have just given him a CD, because the cosign on social media could’ve meant much more than $10. I totally disagreed with that thinking. As a rule, I don’t give away merchandise at my shows. Why, you ask? Well, there are a lot, but here’s my top 6:
The exceptions to this rule are:
These are some of the rules that have allowed me to have a 17+ year career as a touring indie music artist. There are folks that have been in the business as long as I have that have a different approach that works for them, like DLabrie. Ultimately, you have to figure out what is best for you and your family. The only advice I would give when doing that is to think about your goals, the mind of your target fan base or buyer, and your annual bottom line.
This was a Public Service Announcement.
I just got back from my first Chinese tour, and it was awesome. So awesome that we’re going back in another 6 months, and plan to do so every half year thereafter; however, there a lot of things that I’ve learned - some from others before I came, and some I found out while I was there. I’m going to give you what I see as my top 5.
1. You have to get a Visa
In order to get into China, for any reason, you need a Visa. They have so many Visa types that it will send your head spinning. DO NOT TRY TO FILL OUT THE VISA APPLICATION ON YOUR OWN. I REPEAT. DO NOT. Instead hire a company that specializes in getting people Chinese Visas. I used a company called China Visa Atlanta. They were able to help me get a 10 year multiple-entry tourist Visa. It wasn’t even listed as a choice on the application.
2. Create a WeChat account
WeChat is China’s largest social media network. Everyone and every company uses WeChat to communicate. You can’t really do business with anyone if you don’t have it. Also, my family had WeChat so we can talk to each other through text and video and voice calls. You can also pay for things through WeChat.
3. Most transactions are digital
Most transactions in China are done via WeChat Pay or Alipay with your phone. In order to use them, you need a Chinese bank account, which, depending on the bank, isn't that hard to start. All you need is a Chinese address and phone number to open one. I used my hotel’s address and my buddy’s number. This is important because bank cards not issued by Mainland China banks won’t work; however, they can be used at most ATM’s to withdraw money. So if you’re not going to get a Chinese bank account, your best bet is to use cash.
4. Traveling China is fairly easy
Traveling China is a pretty clean cut deal. The subway system is great. They have Didi (China’s version of the Uber that could be downloaded from the Google Play or iPhone stores), and licensed taxis aren’t that expensive. Just about every sign has the English and Chinese spelling. People are also pretty helpful, but make sure you have VPN (virtual private network) to be able access your Google Translator because some still don’t speak and understand English well. They will also typically use a translator.So, for the most part, the dialogue will be typing your idea and showing each the translation. It’s weird at first, but gets to be an awesome experience.
The VPN also gets you access to other Google services (Google Maps specifically), Facebook, and Twitter, which are blocked. A great VPN to try is Turbo VPN. You can download it from your respective phone’s store before you get to China.
When traveling from city to city, make sure you use the high speed train or fly. We took the sleeper train from Shanghai to Guangzhou, and it was 16 hours of misery. The cabins are small with 6 beds set up bunk style. I was at the top, and couldn’t even sit up on my bed. Also, there’s really no room to do outside of the cabin to anything.
In contrast, the high speed train second class seats were spacious. There’s someone coming by the whole ride offering to sell drinks, food, and snacks -which aren’t expensive at all. I bought three beers for around 15 rmb, which isn’t even $2US.
5. Most music is free
Most music is legally free via streaming services, so there’s no need to buy them unless you have it on vinyl or cassette. Bring other merch like shirts. This was my first trip so this last point is mostly from talking to other artists; however, I did notice that the vast majority of folks that I came across listen to everything on their phones so there isn’t a need for CD’s really.
One last thing to note is that each city has it’s own identity. So what works in Shanghai may not pop in Beijing the same way; however, they love western music and are gracious to foreigners, in general.
The bottom line is that China is a massive place with a lot of people. There are lot of fans to be made, both native and foreign. So, work it, and get the best out of it.
I am highly competitive, but I'm quiet about it so most people don't know just how intense I am. Thanks being said, one of missions in life is to be considered one of the greatest artistic minds ever...not in hip hop...ever. I want colleges to teach classes on my art when I'm gone.
Another one of my goals is to be a path creator for real independents. You know the cats that are finding everything out of their pockets, and don't have major backed indie label pushing them.
My last mission is to push other indie artists to go harder than I am, which will inspire me to go harder than them. This should create a healthy “one up” on each other that will end in success for all.
Prime example, one time a homie suggested that we should pool our resources to push each others albums. I thought that was a dope idea, but he suggested that we should put his project at the forefront. I thought it was a terrible idea. Lol. His thinking was that, even though I tour more and have a bigger fanbase, he had two albums almost ready. I couldn't argue with that.
To remedy this, I went home, and ordered a USB mic off of Amazon. I transformed one of the closets in my apartment to a mic booth, and over the next 30 days I recorded 52 songs - 15, of which, I did while dealing with a major bout of pneumonia. I designed the covers for my next four projects, and wrote scripts for the music videos. I figured my guy would get the picture and show that he could book a tour on his own, and launch this friendly rivalry; however….
I wanted a rival. I wanted someone that could push me to push them to push me. I wouldn’t tell them that they were. I wouldn’t even openly treat them like they were, but, when I’m at home working, I’d check their tour schedules and new projects everyday. For a while, I had no one to check for. No one that I saw as a true indie artist sparked that fire in me...until they did.
Over the past four or five years, I've had the pleasure to come across some talented, hardworking, and visionary indie artists that inspire me to push past my limits. They got me to Ireland. They got me to write and produce my film. They're getting me to China. They forced me to get back to touring regularly again. They’re inspiring me to release a song a month for the next three years. I'm back to falling asleep in front of my computer, because of them.
That being said, I want them to succeed and achieve all of their dreams, and truly love each one of these cats from afar.
Marcel P Black, Jay DaSkreet, DLabrie, Ghost Dog aka Derek Thomas, Big Lo, Lejend, Symmatree aka Troy Baham, Jr. C.Shreve The Professor aka Chris Shreve, Yamin Semali
I want to thank y'all for going hard, family.
Quanstar aka Black da Vinci
Being an independent musician is tough. Many artists shoulder the creative and financial burden in the quest to achieve their dreams. Publicity, booking, marketing, and sales are areas that the average artist must take a crash course in to even be able to function on the most miniscule level; however, in learning all of these things you realize that there’s not enough time to do them yourself, and you don’t have the money to hire someone to do them for you. I know this because I’ve been there. I am an independent artist, a business owner, a college student, a father, and a husband. The two things I don’t have are time and money; however, I’ve learned how to leverage the little time I do have with these 3 cost effective tools:
I came across Bandcamp about 5 or 6 years ago. It is a customizable online storefront. The normal account costs nothing upfront to set up or upload music, but they do take a percentage of digital sales on their website. It starts at 15% and slides down to 10% if you made at least $5000 in the past 12 months.
Some of the features they offer are:
Hootsuite and Buffer
Social media is the new street promotion. Artists that don’t believe that are delusional, but posting to each of these accounts separately is time consuming and frustrating. Well, that’s fixed. Buffer and Hootsuite are social media management systems that allow you post to all your accounts at once. Both have free options, but, if you want to really get the best out of them, it’s better to get the monthly subscription. Both start at $10.
You can link your Twitter, Facebook profiles and pages, LinkedIn, Google+, and Instagram accounts to both. Buffer also does Pinterest; however, there is a Hootsuite plugin called Tailwind that allows you to post to Pinterest also.
Features offered by both:
There used to be nothing worse than people coming up to my merch table after rocking a show, and asking if I took cards. Luckily that doesn’t happen anymore because I have PayPal Here, which is a free app that turns my cell phone and tablet into a point of sale register. They‘ll also send a free card reader that plugs into your headphones jack. There’s no monthly fee, even though, they charge a processing fee for each transaction.
Some of PayPal Here’s features are:
On November 24th I call my two oldest sons, JJ (9) and Jemal (5), into the living room. I ask them what they know about Mike Brown. They both say that he was killed by the police, but that’s all they know. So I give them the points that matter:
One of them then asked, “Why did he shoot him?”
“I have no clue,” I replied. “In a few minutes, they are going to have a press conference to tell us if they are going to charge the police officer with a crime. Did you guys want to look at it?”
They both said yes. At around 9:30, the wife turns to CNN, and we sit there watching the talking heads go back and forth with Anderson Cooper about absolutely nothing. They speculate about what’s going to happen while, at the same time, telling everyone to not speculate about the outcome. By the way, one of my next articles is going to be about how I hate TV news.
Finally, at 10:15 pm, Prosecutor Robert McCulloch comes out and holds a 20-30 minute press conference telling everyone in the world that we were stupid, the press is to blame, and Officer Wilson was justified to kill Mike Brown. In other words, there won’t be a trial. In between, my wife has a look of disbelief and anger on her face. JJ kept saying that, “He’s not saying anything.” I felt neither.
The truth is that I would have been surprised if Darren Wilson had been charged. The fact it took so long to “investigate and present” told me that something was funny; however, even if it did, I was very skeptical of the outcome, e.g., Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant.
My wife and I talked a little about it, I checked the Facebook timeline, unfriended a couple of folks for saying stupid shit, and then I worked on the script for my next film. While doing all of this, something else was bothering me, but I couldn't put my finger on it. The next day it was much of the same, and now I was getting seriously irritated. Have you ever had an itch in the middle of your back, and, no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't get your hand to the spot to scratch it? That fucking itch lasted for 2 more days.
Then, as I’m cutting the Brussels sprouts in half so that they can marinate for a while in time to be sauteed for our Thanksgiving Day feast, it came to me. In the midst of all of this anger, all of this pain, and all of this mistrust for each other; In the middle of Liberals and Conservatives battling through social media, while Blacks and Whites flee to familiar corners and arguments; With protesters in Ferguson feeling that their efforts were in vain; All of this is going on and no one has said what all of this shit is really about...precedent.
The precedent of a police officer being able to shoot an unarmed person in broad daylight, in front of witnesses, from 148 feet away, call it a justifiable homicide, and not be charged. People: this is not a Black or White issue. This is something more heinous and calculating. This is about our inevitable transition to the Police State. I know I sound crazy to you. Shit I sound crazy to me.
However, the days and nights that immediately followed the killing of Mike Brown is evidence of this in the footage of the Ferguson Police Department in full military gear (minus the tanks) accosting both peaceful protesters and the press who were there covering the story. It seemed like something that would be off of the front of the World section of The Wall Street Journal happening in a far off third world dictatorship. I sat watching videos posted by folks there on the front lines, wondering how in the hell could this happen in America and how did Ferguson get this equipment? Why is it that no one’s said anything about this? Then I Googled it and realized they had.
According to a June 8th New York Times Article, The Department of Defense has been supplying military grade equipment to Police Departments all over the country. Things like mine resistant armored vehicles, M-16’s, and silencers are what they’re going to be using to “serve and protect”.
By the way, most of these places that are buying this stuff from the government are suburbs, so if you think that “Black Thugs” from the ghetto are the only ones being affected by this, then you may need to rethink your position.
Wise the fuck up folks!
I'm not going to lie, it's been very hard to process the Michael Brown killing as a man (not just a Black one), a father (not just a Black one), and an artist; however, thanks to Killa Mike's interview on The Breakfast Club, it's even harder to process as an American citizen. I won't recap it because it would do his words a huge disservice, but one of the things that he basically pointed out is that we, as Americans, should be grateful, protective, and appreciative of the rights that are afforded to us by the US Constitution.
Fast forward a couple of days...
The wife and the kids are off to bed, and I'm hoping to be there soon also. So I wind down with my last bottle of Shock Top and music from the great Afro-French composer and violinist, Le Chevalier Saint-Georges. Then Mike Bigga's words echoed in the corner of my mind, “All of our rights are effected”.
Suddenly I changed from chilling out and getting ready for bed to stimulating my mind so that I can write this article while I still have the bug. First, I took the rest of my beer to the head, and then switched from my Saint-Georges playlist to my Beethoven one that began with “Moonlight Sonata.”
I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and imagine the words forming into sentences as I attempt to explain my Killa Mike inspired view on what's going down in Ferguson, which isn't that hard really. The challenge for me is to express to suburban America (not just White Folks) how the series of events inspired by a Black kid from the hood being executed by a police officer in the broad day affects them also. I have to figure out how to convince them that law enforcement agencies with military grade equipment at their disposal is a threat to all of our civil liberties. That what happened in Ferguson can and will happen in Glendale if we don't stand together and draw the line in the sand now.
So I decided to take them on a history lesson.
After 9/11, everyone was clamboring for answers and protection. So Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner introduced a bill that was designed to “strengthen” national security. On Oct 24th, 2001, The House passed the Act 357 to 66, and The Senate passed it the next day 68 to 1. This is how The Patriot Act became law.
There have been parts of this law disputed...and rewritten...and ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court; however, the fact remains that The Patriot Act, in its most stripped down form, altered our basic civil rights afforded to us by The United States Constitution.
Think about this: It is now legal to intercept your communications without a court order. This includes hardline and cell communications, voicemails, emails, and your social media accounts. They can get your login times on your computer from your ISP.
It gives the already powerful National Security Letter even more. An NSL is a demand for the release of information and paperwork related to a person under investigation. Under The Patriot Act, an NSL can be issued for US citizens and contains a gag order. This means that you won't know that you're under investigation, and, if you do find out that you are, you can't talk to anyone about it. All of this could be done without any kind of judicial review or probable cause.
All in all, the Patriot Act is over 300 pages of complex jargon that threatens many of our civil liberties afforded by The Constitution. You would think that there would be countless hours of debate and philabustering on the floors of Congress. In reality, this law passed in 48 hours. The House passed it with 357 votes, and the Senate only had 1 vote against. Thank God for Russ Feingold.
Here's the kicker. The general public, still spooked about the destruction of the Twin Towers, embraced The Patriot Act. Congress' and the President's approval ratings went up almost instantly. Yeah, there were opponents that brought up how unconstitutional the law was, many were the politicians that voted for it; however, the damage was already done, and, even with the Supreme Court ruling parts of The Patriot Act unconstitutional, American citizens gave up their right to privacy.
Still the vast majority of Americans didn't seem to care about it because we were fighting a “war on terror.” After all, the Patriot Act was meant to protect us and catch terror cells before they attacked. “We're law abiding American citizens, not terrorists. They won't check our emails, and listen in on our phone calls.” Then we found out they did.
Last year, The Guardian published an article on how the NSA had been collecting the daily phone records of millions of Verizon customers that make calls in the US or between the US and other countries. From the court order, it seemed that it had been happening for a while and renews every 90 days, and that it was a bulk collection. Also, from the general language, many believed that the same order was issued to Sprint, AT&T, and other carriers operating or doing business on American soil. Additionally, it has since been revealed that the Feds monitor Facebook pages, phish accounts through email to gain access to cameras and listening devices on computers, and who knows what else.
Now everyone is up in arms attempting to invoke their Right to Privacy, conveniently ignoring that 13 years ago, our country gave that up because they thought it would stop “terrorists,” aka Middle Eastern Muslims.
Fast forward to now...
There are a lot of people in this country who have sided with the police officer who shot and killed the unarmed Michael Brown. Why? One can only assume. Maybe they’re unconditional supporters of the police. Maybe they are anti-smoking lobbyist that didn't appreciate him purchasing that box of cigars. Maybe they believe that walking in the middle of the street should be a capital crime. Or maybe...just maybe, they don't see an issue with the police killing a Black teenager.
Whatever the reason, I would say to those people, beware the day that your son is shot while in a surrender position. Fear that when you protest, your suburban police department will happily whip out their military equipment purchased from our very own Department of Defense. Know they will fire on the crowd, at reporters, at other residents just standing outside of their home, and accuse them of being the aggressor when all accounts prove that they are not. Understand that they will disgrace and defame your son with false truths and straight out lies. Watch and listen as radio hosts and news shows help them. Believe that your elected officials, from the president (did lowercase on purpose) down to your mayor, will do nothing to stop this atrocity. Then think about how you'll feel when there are people donating millions of dollars to your child's killer to show their support.
Then think back to that month in Ferguson, Missouri when you could've taken a stand to uphold the rights that are afforded to all Americans by The US Constitution.
My Thursdays usually consist of waking up at 6:30 am to get Jemal dressed for school, then walking him there with my youngest, Jamen, on my shoulders.
When I get back home, I make Jamen breakfast, turn on Nick Jr, pour myself a cup of coffee, start up the laptop, and begin the business of the day (booking shows, returning emails, blasting to blogs, going over marketing plans). In between all of this, Jamen and I go over ABC’s, read books, play Pokemon, and I lay him down to nap.
By 2 in the afternoon, my wife is home from work, and it’s my turn to go. I’m a manager in the service industry so you can imagine how that is. A whole lot of hustling, smiling, and not enough thank you’s most of the time. On this particular day every week, we get our order in, so I have to oversee getting it unpacked and put away.
I usually leave the job around 11:00 pm, go home, and continue to work on the business of the day til at least 3 in the morning (sometimes overnight). Then I wake up and do it all over again.
No big deal, right? I’m just doing what many people in this world are doing, especially indie artists and musicians like myself who are working hard to make their dreams a reality while living in real life.
What if I told you that while doing all of this, I am clinically depressed?
For those who may not fully know or understand what depression is, imagine feeling like you have a permanent hole in your stomach that is trying to expand throughout your body. Now picture the amount of energy and will that it takes to fight the emptiness from spreading. Feel how exhausting it is. Then think about doing that every day, all day.
Each one of those daily tasks is a mental journey of self doubt to affirmations, but I do them because I know that I have to. I am a father, a husband, and an independent artist. Responsibilities come with each. Sadly though, that’s not enough to keep fueling the ongoing fight waging in my head.
Without casting judgement on anyone that does, I don’t believe in taking medication to help with my depression. For me (reiterating the FOR ME), it would be admitting that I don’t have the self control and discipline to overcome. Besides, there’s a reason for everything. Maybe the depression is preparing me for something that’s going to require me to be mentally tough.
Maybe that thing is fatherhood.
Maybe it’s marriage.
Lord knows that the music industry requires intellectual durability.
So I embrace my depression. I might even go so far as to call it a blessing. Approaching it this way has allowed me to analyze it without panicking, then come up with a few unique ways of dealing with it:
Always look at the bigger picture.
For me, the easiest way to sink emotionally is to live in the moment because that’s when everything goes wrong. Some examples that have sent my plane crashing in the past are:
Keep my emotions in check.
I probably should have put this first. It’s definitely the hardest and most important of the three. Even though most people can’t tell, I’m always a broken egg away from breaking down. Literally, I could spill a cup of juice on the floor, and trigger a crying episode. Over the years though, I’ve trained myself to look at the solution with logic. In other words, rather than focus on the fact that the floor is a mess, I think about what I need to do to clean it up.
Another thing that I’ve found helpful is to smile as much as I can. When I act happy, I tend to become happier. Sounds crazy and overly simple, but it works.
Imagine the worst that can happen.
Let’s say my album isn’t ready in time for its original release date.
Here’s what I imagine:
Producers will probably get pissed off and take back the track they gave me, the promoters and clubs will cancel my tour dates, my fans will stop listening to my music, and other artists may refuse to work with me because they view me as unreliable.
Here’s what really happens:
I’m not writing this for you to feel sorry for or relate to me; instead, I want to give you perspective. Despite my condition, I manage to be a dedicated father, a loyal husband, a hard working employee, a driven artist, and an entrepreneur. I’ve released 13 albums, a documentary, a book, and currently working on a series of short films. I’ve booked, planned and promoted my own national tours. I am my own manager, publicist, creative director, investor, and executive producer.
If I can do all of this with what I go through, then most you should have no apprehensions. Excuses are over people. Go get it!
I’m sitting on a Megabus right now on my way to a show. How did I get here? Well, my dude that I usually perform with, Evaready RAW, has to work. My wife needs our car to transport my 3 children around, and, as you all should know by reading my posts, I’m a determined dude. So I went to www.us.megabus.com and copped a ticket from ATL to Charlotte for $12. The Charlotte to Raleigh (where the show actually is) Megabus wouldn’t work because it would get there after the show; so my DJ, Coach K (who lives in Greenwood, South Carolina) is going to scoop me up on his way to Charlotte. After we perform, he’s going to drop me back off in Charlotte to catch the 6:45 am Megabus back to Atlanta.
This got me thinking, am I unique?
Maybe I’m ego tripping. Actually I’m pretty sure I am; however, that doesn’t mean my uniqueness isn’t true. I have a belief that when I choose to do or commit to something I have an obligation to do everything in my power to ensure that I will see it through. This is true with my music career, my job, and my family life.
Even still, with doing everything in my power, I often fail to achieve exactly what I was aiming for. In failure, though, I’m satisfied that I’ve exhausted all avenues and alleys available to me. Then, I rethink my strategy and go after it again, whatever it may be.
As indie artists, any level of success is due to going the extra mile and doing what the others won’t, can’t, or haven’t thought about doing yet. It is a forever turning carousel of ideas, work ethic, and execution, with the most important being the middle. Failing is part of the process, but quitting is a bunch of bull shit.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.