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:
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.
A couple of weeks ago I played a show to 7 people...yep, 7 people. Let me rewind a little. I have a tour series called “The Just Bust Tour." What we do is book shows all over with local, regional, and national talent. The purpose is to get independent music in front of crowds that would love it, and present it to them in the right way, as a show with great performances, DJ’s spinning, and dancers (coming soon).
On most occasions, I book 3 shows, then come home and insert myself back into husbandry, fatherhood, and mindless employment. This time, however, there was a little hiccup in the plans. One show fell through, and the other was cancelled. With three weeks to go, that left just the final show, which was 9 hours away. Driving that far for one show was possible, but tough. Very tough. So what would be the logical thing to do?
Right off the bat, one would think to try to reschedule the show; however, with not much time left, it would be pretty hard for the venue and promoter to find another act to book in time. This could have several negative consequences. The most critical of which being that we wouldn’t get a show through that promoter or venue in that city again.
Also, I’d already spent money on flyers and posters. Besides, we’ve played this particular place on more than one occasion, and averaged between 70 to 100 people a show. So there was no reason to think it would be different; however, it was. By the time of the show, which was around midnight, there were 7 paying people who'd come through the door.
Now, I could’ve pulled the “ungrateful artist” role that many indies tend to use as their default and argue with the promoters and ask them now useless questions like:
I chose not to, though. Instead, I stayed smiling and professional, conducting myself the same as if the spot was packed to capacity. Went on stage, rocked our set, and thanked everyone for coming to see us. The promoters came to apologize for the turn out. I told them, “It’s cool, you win some and lose some. We’ll both make sure that it’s a better a show next time." The owner of the spot then came up to me, and said, “I don’t know why the crowd was so thin tonight. I’m sorry. You guys were awesome as usual." Then he gave me money from the bar’s cash register to help cover our expenses, even though we were supposed to have just gotten a cut of the door. That covered our gas up to the show and back home. If I would have acted an ass, I would've walked away with a loss.
The moral of the story is that the professional artist always trumps the asinine artist in the long term.
The other day, I’m having this random conversation with this kid (20 year old, which is a kid to me) when he started talking about how he is overworked. After a couple more sentences, I realized that overworked to him meant that he worked 35 hours/week, and, therefore, found it hard to do anything on his off days because he was tired. By the way, before you start thinking that he had a high pressure work environment, he doesn’t. He works at a cafe, during the slow time.
Amused, I shared my life at his age with him thinking that I could give him some perspective. I told him that I was in school (officially though not literally), worked two jobs, paid my own, and was on the train. By the time I was 22, I’d started my first business while still having two jobs. Deciding to take my passion for hip hop to a professional level at 23. About how I’ve slept an average of 4 hours/day since. I even added a couple of cliches like:
“Work now, rest when you’re dead.”
All dude had to say was, “Damn man, if I don’t get at least 8 hours of sleep I’d really be out of it.” At least 8 hours? I also forgot to tell you that this guy isn’t in school, lives with his parents, and doesn’t even have a car note. Sleep should be the last thing on his mind.
Why would I think that he would be any different than what he was? After all, we live in the world of instant information at the touch of a phone, helicopter parents that hover around their kids continuously from birth until college graduation, bully laws that expel children from school districts because they called another child names, being rewarded for being especially mediocre so feelings and self esteem are intact, and becoming famous for doing stupid shit in a video on Youtube.
We are robbing the younger generation of the most precious human ability: To learn from and overcome adversity.
I love the NFL. Not “paint my face and yell obscenities in the freezing cold with my shirt off” love it, but you know... I’m black, and we don’t do that (unless we’re in Oakland). A few Sundays ago, I had the privilege to witness the post-game speech from Chuck Pagano.
For those who don’t follow the NFL, Chuck Pagano is the first year head coach of the Indianapolis Colts who was diagnosed with Leukemia, and was on a leave of absence from the team to get chemotherapy. The previous year, the team went 2-14, and this year, at the halfway point, they’re already 5-3. For whatever reason, today he decided to join the team and made an impassioned soliloquy after a win over the Miami Dolphins that I felt blessed and honored to have had the opportunity to listen to during a highlight reel.
The part that had me at hello (Jerry Maguire reference) was at the beginning:
“I mentioned before the game that you guys were living in a vision, and that you weren’t living in circumstances. Cause you know where they had us in the beginning. Every last one of them, but you refused to live in circumstances. You decided consciously as a team and a family to live in a vision. And that’s why you bring things home like you brought home today. That’s why you’re already champions, and well on your way....”
It brought me to tears, and inspired me to think about my life.
By the beginning of 2005, I was a beast. I’d just dropped my first solo project, “Sometimes You Gotta Stand Alone,” and was touring like a mad man. In the process, I discovered that it was easier to book a tour when it had a title to it, so I created “The Bring Your ‘A’ Game Tour Series.” I touted it as the fastest growing Indie Hip Hop Tour in the country, which may or may not have been true.
Twice a year, I (along with my compadres, Evaready RAW and DJ Metrognome) would load up in the car and travel from city to city rocking crowds. For over two years, it was great. It was more than great. Then 2008 arrived, and the bottom fell out.
Here’s what happened:
Lori (now my wife) and I, after working together for almost a year, became a couple. Then shortly after our declaration for one another, I left our job for what I perceived to be a better opportunity only to be told after a month and a half that the company was closing...so I was unemployed. Also, we found out Lori was pregnant with my second child, Jemal. On top of that, my documentary, “Dot It!: A Documentary” (look it up on Amazon) was set to drop. The real kicker happened when the economy reset (or so they would have liked us to think).
People were losing jobs, and settling for shitty underpaying ones. Pensions were being reevaluated because companies couldn’t afford to keep paying them out. 401K’s were diminishing in value because the stock market was down. Homes were being foreclosed on. Our entire financial system was going through the ringer. What did that mean for me?...No shows, and the ones that were there were for 50%-70% less than before.
See ,you have to understand something: We as entertainers are an accessory to people’s lives, meaning that we are a nonessential component in the everyday world of the average person. Our music may nourish the soul, but, last I checked, the body needs food and drink. If someone had the choice of feeding their family, keeping their house and car, and paying bills I would hope that they’d have chosen that over a show or CD featuring their favorite artist named Quanstar.
Luckily (or unluckily if you were me), they did so.
So where I went next was to that familiar place that we all go to at one time or another...“Doing what I gotta do.” What I had to do is get some money, and to get money I got another job that wasn’t as flexible as the one that Lori and I had. It didn’t even pay as much. So my situation was the same as before.
Still, I kept the faith...or did I?
During this tumultuous year, I released “Do It!: A Documentary” and got it screened at several colleges around the country; however, I didn’t have enough funds to actually travel there with the movie. I had planned to rent out a local independent theatre to screen the film, but it costs money. Not much, but more than I had (which was none). I didn’t even have the funds to enter it into many film festivals.
Why was money so low?
I would like to blame it on my shitty job, but, to tell the truth, my jobs never paid my bills. They were basically there for healthcare for myself and Jr (my oldest son), and to be that financial stopgap when I’m not on the road; however, the bulk of my bills, daycare for Jr, and rent was basically paid for through me performing. I’d all but stopped doing that.
Why did I stop performing?
Simply put, I was gun shy.
Here’s the truth about being an indie artist...it’s a hard lifestyle, especially the way I chose to handle my career. I:
I performed these tasks on three to four hours sleep while maintaining full time employment. I loved every minute of it though, because I was in charge of my destiny. All I had to do was stay the course and be patient. I hit bumps. I ran into walls. So what? I got up, dusted myself off, and kept it moving. If rent got into the way of the studio or funding my tour, rent had to wait. Then came kids.
Already grinding harder than most in my position, when my first son was born I’d bestowed so much pressure onto myself to succeed that I don’t know how I functioned properly. I’d made it my mission to show him that a man could do anything he chose, as long as he was willing to commit to it. So I recorded more songs, booked more tours, and slept even less.
I was so intense and intent on achieving all of my life’s visions that I stopped enjoying being an artist as much. I became almost completely task oriented. I’d give myself four months to book a tour, six months to drop an album, etc. This in itself wasn’t a bad thing, but every time one those tasks didn’t pan out I found myself feeling like I let down my son.
In ‘08, that feeling had become a daily thing. The economy had me in a fucked up situation. Then when Lori became pregnant, the pressure doubled. I’d never been so depressed and scared. Rather than coming to bed I’d stay up all night working, often times falling asleep at the computer or while writing a song. My migraines became so frequent that I’d go through a bottle of Excedrin in a couple of weeks. I was up to 3 or 4 pots of coffee a day, and as a direct result from the combination of the medicine, coffee, and the stress that I put on myself I started throwing up blood.
No money coming in from music, bad health, a second kid on the way, and depression. It became too much to deal with so I shut down. Well maybe not shut down, but I stopped taking chances. In the past, if my transportation and stay was supplied, I was there. I would depend on my hustle to pay the bills. I’d stay up all night, walk the streets, and flirt and talk to whoever I needed to in order to sell those CD’s. I’d sell them for $10, $7, $5, $3, and sometimes even $2. I didn’t care. My objective was to get rid of all of my inventory, and come home with whatever I needed to pay my bills.
Most of the time it worked like a charm, but not all the time. It was that “not all of the time” that had me hesitant. There were points, no matter how hard I hustled, where I’d come home with empty pockets to bills on their last notice, frantically calling around to borrow money to cover my losses. With the economy the way it was, I’d trembled at the thought of those few moments turning into a trend. I felt that I had too much to lose to allow this to happen. So I decided to rethink my situation and come up with a new strategy, a better strategy.
I spent weeks redeveloping my plan to not rely on the slumping touring market. I thought and wrote. Reevaluated and reconfigured until I came up with something that helped bring more balance. Thankfully, by the time Jemal was born I felt I did that, and over the last four years, I am proud to say that I’d been working hard to make that plan a reality.
I’ve released four albums, authored a book, and begun designing Android Apps for other artists. It was still a complete failure. I have yet to recapture all of the success that I’d experienced before the economy reset of 2008 because I took the most vital part of my marketing plan out of my repertoire...touring.
Nothing that I could come up with would replace the face to face interaction or pure showmanship of a Quanstar performance. I couldn’t inspire a person’s purchasing impulses. I couldn’t sit down and have a shot with them while talking to them about buying my new album. I couldn’t listen to them tell me about the first hip hop album they ever bought or concert they went to. I didn’t give them the opportunity to tell me about the artists they would love to see me on tour with, or who they reminded me of. In short, I allowed my circumstances to dictate my vision and give it a complete makeover.
I made myself believe it was for my own good, but was it really? Even though I was receiving royalty checks and doing one off dates (shows that are booked one date a time for the layman) I still don’t make much more money, my health is still pretty bad, I don’t sleep much, and the pressure of raising sons (now 3) often feels like I’m carrying a 2 ton weight.
So after deep contemplation and weighing all of the pros and cons it pains to come to the revelation that it’s time to hang it up. I’ve decided to retire. I’m done! I want to spend my remaining years on this earth enjoying it.
I hope ya’ll don’t believe that shit!
See you in 2013 because I’m back on the touring grind. “It’s about damn time!” (In my Lebron James voice).
The other day, I saw the first episode HBO’s Newsroom which is created by the brilliant Aaron Sorkin. For those that don’t know him, I’m sure you know some, if not all, of his works: A Few Good Men, West Wing (my personal favorite), Charlie Wilson’s War, Social Network, Moneyball, etc, etc. This might just be the most brilliant of them all.
Even though I just did, I’m not writing this article to tell you how great he is and highlight his resume. It was more about the Newsroom, or more accurately, the first 10 minutes. Here’s the scene:
Will McAvoy is an anchor on an imaginary show called “News Night”. He is on a political panel at a random college, sitting in between a liberal and conservative arguing with each other about the same shit liberals and conservatives argue over all of the time...everything.
The camera focuses in on him, and, to be honest, he looks like he’s about to have a panic attack. The fade out, he looks into the audience, and as they fade back in the moderator asks if he has anything to add. He replies, “I think we need a more precise definition of perverted”. Crowd laughs.
The moderator then points to the next person to ask a question, ask McAvoy if he is a conservative, liberal, or independent. McAvoy, intending not to offend or take sides with anyone, states that he is a New York Jets fan. Crowd laughs.
The moderator mentions how he always avoids a political allegiance, and asks if it’s because he feels that his integrity as a broadcaster will be compromised? He replies, “It sounds like a good answer”. Crowd laughs.
The moderator tries to press him a little further to find out which side he leans towards to no avail, then moves to the next question.
Enter: The Sophomore Jenny
Her question to the panel is, “Can you say why America is the greatest country in the world?”
The liberal says, “Diversity and opportunity”.
The conservative says, “Freedom and freedom, so let’s keep it that way”.
Mr McAvoy says, “The New York Jets”.
The moderator won’t let him get off that easy this time, and tells him that he needs a legitimate answer. After a little positioning of his words to agree with the conservative and liberal, he then drops a bomb (after brief pause) while being badgered to give an answer.
“It’s not the greatest country in the world Professor, that’s my answer”.
The moderator tries to confirm what he said, and McAvoy confirms. Then continues to go on this rampage where he tells the liberal that the reason that no one likes liberals is because they always lose, and mocks the conservative for talking about freedom is what makes this country great because over 180 countries have the same thing.
He then goes in on Jenny The Sophomore or as he refers to her, “Sorority Girl”.
“There is no evidence that supports the fact that we are the greatest country in the world. We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-seventh in life expectancy, one hundred and seventy-eighth in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories:
Then he scolds her and all of the students that are there to see him by yelling, in the best bitter old man voice that has, that they are part of the worst generation ever. The auditorium is silent.
He then starts part 2 of his monologue by saying, “It sure used to be. We stood up for what was right. We fought for moral reasons. We passed laws, struck down laws for moral reasons. We raged wars on poverty not poor people. We sacrificed. We cared about our neighbors. Put our money where our mouths were, and we never beat our chests. We built big things. Made ungodly technological advances. Explored the universe. Cured diseases, and we cultivated the world’s greatest artists and the world’s greatest economy. We reached for the stars. Acted like men. We aspired to intelligence, we didn’t belittle it. It didn’t make us feel inferior. We didn’t identify ourselves by who we voted for in the last election and we didn’t scare so easy. We were able to do all of these things and be all of these things because we were informed. By great men. Men were revered.
First step in solving any problem is by recognizing there is one. America is not the greatest country in the world anymore”.
In my opinion, the most powerful first eight minutes of a first episode of any show that I’ve ever seen. It made my mind stir and wonder. I saw the argument. I felt his pain and anguish. I understood what was going on in his head, and I knew why he did it.
Then I asked myself...what have I written to inspire that emotion in people?
Does my music, blogs, films, or books inspire people to think about anything other than what they are watching, listening to, or reading by me? I wish it does. Now I’m not of the mindsight that everything that I ever write will be this Shakespearean Masterpiece. I know too many people that try to get deep everytime that lay something, and, to tell the truth, it wears me out to have to listen to that all day. Besides, if you’re trying to be deep all of the time, are really doing it for the right reasons? I mean are promoting thought because you are sincere, or are you doing it so that everyone can say how thought provoking you are?
I’ve been on both sides of that mirror. I’ve written songs on subjects that made me cry while writing them; however, I’ve also written shit for the sake of my own self assurance through the eyes and ears of my listeners. That becomes addictive...and dangerous.
People are influenced, and when I say people I mean everyone. No ideas are completely original and most behavior is learned. The clothes we wear, the computers we own, and the type of phone that we talk on was inspired by something or someone.
Even emotions are at the behest of the influencer. Brooklyn Nets forward Kris Humphries was booed in almost every arena he played in last season because he was being divorced by Kim Kardashian. Biggie and Tupac had entire coasts beefing with each other. Radio commentators, like Rush Limbaugh, influence Republican party policy through his listeners. Dave Chappelle had every White kid in America claiming they were “Rick James Bitch!”
So the question remains..do I inspire people, and, if I do:
I would like to have a positive impact. To think that my words are a call to action for most people. Enlighten them to whatever was in my heart and compelled me to create, and hopefully find their own meaning through what I’ve presented to them.
With all of the information that floats and flows on the 24 hour cycle, who knows whether the things that I put out influence people to do anything but listen, read, or watch my projects. All I can say is that I put my all into it, and will continue to do so until I feel that I’m no longer influenced by myself. At that moment, it would be time to go to Las Vegas and drink myself into oblivion.
What's up indiehiphop101ers. Ghani Gautama here, founding member of Street Temple Emcees, one fourth of United Underworld, one half of Salty Dogs and your sister's favorite hip hop vagabond. Quanstar was kind enough to have me come do a guest article so here it goes...
In September of 2010 I moved from Atlanta, GA (my home for 10 years) to Charlotte, NC. It was a business and personal move and in my short in my new digs (9 months as of writing this) I've been able to keep my show schedule full, acquire professional management and secure a venue that allows me to throw my own monthly events. All of this in addition to maintaining my obligations to my Atlanta cohorts. None of this was by accident. I took some very teachable steps to make this so and I'd like to take this chance to share some tips with you.
There's a lot of reasons and they will differ from artist to artist. Perhaps it's a personal move or an opportunity to conquer a new market. Whatever the reason, it is important to remember that it can be either a disaster or a victory and this all depends on your attitude. Even if it's not an outright business move, if you approach it as an opportunity, it can become a beneficial move. These five tips worked for me and I am confident if you follow them you too can orchestrate a successful relocation.
ONE) Don't Look Back In Anger
One of the factors that went into my decision was the saturation of hip hop acts in Atlanta. A lot of artists go to music hot beds (like I did in Atlanta) to get their careers off of the ground. This can be a good idea, there are lots of opportunities and connections to be made but it also puts you in a BIG pond with a lot of even BIGGER fish. In my case I felt that I had done all that I could in Atlanta without conjuring up some magic money to throw at the situation. Regardless of your reasons for leaving, NEVER and I repeat NEVER do so bitter. Make sure you thank everyone who's helped and supported you while you were in your old location and keep in touch with them. It's easy to say "this town sucks," flip a bird and ride off into the sunset but you will at the same time alienate and anger a city full of supporters (and potential supporters) and severely limit your chances of coming back. If you look at your move as a new beginning and not as an ending it will help you project this positive attitude.
TWO) The Three R's: Research, Reach Out and Reciprocate
Okay, so you've decided to move you know the location, what now? First thing is hit the internet. RESEARCH venues and promoters in the area and see what acts are active on the scene. Then go onto your social networks and REACH OUT to artists that you like and who are doing things that you want to get involved with. Reverbnation.com is a good tool for this. When you contact artists, be sure not to approach them with a hat-in-hand attitude, let them know who you are, give them links to your music and ask them if they have any advice they can give you for breaking into the scene. If you followed tip one you should still have you contact from your last place of residence so offer to set them up with shows down there if they would like. It's tempting to ask them to put you on, but trust me if you have what it takes the shows will come. Artists are busy with their own stuff, if you bring something to the table you put yourself in a position to be viewed as a peer and not some new jack with his hand out. Once you get this info start going out and supporting these people. You can't ask them to help you if you won't support them. Keep showing your face and eventually you'll get your shot and when that shot comes, RECIPROCATE, don't make people regret helping you because the news that you're an ingrate will travel fast and your opportunities will dry up even faster. I'd also recommend adding a fourth "R," RESPECT, this goes for life in general but definitely applies here and should play heavily into the next step.
THREE) Killer Instinct
This is where things get good. You've been out to some events, shook hands, and maybe even got a few chances to shine on the mic. Now it's time to go for the gusto. When you're out at these shows supporting your fellow artists, keep a sharp eye and ear out for the movers and shakers on the scene. Introduce yourself to promoters and venue owners and don't be afraid to sell yourself. You might be new to the area but your entire body of work is your resume. Let them know what you've accomplished and that you are available to work. It's important to remember that these folks don't generally discuss business at shows so get their contact info and contact them through the channels which they prefer. I call it "killer instinct" because it is what sets amateur artists from pros and it's something that many don't possess. It is imperative that you conduct such conversations with confidence and professionalism so don't drink too much and watch your language. That being said don't be stiff or get too exited, as they say in sports, act like you've been there before. Approach these people in a way that reflects that you already have things going on and that if they pass on you someone else will jump at the chance to work with you. In sales they call this "fear of loss," in music you have to be a little more subtle in how you communicate it but the concept still applies. Knowing how to go for the "kill" and get your own events going will allow you to you to repay all the people who have helped you in your new city as well as provide new opportunities for your people back in your old city.
FOUR) Be Prepared
It's the Boy Scouts' motto but you should make it your own. Technology has made things extremely easy for hip hop musicians. I keep sets of 10, 15 and 20 minutes on the mp3 player in my phone and always carry a eighth inch to quarter inch audio cable and USB cable with me whenever I go out to anything. There's also a myriad of compact USB storage devices available so there's no excuse for being without your set, at the very least, burn a few CDs of different lengths and never leave home without them. You never know when an chance to play will fall in your lap and-especially when you're new to town-you never want to have to turn that chance down due to lack of preparation. I mean, really, a $10 jump drive that weighs less than an ounce can open so many doors.
FIVE) Humility, Humility, Humility
I say this thrice because it is that important. It is important to be confident, but never forget that the people who can help you the most have more than likely been building their business in the area for a long time. Even if it isn't the most crowded show or you don't get the best time slot, ALWAYS say thank you, not just on stage but in person at the show and again after the show by phone or e-mail. The same applies to your fellow artists, even if you don't personally care for their style of music, dap them up and tell them "good show." When people pay you compliments, look them in the eye and give them sincere humble thanks. This is always important but even more so when you're new in town. People are going to be more inclined to help a person who is humble and grateful more so than someone who isn't. It's also important to remember that whatever dues you paid in your old town don't mean anything in your new one so pay them with the same humility and vigor that you did back when you first started. Paying dues should actually be easier the second time around because you will have a clear cut strategy on how to move up in the game unlike when you were a young buck flying by the seat of your pants.
I hope this helps, it's important to note that there is no magic bullet to doing anything in this crazy business but these pointers helped me out a lot. My most recent relocation has been a swimming success and that is in no small part because I utilized all of these tips. If anyone out there has any more tips to add PLEASE post them in the comments.
Stay Thirsty My Friends,
Ghani Gautama firstname.lastname@example.org
A couple of years ago at The Hip Hop Congress Conference, I walked in on a few folks talking about what people at these conferences talk about:
"The State of Hip Hop and what we can do to save it."
Under normal circumstances, I'd immediately change course and run for shelter to protect myself from all of the bullshit that's being shot out of people's mouths; however, the conversation was taking place in the hotel room that I was staying in, and I was waiting for the pizza that I had ordered to be delivered. So, I found a seat on the other side of the room with the television and turned to ESPN.
I can't remember who the anchors were, but they seemed to keep me interested in the show enough to ignore most of the hullabaloo on the opposite side of the room despite the fact that The Lakers, Dodgers, Angels, USC, or Serena Williams weren't the constant topic. I mean, I still heard the usually blurt points like, "Hip Hop is dead" and "Kids listening to Hip Hop nowadays don't know the histrory." For the most part though, the ignorance of the "Hip Hop Elitist" was stopped by my sports filter.
What is a Hip Hop Elitist, you say? They are those hip hop fans that usually listen to songs from artists that you wouldn't normally hear on your local "mainstream" radio stations, with the exception of Common, Nas, and Kanye West. They are immersed in the culture, usually being an emcee, producer, DJ, B-boy or girl, or something that allows them the credentials to be overly critical of what they listen to.
Being that I'm describing most of you reading this blog right now, including myself, it is a safe assumption that you think that there is more to this Hip Hop Elitist thing. You're right. See, the Elitist goes a step further than just mere taste and preference. They actually believe that they own the keys to the gates of "Hip Hop," and anything that they don't like is not getting in that gate and, therefore, is not hip hop.
Back on topic. Almost two hours after stepping in the room, I'm sitting there at the TV listening to NASCAR Today, still waiting on my pizza, clinging desperately to the words of Brad Daugherty when my concentration broke (probably because I realized that I didn't know anything about NASCAR, other than Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart) and heard "All radio plays is that wack shit," which was true; however, they took it further by saying that, "people don't know what real hip hop is, and the radio and record companies don't want to give it to them."
"Every time I think I'm out they drag me back in," I thought. So I took a deep breath, sighed, and said, "That's not true."
"What's not true?" someone replied.
"Your entire statement is bull shit." I was setting him up.
"What are you talking about? Hip hop has changed. It used to be about reporting what you see going on. It used to mean something. Now they disrespect women, make up dances, and talk about being in the trap all of the time." Of course, his fellow Aristocrats nodded in agreement.
"First off homie, hip hop changing has nothing to do with what you just said before. Days change, people change, and music changes. Does Chuck Berry sound like The Beatles? Do they sound like Jimmy Hendrix? Did he sound like Rage Against The Machine? Do they sound like Creed (please excuse me for comparing Rage to Creed)? Does Creed sound like Mars Volta?" I think I lost him with Mars Volta, but I'm sure he got my point.
"That's not the same thing. Hip Hop is more than music. It's a culture."
"Do you really think that hip hop is the only musical genre that was developed out of a culture or vice versa? The music always defines the culture and the times. Woodstock defined the times, and the music reflected that.
"Furthermore, you have to understand that record companies are corporations and the only thing that matters to corporations are profits. They profit by giving people what they want. People want what they like. If a radio station is playing a song, it's typically because their listeners are responding positively to it."
"So you're saying that makes the music good?" he cut in sarcastically.
"Nope. I personally don't like most of the things that are played on mainstream radio or on most of the music video channels, with the exception of VH-1 Soul."
"Then why are you arguing with me about this? I don't understand. You must be playing Devil's Advocate."
"No, sir. I legitimately think that you're wrong." He frowns and I continue, "Just because you don't like something or think that it's wack doesn't mean it's not hip hop, it just means that it's wack to you.
"Whether you like it or want to admit it, hip hop is Bentleys, booties, dope dealing, and dancing (truthfully it has always been, but I didn't say that because I was closing a door and had no interest in opening another dumb ass conversation) as much as it is graffiiti, breaking, Djing, and freestyling. It is a reflection of what our society is. If you want to change the music you have to take on the task of changing society; however, that then brings up the question of what you would change about society. Frankly, that's a discussion that could last for years.
In my opinion, you should be interested in how you could get the Bentleys to listen to the graffiti. In other words, instead of exorcising wack music from hip hop, you should be figuring out what makes that wack music resonate with the people that like it."
Well, that conversation went on for another hour until my pizza came. I'm pretty sure he didn't agree with anything that I said, nor did I expect him to, which is why I tried to avoid the whole conversation in the first place.
However, my point was valid. Too often we in the music industry hear something that we don't like or relate to and brush it off as BS. We feel that it's beneath our music and tastes to subject ourselves to it. That's fine. This is America, you can like or love or whatever you want.
The issue is that when people don't respond to our music like they respond to the BS, we get upset and defensive when we should be objective and analytical.
Why is my music not resonating with an audience like I feel that it should?
Is my music as good as I think it is?
What can I improve about it?
Am I pushing it to the right audience and demographic?
Do I have a sound marketing plan?
Am I taking advantage of all avenues available to me?
Does what I expect to get out of this in the short term reflect the time and money that I'm putting into this?
And then comes the most important question..."How are these wack cats getting all of this pub?"
Answer: They hustle, and they hustle hard. They are everywhere people are with CD's and fliers in their hands, most of the times giving them away for free. They are in everyone's face and at every radio station trying to get their music on. They eat, sleep, and drink getting put on. Eventually, they do.
So, the next time you hear another stupid song on the radio about the newest dance or how someone's Maybach is looking clean as hell with half naked strippers hanging out of it, think about what they did to get their wack asses where they are. Then, apply it to you.
PS- I just wrote this whole article on my Android.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.