About four weeks ago, my fiance Janale Harris, whom most of you know as Quanster, called me from his job and asked me in a desperate, miserable voice if he could quit. It’s all too much, he said. This is killing me, he said. I can’t do it anymore, he explained.
I’d been watching the proof of his words for months. His job was indeed stripping away from him all the things he needed in order to be a happy and fulfilled person - for this man, that means, more than anything, time. Time to spend with his kids, time to spend with me, and time to work on his passion - his music and all the components to his massive, multi faceted creation that is First Team Music.
So, while my stomach dropped and my mouth went dry, and rapid flashbacks buzzed through my mind of the past four years - the struggles we have endured, the stress of not having enough money, of not knowing how we would pay rent or buy food or keep the power on or get the car out of the shop or get home on the bus for that matter - without even a second’s hesitation I said, “Okay.”
I guess I could say I’d seen it coming, which is true, but more so than that, to be in love with someone who dreams big dreams such as his means that you have to get used to taking risks and lending what I have come to think of as blind support. Not blind in that I am oblivious or blissfully ignorant to what the risks entail...but simply blind to the negativity that would strip us both of our faith in ourselves and each other and would truly be the downfall of everything.
Most people who achieve great success in anything will tell you they couldn’t have done it without the support and love of so and so. We as humans thrive on each other, on having someone to lean on. But with that said I think it’s incredibly difficult and even rare to be the one giving that “blind support.” It means taking leaps of faith almost daily. It means taking that thing which is so important in any relationship, trust, to a whole other level, and placing your future in your other’s hands and abilities.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not one to sit back and simply “trust the universe.” I would be lying if I told you I wasn’t absolutely panicking inside as my husband to be leaves a semi-well-paying job that stressed him out and allowed no time for his business or his family for an absolute shit-paying-job that offers a lot of flexibility and room to grow. The only thing that comforts me enough to be able to sleep some nights is knowing that I have my own opportunities and resources to help us get by until Quanstar’s kingdom is finished being built. Which it will be.
And that’s just it...there is no doubt in my mind that Janale Harris will one day achieve it all, whatever that means. The world will know his message and his gifts, and we will never want for a tank of gas or the rent or a simple trip to the beach again. Maybe that’s what drives me so faithfully and quickly to my place of support when he needs it. Or maybe it’s just that I love him and I want him to be happy, and I hate to see him miserable and hurting because he isn’t pouring his heart into what he needs to be doing. Probably, it’s a mixture of both.
So yes, I told him to quit his job. Yes, I told him we would figure it out. Yes, I wrangled the kids and house that week in between his jobs as much as I could so he could devote as much time as possible to getting all of his projects that had been dumped to the wayside in the past several months back on track. Yes, I am still scared to death, but one month later, I see how much happier and...vibrant he is. The life is back in his eyes because he’s able to do what he loves to do, what he was born to do. He has stuff popping off in every direction. His book is out, something four years in the making...his app designs are perfected, his website done, the laundry is for once all folded and put away (that’s his only household job and it is NEVER done ;). Men!). I couldn’t resist throwing that last one in there.
I hope I’m not coming across as some golden shining martyr here because I’m not...believe me, over the years we’ve argued and I’ve had moments of resentment. I’ve had moments of intense panic, and acted like a big baby, and sometimes even now I wonder if I have some type of post traumatic stress syndrome because I get anxiety so quickly if we get a month behind on a bill or get a little carried away and spend too much at Target. Or when the check engine light on the car comes on, oh my GOD. I’ve wanted to tell him to go get a “real” job so that we could stop struggling. But then I wake up and realize that would kill his spirit and destroy the very thing that I love most about him - that drive to success and achievement that fuels him at all costs.
So, blindly supporting someone’s dreams is not easy. It’s not glorious. It’s not for the faint of heart. But...it’s necessary. If you’re going to be with a dreamer, you have to be with them 100%. And by the way, he absolutely would do (and has done) the same for me. When I wanted to spend the last of our savings on some jewelry that I “knew” would sell a couple of years ago, he didn’t even blink. When I decided to climb the ladder at my job and do whatever it took to get there as quickly as possible, he stayed up all night helping me make glazed orange rinds to go with the perfect coffee pairing to impress the higher ups. It does need to go both ways. (And yes - that jewelry sold AND made a fast profit, and I got to where I wanted to be at my job in less than a year. And I owe a LOT to Janale’s blind support and faith in me.)
Support is like a catalyst. It can be that final motivator that kicks you into high gear to get things accomplished. You want to prove to that person that they are not believing in a pipe dream. Human beings need that supportive shoulder. We need to know someone is on our side and has our back no matter what, no matter the risk, especially when we’re up against impossible odds.
To my Quanstar, I say, we’ve come this far...we’ve already endured a lot. Eventually your efforts will pay off, and I fully expect a belated honeymoon in Madagascar or Paris or Morocco or all three, and my house with a yard. Until then, I blindly support you and your endeavors and do all I can to make sure you know your hard work and dedication and drive WILL pay off.
In the meantime, I’ll go make you a pitcher of iced coffee because I know that when you get home tonight at midnight from your minimum wage job, you will be burning the midnight oil working on First Team Music and nurturing all of your many projects that you currently have in motion while I and our sons sleep. I am so proud of you.
Then I’ll leave the dishes for you because tomorrow is Mother’s Day, after all. See? Support : Give and take. :)
I have to make a confession...I don’t own an ipod. I have another confession to make...I don’t want to own an ipod. No... it’s not because I bought a company that manufactures portable CD players on the verge of bankruptcy. It’s because I find them simply to be very overpriced mp4 players with bells and whistles.
Think about it. Who really needs 16 gigs worth of memory in a music player? Before you say you do, understand how much 16GB worth of memory is. A sixth generation (whatever that means) 16GB ipod Nano holds about 4,000 songs. 4,000 songs? Who on earth has 4,000 songs that they want to hear? Hell, while I was researching the numbers for this article. I found out that they also have 32 and 64 gig ipods out as well that hold around 7,000 and 14,000 songs respectively.
Then I found out how much they cost. WTF? I will never pay $200 for any portable device that isn’t a phone. Instead I’d go get a plain ol’ 4GB mp3 player from Amazon for $25 plus shipping; however, I am in the minority on this one. The ipod sales have been off the charts, making Apple billions of dollars in the process. As a matter of fact, I’m the only person I know (besides my wifey) that has never owned an ipod. The road less traveled, I guess.
In the spirit of my precious NBA ending its lockout, I’m going to try something that may or may not work. I’m going to compare the ipod's entry into the market with the year Magic Johnson and Larry Bird entered the NBA.
Behind baseball and football, the NBA was a distant third in the world of American sports. Fourth if it was March Madness time, and it could've been fifth if the big names in boxing could have gotten their bodies to be able to fight once a month. Magic and Bird changed all of that with the 1980 NBA draft going to the Los Angeles Lakers (The greatest franchise ever!!) and the Boston Celtics (Busters on all levels) respectively. Playing on so many levels (Black versus White, East versus West, etc, etc), the NBA rose to pop culture status.
In much of the same way, only at a super accelerated pace, ipod became pop status. In no time, it has become the accepted brand of the masses...
...Now that I think about it, the two don't really have many similarities.
Even though Magic and that other guy from the team that I didn't really like blew into the league and took it over, most nationally televised games were still tape delayed until around 1984 because the ratings weren't there. Ipod's impact on the market was so fast and so immense that the music industry still hasn't caught up to and completely figured out how to get the most out of downloads. In fact, it all but sent CD's into obscurity. NBA hasn't managed to overtake its two counter parts as of yet.
Whatever meaningless contrast that I try as a means to show how happy I am that the Lakers are going to have a chance to avenge that lashing that we got by Dallas Mavericks in the playoffs, the one thing that is obvious is that The ipod changed the game. It is to portable music players what Starbucks is to coffee, Kleenex is to tissue, and Pampers is to diapers. It turned the industry on its ear by guiding the next evolution in music with itunes, and without it, i wouldn’t have had the opportunity to be here talking shit about it right now.
There was a man fishing by himself in a small boat in the middle of the ocean. Now, I don’t know why anyone would be by himself in a small boat in the middle of the ocean fishing, and neither did his wife and kids. They had begged and pleaded with this man to stay home, and not to do something so foolish as fishing in the ocean in a small boat by himself; however, he had simply replied, “I’ll be all right. Thank you, though,” and had continued on out of the door with his fishing pole, heading for the docks.
While the man was loading his small boat preparing to leave, a stranger walking past and away from the docks noticed that the man was about to head out to sea. The stranger stopped and said, “It looks like a big storm’s coming. Everyone who was out to sea has come back or will be back soon. You don’t want to get caught out there in a storm with that little boat.” The man looked at the stranger, smiled at him, then spoke. “I’ll be all right. Thank you, though,” and continued on.
As he headed out, the sky went from blue and clear to gray and gloomy on its way to black and abysmal. The waves, which began as ripples, grew higher and higher. For a second, he thought that maybe he should have listened to his family and the stranger. Maybe if he turned around right now he could get back to shore; however, he quickly decided against it because, by this time, he was sitting in a full fledged storm and couldn’t see the shoreline. It would be just as dangerous to head back as it would be to stay. So he continued on.
Winds blowing at Nascar speed, yet he continued on. Rain pouring in so much abundance that one might think God had made the clouds cry. Yet he continued on. The small boat went back and forth, then side to side. Turning and whirling, while riding 20 foot high waves and then crashing down to the ocean floor. Sick, soaked, and scared, the man continued on.
Then something happened. The small boat sprang a leak. The man took off his drenched shirt, which was doing him no good anyway, and tore a piece off to plug the hole. Then another leak started. So he tore another piece of his shirt to plug that one. Then another, and another, and another. Pretty soon the only thing left of his shirt was the cuffs and and collar. He had to use those too because three more leaks came up.
“I’ve seen the worst of it. The waves the rain, the wind, and the leaks. I’m still here,” he whispered. Then raised his fist and looked upward while yelling, “YOU HEAR ME!? I’M STILL HERE! I WILL NOT LOSE TO YOU!”
I don’t think the storm liked his tone of voice, because almost immediately following the man’s fit of rage, the largest wave in the history of large waves came crashing down onto the small boat. The man was flung into the water, struggling to keep his head afloat.
“This can’t end like this. I shouldn’t have been a fool and I should have listened to everyone tell me that I shouldn’t do this.” Dejected and depressed, he began to sink as the storm let out a thunderous roar that seemed like a laugh.
The next day, after the storm had passed, the man’s family came running to the docks looking for him. He was nowhere to be found. They even ran into the stranger who described how he had told him that it was a bad idea to head out in the storm. Realizing what must have happened to her husband, the wife fell to her knees sobbing uncontrollably. “Why did he do it? Why did he have to go? Everyone knew it was a bad idea except for him.” Her children tried to comfort her, but when she looked up at them it only reminded her of what he had left behind, all to be a fool.
She had to be strong, though. So she wiped her eyes, picked herself up, and began on her way home with the children. Simultaneously, the stranger called out, “What the hell! Look out there.” As the woman turned in disinterest to the stranger to tell him that she doesn’t care, something out in the distance caught her eye...
...It was her husband coming toward shore in that small boat.
Once docking, the shirtless man climbed out of the small boat full of seaweed and fish, embracing his family and looking to the stranger, and said, “I told you I would be all right.”
I know you may be wondering what happened out there, but does it really matter? A man went fishing and came back with a boat full of them. What adversity he went through to make it happen is really irrelevant.
For decades, artists have used recording studios not only as a means to record their music, but also as a space to be creative in, and generate new ideas inside. The traditional recording studio is not only a room with equipment, but also an engineer (turns the knobs), a producer (provides input regarding song structure and album concepts), and multiple assistants. Today, more and more people are pursuing recording as a hobby, and setting up recording studios in their living rooms, bathrooms, bedrooms, and garages. This is a much more affordable way of recording your music, but doesn’t come without its disadvantages.
If you’re the artist, you have to ask yourself “What do I want to get from this experience?”. Do you want other musicians? Do you want production advice? What’s your budget?
There are many small studios popping up that have exactly what many people are looking for - good quality recordings of their work that they can share.. As you know, it’s easier to get music out to the masses than ever before, and if you have recordings on bandcamp, soundcloud, myspace, or other websites, you can share your music with the world.
That said, larger, more established recording studios can afford more expensive tools to make you sound better than you thought possible. It’s up to you which option is right for you. Larger studios have a greater overhead, and therefore need to pay the bills. Rates at these studios are generally higher than that of small studio rates. Rates at a well established studio can be anywhere from $75 - $200 per hour. Lesser established studios generally charge between $15 - $40 per hour. If you figure that your standard hip-hop album takes 10-12 hours to record, you’re looking at around $1,000 - $2,000 to record at a large studio, and somewhere around $200 - $500 to record at a small studio. It’s a big financial difference, and if you’re happy with the quality from the small studio, it’s the perfect situation.
Another perk of the small studio, is more often than not, really inspired people set them up and work in them, so you know that a lot of love goes into the work. Sometimes in large studios, the workers are just there to put in the hours. Also, since the rates are lower, you get more work for less money in the small studio.
The other option which many people are turning to is home recording studios.. Extra bedrooms or garages make great spaces, and you can get an incredible setup for less than $2,000 that will offer you a lifetime of recording in your own home. For a good hip-hop setup, you need a computer, recording software, a microphone, and an interface that allows you to plug the microphone into the computer. Here are my recommendations priced out -
Computer: Hewlett-Packard, custom built from their website - $800 (Mac equivalent is 3-4k)
Recording Software: Pro Tools 9 - $500 (You pay more, but it’s the
industry standard, and well worth the price)
Microphone: Audio-Technica AT4033 - $200-$300 on the “used” section at guitarcenter.com
Interface: Edirol UA 5 USB Mic Pre-Amp - $289 at soundprofessionals.com
There you have it - everything you need to have a great home studio for under 2k.
As I said before, it’s up to you to decide what you want from a studio. Do you want to build a home recording studio so you can record at your house 24/7? Do you want an affordable professional recording experience, where you walk away with a CD in hand ready to distribute to the masses? Or do you want to go all out and spend the money for the big time recording experience, and have the next platinum single? Choose your own adventure..
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.
I'm not much into watching news channels because they seem to care more about polarizing their viewers. Fox paints the Democrats out to be loons and Anti-American socialists, MSNBC describes Conservatives as money grubbing Jesus yelling racists, and CNN shifts between the two descriptions every hour. Personally, I like my news to be objective and not in pep rally form so I choose to read all about it in the Wallstreet Journal and on Bloomberg.com, but even they are starting to be silhouettes of their former selves in order to compete.
The other day I was flipping through the stations and stopped on one of these "news sources" to hear some story that had to do with the Tea Baggers. It was a rally of some sort. The clips had the speakers talking about taxes being too high, the cost of health care, the elimination of the public school system, abolishing OSHA and the IRS, and how minimum wage is killing small business.
Intrigued about how this many people can dispute the relevance of something like OSHA, whose sole purpose is to ensure safe work conditions, I cut off the television and went to Youtube. What I found was nothing short of "what the fuck?" No I'm not talking about the signs calling Obama a nigger, socialist, or The Anti-Christ. Nor am I talking about the "healthcare is white slavery" phrases. I'm talking about the amount of folks that are letting these people shove feces in their throat and convince them that it's caviar.
You are a worker or professional in the middle class whose entire life will be spent working for someone else, and you believe that one of the reasons that the economy and the country is so jacked up is because the government requires companies to operate under certain standards and pay their employees a minimum wage. Not only that, you are for disbanding the public school system, despite the fact that you can't afford private schools because you're either unemployed or under paid due to the economy. I even saw a video that had a lady talking about the government had no business in the health care system; even though she was holding a sign that said,
"Government, keep your filthy hands off of my Medicare."
The best way to describe my thoughts was "facetiously disturbed." Don't get me wrong, I am all for what is supposed to be the basis of the Party's gripe, which is constitutional responsibility; however, I find that their claims, wants, and anger aren't centered in that. It, more or less, uses the U.S. Constitution as an excuse to push agendas.
The fact of the matter is, there are a lot of wealthy folks using this as an excuse to push through things that better their situations at the expense of the lower earning brackets. For example, the whole hullabaloo about the taxes being too high sounds great to a person who doesn't know anything about the history of income tax rates. If they did they would know that taxes aren't really that high if you compared them to our past tax rates or most industrialized country's tax rates.
As I'm watching all of this, I couldn't help but to think about the music industry and how it parallels the Tea Party. The Tea Party is exploited by wealthy folks who were looking to further their self interest by tapping into the anger of the average joe, and convincing them that the very things that will help them are the things that are hurting them; in addition, they make these folks believe that if we can get things passed that help me, then it helps you too.
In the same vein, the Music Industry is run by record company execs who want to make as much money off of you as possible while giving you as least control as possible, while convincing you that they are completely looking out for your best interests.
Let's go back twelve years to when Napster opened the flood gates to piracy. Every record company in the world was doing everything that they could to shut it down.Why? Well, the obvious reason is that it cut into album sales, so that was, in part, understandable; however, I was dismayed by the amount of artists that actually came out against this also.
For those that don't know, the average artist signed to a label, major or independent, very Rarely (with a capital 'R' that really means almost never) receives a royalty check.
For example, Happy MC signs a 4 album deal with the hip hop label, "Eff Me Over." First, Happy should understand that it's really a one album deal with 3 options for the label. In other words, if you sell they will probably pick up an option, and if you don't they will release you.
Happy will get somewhere between 9-15% of album sales sold in traditional outlets and varying percentage rates of albums sold in other ways. That rate is "all-in," which means that his cut takes care of producers. Since Happy got this new, up and coming cat, Dirt Money, to lace him with tracks it only costs him somewhere around 3%. Also, the label deducts 25% for packaging. After all of this, Happy's royalties are about .90/album.
Now comes the interesting part: that advance that the label gave him, the studio that they insisted he record at, and all of the promotions that they did all have to be paid back through that .90/album. "Eff Me Over" spent, or said they spent, $225,000 on all of the above for Happy. That means that he has to sell 250,000 albums before he gets a dime off of royalties.
After realizing what his deal really entailed, Happy MC has turned to Mad Rapper; however, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Unless he was foolish enough to sign away his publishing and performing rights, which a lot of cats do, he can make his dough on the road.
Taking all of this into consideration, logic should dictate that he would want to get his music to as many as possible, because that increases the chances of more folks being at his shows; however, he doesn't see it that way. So he stands with the record companies and their shell organization, RIAA, to stop folks from sharing music over the web without permission, despite the fact that he won't make money from royalties.
Booking your first out of town show is much like losing your virginity:
My first time came in 2003. My now defunct hip hop band, First Team, released our debut project, Anti-Social. We'd been playing all over Atlanta, and began building a decent following; however, after months of playing the same songs to the same people in the same places, we decided to step our game up and book some out of town gigs.
Because I didn't have the dough to buy them initially, I would sit in the cafe section of Border's until it closed with a notebook and copy information on venues from books like The Musician's Atlas and Billboard's Musician's Guide To Touring and Promoting. For those who may not know, these books are probably some of the most important things that an independent artist can own. They are released annually, and provide very useful information. For me, it was the state by state listing of venues and press.
I didn't have a computer at the time, so I would spend an expensive amount of hours at Kinko's, and would run up my cell phone bill calling the venues to make sure the information was valid. After two months of red eyes, deteriorated hearing, and cotton mouth I narrowed it down to about 100 venues that we could potentially play at. Now it was time to hit it.
Back then, there were no epk's and "send me a link to your myspace". If you wanted a show you had to send it by snail mail. That meant a bio in color (none of Microsoft Word shit), an 8.5"x11" black and white photo, a CD with at least 3 songs on it, and a couple of press clippings in a manila envelope with a stamp.
Knowing that Kinko's would cost me an arm and a leg to get that done, I went to Staples where it only cost me my left arm. Since I am right handed I didn't mind it so much. I put the packets together, and took them up to the post office to hold the line up for 20 minutes while the lady weighed every package and put the right postage on it.
Altogether, I spent something like $500, which was my entire check, to get the packets together and send them out, and I hadn't even booked a show yet. It had to be done though, so I didn't complain to anyone, but I did get a second job so that I could make rent.
From everything that I'd read and was told by people that toured regularly, I should wait a few weeks and then contact these places about shows. Well, that took a whole other batch of trips to Kinko's, and minutes ran up on my cell phone. It got so bad that Sprint switched me over to an unlimited plan that cost $100/month, and it cut down my bill by a couple of hundred.
Another couple of weeks went by and I finally got a reply from one spot in Chapel Hill, NC called The Skylight Exchange. The deal was that we could have the door, and something to eat. Really? Shit, we would've probably done the show for a bottle of Tequila and a pack of cigarettes (I don't think any of us even smoked cigs, but you get the point). I told everyone in the band the good news. Now all we had to figure out was how we're going to get there.
There were 5 of us and our equipment (bass, guitar, drum kit, and amps) to account for so we couldn't just take one of our cars. Instead, we had the bright idea to rent a 15 passenger van so we could ride up in comfort and style. Besides, we weren't worried about it because we'd make it all back at the show.
The drive from The A to Chapel Hill was about 6 hours, which was more than enough time to allow my imagination to set the stage of what was to come at the end of this trek.
How many folks would be at the show? Around 100
How much merch should I aim to sell? After the crowd hears us play, we'd probably sell everything we had, which was around 50 CD's.
Then I thought, "Damn, maybe I should've brought more"; however, once we got there I realized that I'd probably brought too many.
By day, The Skylight Exchange was a small independent book store, and hang out spot for many of the "better than Barnes and Noble" hipster kids that showed their disgust for the corporatacracy by shopping at "indie" multi million dollar chains like Urban Outfitters. We felt pretty good about that though, because that was our core college audience.
The thing that made us say, "Whoa!" was the performance space. Basically, after 8:30 they cleared out the tables and chairs in the middle of the floor, put a riser for the drums there, and it was showtime. This didn't even bother us. Shit it was a show...our first show out of town. It didn't matter where we were playing to us as long as the people came and we made money. Then I looked to my right, and got bothered.
About a month earlier, I had printed up about 400-600 fliers and 20 posters and sent them up to Skylight, as they'd asked. I was under the assumption that they were going to be putting some up and handing them out to promote the show coming up, but I should've known what happens when I assume.
Bringing everyone up to speed on what the situation was, we decided to take the stack of fliers and pass them out after sound check. Not fully letting go of my visions of playing a packed house, I figured if we took the couple of hours we had before the show and hustled fliers, we could still live that reality.
We hit Franklin St (the main street in Chapel Hill) hard. We taped fliers on poles, put them on parked cars, handed them to folks walking down the street, and hit up the workers in restaurants.
We handed out so many fliers that people were like, "You guys just gave me one".
Despite that, we had more than half the stack left. That's when we stopped and actually looked around to notice that, even though we told everyone we came across about the show, there weren't that many people out and about, especially for a Friday night in a town supported by a major university.
My first thought was that there was a football game going on, but since it was Friday I dispelled that pretty quickly. Then I thought maybe there was an out of town game going on; however, this was University of North Carolina football in the early 2000's...not basketball. So I would think it highly unlikely that the town would be practically deserted of its student populous for just another game.
Stumped, I did what I should have done in the first place, ask someone walking down the street about it. We were told that the school was on Fall Break. "Fall Break?", I thought to myself, "What the hell?" Between the 5 of us, First Team had 3 Bachelors Degrees, a Masters, and almost 30 years worth of college under our belts, and none of us knew what Fall Break was.
To be honest it didn't matter much, because the bottom line was that we were about to play a show in a town that...
...we'd never been to.
...wasn't promoted by the club/bookstore.
...was on Fall Break.
Still we kept our chins up and our faith in the night strong (most likely because that's all we had left at this point). Some of it paid off before the night was over, too. Of the 30 people in attendance, at least 20 were met while on our last minute promotional blitz, we sold 20 CD's, and walked away with $60 off of the door (we decided to drop the door to $2 from $5 because of all of the things that came to light that night).
After the show, we drove straight back to Atlanta, spending the entire six hours conversing about the night, and how dope it was. Over the next couple of years, we played Chapel Hill four more times (Three of which being at The Skylight, including once when Yahya (our drummer) fell off of the drummer riser in the middle of a show), booked shows throughout the Southeast regularly, and had a national tour. I attribute all of that, including my solo career, to that night in Chapel Hill.
For the independent hip hop artist, or any entertainer for that matter, the most important thing is figuring out how to break through that wall of noise between you and your audience. This is no easy task, either. The wall consists of three smaller ones cemented together - too high to go over, and dug in too deep to go under. So the only option available is to go through it.
The first layer is as solid as brick, and is the thickest of the parts, though nowhere near the hardest. It's reinforced with rows of steel beams. So after you chip through a little brick, you'll have to cut through the beams, then go back to chipping through brick until you get to the next beam.
The next one is similar to a thin layer of glass, so it's easy to look right through it; however, this can be a dangerous misstep. Some artists fail to notice it and, doing their best impression of a pigeon without its bearings, smash right into the wall. Others shatter the wall completely, eventually being slowed down by shards of glass lodged into their bodies. Both are extremely ineffective.
The last wall is the equivalent of reinforced steel that's not much thicker than the previous one, but is stronger than the other two put together. You can't see through it, or hear what's on the other side of it. Also, the layer is equipped with artificial intelligence that eventually adapts to whatever method is used to break, bust, or drill through it.
As if these weren't hard enough to get through on their own, things are complicated further by all of the other folks that are on the same journey as you. So now you're in a race to get there before everyone else, and that leads to a log jam because all of them are seeing the same way as you.
Sounds like some hard shit right? Well, it is. The music business is an extremely competitive and challenging arena that off of default creates more and more obstacles which, in turn, expands the division between the artist and the audience. For the independent, every division seems galaxies apart, and due to lack of finances and opportunity, those galaxies are expanding exponentially.
Despite that, you have to figure out how to make it happen. This is your dream, this is your destiny. It's up to you to figure out your production and studio costs (First Wall), the best and most cost effective way to manufacture your music (Second Wall), and how to market it to your audience (Third Wall). So shut the hell up and make it happen (a little self therapy).
Before I go I would like to leave you all with a couple of things that have helped me:
First Wall - Cut costs, cut costs, cut costs! The worst thing that you could do is make the studio stage of your album the most expensive. So don't do it.
Second Wall - Be realistic.
Third Wall - This is the last thing between you and your audience, which makes it the most important. Not getting through this final obstacle makes surpassing the previous two meaningless. Let's call this wall marketing.
Hip Hop from a fans perspective. Hmm. Am I a fan? I don't consider myself as such. Fans get bored, and move on to the next. They aren't so much about the cultivation of a thing as much as they are the consumption of it. So then, what am I to Hip Hop and likewise what is Hip Hop to me? For about two months I've had this sitting on my desk, swimming round my head hoping a light bulb moment would occur that might allow me to write something about my take on Hip Hop and what I want from it. But that's not what happened. And I think I've figured out why. You see, Hip Hop isn't just one thing to me.
I've just come back from a trip to Seattle to visit my cousin. Seattle has a busy underground Hip Hop scene. And it's far from underground. It's in the layout of the backwards road system. It's in the power lines fueling the buses. It's everywhere. And it's eclectic following stands by its network of performers without waver. This is just part of what Hip Hop is to me. It's a culture that constantly repaints the mural of the communities it resides in. Hip Hop is the reflection of realities faced by its constituents. Its responsibility is to be the voice of the many that go unheard. Being heard is something that Hip Hop does well. Transcending race, gender, age, cultures, it travels across the ocean to paint more murals of the lives we do not know. The being heard part, yeah that's not the issue I take with the distributers of this art. It is what's being heard on a mass consumer level that disappoints. And if I had to sum up the impersonation of this culture you hear on the radio and watch on the TV in one word it would be this - Empty.
Today's listener of Hip Hop does not learn about the struggle of a people to be heard. They do not feel the hunger one endured as a child whose mother could not feed him. There is no understanding of the woman who is told and believes she has but one valued asset. There was a time when Hip Hop acted as the vessel by which social commentary was broadcast to the nation - the world even. Today these truths go unheard, drowned out by the praise of a rented life that Hip Hop today now portrays. Perhaps this is a result of wanting to display an image of success vs. the image of strife. It doesn't matter what the initial intent was when Puff Daddy came on the scene - or rather the screen- and completely disfigured the face of a movement that was coming into its prime. Maybe that's too harsh, but if you were in Hip Hop at that time you are well aware of the abrupt shift that occurred in the industry. When the moguls realized they could sell pop packaged in Hip Hop wrapping paper I doubt anyone stopped to think about the affect it would have on the culture from which the genre spawned. And trust I'm not saying there isn't need for the feel good do nothing more than make you wanna dance song, but I don't need to hear it on Monday at 7am; and then every hour after that until the following Monday when the rotation starts over. The variety, that eclectic mix that makes Hip Hop so unique has been traded in for a one size fits all version whose only purpose is to sell ringtones. That balance of work and play is missing from Hip Hop today. The industry has shifted to giving the listener what they think they want vs. what they need. And what the culture of Hip Hop needs, the youth now coming up in it today, is a history lesson. And that is said with the confession that I myself am still studying that history as well.
Hip Hop's purpose like most genres is to investigate, inform, and inspire through poetic verse. That is what I expect from Hip Hop. When I listen to a track I anticipate a story unfolding, I expect to experience a work of art. It isn't just entertainment for me. Its how I connected with a culture I was disjointed from due to the community I was raised in. I couldn't necessarily relate to what was being described because I didn't live that life, but it kept me from being ignorant to the way that others were living. I was drawn out of my bubble and into a greater society. It developed my conscience, and deepened my sense of social responsibility. Today the only thing Hip Hop is talking about on a large scale is to be self-important, self-concerned, and self-serving. And there is no accountability in the self absorbed world that has been created parallel to Hip Hops origins stealing its image and throwing it's substance to the side. Most of what you hear from your major labels today is disposable. The saying "not everything that glitters is gold" is how you have to look at Hip Hop now. You have to really search for the gems; that perfect combination of beat married to verse that causes you to sit back and reflect on the story being told. It is no longer served up on a silver platter. But I guess these days, that's exactly where the adventure of Hip Hop hides.
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.