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).
Quanstar is an American underground hip hop artist, indie filmmaker, comic creator, and self published author from Atlanta.