A blog for musicians and music industry people. It is a free educational resource and it is also the way I advertise my music consulting services. I am an entertainment professional with deep roots in the music industry. Throughout my music career I have been a major label A&R representative, a music supervisor, an artist manager, a reality show producer, a bass player and the head of a digital record label.
Posts Tagged ‘hip hop manager’
Intellectual property issues were front and center this past week as the “copycat” trend took a new turn in the UK and a musician and music business entrepreneur talked about why digital piracy is becoming more of an excuse than a problem for artists. Also, a hip hop journal discussed why artists and professionals in all genres should look to the flexible business models and creative marketing techniques of hip hop crews in order to adapt to the modern music climate.
Copycat Songs Presenting New Industry Problems
The new trend of artists releasing cover versions of songs by other chart-topping artists before those songs are officially released is creating a stir in the music industry and raising questions about copyright laws, according to an article published in The Telegraph. Almost perfect replicas of the latest songs from pop stars are entering the charts before the originals even appear.
And recently one of these copies – a cover version of the song “Telegraph” by Maroon 5 and featuring the rapper Wiz Khalifa – managed to squeeze into the top 10 of British charts. The identity of the band was kept secret, but was later to be found “Precision Tunes,” managed by Joshua Weinstein in New York and put out on his label PT Records. When approached by the media, he promised to stop releasing copycat versions and to “relinquish any monies made” from these types of tracks. His label had also put out eight other tracks copied from other artists such as Usher, Jennifer Lopez and Justin Bieber.
He added, “We have currently restructured the company and its employees, are in the process of issuing takedowns and researching accounting for those releases.” The week the fake “Telegraph” made it into the top 10, it sold 34,492 downloads. It was sold via iTunes and The Orchard.
Precision Tunes’ cover was the first to reach the top 10. But in February, the cover band Kings of Pop cracked the top 40 with a cover of will.i.am’s song “The Hardest Ever.” And in April, the group “Carly Rae Jepsen Tribute Team” made it to #49 a week before Carly Rae Jepsen’s song “Call Me Maybe” was released.
“Copycat”ting is not a new phenomenon and has been happening since digital downloads began over a decade ago. Copycat tracks are created through the joint talents of session musicians and computer experts, who build an almost-exact replica of original songs after they hit the radio. Today, they sell the copies on iTunes and Amazon for slightly less than the price of new tracks. However, until recently, they were always released behind the original song.
The Maroon 5 incident has music industry executives and artists in an uproar and was likely made possible by the fact that, in the UK, singles by major artists get played on the radio for weeks prior to their official release. The purpose of this has always been to give these artists big sales numbers the first week of release, but is now allowing cover bands to get in first. People who buy copycat singles are a combination of those who do not want to wait for the real version and those who are unaware the copycat version is an imposter.
Industry experts stated that copycat versions have gone largely legally unchecked because they exist somewhere in the uncertain areas of Internet-based area of copyright law. However, those copycats that release prior to the originals actually break original artists’ “first mechanical right,” which allows songwriters to record and release their version before other artists.
Some labels are trying to prevent copycats by rushing their songs to market the moment they find a cover version. Early this month, a cover group called Can You Blow My hit number 38 with Flo Rida’s song “Whistle,” and the U.S. release was pushed to two weeks earlier than originally expected.
While online retailers like iTunes pass along a percentage of sales of the cover versions to the original composer as a writer’s fee, the performers of the original song miss out on sound recording royalties they would have received had the real track been purchased. However, online retailers are not responsible for copycat versions, and the top companies have waivers in place that all those selling through their services must sign, which state they own all the rights to the tracks.
Piracy: A Problem … or an Excuse?
Is piracy actually a problem … or is it becoming an excuse artists and music executives use to avoid having to adapt to a changing industry? Sudara Williams, a musician and the founder of DIY music zine Ramen Music asked this question on TorrentFreak this past week in an editorial piece entitled “Music Piracy is NOT a Problem, It’s an Excuse.”
As Williams stated, “’Piracy’ is still a hot topic of conversation in the industry. People who torrent music or have a huge music library are accused of screwing over artists, stealing, and being entitled. Piracy is still cited as The Main Reason Why Artists Are Broke.” However, research points out that the piracy “problem” is very complicated with many different moving parts. And studies have shown that the music industry’s decline is likely not directly related to file sharing.
In this piece, Williams explained how the Internet actually works for artists and music fans and what the current music industry actually is: “It no longer costs money to send music to others. You can get any song you want instantly, free or paid. You can build a library of 11,000 songs at no cost. Or stream everything on Spotify for a few bucks a month. Or pledge $250 for signed vinyl and other goodies from your favorite band or Kickstarter. Or pay $15 per album like back in the Good Old Days.
And he also stated that he is adapting to the reality of today’s climate and has been successful as a result: “As both an artist and music business owner, I know with certainty that it’s time to move on and spend our energy innovating new businesses and getting artists paid. My business is pro-sharing and pro-artist – I consider sharing a feature and it is a primary source of our revenue.”
And Williams also had some proactive tips for artists that want to survive and make a living in the industry, which he has learned through his own dedication to building a career and his own music business:
- “Be Pro-sharing and Pro-artist.” Artists should certainly get compensated for their recordings, as they take “money, resources and love” to produce. However, sharing can be great for business. Sharing acts as free advertising and can help replenish an artist’s fan base, which will lead to future sales.
- Getting artists paid is the responsibility of the seller. The “seller” could be a label, group of artists, third party or, in the DIY world, the artist themselves. But anyone selling music needs to be responsible for making their product attractive and making sure it gets purchased.
- Selling music is a business, not a dream. If you are a DIY artist and running your career with luck or magic rather than like an actual business, you are responsible for your own failure. You have to give your fans or “customers” what they want to buy and also innovate when new technology comes around, or stand out when you find yourself selling a product similar to what everyone else is selling. “This is business, not wish-fulfilling … Piracy is nothing more than a shoddy alibi for business failure and lack of innovation”
- Don’t blame your audience … know your audience. Williams points out, if labels had spent the past 12 years innovating and building what customers were actually seeking, everything might be different. There might be streaming services run directly by Sony or Warner instead of Apple. And some labels might have implemented a “fair trade” guarantee to help fans support their favorite artists. “Turning to ‘broke’ college kids and wondering why they don’t shell out money is a waste of time … In what world does it make financial sense that they spend $15 on an album vs. buy dinner or have a few beers with friends?” Williams is not saying this is fair, but it is the reality of the business: “You can’t sell music to folks if you can’t relate to them.”
- Sell to your target market. Artists need to learn how to figure out who will pay for their music and other products and who will not. And then they need to focus on either selling to those groups that are actually willing to buy from them or figure out how to make what they are selling more attractive to their fans.
Williams ends his editorial on a positive note, saying, “Now is the absolute best time to be a musician,” because all artists can produce albums in their homes using their existing computers and deliver it to as many as millions of fans, if the demand is there for next to nothing. They can get listened to by more people and have more options. And with the old label system falling, artists can be truly independent and in control of their own rights. Finding the audience is the difficult task for artists, but that has always been true.
Hip Hop Crews Embracing New Business Models
If artists want to learn how to build innovative, sustainable brands, all they need to do is look to hip-hop crews that have been successfully navigating changes in the music industry for years, says HipHop DX. The site examined seven different hip-hop crews that are building their brands outside the lines of traditional business models and why DIY movements are rising to the top of hip- hop and beyond in 2012.
The Kansas-City-based Strange Music label has been around since 1999 and has housed many successful indie artists, including Jay Rock, Brotha Lynch Hung. Collectively, it has sold over 2.4 million albums and has enjoyed five $1 indie albums and 14 Top 10 indie albums, along with three #1 R&B albums and 15 Top 10 rap albums because of its policy to keep its artist roster diverse and not focus on one genre. Their latest artist, Tech N9ne has capitalized on the idea that fans don’t just want music – they want a real experience. The crew focuses on its live show to make sure each is unique, and members wear their own merchandise on stage, knowing that merch sales are now becoming especially critical to actually earning a living.
Harlem-based A$AP Rocky and A$AP Mob has really capitalized on the idea of having a crew with a group identity and embracing the idea that artists need to be entrepreneurs and not just musicians. The group is comprised of a team of artists, producers, video directors and experienced business people and has used the talents of its members to diversify the products it offers as well as its marketing strategies, creating a strong brand through high-production-quality music, music videos and even a fashion line.
Hopsin and Funk Volume has gained success through YouTube, but never relied on it solely as a way to “make it big.” Instead, the group used YouTube to enhance its movement, which included regular live shows and recording. The unique video for “I11 Mind of Hopsin 4” released on YouTube late last year and has gained 12 million views, and the entire Hopsin YouTube channel is at 43.8 million views and counting.
L.A.-based Black Hippy, signed to Top Dawg Entertainment shows that building a solid team and taking every opportunity to participate in high-quality projects is critical for artists that want to earn a living in music. The group has continued to align itself with reputable partners and is comprised of members that continue to perfect their own craft through other projects to get their names out there and strengthen Black Hippy’s brand.
Odd Future emerged in 2010 and is made up of very artists that are too young to know anything but the new music business, which has allowed them to forge their own way and adapt easily to changes. Thy own their own label, design their own logos and have taken responsibility for their own careers. They continue to build their skills as rappers, producers, singers, videographers, graphic designers, etc. because they accept that they will very likely have to learn to control the many different aspects of their brand in order to survive.
Brooklyn-based Joey Bada$$ and Pro Era has tried to blend old-school hip-hop with its newer forms in an effort to attract fans of all different ages and with different sensibilities. The complaint among fans of original hip-hop has often been that modern hip-hop has not retained some of the elements that made early hip-hop so innovative. Pro Era has responded to this by bringing some of the older components into the new forms.
Kid Ink, now signed to Tha Alumni Music Group, has used the informal mixtape as a strong promotional tool for formal releases. His DJI11 Will-collaborated mixtape “Crash Landing” got the attention of critics, and he responded by putting out two more mixtapes to stir excitement over his debut album Up & Away. And because of the momentum he built by heavily pushing and promoting his mixtapes, his first single “Time of Your Life” garnered the attention of Chris Brown and Tyga, who collaborated on the remix.
Alex Stern is the manager of up-and-coming DIY rap artist Sam Adams and owner of the flourishing clothing company Eighties Babies USA. Originally from Massachusetts, Alex launched his clothing company while he was attending the University of Colorado as a studio art/graphic design major and began to focus on promoting his brand successfully through social media and networking. While at Boulder, he also decided to combine his love for Hip Hop with his marketing and business savvy and team up with Sam Adams, who had been his best friend since high school, to help him build his music career. Within months, Alex, Sam and his hoards of loyal fans were able to bring Sam from a freestyle rapper making music in his dorm room to an internet sensation and a touring artist with a #1 album, Boston’s Boy, on the iTunes Hip Hop chart.
I had the chance to talk to Alex about what drew him to Sam Adams, why he has been so successful at harnessing the power of internet marketing to promote his brands and how he plans to help Sam further his Hip Hop career in the modern music industry.
How did you get involved with Sam Adams?
Sammy and I got connected through a natural, organic process. We became friends in high school when he moved out to my school in Boston my senior year. When I first met Sam, I was attracted to him as a result of his general swagger, and not necessarily because of the music. He had a different attitude and demeanor than most of the kids I’d been around. I was immediately attracted to that right off the bat. When I first started hanging out with him and listening to his productions and what he’d do on the computer at a very early age and a very early stage for him – around 16 or 17 – I realized that he had some kind of weird, innate inherent talent that I’d never seen before in any creative field, and it really turned me on.
We didn’t really start working together on music at that point, because we went our separate ways to school. I went to school at Boulder, he went to school at Trinity. But I stayed updated on whatever he was doing musically on probably a weekly basis for a year or a year and a half. He hadn’t actually even recorded his voice on anything yet when we were both a couple years into college. The first time he ever really laid down vocals and let it be heard was on “I Hate College,” which was obviously a huge turning point. When I heard that along with a bunch of other stuff he’d done in his college dorm room, I put into the mix along with all the other music I was listening to. I’ve been a huge Hip Hop head my whole life, and a huge music listener.
“I Hate College” was the remix of Asher Roth’s “I Love College,” right?
That’s correct. Basically I put him into the mix with everything else I was listening to, and I had a feeling he was better than any of the music I was excited about at the time. He could fit right in, if not be the best, and I wanted to make something out of that. So, at that point I decided to bring him out to school at Boulder and do his first show at a bar, collect some liquor money and some door money. That’s just the summary of how we got started and how our relationship came to be.
And you’re also running a clothing company called Eighties Babies?
That was something that started before I worked with Sam. When I was out at school, my first jump into the social media world was sparked by the clothing company I started. I went to school for graphic design and art and started designing t-shirts and other clothing. The way I got my clothing out and started doing really well with that was through Facebook primarily and also through events. I used Facebook to really make it pop. I had that background when I started with Sam, and it flowed right into helping promote him.
Obviously Sam has something that people gravitate towards, everything from his video leaking and getting a million hits on YouTube, to an independent artist topping the hip hop chart. Clearly he has something people want, so you can’t define that, but from a business perspective, what did you guys do that other people didn’t? Which marketing techniques did you use, and how did you use mixtapes? What were the major business steps you took to get Sam on the map?
I think it’s important that in your question at first you said, Sam’s so appealing, and people gravitate towards him. My job was really just to put him in front of people, so they could really experience that feeling, and it wasn’t something they had to go after or find out about. It was something that was easy for them to see and blatant and obvious. I didn’t really have a business model; it was just very natural for me. The way I did it was I stayed on Facebook – and I still do to this day, though back then even more – all day, posting new stuff and being in their faces and in their news feed. People were and are using Facebook or Twitter or YouTube on a daily basis all day. What that does is, whether they think they like Sam yet or not, they’re going to get the opportunity to really find out. With a lot of other artists, you have this preconceived notion that you like them or you don’t like them based on a few visuals or half a verse you may have heard from a friend. With Sam, there’s no way if you’re at all connected to anyone in our network that you’re not going to see his face 150 times and hear a bunch of his songs unless you really ignore it.
That would suggest to me that you guys had a lot of early super fans, people who gravitated and were willing to do their own additional promotion because they were such big fans.
That’s absolutely a fair assessment. I think that was something that I had recognized was an asset to us from step one. Did they help me out? Absolutely. But we enabled them and gave them that responsibility very purposefully, because to me, creating an environment where our fans that love Sam felt like they were part of it, and part of his family and community and part of his team and promo has no downside. There’s only upside, and they proved that, because for any time I wasn’t on the ball putting something in someone’s face, I had 100,000 kids who were just as passionate as I was about it and willing to put it in their friends faces.
What does creating an environment that enables other people to pick up promotional tasks look like specifically?
It’s about being approachable online, being responsive and having a dialogue with your fans that makes them feel that they’re as important as they really are. Being in this business, as I’m sure you’ll know, the idea of being unapproachable and being someone famous has been important for a long time. But for me, that was selfish, especially with the existence of YouTube. A good way to exemplify what I’m talking about is – and this is the biggest secret I have business wise that I’ve never really talked about publically – we’ve let our fans put our YouTube videos out. If you look at any other artist, they have an official YouTube log, and they’re going to put out every video first so they can get their numbers up and then take a good look at their numbers and use that as their business model. For me, that seemed selfish. The only upside to it is that you can check out your own diagnostics, which there wasn’t much value in for me. If we gave fans the opportunity to feel like they were the first to put out our music, and their video is the official video of a certain Sam Adams song or a certain interview, suddenly not only do they feel like they’re just as important as we are in terms of promoting him, but we’re getting our product out to an entirely new network that I may have nothing to do with or not be a part of whatsoever. And that was appealing to me.
That’s really great. It sounds like this started for you guys when you were still in college. Did penetration of and access to the college market help you in any way? How did you leverage that?
I think to say “it helped us” is an understatement; it created us. It’s the sole reason why Sam Adams came to be. The college network and the Facebook and Twitter networks, but mostly Facebook and YouTube created us. The environment you live in in college is such a small world because of Facebook that he became a trend in that world that was stronger than it could’ve been in any other place. His timing and his sound along with that was just explosive. So, the college market and Facebook were absolutely the most important things.
How does an independent artist go about becoming #1 on the Hip Hop charts? It sounds like non-stop social networking promotion, and obviously he was performing and collecting some super fans to get up and do stuff with him and for him. What were the steps you took to promote a release, and which tools did you use?
The credit has to be given to Sam as far as getting to #1 and making that release be so special for us. I could reiterate the value of Facebook and YouTube and everything, but the real value came from his sound and his timing within his environment. And he was able to put out a brand new, authentic white rap sound that was naturally poppy and naturally danceable to his market. We didn’t have to do much work. I can’t take credit, and no one can take much credit except for him, because he had the ability and that genuine sound. That’s what made that release happen and made him go to number one. I was there to help out on the sidelines with everything I already talked about and do. Obviously that helped it go to number one too, but the rest is all Sammy.
Did you find mixtapes helpful in promotion? Wasn’t that some of Sam’s early stuff?
We put out one mixtape. Most people involved in social media and networking that way and promoting themselves that way would say that mixtapes are the most important thing, and putting out free music to their fans is huge. To me, that’s not really part of my model. I think if fans love something they should be able to buy it, and it should be powerful enough for mixtapes not to run their career, especially when you’re someone who is as naturally pop oriented as Sam is. You need to be a sellable artist. We have such an extremely hardcore fan base that are so passionate about him that they almost don’t want a mixtape track compared to something they know is mastered and has a perfect sound. They’d rather buy it and have the best version of something compared to a more Hip Hop-oriented genre, where mixtapes are more appealing. That’s not us.
What’s next for Sam and for you?
The next step for Sam is for him to sign onto a major label and put him in a place where he can really maximize his potential, which to me and everyone else on his team and to Sam himself is the most elite place that an artist could be, and we want him to be the best and be a superstar of the highest magnitude. Our next step is deciding which label to go with. We’ve been approached by everyone in the world and have sat down with every president around the nation in the last year. IT’s about deciding who is really excited and who really comprehends Sam the same way we do so we can make that transition and be proud of the move we’ve made. Considering how well we did on our own, it’s important for us to really transition well.
I’m going to ask a question, because to be honest, so much of what artists want out of a label you’ve accomplished yourself. Of course, with a major label there’s distribution and a giant team. But what do think the most valuable thing about a partnership with a major label would be at this time, since you do have so much going for you? What is the missing ingredient for an artist of Sam’s stature to move forward?
I would say that radio along with an international presence are the two ones that stick out in my head that I would really appreciate help with, and that’s where the label is going to come in. There’s a certain extent to what I can accomplish, and I’ve really maximized my resources at this stage.
To learn more about Alex and his clothing company, please visit the Eighties Babies USA website and become a fan on Facebook. You can also keep up with Alex on Twitter. To learn more about Hip Hop artist Sam Adams and listen to his music, visit the Sam Adams Live Facebook profile, or follow him as BostonsBoy on Twitter.