OK folks, it’s about that time for Hip Hop and the 2012 Presidential Election to converge and cross paths again! And what better way to highlight it with easily one of the most intelligent, informed and enlightened Hip Hop artists the world has ever known in Immortal Technique. IT has been trying to bring the light to people’s eyes through his music for many years now, all the while doing so independently and pretty successfully. His lyrics are visceral, hard-hitting, uncompromising, informative and sometimes even riot inciting, but always with a purpose and a method to the madness. In the video below, Technique chops it up with VLAD TV on the election, how Obama and Romney respectively stack up, and what direction the country is headed in if we elect either.
This is truly a never-ending story: that of the music industry and how it basically missed the boat when it comes to music becoming more shared and more social at the beginning of the 21st century. The battle lines have been drawn and crossed for years now, and the truth is, there still are no real solutions to this issue. And what we’re left with is a lot of bickering, misinformation, and sometimes little in the way of progress.
I came across an article on a site called RapRehab.com recently that went into much greater length and detail on the topic that I will here, but it made me think of all of the possibilities that could be out there, as well as the interesting and curious history of this subject. In the article, a lot was discussed in the way of the music industry being one that is driven by capitalism and greed (duh!) which hasn’t and won’t do much in the way of making way for the social present and future of music. And even though those of us that are followers and fans of music already know this very well (or at least we should), this article will hopefully do more to educate people, and then cause them to take some sort of action to make a change to the way things are now.
One of the main topics that was talked about in the article was the recent shutting down of Megaupload and how that’s such a curious case in and of itself. And that got me to thinking about an article I read earlier this year on HipHopDX.com. So, because of that, I decided to include the video above. Now, what makes this case of Megaupload so curious, you ask? Well, here’s a snippet from that very article:
“While it’s clear what motivates Megaupload and equally clear why the RIAA wants to stop them, it’s the artists themselves who seem unable to decide what the value of their music is, sending a mixed message to fans about whether or not “stealing” that music is wrong. Confusing the matter further, artists like Kanye West, Diddy and will.i.am appeared in a recent ”music video” endorsing the site. Universal Music Group (who is the parent company to labels which all three artists are signed to) managed to have the video briefly removed from YouTube on the grounds that Megaupload didn’t have authorization to use their artists’ images, but Megaupload claims to have signed consent forms from everyone involved. They filed a retaliatory suit against UMG but dropped it soon after, so the details of who was or wasn’t paid probably won’t come to light until the federal trial, if at all.”
Here is a link to that HipHopDX article in its entirety.
But anyway, not to get off track. take a read to the article from RapRehab.com right here, and you be the judge. It includes some pretty informative charts, granted, with information that we probably already know about, but heck, even music fans need a bit of a reminder every now and then.
So where do you stand?
As you and many that are reading this are probably well aware, it’s currently tax season. And for many of us, that means doing our yearly ritual of finding and gathering receipts, purchasing accounting and book-keeping software, seeking the knowledge of qualified tax professionals, and so on. We do it because we have to by law, and because we want that all-important refund (those of us that still get it, that is). But one of the things I’ve noticed this year is a larger-than-normal number of Hip Hop artists, reported in the news at least, that are feeling the squeeze on past monies owed to good ole’ Uncle Sam.
Let’s be clear: tax problems and music artists are nothing new. Nor is the sentiment that financial literacy isn’t quite paramount in the Hip Hop community. But some of the big profile names in Hip Hop that are currently feeling the wrath of the U.S. Governments’ forced hand include Lil’ Kim, who is reported on popular music website HipHopDX.com to own the IRS over $1 million in taxes that were not paid in 2008 and 2009 (you can read the story on Kim right here), and Nas, also in a reported on HipHopDX.com, to own the IRS a total of $6 million in back taxes, with a tax lien having been served to the legendary Queens emcee to the tune of over $330,000 (peep Nas’ story right here.)
There was even an article in the December/January issue of XXL Magazine that outlined some of the struggles that rappers such as former G-Unit representative Young Buck are having, including his filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and maybe even having to go the route of Chapter 7 bankruptcy and having all of his assets, or those that he has left, liquidated. That same article was reported to have reached out to the camps of several high-profile emcees in the industry today that, over the years, have made their respective record labels millions of dollars through CD and digital single sales, merchandise deals, television and movie appearances, and the like, to get an idea of whether they were in a good financial place.
And apparently, not a single one of these artists or a representative from their camp was willing to that, which, if you think about it, brings the term “no snitching” to a whole new level. Check out an excerpt of the story by clicking here.
In any industry, with any job or career path, and in any instance where there’s money to be made, financial literacy is tantamount. But the importance becomes all the more greater when we talk about the music and entertainment industries, and bigger still when we talk about Hip Hop, because the sad fact is, there are very few artists that are visible and relevant that actually ARE willing to talk about getting their money right.
There seems to be a vicious cycle, a prevailing theme and a sense of hypocrisy within Hip Hop that continues to give the impression that as an artist, you have to flash your wares every chance you get, but when it comes to handling everyday financial challenges, be it income taxes, knowing the changes to tax laws and tax codes, determining an annual salary, staying on top of monthly bills, paying employees, label contracts, investments, estate planning, or what have you. Again, financial literacy is of great concern for any person on any job.
And no matter how we divide the pie, at the end of the day, even if you are a successful artist in today’s industry, you essentially have a job and are building what is hopefully a sustainable career. With any job, you have to do some necessary hard and non-sexy work to ensure that you will be comfortable financially, or at least have trustworthy, experienced people on your team doing this for you and making certain that they keep you abreast of the dealing of your money. Because Heaven knows nobody else is going to do all of these things for you.
Financial literacy and knowledge are too important to ignore for any artist in any genre these days. But too many times, it seems that Hip Hop artists of all ages and generations come up short and lacking in this area, taking an ill-advised “wait-and-see” approach to their money, and because of the way the music industry is structured, are really never able to recover from simple mistakes that grow into bigger ones when left untreated. There have been many a music career that has been placed on indefinite hold due to the lack of a basic understanding not just of what money an artist is getting and where it is coming from, but there it is eventually going and how to generate more of it with that which one already has. Especially at this time of year, artists (especially those in Hip Hop) must begin to show more in the way of gaining the knowledge, and therefore power, over their own finances and what steps they can take to ensure more money down the line.
So what do you think? Know of any artist that could use these resources? Are you an artist looking to gain more power over your financial future? Are you an entertainment business person with more knowledge and advice to offer than me? If so, share your story here! And feel free to share this with friends, colleagues and family. Thanks!
I decided to put an article I did for brooklynbodega.com on THE MUSIC BUSINESS REVISIONIST in it’s entirety. It outlines just a few of the things 21st Century artists can do to begin working towards success independently. Feel free to pass it along and spread the word. Thanks!
Business is never so healthy as when, like a chicken, it must do a certain amount of scratching around for what it gets.”–- Henry Ford
In a recent survey conducted by VIBE Magazine entitled The VIBE Ultimate Music Survey, the current landscape of the brave new music world that engulfs us was placed in crystal clear perspective. VIBE surveyed a pool of music fans and asked them about their listening, purchasing, downloading and sharing habits. Some of the key statistics go as follows, so take note:
-On an average day, 34.8 percent of respondents spend between 2 and 3 hours listening to and consuming music.
-28.4 percent of participants claimed to discover new music exclusively from music blogs.
-Nearly 30 percent of participants felt a sense of indifference to free music service LimeWire being shut down in 2010.
-33.2 percent responded that the purchase price of $1.29 for a song on iTunes is “very reasonable”.
-Over 25 percent of respondents said that they would not at all feel guilty downloading music that was unknowingly leaked and unauthorized by an artist.
Now, don’t get too down in the dumps, all you aspiring and seasoned artists out there. None of this is to say that there aren’t still rays of sunshine and glimmers of hope. The very same study reveals a few facts that may be interesting and surprising about today’s music consumer. For example, 71.3 percent of respondents still own some type of CD-playing device that is not a computer. And 34.2 percent still swap music via physical compact discs. So hey, this whole making-a-career-as-an-artist might just work out pretty sweet after all, right?
Well, hold your horses. Because even with these surprising and eye-popping results, the honest-to-God truth remains: it’s getting harder and harder to make a decent living, let alone a buck, as an artist. And that truth is only magnified if you’re gonna claim Hip-Hop as your bread and butter. Physical CD sales continue to crumble, technology is moving at break-neck speed, potential fans are bombarded with a ka-trillion marketing messages per day, more and more entertainment outlets are competing with each other for consumer dollars, and music has become a disposable good. And to top it all off, the economy STILL sucks. Hell, even VIBE itself has created a new mobile music app for aspiring DJs! The times they are a-changin’, and a-transformin’, and a-morphin’…
So what’s an artist to do these days? Let’s face it: these are, at best, very questionable economic times for many people, and artists seem to be feeling the affects like no other group. Which begs the question: how does one navigate such a pessimistic sales landscape in the music and entertainment industry, while still doing all they can to keep their integrity and make good money in the process?
It’s important to realize a few things from jump street about today’s Internet-drenched, 24-hour news channel, digital-driven Hip-Hop and music game, no matter what stage you’re at in your career. First, when it all comes down to it, this is a business. If you’re an artist in the 21st century, you’re automatically an entrepreneur/businessperson. You are your own brand and your own entity. Second, you can’t do it alone. Every great talent needs an even greater team around them of people that are dedicated to their success. And that means in all areas, especially the ones you may not necessarily want to deal with or feel you shouldn’t have to: management, legal, marketing and PR, promotions, publicity, operations, sales, press, communications, design, distribution, social media, retail, the list goes on. Third (and arguably most important, as well as my favorite consideration), the music business is about a whole lot more than just music. Meaning that, eventually, it’s necessary for an artist to look beyond just CD, Mp3 and iTunes sales and do whatever possible to branch out.
True, it’s a lot to swallow. And yes, it’s easier said than done. But hey, like many have opined before, challenging times also present great opportunities. And there are many a music industry expert out there that continue to hold fast to the idea that this is actually one of the best times to be an artist or musician in the industry. Sounds kinda crazy right? But there may actually be some method to their madness. So, with all of that to chew on, here’s a list of a few of things that today’s Hip-Hop artist can do to wade through all the muck, mire, damage, desolation and craziness that is the 21st century music biz, while actually making some money and keeping that all-important sanity thing that we all need to get through life. And away we go:
Look beyond the standard record label model
It’s a standard practice, especially when it comes to Hip-Hop. Wanna go indie? Fine, just start your own label. Unfortunately, it’s quite obvious that the label model isn’t the most profitable anymore, be it indie or major. So how about taking a good, long look at some of the areas of the business that might not be as glamorous, but might still put some extra change in your pocket over the long haul? Among them, music publishing and music licensing. How about forming your own publishing company for between $25 and $100 if your music is already released on a recording? Or, possibly licensing your song for a commercial, website or mobile game app? It takes a little research, but yes, it can be done.
Sell your music and merchandise on a tier system
A few years ago, there was a pretty popular story on an indie singer/songwriter named Jill Sobule. A struggling artist that was looking for a way to fund her next music project, she eventually created the website Jillsnextrecord.com, where she gave fans the opportunity to make donations of as little as $10 to her cause. In return, she offered goodies such as free digital downloads, free admission to her shows, and even executive production credit on her album. Now, how about taking that idea and adapting it to the music you already have? The more of your music and merchandise your fans buy, the more they get in return. It’s important to know that today’s music fans loves to feel as if they’re part of something and had a hand in helping you get to where you want to be as an artist, on top of the fact that people always like getting stuff. Has the little light bulb gone off in your head yet?
Think like a fundraiser
When the word ‘fundraiser’ comes up, many folks either think immediately of an elementary school contest or a handout to a non-profit organization. But the definition has changed in the new age music industry. In the past few years, there have been a great number of websites/companies that specialize in this very practice. Over here in the states, one of the most popular is KickStarter.com, which bills itself as the largest platform for creative project in the world. Over in the U.K., there’s SlicethePie.com, which specializes in artists raising funds for their own projects and fans getting paid to review new music and support emerging talent. Even Hip-Hop veterans Public Enemy raised a reported $75,000 through the website SellABand.com for their next project. Many of these sites and companies have come into existence in response to record labels cutting costs, jobs, artists and whatever else they can to save a buck. So take advantage if you haven’t already.
Stay educated, informed and adaptable
Yes, I understand, it’s such a cliché. But there’s so much importance in staying informed in this day and age. This is mainly because there is so much information out there! To be honest, there’s not much of an excuse to not educate oneself as an artist about how the industry continues to change. From free eBooks that you can download to new music business websites that are created day-by-day, you’ve gotta take advantage of all that’s being offered to you, many times for little or no money.
How about we start with a few websites? ArtistHouseMusic.com’s tagline is, “helping musicians and music entrepreneurs create sustainable career.” The site has a series of videos, articles, case studies and strategies that many artists have taken advantage of throughout the years. ProHipHop.com actually has it’s own Music Business News section that focuses specifically on Hip-Hop. And Music Business Solutions (or mbsolutions.com) has tons of articles, books, consulting information and even a resource directory for any artist looking to take that next step.
It’s probably a good idea to grab some physical books, too. A few of the best that have come out in the last few years include This Business of Urban Music by James L. Walker, Esq., I Don’t Need A Record Deal by Danyelle Deanna Schwartz and Music Marketing: Press, Promotion, Distribution and Retail by Mike King.
Seek out sponsorships
Truth be told, the economy really isn’t anyone’s’ friend right now. But there are still companies that are either just getting off the ground and make a name for them or are going through a period of reinvention. As an artist, you may be able to take advantage of this. The key is to seek out a sponsorship from the right company. And the easiest way to do that is to get with a company whose products or services you already support on a regular basis. Be forewarned: not as many businesses are willing to let go of actual dollars. So your next step is a product sponsorship. Who knows? Maybe it could lead to some money from that very same company in the future.
Tap into other talents
Be it graphic design, journalism, teaching an instrument, having a radio voice, or just about anything, you might just have a hidden talent that others don’t know about. Maybe you don’t know about it yourself. The point is, as an artist, you might have to make due with some pretty slender pockets these days. So, if you aren’t already, why not supplement your income? There’s no time like the present.
Take a closer look at what’s happening in other genres and see if you can apply it
Hip-Hop has always been a genre where those that succeed have a hustler’s mentality. And as opposed to other kinds of music, at least to some extent, Hip-Hop has bred success while simultaneously enduring some of the greatest resistance and criticism as an art form. That being said, there are many artists from many genres that have taken cues from Hip-Hop to breed their own success stories.
Well, maybe now it’s time to turn the tables. There are advances happening all over the music industry from Indie rock to Electronica to World music. It might be a good idea to keep your eyes and ears to the street wherever you can. Yes, you definitely want to keep up with websites like HipHopDX.com, AllHipHop.com, Vibe.com, TheSource.com and Brooklynbodega.com, among others. But hey, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being wired in to publications like Rolling Stone, The Fader, Paste, XLR8R, SPIN, Blender and Complex. You’ve also got a plethora of alternative music blogs at your disposal right now, like Obscure Sound and Gorilla Vs. Bear, and online music charts like WeAreHunted.com.
The bottom line? The music industry is a big, wide-open space where cross-collaboration is happening more than ever before. You never know where your next great idea is going to come from, so it’s important to be open-minded and willing to seek out success from resources you hadn’t thought to consider before.
Create your own community
Some people would say that social networking is the best thing that ever happened to the independent music artist. Others contest that it opens up the doors for more crap to come crashing through. But whatever your position may be, it’s an understood fact that if you don’t have any type of social networking tool at your disposal in this day and age, you’re pretty much screwed.
But understand, the whole social networking thing goes far beyond, Facebook, Twitter, MySpace (or whatever it’s called these days), Reverbnation, and all of the standard tools that everybody’s using. For example, Talib Kweli and 50 Cent are two artists that have done great at taking advantage of creating their own social networking sites, Kweli with his YearoftheBlacksmith.com and 50 with ThisIs50.com, of course. If you didn’t already know, you too can create your own social community of fans where you can sell your music, update fans on upcoming shows, have people comment on your music, connect with other artists, and so on. The two main sites that folks use to do this are SocialGo.com and Ning.com. And there are plenty of specialized social sites specifically for artists where you can build a profile, connect with fans and artists, sell your music, create contests and potentially secure more funding, including IndabaMusic.com, Amie Street, JamGlue, MOG.com and Buzznet.com.
In the end, making it as an artist in music and entertainment takes what it always has and always will: determination, sacrifice, adaptability, networking, knowing the right people, and a bit of stubbornness, among many other attributes. And the times we’re living in have magnified this fact tenfold. So it’s more important to seek out advantages in whatever form they might come. It’s just a matter of taking that first step. Hopefully, these tips can start you in the right direction.