Category Archives: From My Experience

The Importance of Personal Relationships

Okay, this post might crossover into rant mode, but I have to get this off my chest.

A little while ago, I noticed someone had sent me a friend request on 2 different social networking sites; Facebook and LinkedIn. I know who the person is, but I’m not very familiar with her because we’ve only briefly dealt through someone else in the past. On the few instances that we have spoken, she seemed nice and professional, so I decided to accept her friend requests.

She contacted me with an update of what she’s doing now and we exchanged a few emails over a 2 week period.

As you already know, I have my own business; so I have a few people on the team, but I also keep a short list of freelancers who I’ll outsource work to for certain services. I’ve seen her work and thought her quality of work and price would be a good match for one of my clients.

I called her up and gave her a brief rundown about this potential client and what was needed, but never went into details about who the client is and where they’re from. We spoke a bit and agreed on a rate for her retainer services.

Later that night, I logged into my Facebook account and noticed that she added 3 people from my Friends List. 2 of those guys were the clients who I was discussing the contract for, but I never mentioned their names or any real details about them.

We don’t live in the same area and she works in a very specific niche, so it’s unlikely for us to have many contacts in common.

I thought it was kind of strange but thought maybe she’s just one of those people who treats Facebook like MySpace and adds as many people as she can without making real connections with them.

Then, the next day, I get a call from my client telling me that he just got a message from her saying she can offer him a cheaper price if he goes directly through her.

WHAT?!

How bold can you be?

But wait, it doesn’t stop there.

The same evening, I noticed she joined about 5 groups that I belong to and ended up adding the admins of those groups as well (also people on my Friends List). These were all relatively small, local production companies and labels that don’t really operate within her niche; so again, it’s highly unlikely that she knows them.

The next day, I got some phone calls and emails from a few people telling me that she contacted them also and offered them the same thing. They noticed I was the only “mutual friend” so they wanted to give me a heads up on this back door shyster.

I can’t lie – I was vexed! I was about to pick up the phone and put her on blast. Did she think I wouldn’t find out? Did she think I’d just ignore it?

My blood was boiling at first, but then I realized – these people all called and told me about it. They got this random person who just added them on a social networking site and started pitching them straight from the gate. They don’t know her nor have they ever heard of her. All they know is that the only person they can link her to is me and that they hired my company to handle the services she’s pitching them.

They all sensed a rat and even deleted her from their Friends List as well.

But the fact that I’m the only person they can link her to plays into their perception of me and my judgment. We really have to be careful about who we keep around us. It’s hard sometimes because most of us work in industries that are built on greed and backstabbing. Especially the music business!

How do we know who to trust and when we find those people, how do we know how far our trust should stretch?

Obviously, she can’t be trusted and I’m curious as to how many bridges she’s burned so far, but even though she went directly to some of the artists, managers and indie labels I work with; I’m not really worried. She oversaw my secret weapon – Personal Relationships!

I don’t just walk up to people, hand them my business card and walk away. It doesn’t make any sense to me. I see it all the time at industry events; people walk around and give out their cards like they’re passing out club flyers – they don’t even speak to anyone. A lot of artists and beatmakers are guilty of doing the same thing with their CDs: just put it someone’s hands and walk away. I call that “spam networking”. There’s no point to it; nobody’s going to remember you when you spam network.

For me, I don’t just meet people; I develop relationships. When I look through my address book, I don’t see “contacts”; I see PEOPLE. I see experiences and memories. That’s not something that just takes 5 minutes to build. This is something that takes while to build and that you maintain on a constant basis.

Whether it’s wishing someone happy birthday, taking them out when they’re in town or even just grabbing a drink together because you haven’t seen each other in a while; these things are important. But don’t just do it because you feel obligated or for networking reasons only. People can tell when you’re being fake. Do it because you genuinely want to. Lucky for me, I’ve come across many people who I easily get along with and whose company I enjoy.

So, back to the situation at hand; to her and to anyone like her – you can steal all the contact info you want and try to pitch them, but I can pick up the phone and share a laugh or even ask for a favour if ever needed.

No matter what you do, what industry you’re in or where you are in your career, never underestimate the power of a personal relationship.

How I Discovered Kanye West

Kanye West with gold models

Note: I get a little side-tracked in this post, but it all comes together, I promise.

Have you ever felt connected to and genuinely proud of an artist’s success because you were a fan of theirs before they became major celebrities? You somehow believe you were a part of the movement, even if you were no more than a mere observer.

I have.

I’ve been a fan of many artists before they became stars. As they moved ahead in their careers, I became proud of each of their accomplishments as if I played a role in it. One person in particular is Kanye West.

*Okay, so I didn’t really “discover” Kanye, but you get the point.

The first time I heard the name Kanye West was back in 1999. At this point in my life, I had formed this little group of local artists; 2 rappers and 1 singer. I wasn’t rapping or singing though; I was the “producer/manager”.

We were working on a couple tracks and I started searching online for other artists and producers to collaborate with. I heard this one R&B joint that I thought was bananas. I checked out the rest of the webpage (this was before everybody had their own websites and the people who actually were online had webpages hosted on GeoCities – remember that?), and found out it was from a small R&B group in Chicago. Their contact info at the bottom of the page led me to their producer.

I didn’t know what I wanted to do with that song really; I just knew that it was hot and that I wanted it. So, I contacted the producer and told him I wanted to do a remix of it featuring my group. We spoke for a while and he ended up sending me about 5 CDs full of beats. From all those beats, only a small selection were good and I decided to take 3 of them. (I still have those CDs actually. I just checked).

This was during the time when the bedroom producer was really beginning to take reign and the indie game was over-saturated with corny sounding Fruity Loops beats (I’m guilty of that too). This producer’s main pitch was that he wasn’t using Fruity Loops, but actually playing it out on his Triton. Every beatmaker and their mama was about the Triton back then. If you weren’t using it, then you weren’t really serious.

Anyways, after that we ended up speaking on a regular. One day he started telling me how he first got into producing:

“My mentor is Kanye West. You ever heard of him? He works with some big names now. That’s my dude. He taught me to play the keys in our church group. Check him out, that’s my mentor.”

He would mention “Kanye West” every chance he had. I remember asking him about these vocal samples he had in a beat I wanted to buy:

“Don’t worry about those samples. Kanye West doesn’t clear them unless it’s for a big artist with big budget. He told me it’s cool if it’s just for a smaller artist who doesn’t get much airplay. They’ll only catch you if your song gets real big, but by then you should have the money to clear the sample anyways right?”

Whether this guy was for real or not, I kept seeing Kanye’s name pop up after that – magazines, cd & mixtape credits, online forums, etc.

“Isn’t this the guy homie kept telling me about? Hmm.. dude’s moving up.”

When Jay-Z dropped the Kanye-produced, “Izzo (H.O.V.A)”, I felt this weird sense of pride as if it was someone within my crew. I told everybody I knew about it and spoke about it like it was something we should all be proud of.

It continued like that for a while.

A few years later, I was watching RapCity with Big Tigger and they aired Kanye’s first video, “Through The Wire”.

“Dude’s a rapper now?? This joint is siccck. Playa is on point!”

I was all about it. I kept telling people about it like I was making commission.

I guess the label thought it wasn’t getting the type of buzz they needed because the record and video disappeared like it was never even serviced. No mention of it, no traces of it.. nothing.

It re-appeared a few months later and this time, it got major push. Now, the label was fully behind it and talking about an upcoming album. Now everybody knew his name and was all about it.

The Kanye-frenzy began and it wasn’t my little secret anymore.

Coincidentally, I had just began working at the label when “College Dropout” was released and although it was a different division that was responsible for marketing the record, I kept a close eye on the project as if I was protecting my own investment.

The record dropped and the frenzy began. The first tour was damn near sold-out, if not sold-out, in every city. (Side note: John Legend performed a private after-party that night at a tiny africana-jazz bar near my apartment with a maximum capacity of 100 people . One of my favourite music memories, by far.)

The rest is pretty much history.

Now, Kanye’s the biggest name in the game and has everybody waiting on his next word. But even so, as an early supporter, I still kinda have that sense of familiarity with him and feel like I played a role in his success in some weird way… do you know what I mean?

I guess my point is; everybody has experiences like this – so keep this in mind with your own career. Connecting with your fans early on, will not only make them feel more connected to you – but can also help propel your career to new levels.

Taking Advantage Of Opportunities

Sickamore

“In order to take advantage of an opportunity, you must first recognize it” – Ivan Berry

At 17, he owned his own record store – and dropped his first mixtape.

At 19, he was one of the biggest names in the mixtape game and launched his own artist development firm.

At 21, he took his first job at Atlantic Records, under the guidance of Kyambo “Hip-Hop” Joshua.

And now at 23 years old, Sickamore has just resigned from his position as Director of A&R for Atlantic Records.

The net is going crazy talking about it. And now, I’m adding to it.

According to his blog entry about his departure, Sickamore left Atlantic because he lost faith in the major label system.

“I’m not going to sign talented people to a label and have them sit. I rather bet on myself and get them hot in the streets.”

A couple of sites and bloggers (haters) attack Sickamore’s decision saying “he’s too soft” or “that’s how the game works”.

Bullsh*t.

Personally, I respect his decision and think he’s a smart guy for leaving before it sucked the passion right out of him.

While maybe not on the same level as his position, I remember being warned when I got my first job at a major label. A friend and mentor told me “it might seem like an exciting opportunity right now, but the second you step into those doors, your passion for music, your passion for business and your passion for life will continue to die until you want absolutely nothing to do with this industry all together.”

I can’t front, that shit scared the hell out of me. I was confused. This was the first time I actually doubted myself and began to question if I was actually following my heart or just chasing an empty dream. I even had one of my “anti-system/indie rocks” friends tell me I was “selling out” by going to the majors.

I thought about it or a while, but I couldn’t take too long before giving them my answer, otherwise they would have easily given the position to somebody else.

So, what did I do?

I took the job.

Why?

Well at this point, I still wasn’t exactly sure where I wanted to fit in, but I did know that no matter what I ultimately chose, there was no way I would be able to gain the experience and learn the mentality of the major label system, from the outside. I was going to have to go through those doors and lock myself inside if I was going to learn how they work and if it was for me. If I didn’t like what I saw, then at least I’ll be able to say what I don’t want to do and use my experience to my advantage in another avenue.

If you don’t dare to try – you don’t dare to succeed.

In the case of Sickamore, don’t focus on the fact that he left a high position at a major at the age of 23. Focus on the fact that he accomplished and received a high position at a major at the age of 21.

Sick’s still got a long way to go; with a very promising career ahead of him. The fact that he’s already accomplished so much at 23 is a testament that opportunities can and will arise, but it’s up to you to make something happen.

Opportunities will always present themselves to those who are actively in a position to take advantage of them.

Make sure you’re ready when yours come knocking.

Taking Over Your Spot

Yesterday was a long day for me – well, longer than usual. Amongst all the running around and flood of phone calls I had to deal with throughout the day, I met with an artist and his team in the afternoon to talk about the plans for his upcoming record.

The artist himself has had pretty good success in the past with his previous albums; medium-to-heavy rotation on radio and music tv, national and international tours… all that. I’d been a fan for a while and knew a few things about the behind-the-scenes of his previous records, but this was the first time I actually sat down to work directly with him.

As an independent artist with his track record, I assumed his team was already established and had their stuff together. Turns out, a couple members of the camp are getting dropped because they’re not holding their own (reason why they’re calling me).

I can’t lie, I was actually happy to hear that people on his team weren’t taking care of business. Not because I don’t like the artist – I told you, I’m a fan of his – I was happy to hear it because it gives me the opportunity to really showcase how on-point and professional my work is. They’ll appreciate it more. Their expectations aren’t as high anymore because of bad experiences. When they don’t expect much and you go above-and-beyond to deliver the world in their hands, you not only created a strong rep with them; you now created a salesperson who’s going to spread the good word around and strengthen your overall reputation.

Word-of-mouth is a powerful thing. It can bring you to the top or toss you to the bottom.

Keep this in mind, because like some of the guys in this artist’s camp – the second you slip up, I’m taking over your spot!