Excuse me, I'm late on the blog posting action. I actually started writing 4 different blogs today. Yes, today I’m officially scatter-brained. I’m that way a lot, but usually I’m able to be rather productive anyway, today it is on a next level. I’m on a mission to accomplish many goals this year. Although many of them are closely related, in one sense or another, they each require different tasks, thought-processes, partnerships, and a variety of other individualistic needs. That’s what led me to writing this… I find that I’ve been most successful is this business by being able to adapt and navigate my way thru it by capitalizing on my different skill sets, without the need to sacrifice my integrity, just my sanity sometimes…ha.
It could be said that today more than ever an artist needs to be thoughtful and/or creative in how they go about generating income and building a buzz. It can be very difficult for an indie or individual recording artist to rely on record sales, shows and merchandising to support them financially. I’m sure we all hear the talk about the shrinking market, the rise in downloading VS buying, the closing of record stores, and the disappearing of record labels as we knew them. On top of that, you have the massive growth of fans becoming artists increasing every day.
All of that, plus your own hustle and talent, play a part in how challenging it can be to make money. This blog isn’t intended to answer all your money-making problems. However, hopefully it’ll help on the road to reprocess your thoughts to decide what works best for you, if you haven’t figured out a solution yet.
I’ve been in love with music since at least age 4 when I got my first record as a B-day present. I feel in love with Rap Music in ’79 and was making my own songs at home just a year later. I got really serious about making music and trying to get a record deal somewhere between age 15-17. By the time I was 18/19 I was doing professional studio sessions and regular shows and also starting to manage/produce other groups and started my first “business”. I suppose the word “business” is relative since this particular venture had zero income. I opened a home recording studio and Artist Development business for local artists that I believed in. I did it with the hopes of getting them record deals and making money on the back end…that never happened. #IndustryFail#1. At age 22 I added an additional branch to that business, which was the promotions/marketing company. I did work with many major and indie record labels and other business that were marketing to the Hip Hop crowd (IE Lugz Boots). That’s when I saw my first money in the indsutry, but when it was all said an done, I walked away with people owing me more money than I ever made, spending more than I made to launch the business, so ultimately taking a financial loss. Yet, also a huge gain in leverage that got me where I am today. My main point is, that I never really made any money in this business until about 2003, right after I moved to Minneapolis. By then I had already dedicated over 20 years of my life to it. Most of my peers, ex-partners, former crew members, and the like had long given up on that mission and it was hard to blame them. That road was long, hard and full of some huge sacrifices. If I had to do it all again, I would take that same road, but also hopefully there would be someone to provide me with some ideas and options that I never considered.
Once I gained some knowledge and understanding of this business, here’s how I was able to make some music while still pursuing my dream, a motto I’m still following today:
1)Day Job: I know no one wants to hear it, but that is probably the single smartest thing I ever did. I never thought I was too talented to work…ha. I know a guy, who I was in a group with, that got kicked out of house because he told his grandmother, “I can’t worry about taking out the trash…I’m a musical genius!” Ha. That’s an extreme situation and it probably wasn’t that cut n dry, but you get the point. Don’t think just because you feel you are going to “blow up” that you can sit around and wait for that day to come. I could spend a few lifetimes naming all the artists who thought they were going to blow up that you never heard of.
I always worked a day job and stayed with those companies for extended periods**. That allowed me to make good money and gain seniority, so I could have more flexibility in my schedule. I was able to take that money and invest it in my future. That’s how I was able to start my own business, buy my music equipment, and travel around to different Hip Hop scenes to make connections. Two of those trips led me to my jobs at Scribble Jam and Rhymesayers.
2)Diversify How You Use Your Talent: This is a huge piece. You need to be able to think outside the box of what your talent can do to generate income, as well as publicity, besides just releasing music and doing shows.
For example, I’ve made some of my biggest career moves, including financial gains, doing things that I originally never even thought about when I started this business. Over the last 15 years or so I’ve had success doing a variety of things that expanded my reach, built up my name and increased my income:
-Lectures: Putting all those of years of being a Hip Hop fan to use and talking at schools, community centers, and Summer camps about Hip Hop.
-Teaching: this was a natural progression from the lectures. After years of speaking at Juniors Highs, Elementary Schools, and Colleges, I got my chance to actually teach a Hip Hop class at a college. It’s the Rhymesayers “Hip Hop Essentials” class I teach at IPR.
-Writing: That is something that people in the business suggested I do because I knew so much about Hip Hop and I was always speaking on it in such a detailed and analytical way. I had never considered writing as an option, but now it’s one my biggest passions.
-Radio: Again this was something that was tossed in my lap for the same reasons as the writing. I never thought about it before, but the opportunity came and I took it. I did College radio in Chicago on WNUR for 7 years for free, but there is no way to place the value on the connections I made from there. Plus it was that experience that landed me a job at The Current, where I now do Redefinition Radio.
-Consulting: Being considered an “expert” in the field of Hip Hop, whatever that really means…ha, I’ve been called in for a few things. Two specific events come to mind. When the Old School Hip Hop exhibit hit a museum in Chicago many years ago they had a press only early opening before public viewing was allowed. The Chicago Sun Times called me to walk their reporter thru the exhibit and explain everything to her and give her a better perspective and understanding of the artifacts for her article. When the Science Museum in St Paul was working on a youth musical exhibit they called me to help them arrange a sampling based interactive workstation that kids could play with. It was really interesting, but at the final moments the main curator left the museum and the new team leader decided to go a different direction. Too bad, it was coming along pretty fresh.
Those are just some of the main things. There’s a bunch of other things that happened along the way like DJing, hosting events, and things like that and they are the more common routes that people take so you should be aware of those. Keep in mind, those are specifics that worked for me and you may need to find some other angle that works best for you.
I know a lot of artists in the Twin Cities who do similar things to supplement their income while they still maintain music careers; Big Quarters, Carnage, Desdamona, Toki Wright, I Self Devine, etc…
I think one of the main reasons artists get fed up and end up giving up on their music careers, often stopping making music altogether, is because they hit a point where they need to start focusing on making money. Whether it’s because they have a family to support, need health insurance, or are just struggling on their own. If you can help eliminate or at least cushion some of that with a plan along the lines of what I’ve outlined above, it may also help you stay active in your musical career for a greater amount of time. In this industry, it is extremely important to know the rules and guidelines that have long existed, as well as continually evolve. However, it’s also equally important to know how and when to create your own lane to ensure your growth and survival!
Written By Kevin Beacham while thinking about Kool G Rap’s “Dollar Sign Sweater…” For those who know…
*On top of that, I still have the 3rd in the series of Vandy C Collection “Rares” to run, but I couldn’t stay focused on the other 3 articles and I decided to space-out the next Vandy C video to give some variety this week. I’ll launch that video on Saturday. I’m trying to get to the point where we are launching new stories 7 days a week anyway.
**Besides my side jobs I did in the music industry, I’ve only had 3 jobs in my life. 1st job = 9 years and 9 months. 2nd job =7+ years. 3rd job is Rhymesayers and going on it’s 10 year anniversary this year!