Navigating the music industry for musicians and other industry professionals is a tricky line to toe. Thankfully, for those in attendance at the Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy’s event The Business of Hip Hop, R&B, and Soul Music, that cloudy line became a little easier to bare.
The Recording Academy, also know as National Academy or Recording Arts and Sciences, are the folks responsible for putting on the Grammy Awards every year. In the DIY community, it’s commonplace not to be interested in or care about the Grammys. The Pacific Northwest Chapter of the Recording Academy took over Seattle’s EMP Museum on June 1, 2013 to host a series of panels put on in partnership with Tendai Maraire of Shabazz Palaces, for the purpose of empowering the urban DIY community in Seattle.
The Business of Hip Hop, R&B, and Soul Music ran from 12pm-5pm, with Keynote speaker MC LYTE at the helm, and it provided a variety of panel topics including “Making $$ off Your Music,” “Master Session: How to Submit Your Music for GRAMMY Consideration,” “Master Session: Mastering and Recording,” and “Building a PRO Network – How connections increase your chance for success.”
Recently, all eyes have been on Seattle. With Macklemore & Ryan Lewis starting out as DIY artists national attention on the Northwest music scene has been on the rise. During the panels “Making $$ off Your Music” and “Taking #TownBiz Worldwide,” ian unofficial theme arose: something to the effect of “How do we get big like Macklemore?” Though that wasn’t the intended focus, Ed Pierson (Entertainment Lawyer, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis) and The Otherside filmmaker Daniel Torok, who sat on the panels, were happy to oblige. It didn’t take much for the conversation to devolve into, “Macklemore was so successful because he…” and “if you want to grow your business like Macklemore, …” etc. As the most popular current artist to come out of Seattle for some time, the young, eager minds listened attentively.
Ed Pierson likely had the most valuable advice when it came to the business of being a successful musician. His advice centered around knowing exactly where the money is going before the record drops, being creative with your brand products, responding quickly to licensing requests, and having all your paperwork in order before people come knocking.
A White Man’s Industry
During the “Taking #TownBiz Worldwide” panel, a local artist observed the following: “This is supposed to be ‘The Business of Hip Hop, R&B, and Soul Music.’ Why is there only one black person on the panel? The same was true of the last panel. Are all the managers and controllers in this industry white?”
Quick to answer was panelist and recording artist E-Dawg. He retorted the question by stating what he felt really needed to happen was for blacks to stop hating on each other. He expressed the need for blacks to stop competing with each other, instead they needed to help one another out, or the industry would always be run by 40-to-60-year-old white men. The auditorium erupted in applause.
Building a PRO Network
The final panel of the evening, and arguably the best, was moderated by DIY aficionado Larry Mizel Jr. (hip-hop journalist, artist, radio personality/DJ, band manager and Business of Hip Hop, R&B, and Soul Music panel moderator). Panelists included Ishmael Butler (Shabazz Palaces), Cool Nutz (Hip Hop Recording Artist), Choklate (R&B/Soul Recording Artist), and Meli Darby (Talent Buyer, The Crocodile, Reign City).
The panel wasn’t a paint by numbers Q&A about how to get a professional network. Rather, it was a discussion with successful, established people in the music community and how they started from the ground level with meaningful, equitable relationships. The most valuable takeaway was the advice of reaching out for assistance before the work becomes something one can’t handle on his or her own; and when the time comes, have something to offer.
Do The Grammy’s Belong in the DIY Community?
The value of the event aside, the question that needs to be asked is why is The Recording Academy, aka The Grammys, dipping into the DIY music industry, do they belong there, and will the DIY/independent music community benefit from the all-powerful Grammys’ luxury events?
In the words of Choklate, “Music is like a tree. The leaves are all your opportunities, and the roots are all the people who can help you out along the way.” There were many more a metaphor made about the bark, etc., but the crux of it was that her connections were exponentially expanded when she became a member of The Recording Academy.
SSG Music asked Larry Mizell Jr., “Why were you involved with [this event]? Do you think The Recording Academy is important to Seattle DIY? And do you consider Macklemore [& Ryan Lewis] DIY?” He commented:
I was involved with the Recording Academy’s Business of Hip Hop at the EMP because, first off, Tendai asked if I would be interested in such a thing—and put me in touch with Michael Compton from the Academy. Michael and I had a great talk, and I found that the spirit of the event was right in line with mine, so I was excited to help. The idea of fresh perspectives on the business of, and professionalism in, the industry of hip hop was too good to ignore.
This was only my second experience with the Recording Academy as a participant—I saw Young Guru speak a couple months ago—so I am still getting to know how they work. I have gotten to know a good amount of folks in Seattle’s DIY community, both those that identify as such and those that may not. I think DIY Seattle is exiting and wildly creative as it is (check for a documentary called Will Play For Beer coming soon), I think everybody can learn from everybody else. I saw Bree from Tacocat at the event and I know she was feeling it.
I’ve known Macklemore since 2005 and he was always DIY. Nowadays, he literally doesn’t do it himself, he has a super savvy hand-picked team and the might of a giant corporation helping get his music out. But I think he retains that DIY spirit, totally. Macklemore LLC is getting cheese, y’all, and more power to ‘em.
Watch hip hop panelist Ishmael Butler, now of Shabazz Palaces, accept a Grammy on behalf of hip hop as a member of Digable Planets: