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I Quit Rap

A friend of mine sent me this blog post to read because he thought I would get a kick out of it. I’ll be quoting it a fair amount, so it might be worth a read.

This post is a great example of all the wrong mindsets one can possess when approaching a career as a performing artist. Because I know so many people who have some or all of these perceptions I didn’t quite get the kick out of it my friend hoped I would.

However, I do feel it can be used as a bit of an educational service to those who are trying to make it as rappers (or really any performing artist of any variety).

Bear in mind that I work with folks who literally came from nowhere with nothing and went on to have steady, successful careers as performing artists. And yes, some of those folks have gone on to win Grammy’s and sell platinum numbers.

But that brings us to point number one.

1. Aim for a Career, Not a Dream

“Kanye West was my inspiration to start rapping.”

Shoot for the stars! But don’t do it without a space ship that can sustain life for the time it takes to get to those stars! Otherwise you’ll be out in space, starving, all cold. [And the winner for worst mixed metaphor goes to…].

Seriously though, overnight success is exactly that: overnight.

The list of artists who get on, make one hit, then vanish into obscurity vastly outweighs those who have a spur-of-the-moment hit and actually garner some longevity.

Meanwhile, the artists who grind, build connections, and develop a career never actually need to have a hit at all. If they do, even better, they can do more with it.

Kanye West had a successful (and unsuccessful) career as a producer before he ever landed a hit record. He was a member of a production team in the 90s and worked as a ghost producer (aka a guy who does all the work and gets none of the money or credit) for years.

He was getting placements on underfunded projects, most of which tanked, but ultimately earned those connections. In fact, it wasn’t until “The Mad Rapper” album where Kanye really got any recognition at all.

In 2000, Kanye’s “big break” was getting involved with Roc-A-Fella. But at the time, Roc-A-Fella was really just starting to re-establish and become it’s own entity. In fact, his value as a producer and the connections he made is what really launched Kanye’s career.

His first album only came about as a political move made by Dame Dash who didn’t want to lose Kanye as a producer. When it took off, well, all the better.

So the point is this: if “Kanye” or whoever else is “your inspiration,” get to know the struggle they went through, the grind they went through, and then you know what you have to do.

Kanye set off in 1995. No one knew who he was until 2003. And realistically, that’s pretty fast to get a career in music going.

2. Excuses Don’t Make Success

“I am just a 21-year-old black guy from New York City with aspirations.”

Everyone has a struggle.

Yes, some people were born into the music industry and with plenty of money. Guess what — even they have to struggle to get a foothold in music.

But most musicians are coming from very humble means, and believe it or not, many of them are also African American, or Latino, or insert-minority here.

“I came to the realization that dreams are for dreamers, not people like myself.”

That’s right, dreams are for dreamers.

Dreams are intangible, inconsistent, and occur while you are sleeping. If that’s what you’re about then you aren’t really about anything.

“…and I can’t even afford to get in the studio in order to make a quality project.”

Guess what? Neither can most people.

When I started doing production I partnered with a guy named Raheem “Random” Jarbo. He was from the Olney area of North Philadelphia. We couldn’t afford studios either.

The key difference is that people who don’t succeed focus on what they don’t have and why they can’t get what they want.

People who do succeed focus on what they do have. We had drive, we supported each other in whatever ways we could, we had access to crappy equipment, and what we didn’t have we built.

Ran’s first album was done on a budget of something between zero and twelve dollars. But he had (has) people who believe in him and he returns the favor by tirelessly working to make something of himself.

3. Get Used to Rejection

“Instead, I was repeatedly told, “Sorry your music does not fit our site.””

Rejection tells you one of two things (sometimes both)…

One: you need to improve some aspect of what you are doing.

Two: other people don’t understand your vision.

Guess what, it’s part of human nature to fear what they don’t understand. If you are being rejected frequently it’s either because people can readily compare you to something that’s better than what you’re doing, or, because people can’t readily compare you to something.

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My friend Samik “The Symphony” Ganguly goes through this a lot. His vision of Pop and Hip Hop is 2016, and unfortunately, the year is 2014. Only the folks who have a good ear and the ability to “look ahead” of current trends can see what he’s doing.

Truthfully, whether you’re doing it right or wrong, rejection is part of the equation. Samik has suffered a decade of being told “no” in various ways, and still faces more rejection than acceptance even while getting records placed on GOOD Music and Aftermath.

If The Pope, Kim Jong Un, Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Vladimir Putin all got together to sponsor “World-Chella” and asked you to headline, right after the hologram of Michael Jackson performed… a week later, some douche Sony/Universal/Whatever A&R would be telling you that you’re just not what they’re looking for.

4. Bring Something to the Table

“They stay home and use their computers to record and get their raps out, and eventually have people check it out on SoundCloud.”

No one cares. No one cares. Let me say it again: whatever you think you are doing, no one cares.

Not without a damn good reason. Give the people a reason to care. Being a musician means playing your instrument or using your voice exceptionally well. But that’s not a performing artist. A performing artist is someone making art in the form of performance. Your job is to move people. To incentivize people to have an experience, and if you’re good, a profound experience.

Let me put it this way: which do you feel is the better reaction to your music?

A: Wow, that guy can really sing/play that guitar/rap.
B: Wow, that performance was incredible/that song was really intense.

If you chose A, you chose wrong.

Impressing people is good for about one day after you’ve done so. Affecting people is good for weeks, months, years, sometimes a lifetime. Fans are not “impressed”, they are “moved.”

So what are you giving people that affects them so profoundly that they will support your career as an artist?

5. Don’t Ask for Handouts

“So as for me quitting rap goes, I truly have decided to quit. Maybe the only way I will continue is if I get support.”

Sorry, but it will never happen. At least not like this.

Working in music is really like any other job. The people who can “put you on” are looking to make an investment. If you go to a job interview and focus on what the employer will provide for you, you won’t get that job.

What you want is to show them what you are providing for them. “I have these certifications/degrees, this past work experience, this awesome attitude” is a much better pitch than “I just need a chance.”

But what do you do if you don’t have much on the resume? Duh, build your resume. If you know a job will require a college degree — you better figure out some way to get yourself to college. If you know a music label is going to be looking for acts that have an established core fan base (which, yeah, they are) — you better figure out some way to build a fan base.

Is it easy? Hell no. Can it be done? Yes, I see it happen all the time.

6. Have a Specific Plan

“But unlike some rappers, I have a plan B. I want to eventually become an entrepreneur and move up in the corporate world by starting and running my own company.”

For one brief, fleeting moment, there is a glimmer of hope for this young gentleman. He offhandedly mentions that he has “a plan.” And subsequently drops the ball by providing zero specifics in terms of what that plan really is.

When I set out as an engineer and drew up my ten-year timeline, I knew I wanted to incorporate an educational component into my work. I love teaching and I feel I’m good at it.

As time went on the picture became clearer and I was able to map out specifics on how I would advance myself as a teacher. For example, I have begun to map out a college teaching tour. By 2015 I will have amassed the contacts and program necessary to go around the country and make appearances at educational institutions to teach the art of music production. The specifics go deeper than that, including names, dates, a pitch for my presentations, etc.

Figure out specific goals and then figure out how to achieve them.

Goal: “I will have a sit down meeting with an A&R who can work with the music I make.”

Plan: Figure out appropriate A&R. Figure out where that A&R’s office is. Figure out how to get an appointment. Figure out what I will need to blow that A&R’s mind (like, say, a fan base, some great records, and maybe a music video).

Non-specific goals have another name: Dreams.

And dreams are for dreamers. Careers are for focused performing artists.

The attitude of making music, expecting to get recognition, making excuses, not having a plan, and not being willing to truly pay ones dues will certainly end with a mass of rejection.

Without a change in mentality, I think quitting is really the only recourse. And I say this not to be damning, but to be inspiring. Because I’ve seen folks create rewarding careers doing what they love to do. I’ve been a part and continue to be a part of that process.

So don’t get in the way of your own success, best of luck, and I hope to get an email one day from you saying “I read your article, it changed my view on things, and now I’m seeing progress in my career.”

 

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Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss

Matthew Weiss is the recordist and mixer for multi-platinum artist Akon, and boasts a Grammy nomination for Jazz & Spellemann Award for Best Rock album. Matthew has mixed for a host of star musicians including Akon, SisQo, Ozuna, Sonny Digital, Uri Caine, Dizzee Rascal, Arrested Development and 9th Wonder. Get in touch: Weiss-Sound.com

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