For Those Who Can't Sleep On Hip Hop

If you’ve been hiding between your iTunes earphones for the last week, you may not have heard the major news about Radiohead offering their music on their website using pay-what-you-like pricing. Some people even call it “free music,” since you can pay nothing (actually there is a minimum charge of about a dollar that will go on your card, to offset credit card processing fees). The buzz is that this may save the industry.

It is very doubtful that this model could ever work as a viable one for the “industry” as we know it. It can only work for unsigned artists, which is a great thing. Many indie artists have embraced much of what the Internet has to offer in a very effective manner. Majors are still trying to play catch up online. However, as far as saving the industry, that’s farfetched.

Imagine if utility companies, or any business for that matter said, “pay what you like.” Companies that choose this model would go bankrupt. Even Wal-Mart can’t say, “pay what you like.” This is the reason you don’t see free magazines nationally distributed within retail. There’s nothing in it for the retailer. Even The Village Voice (free NYC weekly) has a cover price when it’s sold outside of the New York area. Okay, so maybe this is a stretch because we are talking about digital products and digital distribution, and in many ways we are talking about surpassing retail. However, will a label incur the expenses involved with signing artists, producing music, maintaining a staff, and promoting that product (albeit digital- no manufacturing costs) that will potentially be given away to the end user? Remember, marketing is the greater expense here, not distribution and manufacturing. Isn’t this why the industry is crying at the moment? Because consumers won’t pay for their music anymore. What makes you think that they’ll start paying when they have a choice to pay what they like? Ahhh, this is where the answer truly lies. Value.

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What value do fans currently put on music? Apparently, not much. Why is this? We all know the answer. Yes…because the industry has been pulling the old bait and switch move on fans for years. We all know the formula. With a few millions dollars we can all play. Here are the ingredients. Step one: Buy a really bad song a lot of radio play so you can slowly earn a piece of each listener’s mind space (hint- aim for the youth, they absorb the world through media, and are easier to manipulate). Step two: Inundate the media with messages about the artist that made that really bad song. Step three: Use that bad song, that now everyone knows, as a catalyst for selling a disc full of other really bad songs that the fans haven’t heard yet. Step four: Now make this product available at every retailer by spending top dollar on every piece of real estate in these stores. Oh, by the way, make sure that single is still available to consumers, but price that disc at $7.99, so they’ll instead buy the entire album for a few dollars more. There you go, instant mega-sales. Oh, one last thing I forgot to mention, you need to have a lot more than a few million dollars here because you are going to have to repeat this formula over and over again. Why? Because only a small percentage of your releases will actually be profitable. The good news is that those few releases will make up for all of the other losers that you sign. Okay, so the business model is working great. Then the ball drops- Enter Napster, illegal downloads and ninety-nine cent singles. Here we are today; why would fans pay a substantial amount (if anything) for music that is not good. Notice I didn’t say consumers again. We aren’t talking about just people that need to consume a product, but fans- those who love and evangelize what they’re passionate about. There’s a big difference.

At last, we get to The Secret. Are you ready? QUALITY. Sorry to disappoint you. You already knew the answer. The labels aka “The Industry,” however, doesn’t know this. Despite the annual decline in sales, the industry continues to pump out more and more formulaic music. Sure fans will bop their heads to it, hum it for a while, but ultimately they don’t care. It’s a file on their computer or their MP3 player. They’ll make room for more files or delete those files when they’re not “hot” anymore. Music has to be relevant and timeless for the value to be there for fans. It has to be something that we will want to think about in a year, five years, or twenty years. Let’s be honest. How many signed artists today have this value in their songs? If the answer is very few, then the solution can only be to bring the quality back to music. Fans purchase and repurchase music from their favorite artists in every configuration. Why? Because it’s relevant. It means something to them. They find an irreplaceable value in those songs. That’s obviously missing today.

Back to Radiohead- Sure this is a potentially great model for them. Why? Because they have a built-in audience built from their major label releases, videos, radio play, and tours. So even if they only garner a small percentage of those millions of fans that bought their music on a major label, they will still win- whether it’s from a $1.00 sale or an $80.00 sale. This is obviously because they cut out all of the middle men- labels, distributors, retailers, radio, promoters, etc. It’s groundbreaking news for a group of their stature to do this because most well known groups would go for the instant money that would only come from resigning with another label. They stepped outside of the box and are getting a lot of media coverage for this. Will this work for the next major artist that does this? It may not if the media attention isn’t there, because it won’t be a big story anymore, someone’s already done it. So what will a major group do when that media attention is missing? They’ll crave the hype that only big bucks can deliver. Who has those big bucks? Major labels. Here we go again.

All this hype is really a good story that is specific to Radiohead, and maybe a few other major artists that go this path. But, if it wasn’t a big news story, I wonder if it would work at all. Most casual fans wouldn’t be aware Radiohead had a new album out if they don’t visit the artist’s website. As for being the NEW business model: I don’t think so. Independent artists have been selling their music direct, and even giving it away way before the Internet. I’ve seen many many artists play on the streets and subway platforms in NYC with a guitar case or a bucket soliciting donations. Isn’t that a pay-what-you-want model? Today you can visit tons of sites and find artists offering free, or near free downloads. Yes, I’ve even seen them say, “pay what you think it’s worth.” Some of these artists have found that their fans will even pay more than the standard ninety-nine cents per song that has been set by iTunes. That’s great, but it never made it to the top news of the papers. It hasn’t changed the industry yet.

Let’s look beyond the hype of the pay-what-you-want offer, the real story is the value that is being offered to fans in the Radiohead DiscBox (CD, CD-ROM, photo album, lyric sheets, all hardbound with a slipcase). The fact that they are offering their fans an alternative to the current standards- CD or download- is the value. A release that is not limited to one item is compelling to diehard fans that want to be immersed in the world of their favorite band. The exclusivity of knowing that not everyone is going to have this is alluring and has a distinct value to a fan. This is the true value. The industry should not copy the pricing structure, they should not copy the Discbox, they should just find a way to create a value in the content itself. This is called quality. -IV

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Pay Per Post helps extend the Long Tail of Internet advertising. Garnering the power of the masses of blogs within the Blogosphere, Pay Per Post offers those seeking to build awareness for their services or products the ability to pay a set fee for each post that is published that covers their message. Why is this different from Google’s Adwords model? Because Google offers text links that garner ad charges upon click-through. In many cases this is good because the advertiser only pays when someone clicks through. However, PayPerPost’s model is different. Instead they simplify the process by allowing advertisers to determine a set amount that they want to pay per post. This is not based on performance, but on coverage. Granted, many of the “opportunities” offered by advertisers are for just a few dollars. However, the true value for advertisers is that unlike traditional ads, which are situated in spaces set aside for advertising, this model gives advertisers the ability to be seen within a site’s content. Also, in traditional advertising the ad runs for a certain length of time. With this model, the message can live forever because it’s embedded within the content, which is normally archived on most weblogs.

PPP offers an interesting approach that further extends the Long Tail of advertising on the Internet.


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Distrakt is a triple threat. Not only is he a dope emcee who has a unique voice with classic delivery, but he also makes all of his own beats, and puts on a great show. His new album “Distraktions” is really packed with Hip Hop tracks worth listening to. The production is solid, the rhymes are entertaining and the vibe is energetic.

Enough of Kanye and 50. We already know what they are coming with. On the VMAs Britney looked like she didn’t belong in show business, in a recent interview 50 supposedly said he’s tired of the game. These superstars seem to diss their own audience, yet the fans still go out and support these releases. Instead of supporting these tired labels, go out and support a hungry, fresh talent like Colorado Springs artist Distrakt. You won’t find him in the Best Buy or Circuit City circular, but his album is still available internationally on the Net. You can pick it up at his CDBaby page .

If you need to verify whether he’s worth checking out, you only need to check out this video: Distrakt vs. Hater

Also check out the Distrakt promo car. You can’t front on the real:

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NUMBERS By Dirty Angel

September 10, 2007

I simply call this joint…. “NUMBERS”

(I was inspired by my idol, Ice-T, who had “COLORS”).

For obsessed people who always ask, “How many units did so-and-so sell?”

but never ask, “Is so-and-so’s album any good?”

This is dedicated to you.

 I know this guy must love reading Billboard Magazine

…’cuz he’s a number fanatic.

“One.. Two.. Three Million albums sold! AH! AH! AH!”

(cue in thunder & lightning sound fx.)

     First off, I’d like to state that my opinions don’t reflect those of Insomniac Magazine.  These ramblings belong to a lone, deranged vigilante with a vendetta against the corporate machine.  I had to get this off my chest, because I get into this discussion with record industry storm-troopers all of the time.  Rather than snipe them one by one, I decided to eliminate them all with a single blast of literary buckshot.     

     It’s been said that “men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t (lie)”.  I beg to differ.  Sometimes numbers do lie.  Because if you think that the death toll in Iraq is accurate (the numbers that the Pentagon feeds the media), you probably believe in Santa Claus too.  It’s like when your city’s police chief announces those yearly stats claiming that “crime is down 50%” while bullets are still flying around the hood like mosquitoes.  Numbers can be manipulated in an attempt sway public opinion.    

     So when a fool hands me a copy of Billboard magazine (the alleged Holy Grail of the music business) to prove how out-of-touch I am with that fake industry, I usually give them the finger.  See, I’m a fan of real hip-hop music to the bone grizzle, ya’ heard?  Most of the artists I dig receive little to no airplay, rarely show up on BET’s 106 & Park and actually create superior art.  I’m like a caveman who’s been trapped in ice since the N.W.A. era (and I wish I’d never been thawed out).  So I always clash with today’s hip-hop “fans”.  You know, the mindless drones who share 50 Cent’s opinion that rappers are good only if they sell a gazillion records.  I respect 50 and I love the “Get Rich or Die Tryin” album, but I’d like to ask him a question: “50, what were you listening to on the block back in the day when you were hustlin’… way before you became a household name?”  You think 50 was listening to MC Hammer or Vanilla Ice back then? Probably not, but according to 50, rappers are only good if they sell astronomical numbers, something both Hammer and Vanilla Ice made history doing.  So they must have put out classic, quality albums, huh? Guess 50 and Tony Yayo were pumping “Ice Ice Baby” while they served fiends on the boulevard, since that joint was so ill.    

     I don’t put a whole lot of value in Billboard’s numbers, because major labels buy their own records to “juke the stats”.  Since Americans are some of the most gullible people on the planet, and have an inherent “herding instinct” like cattle, they run out and buy whatever they think is “hot”.  That’s why the idiots who slept outside of Radio Shack to cop the first I-Phones are on suicide watch now that the price dropped by $200.  When these consumers, who I like to refer to as “prey”, hears that the mediocre “artist” of the moment is selling a gazillion records, they run out and buy it like zombies (well, at least until downloading caught fire).  The stats in Billboard are like the 350-pound chick on MySpace who claims she’s “voluptuous”; they’re not all they seem to be.   

     You know what would make Billboard interesting? If they showed the only numbers I care about: the amount of money each artist actually makes off of their record.  Then we could really compare the 400,000 Jim Jones sold independently to the millions of records that Soulja Boy or Lil’-Young-Whoever-the-hell sold on a “major” label. When you realize that Jones gets about 4 or 5 dollars from each record sold, and most of those multi-platinum guys get about 1 food stamp per record after their mega-budgets are recouped, you understand that the shiny plaques and accolades don’t add up to much.  Yeah, Ice Cube latest album only sold 500,000 copies.  But he manufactured and distributed the record himself.  Ice Cube’s own company, Lench Mob Records, handled every last detail with absolutely no major label involvement.  So let Billboard start posting up those numbers so we can see who’s really ballin’.      

     That’s why I respect a lot of the Southern artists, for their ingenuity and entrepreneurship.  Master P, Young Jeezy, Rick Ross, Three-Six Mafia, Pastor Troy, Cash Money… those artists were selling lots of albums independently on their own: 10,000 copies here, 40,000 copies there.  So when the greedy major labels approach these artists with a deal in hopes to multiply those digits, the artists actually have leverage to negotiate better contracts.  If a major doesn’t sign them, they can still get rich.  Meanwhile, with the exception of Dipset (and Duck Down or Uncle Howie Records), most New York rappers do a few mix tapes (they all rap exactly the same) and sign crappy contracts with major labels that will never put their albums out.

     I’ve been listening to Three-Six Mafia for the past 7 or 8 years, but now they’re a household name because of the Grammy.  They’ve been on their grind for over a decade, working the underground, with a dedicated fan base.  Ask creative, original, business-minded artists like Necro, Ill Bill and MF Doom what their true, die-hard fan bases did for them.  The aforementioned artists make a good living doing what they enjoy because their fans support them through thick and thin; the fans getting tattoos of Necro’s logo or MF Doom’s mask (think anybody tatooed “Hurricane Chris” on their body?).  The number-watchers can talk smack about Wu-Tang, but Wu-Tang has a world-wide, rabid following that live by “The W”.  Any artist affiliated with the Wu has a loyal clientele who’ll always show love and support their records, even if they don’t do multi-platinum anymore.  Over a decade after their debut album, Wu can still eat off of their fanbase. You can talk to the stale, microwavable rappers like Chingy, D4L or Mims(“This is Why I’m Hot”) about fickle fan bases; the types of fans who like an artist because they’re on-fire for a moment but abandon them for the next media-fueled big thing.  It’s been said that the star that shines twice as bright burns out twice as fast.  That’s why Chingy’s sophmore album went double-wood, and artists like Talib Kweli and Common are doing the best numbers they’ve ever had in their careers.  Talib & Com were on that slow burn for years and are now hitting their stride.  They worked hard to build a dedicated following and they deserve all of the success they’re garnering.

     That’s why I’ll never understand why two great, legendary groups, Mobb Deep and M.O.P., signed with G-Unit.  I’m an official member of the loyal fan base that both of those groups have, and I BOUGHT (not downloaded) every last one of their albums.  I’m sure they have their reasons, but in my humble opinion, established heavyweights like them have no reason to sign with anybody.  Actually, they should be the ones signing other artists to their label.  The 300,000 “Blood Money” albums Mobb sold was a failure by major label standards, and then they have to divide whatever profits they made with 50 Cent, Jimmy Iovine and whoever else.  They didn’t need to sign with G-Unit to sell 300,000 units, they could’ve done that with no assistance.  Imagine if they sold that same 300,000 on their own independent label with all of the profit going directly to them.  They would’ve probably sold more records independent, because many of their original fans were turned-off by the G-Unit affiliation.  Both members of Mobb (Havoc & Prodigy) now have solo albums on independent labels.  Why not do that from the jump? Will M.O.P. ever drop a new album? As much as I love and respect M.O.P., they are not a group designed to sell 20 million records; they rep too hard for the streets.  They’re a little too gully.  Any major label robots expecting M.O.P. to make that fluffy, soda-pop hit single are delusional because M.O.P. never, ever made that type of music.  After the Roc-A-Fella fiasco, M.O.P. is back to square one, while Jim Jones sold over 400,000 on an indie and is now poised to join a major.  It’s cool for Jim to sign a major label deal now because he has that intangible most recording artists lack: leverage.  Jim Jones proved he can sell without the help of a so-called major label, so he has the upper hand in a deal.  Mobb and Mash Out aren’t new artists, they already have solid, sizeable followings.  It’s implausible, but my guess is they got caught up in the numbers game like everybody else instead of looking at the bigger picture beyond their immediate scope of vision.  When they first signed with the label, Prodigy allegedly stated, “G-Unit is the only record label giving out Ferraris”.  Man, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.  I’m thinking, “Ya’ll went platinum with ‘Murda Muzik’, you’ve done world tours, got a legendary catalog, you been in the game for 10-plus years and you’re excited over a Ferrari?”  Unreal.  C’mon, ya’all, act like you’ve been there before.

     I mean, I know it’s easier to have a record label change your diapers but have some dignity.  Yeah, I keep using Jim Jones as an example, but I have to give credit where it’s due.  So deal with it.  I reside in Harlem now (my Brooklyn fam calls me a traitor but hey, my rent’s reasonable for NYC), and you know who I saw on Lenox Ave. putting up “Jim Jones” promotional posters last summer? Jim Jones himself, platinum jewelry and all, along with his street team.  Jim was actually stapling his posters on the street poles in the summer heat.  Mind you, this is after he blew up, he didn’t have to do that.  But it shows how hard the man grinds and love him or hate him, why he’s where he is right now.  Guys like him and Jay-Z(even though they can’t stand each other) have long-range vision.  They have a drive and a hustle game that separates them from 90% of the rappers out there and that’s why they keep winning.  That’s why Jay-Z was in a position to actually sign Nas (whatever happened to Ill Will Records?).  No disrespect to Nas, who is a God MC, but that’s just insane when you really think about it.  Even though I support squashing beef, that’s another move I can’t understand for the life of me.  Nas, one of the all-time greats, signing a deal with a rival rapper who dropped “Reasonable Doubt” after “Illmatic”.  But, I’ll save that for another story, because then I’d have to ask why an artist of LL Cool J’s stature is looking for a label to sign with, instead of owning one.

     Numbers… fool’s gold if you ask me.  Still, I’m wondering when a major label is going to sign The Count from Sesame Street to do A&R.  The Count paid his dues in the ‘hood, he’s the O.G. of numbers.  Pay homage!

For more stories, work and insanity from Dirty Angel, visit www.supremearsenal.com or www.myspace.com/blackpacino.

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Rap Wars 2007: West vs. 50

September 9, 2007

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Is this Rap Wars 2007: East vs. West all over again? Not quite. At the end of the day, there will be one winner- Universal Records. Yes, both titles are distributed by Universal. Do you really think that either 50 or Kanye will quit rapping if the other sells more records; don’t hold your breath. If you believe that then you’ll believe that Ice Cube and Master P are quitting the rap and the show business games as well.

Don’t be mad, it’s all in the name of marketing and selling music in an industry that is trying to figure out what the next money maker is going to be. This is a somewhat tired, uninteresting ploy to get fans riled up so they can pick a side and drop some dollars on the CD; pitting one rapper against another is not original. Sure some fans will take sides. That is, online, in forums and blogs, but will they take sides in stores? We’ll soon see. There was a time when something being viral meant that it was organic. Today major conglomerates are dipping deep in their pockets to manufacture viral buzz. Is this an oxymoron? Oh, you ask how is it costing them money? Look at your electronic superstore circulars in Sunday’s paper (i.e. Best Buy), you’ll see the sale boxes with both the new 50 and Kanye album covers positioned together on sale for $9.99 each. Funny thing, on the Circuit City circular in the computer section they have a spot featuring 50’s image on one computer monitor screen and Kanye on another. The two computers are positioned against each other on page. Ironically, both computers were HPs. No matter which computer the consumer chooses, HP wins. I’m curious if that cost the label extra, or if it was part of the co-op advertising expenses to competitively price and strategically position these releases in the store and on advertising for the week.

Both albums have already been leaked. Is this too a promotion strategy. Prince gave away millions of albums for free with the newspaper in London. Was this a dumb move? Giving away product for free. No, it got him all over the news and in people’s minds once again. Happy fans will buy concert tickets and support this artist because he was perceived as giving something to the people. And guess what, his label still dropped his album in stores. Hip Hop marketers have been using leaked and free music as a promotional tool for years. Rivalry in Hip Hop isn’t new either. Here’s a new concept, maybe a little too far-fetched: can someone just drop some quality Hip Hop music? Now that’s a novel approach to sell some music. Maybe get fans really excited about an awesome album that breaks the mold and delivers something that they just haven’t heard before. Is this going to happen? I doubt it. Aren’t labels dropping their own brand of mixtapes to combat piracy? Why didn’t they put out a 50 vs. Kanye Mix CD with all new songs? Now that would have been original. By the way, who’s rooting for Kenny Chesney?

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