The rise of the internet has decimated the traditional music industry, but outside the traditional music industry it's also allowed a new generation of artists to thrive in ways that would have been impossible just years ago.
Even under the best of circumstances producers have it hard. They're almost entirely dependent on other people, with little to no control over whether their production makes it onto an artist's album, and even if by some miracle they land an album placement, they're last in line to get paid. Without exaggeration it could be years between when they first produced a song and when they get their first royalty check, which means it's entirely possible for a producer, especially younger and newer producers, to currently have a Top Ten single on the radio and still be struggling to pay their rent.
But outside that mind-numbingly complicated, syrup-slow traditional music business structure a new economy is emerging for producers. Fueled by direct-to-artist sale sites like BeatStars, there's a new class of producers emerging who are making serious money from their production far outside any major label involvement, and you don't have to fight through an army of publicists to talk to them.
It really wasn't that long ago that I was still busing tables
Mantra is one of the new production economy's success stories. At 19-years-old he bought a MIDI keyboard and downloaded a copy of FL Studio with no greater intention than channeling out some of the music constantly floating around his head. The mainstream music industry felt a universe away from his Las Vegas home, other than an aspiring rapper he knew from his day job he wasn't part of any musical community. It was just him, alone, self-taught, five beats a day for summers, winters, springs and falls. He sold the occasional beat through SoundClick, fell into a loose management deal that at least gave him someone to help push him, but it was nothing that added up to anything significant. He was still busing tables, still wondering if he was wasting his time with this music stuff.
And then, just when he was on the verge of finally packing it up and letting the dream die, he got a call from famed producer Rodney Jerkins (Darkchild), who had heard his music and was impressed. The validation alone wasn't life-changing, but whether it was coincidence or a newfound boost of confidence translating to the music, sales on BeatStars started spiking and the money started adding up, recently enabling Mantra to become that very rare thing; a full-time musician with a steady, significant source of income.
I'm just taking it step by step, capitalize on what's going on. The money has gone way up and I'm still going through shock, honestly. I never thought I'd be making as much as I am now. So I'm just trying to maintain that as something to build on.
Mantra's careful to insist that he's more beatmaker than producer, a true producer creates with others, but it's beatmaking that's enabling him to truly make music a career. Every so often he'll sell a beat exclusively, but for the most part he's leasing beats, enabling him to sell the same instrumental to multiple artists and giving him the kind of theoretically limitless inventory he can build a business on without relying on any other artist or label.
When we end our call I'm not sure what to think of Mantra's future. As forward thinking as I try to be, my brain's so deeply trained to equate producer success with major artist placements it's hard to let go of, and Mantra's not immune to dreams of seeing his name on a platinum album either. He's carefully plotting out his next steps, which could include inroads to the mainstream music industry he's so successfully circumnavigated so far; frankly he's not sure.
This kind of music career isn't just brand new to him. It's brand new, period. The story of what kind of long term career a producer can have through digital-only avenues like BeatStars is being written in parallel to his own story. What a time to be alive and making music for a living.