From Internet Hustle to Internet Money: An Interview with Taz Taylor

We spoke with the "internet producer" about making a living off selling beats online and how the industry's changing.
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It’s easy to put barriers in front of the road to success. Defining it in “cookie-cutter” fashion is the product of human pattern recognition. We see ‘x’ action leading to ‘y’ result and our minds make the connection. If we allow them, those patterns can become chains that prevent us from seeing the variety of paths up the mountain. While they look nothing alike during the hike, the view from the top is the same.

If you believe “For the gate is small and the way is narrow,” a verse from Matthew 7:13-14, you might not know what to make of producer Taz Taylor. The Florida native has made a name for himself over the past half-decade by popularizing online “beat-selling” as a means to wealth and respect in music production. Unlike an instrumental from Sonny Digital or Kanye West, I could go to Taylor’s website, purchase a beat from his catalog or one of the producers in his Internet Money collective, and use it to torture you with my attempts at rapping. As long as I follow the legal guidelines, I could make a song from any one of the hundreds of beats featured there.

To some, that’s an infringement on the “way hip-hop should be made,” but for Taz, it was a way to escape homelessness and provide for his mother’s medical bills. “Some of these people man, they don’t get how the game is different now,” he tells me from the living room of his Airbnb on a recent trip to Los Angeles. “The internet changed everything.”

Taylor stands in solidarity alongside Ritchie With A T of Injury Reserve, both of whom have claimed their generation was “raised by the internet.” Endless articles have noted the way technology changes music, and I’m sure many were published this week alone. It’s hard to capture the true effect in the abstract, though. The impact of interconnectivity becomes visceral when you sit down and listen to the story of a kid who dropped out in the seventh grade, did what he could to pay bills for the next five years, and then tries his hand at music-making. It’s a venture that would eventually lead to Taz sharing his story while sitting across from a guy his same age with twice the number of degrees but a fraction of his net worth.

Zeroes aren’t the only thing being thrown in Taz’s direction, either. Just yesterday, Desiigner released “Liife,” a track featuring a verse from Gucci Mane and production by Taz. “Gucci was highschool for me, so it’s wild to say Gucci jumped on one of my tracks,” he said, trying to hold back his "Christmas Eve” level of excitement. A Sage The Gemini track will soon follow, he reveals.

Many of these placements happened when the artists were just scrolling his beat site. “Liife” was a “French Montana type” beat sitting on his YouTube before it was scooped up by Desiigner. Cases like this challenge the assumptions of established producer avenues and show us that hustling on the internet can have a positive effect on a whole community.

Your beats suggest a musical background. Could you talk about that a before we jump into producing specifically?

My dad was a drummer in a local band in Jacksonville, Florida, where I grew up. He would bring me along to practice every Wednesday when I was a little guy. I couldn’t have been more than three. In between sessions, when they’d go outside to smoke or whatever, I’d jump on the drum set and bang around. That’s really how it started. I picked up guitar when I was older. Never got any formal training in reading music or what chords I’m playing, but I learned to hear the music and I’m able to get by. That’s helped me play damn near any instrument. Not trying to say I can go up against the best of them, but you don’t have to be a virtuoso to use an instrument for our purposes today (laughs).

Are you still playing random instruments into FL? If so, what is the most notable instrument?

Oh yeah, I try to keep fresh sounds in there. The trumpet's probably the most notable. There have been plenty of dope tracks with trumpets throughout hip-hop history. “SpottieOttieDopalicious” and shit like that. But people don’t associate trumpets with rap like that. The Chicago artists are changing that. When you’re from the South those horns hit you, though.  

So let’s move to the beats specifically. When did you start producing?

About seven years ago, 2010. I was a graphic designer first. There’s a lot of downtime in that and people would mess with FL Studio around me. I have a musical background so it was easy for me to pick up the software. Plus, FL is user-friendly so that helps anyone trying to learn this craft. I was barely surviving designing graphics. I dropped out of school in the seventh grade, so it’s really all I had up to that point. Also, my mom got diagnosed with cancer around that time and she’d been working minimum wage jobs since I could remember. We didn’t have a way to pay for those bills coming in, so I started selling beats online to create cash flow.

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Did you have any other musical ventures outside of producing? The way you have all these guys here collaborating, it has a “band” vibe.

Yeah, I guess it does. I mean, I was in bands coming up. Nothing big ever came of it, but it helped with interpersonal shit. When you add more people to the equation, splits, credits, points—all that shit becomes sticky, so I found it was easy to focus on my own thing. These guys here, we’re all a part of the Internet Money collective, which I started to help other “internet” producers hone their production as well as the business aspect of music. You can make dope shit, but if your business isn’t right someone will screw you over. Once a month we all get together in a major city like LA, Miami, Atlanta, etc. We’re just on tour.

When you say ‘on tour’, what does that mean?

Basically, we take anywhere from 10-12 producers, just random people who want help learning how to sell beats or insight on the industry, and they pay a fee to come learn with us for a week at the house. Their fees cover the cost of the Airbnb and then we just do seminars, collabs, sessions, all kinda shit that week. I’ll have higher profile guys roll through too to talk with the guys. It’s cool because it gives these guys and us the feeling of close-quarters collabing. There’s nothing like being holed up in a house that gets you in the same creative space as someone. The space helps sometimes too. In Atlanta, we actually rented out Boosie’s mansion and didn’t even know it until we saw his name engraved on shit! Being from the South and growing up in a time when Boosie was the shit, that was wild for me.

You’re teaching people what you’ve learned producing, but there are people who don’t agree with your approach. Can you explain that tension?

Sure. I’ve gotten into Twitter scuffles with people like 9th Wonder over the way I conduct business and sell beats. They don’t agree with the whole “internet producer” hustle. I say “internet producer” because I don’t consider myself restricted to one avenue of producing. It’s a box people use to label me as a producer that’s “less than.” I’ll spend time in studios with artists, just like a “traditional producer.” It’s harder to get that time, to be honest, but as I land larger placements, it’s happening more. And that has nothing to do with my financial situation. I know studio producers that make a fraction of what I do, but they have GRAMMYs and major placements for days.

I wouldn’t say I’m disrespected by the producer community at large, though. It’s kinda the way Yo Gotti was able to make a name for himself and get respect outside of the label infrastructure.

Which producers provided inspiration for you when you started making instrumentals?

Bink was a big one, he doesn’t get enough credit. It’s not obvious in my production, but if you listen closely you’ll hear traces of Bink’s imprint on me. Being 24, Kanye obviously. I remember hearing “Through the Wire” and seeing the video when it was released. That Chaka Khan sample hit me and I was like, “What IS this?” So I researched it as a little dude and that got me into sample searching and shit. Before Wikipedia was big, too. I had to dig.

I’m also inspired by non-hip-hop music, too. Jim Morrison is a legend to me. It’s funny, my fiancée, and my son too I guess, are distant relatives with him. Like her aunt’s cousin or shit. When she told me that it blew my mind (laughs). Her and her mom thought it was the dude who sang “Brown Eyed Girl,” Van Morrison (laughs). Music is crazy like that, the impact it has. I’d be homeless right now if it wasn’t for music and the ability to make beats.

People try to delegitimize beat-leasing. How do you think your success has changed the perception of beat-leasing—or has it?

People have been selling leases to beats since before I picked up a MIDI. I was just one of the first guys open about it and willing to talk about how much money was in it. Like anything, if people start making money in a venture, you’re going to change your perception of it. The industry has changed drastically since we were kids, man.

People like Pharrell and Just Blaze were selling beats for $100k plus, but that shit don’t happen anymore, especially for young producers. And the expectations put on a young producer don’t reflect the reality of the situation. They want you to focus on placements and studio albums and look down on you when you try to get money on your own. But if you’re not a Metro or a Murda [Beatz] and already have those relationships established, how many placements can you get a year? And you’re getting five, 10, 15 thousand from that after taxes? It’s hella money if you used to work at McDonald's, but it can fall through anytime.

And I’m not taking away from the talent of those guys or their work ethic, either. But kids have to be realistic when they get into this. The kind of money we make isn’t automatic just because you approach it in this method. We handle the beat-making, branding, releases, etc. It’s easier for me to have my beats on a website, a rapper listens to it, likes it, buys it, and I get paid. Instead of waiting for the hurdles of a label and shit, making a beat in March of a year and waiting on the song to drop the next summer, which has happened to me.

I’m intrigued by the “type-beat” game. I was listening to Thug's new album on the way over here and thought, “A Young Thug type beat had a more closed definition in 2014 than it does now.” How do you think “type-beats” have evolved since you started?

That’s an interesting take. Umm, it’s hard to answer without giving a background into how we at Internet Money decide on the “type.” We don’t make beats with a specific artist in mind, at least I don’t unless my manager or a connect hits me and says “This rapper is in the studio” or whatever. I just try to make dope beats. There’s never an intent to copy someone’s sound or anything like that. We’ll make a beat and then drop it into our group message and we’ll collectively decide what artist vein it fits in. The “type” is a way to classify it for people shopping on the website to know the vibe associated with that instrumental.

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For kids who want to produce, what’s the most important information they should have before they start?

No one is going to be your friend in this industry. You can get beats and songs with major artists, but it doesn’t mean you’re getting in the studio with them ever. People’s managers, lawyers, creative teams, don’t give a fuck about you. If you’re trying to feel welcome in the music industry, I wouldn’t even suggest starting, because it won’t happen. I’ve been screwed out of credit on stuff without a second glance. To them, I’m just a “type beat” producer. Honestly, I’m not even in this for the money anymore, I’ve done that and set myself up for the future. I want my mom to see a plaque while she’s still around.  

Even though you’ve had some negative experiences in the music industry, you don’t seem bitter. It’s like you’ve accepted it. That’s very Zen (laughs).

I guess you can call it that if you want. It comes with the territory. I love making music and supporting my family, so if I have to deal with some bullshit, so be it.

Who would you like to work with that you haven’t yet?

Young Thug, hands down. He can do whatever he wants with his voice and it continues to baffle me. I’m not a huge country fan, so I’m not sure how I feel about the “country billy” stuff, but I’ve got nothing but respect for the dude. There are points on Jeffery where he almost sounds like Louis Armstrong. I don’t see why everyone in music isn’t trying to work with him.

Future, too. I remember when he first started and people were clowning him 24/7. I actually sent a tweet to him and he responded way back in the day, I could pull it up. It was around 2009 and I said something like, “I’m the only one in my group vouching for you, I don’t know why they hate on you dawg.” He responded to it and we had a short interaction, but interacting with his fans like that is why he built a strong base in the Southeast before blowing up.

Just talking to you now, I’m thinking about how crazy it is that I got songs with certain people. Like Lil' Kim! In my world, Lil' Kim is dope as hell. I’m a huge Biggie fan too and shit like “Drugs” still bumps to this day.   

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