I found out later that I’d signed away my rights to the publishing and the “official” credit for the beat.
Selling beats via the internet has been a staple of underground rap for years and is continuing its push into the mainstream.
Consequently, there are more stories of humble beginnings; young producers can have their lives changed from one badge notification on a social media app.
For Lil Voe, a 22-year-old producer from Anderson, South Carolina, life pivoted when he noticed his instrumental on a random Instagram story. That snippet would eventually become the beat behind SahBabii’s infectious single, “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick,” one of a number of viral sensations to bubble up out of Atlanta late last year.
Though Voe had only been seriously producing for less than two years, he had a hit under his belt. While it’s easy to assume, as an outsider, that getting a major placement is the end of a producer's worries, in reality, Voe has been forced to learn about the harsh realities of the music industry in the wake of his biggest placement to date.
Last week, following my interview with "internet producer" Taz Taylor, I caught up with Voe on a phone call, discussing his musical background, landing the “Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” placement, and the importance of learning the business end of the music industry 17 million views later.
South Carolina, has a rich, if underappreciated, musical history. What, if any, non-hip-hop music were you listening to at an early age?
I started doing band in middle school, in the eighth grade. I had a friend who was into it so he turned me on. I kept doing that from eighth grade through high school, that’s how I learned about arrangements, reading music, and formal music training. I played percussion and another friend in high school said I might like playing around with this Fruity Loops program so that’s when I started making beats.
How long did it take you to earn your first beat placement?
I wasn’t really confident in my beats [when I first started], but friends kept encouraging me to put them online, so I’d post them on YouTube and stuff. My first placement was with Chicago rapper LUCKI. I didn’t know who he was at the time, but he’s got a large following and other rappers started to pay attention. Requests for stuff went up after that and people were hitting me up from all over the country.
Did that increase in workload tell you anything about the creative process?
That’s it’s important to take breaks (laughs). I felt productive at first sitting there for hours, but if it started to affect the quality of my beats, I’d step away. Go listen to some inspiring music or watch a movie, whatever is going to reset me and get back into that mindset.
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Which producers have been a source of inspiration?
Zaytoven was a big influence coming up, he’s one of my favorites. The way Metro Boomin and Southside have hustled to get their names so recognizable to people in all walks of music is inspiring, too.
How would you describe your own beats?
I think 808s are my main draw. It’s not the same “Zaytoven 808” that a lot of people use. I was interested in crafting drums on the software from the beginning so I’ve been molding those sounds for a few years now, making it hit a unique way. I guess I’d say most of my instrumentals are “dark,” sad trap shit (laughs).
“Pull Up Wit Ah Stick” is the biggest placement of your career. What's the backstory?
It was a beat I posted on YouTube. In the first week, it had like 160 views, so I wasn’t really paying attention to it. Then, when I got back on not too long after that, it was up to like 44,000. Sometime after that, I was just clicking on videos on Instagram and I heard the beat I’d made and was like, “I made that!” So I hit up SahBabii and told him I made the beat and he was cool and said we’d work something out and could get some more work in too.
Once the song got on the radio, the record label sent me a “work-for-hire” contract about four or five months ago. I didn’t have a manager at the time, didn’t know anything about publishing, your rights as a producer, none of that. For me, I worked in a shoe store, so I’d never seen that kind of money being offered for my work. I have to help my mom out with bills and stuff so I signed the contract. I found out later that I’d signed away my rights to the publishing and the “official” credit for the beat.
How have you handled the business side of the industry since then?
It’s a lot better now that I got a manager (laughs). When you don’t know what you’re owed, it’s the worst, man, because people can take advantage of you. I’m not saying it was something intentional, but this industry can be like a cold machine that eats you up. Now that I’m with Bird, my manager, he’s taught me about publishing and getting credited and all that, so I won’t fall into the same trap again. I thought you just send beats out, got placements, then got paid and it was over. We tried to see if there was a way to get at least some of my publishing back for the track, but a contract is a contract, I guess.
Did they at least give you a call when SahBabii's S.A.N.D.A.S.was re-mixed and re-released?
I went back to the instrumental and tracked it out sometime before that, so they probably used that version when Thug’s engineer Alex [Tumay] got a hold of it. Before that, it was pretty rough sounding cause I didn’t know about tracking out and all that. Alex did his thing on it, though. It’s still rough, but it’s not harsh on your ears at all.
You’ve been producing for two years now. What have you learned during that time and what are your biggest goals moving forward?
First, I’ve learned that you need a strong team behind you that knows more than you do. As you can see, it can cause you to miss out on ways to support yourself and your loved ones. I wouldn’t want another producer to make my same mistakes. I was just young and didn’t know. Also, backing up your stuff is really important (laughs). That’s a way to prove that you actually did a beat, which is, unfortunately, something you have to worry about in the industry. Even if you think a beat is trash, save it because you don’t know who could make a hit out of it.
In five years, what are you doing?
I’d like to get connected with more pop musicians. That’s no disrespect to anyone in rap, I just don’t want to confine myself to one type of artist. I really fuck with people like Sango and Kaytranada too, so it would be cool to be all over the place like those guys. As long as it’s dope, I’m wide open to the possibilities.