My name is Curtiss King. I am a veteran music producer/rapper and the author of The Prosperous Hip Hop Producer. Through my YouTube channel, CurtissKingTV, I have had the opportunity to inspire, mentor, and educate over 4.2 million rappers and music producers around the world. My production credits include Kendrick Lamar, Ab-Soul, E-40, and MURS, as well as corporate giants like MTV, VH1, and Vans. My last two albums, Jubilee Year and Summer Salt, both reached No. 4 on the iTunes Hip-Hop chart. But more importantly, I am a husband, father, and go-giver.
The business of selling beats online will soon experience a massive shift, likely within the next year. Whether that change is a positive one for the music producers that participate in this instrumental e-commerce business is dependent upon many different factors, including but not limited to: our ability to adjust to the ever-evolving music business, our professionalism, our product, how natively we speak the language of our favorite social media, how much value we provide our industry as a whole, and most of all, how efficient we are at providing customer service.
For most music producers who are selling beats online, our most common customers are rappers. So, for the sake of cohesiveness in this editorial, I will refer to all customers as rappers, which is in no way an attempt to leave out the many talented singers in our industry.
Through my business, Curtiss King Beats, I have worked with rappers from every continent. Most of these artists have been young, up-and-coming rappers eager to record their first album. Contrary to the stereotype that paints rappers as cheapskates unwilling to invest into the people and tools required for them to have a successful career, I've found that many of them are unafraid of spending their hard-earned cash on production. Not only do they pay out for beats, but they pay for studio time by the hour, graphic designers to create their album art, CD manufacturers to press up physical copies, third-party websites to distribute their music to all major retailers, concert promoters to perform at shows with big headlining acts—which, public service announcement, is a huge no-no—and oh yeah… bills.
On many occasions, I've found myself jumping on the phone with these customers to get a general idea of their needs as independent rappers. Time and time again, their two biggest concerns are profit and promotion. These are hobbyists squeezing every drop they can out of their bi-weekly 9-5 paychecks to pay for just the creation of the art. For many of them, this means burning through roughly $1,500 or more just to prepare a product for public consumption. By the time many of them are ready to launch an album, many have either lost financial momentum or are stumped about where and how to spend their money to promote their music. In fact, the latter group does something even worse than losing steam—they blindly throw money at everything from Facebook advertisements to Instagram like and follower boosters.
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These discoveries weren’t surprising, because rappers and music producers are not natural marketers. Many of us, myself included, had to develop into the marketing minds and entrepreneurs that we are today. As a matter of fact, many of us had to first learn what an entrepreneur was to even realize how much our journey mirrored the very definition of the word. LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman defines an entrepreneur as "someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down." However misguided, the same entrepreneurial spirit and energy exist in many of these young rappers.
Of course, energy isn’t enough. Young rappers eventually get older, their energy shifts and their responsibilities become more demanding. And when many of these rappers don't see a return on their investment, they stop spending money how they used to. They smarten up. After the eighth pay-to-play show only nets a few hundred Twitter follows and less than 10 T-shirt sales, paying to perform ends. When the physical sales of their albums can't cover their studio costs, they stop pressing up their music and stop paying for studio time, instead choosing to record at home. When they can no longer afford the rates of their graphic designers, they start using iPhone apps that provide templates for professional album artwork. And now, as music production software becomes more accessible and easier to maneuver, music producers, what do you think will happen next?
Now, don’t get me wrong. The purpose of this article is not to suggest that there will come a day when rappers no longer need music producers. To some degree, music producers will always need the specialty that rappers provide as much as rappers will always need the specialty that music producers provide. In the same way that human beings have been fixing their own vehicles through every era of the automotive industry, we know that this has not replaced the necessity of the automotive specialist.
But what are you, the music producer, doing to ensure your customers are in the best financial position to continue conducting business with you? Are you educating the rappers that purchase from you on how to upload and distribute their music for streaming? Are you helping to promote the music they have purchased from you when it drops, even if it’s just a simple retweet on Twitter? What about an Instagram Story shout-out? Are your emails providing value or are they just colorful advertisements for your newest beats? How often do you jump on the phone with your customers to see what type of beats they are looking for? Do you view these customers as numbers or as human beings? Take a long, hard look in the mirror and answer these questions as honestly as possible.
A year ago, when I asked myself these very questions, I was embarrassed by the answers. I was lucky enough to be one of the few music producers generating a very nice living off selling beats online, but I knew I could have been doing way more. My gut instinct tells me that you too can do a lot more to take care of the very people that care enough to invest their hard-earned—often not recouped—dollars into your business. Of the multitude of music producers worldwide that would love to have your customer's business, your customer chose YOU. Regardless of how you feel about their final product, they made the decision to invest money in your talent, your beat store; they're deserving of some level of support from you.
For artists, generating income in the music business through traditional means (physical and digital sales) has rapidly been replaced by Internet-based streams and services that don’t require the presence of music producers. But while they don’t require our presence, they are open to our participation. My suggestion to online beatmakers is that you start to figure out ways to play ball in this new environment—or else, you'll eventually be replaced. Spend less time sharing memes clowning broke rappers that beg for free beats and more time highlighting the rappers that DO invest with and in you. Supporting and educating our customer base is no longer just the right thing to do; it's what we must do to remain major players in an industry that is maneuvering in a new direction and to another level.
Rather than only provide a warning, I’d like to leave readers with a few practical suggestions for how we can help customers and push our industry to the next level. For those producers with an Airbit account, create an extra Tab/Playlist—in addition to your beat playlist—and upload the songs that your customers submit to you. Doing so will help increase traffic to their music by leveraging the traffic you already receive to your beat store. I also recommend playlist creation. I have personally started two different playlists on Spotify for rappers and music producers in the beat-leasing community titled “Dope Rappers That Buy Beats Online” and “Dope Music Producers That Sell Beats Online.” The purpose of these playlists is to strengthen the bond of independent rappers and music producers, highlight the talent in our online community, and to help us both generate more income through streaming royalties.
If you would like to be a part of our growing playlist, email your Spotify links to Curtiss@CurtissKingBeats.com.