Staying Power

Build your brand and maintain career longevity in the fickle business of music
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In 1997, I, Greg, registered to market and promote the artists on my label. When I saw the amount of people who were downloading our music off of the site, I shifted my focus to the Internet. We were doing close to 30,000 downloads a month, which at the time was mind-boggling. I struck some deals with eMusic and other retailers and started selling downloads. Around 1997, Chuck and I linked up. Chuck and I have known each other since high school. He was already in New York doing journalism, as well as running his Website, We decided to merge the companies. We adopted the Tantrum logo (the AllHipHop exclamation point) and started marketing the brand as a daily hip-hop Website. We have been working on it every day since then. Every day, I must stress!

With 6 million monthly unique visitors at their site, Greg Watkins (left) and Chuck Creekmur are doing something right. Maybe you could learn a thing or two?

Photo: Rayon Richards

What does it mean to build a brand?

Chuck: The consistency of daily news is important. I am pretty sure we were the first wholly hip-hop site to deliver daily news to the Internet. Then, we added onto that by being the first to deliver news to wireless devices like the Motorola pagers. So the theme for our brand has been consistency, and then a lot of other things have fallen into place from there.

Greg: Building a brand simply means having something your consumer base can continuously identify with. Our brand's growth to this point has been totally organic — meaning word of mouth. The one thing to remember is that your brand is only going to be as good as the product the brand releases. If you are a new band, no matter how much branding you do, if your music stinks, no one will care — longevity comes from your product being world-class.

The music industry is fickle. What are the successful artists doing to get in the game and stay there?

Greg: Know your craft. This means knowing not just a few chords on the guitar, or how to play the drums, but knowing all aspects of music. Sometimes people believe that if you are into the business, this somehow depletes your creativity. That's not true! That's how you get swindled! Sure, you may not want to read a 500-page contract, but reading and knowing the music business is really the first key to success, after which, of course, you have your best music recorded. I have found that reading about my favorite artists helps me learn the business. At the moment, I am reading Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Woods' autobiography, Ronnie; Soulsville U.S.A.: The Story of Stax Records; and They All Sang on the Corner by Philip Groia. In short…read!

Also important, a great band must have a great live show, and each fan must feel like they have left with something. This has always been the area where performers make money. (Just make sure you pay your taxes on that cash income.) One thing to do is play with other bands that have followings in areas that you do not. Never abandon your local scene, but take your gospel (the music) on the road and spread the message!

Chuck: Successful artists these days are those who connect to the listener on an emotional level. I am not afraid to admit that I cried with Biggie died. I cried at Jam Master Jay's funeral. Those artists made an emotional connection to me as a person. Same with Tupac. Say anything negative about Pac, and somebody is likely to rip into you. In this new era, we don't always see rappers rise to the top. They just appear up there with a hit song, and there is no attachment to the listener. We saw Biggie, Pac and JMJ grow as people, grow as artists, and when they were taken from us, we felt that like we lost an old friend. I think the successful artist is still able to make these connections to the listener in a way that makes them loyal. After 10-plus years, Jay-Z is still one of the biggest things in hip-hop. Look at 50. People are rabid about him — love or hate. Kanye is the same. And people love Beyoncé because she has grown before them and works harder than ever to entertain them.

Who is key for bands/artists to hire to help them move their careers forward?

Greg: For a band, it probably goes in this natural progression: producer, studio, engineer, manager (to manage day-to-day stuff, from marketing plans to press kits to finding booking agents), attorney (to watch that manager!), booking agent, publicist and accountant (to make sure the tax man doesn't get you). Your team should be doing the things you cannot or are incapable of.

Chuck: I think it is important to have a team where each person can serve more than one role. Both Greg and I have acted in several capacities over the years. I have a degree in journalism, but I also can draw and do graphic images. I learned HTML. Here is a good example: Joe Budden is a rapper whom I appreciate, but I went to a listening session and saw how his team moved, and it was crazy. The guys who make his beats also document his life on video. He's got another person who's a character on the new album, but he also serves as an executive producer. And his DJ does promotion.

What's a common mistake bands make in the biz?

Greg: One thing I see is that bands frequently get wasted or party too much before, during and after their shows. I am all for the party life, but no one can do that every night for a year straight. Well, Mötley Crüe and Ozzy Osbourne did, but many other guys failed miserably and died trying in the process. When I see that, I immediately tune out because I don't want to invest my time or money into anyone who gets on the stage trashed to perform. You should have enough ability and confidence to do it sober.

What's most important for a band/artist to know about maintaining longevity in music?

Greg: I've met many masters of the music business, and I take something away from each conversation I have. The common theme among all who have lasted is building a team and cultivating long-term relationships. Never burn your bridges in this business and work hard. There are usually five to 10 years worth of hard work behind every “overnight” success!