Wednesday, July 8, 2015

How to approach a producer for beats

It seems so simple, right? You've been killing freestyles left and right with the squad, you shut down ciphers at parties, maybe you even went to an open mic and flowed over some instrumentals. You tagged half your Facebook and Instagram feed in your newest freestyle video, got a bunch of comments and were only blocked by a couple of people. Everyone comes up to you and tells you you're dope, now you're ready to get on. You need to get some hot beats from a producer because you don't wanna just use the same industry beats everyone else is using, right? I mean, unless you're Jay-Z or 50 Cent, nobody really cares about your freestyle over "Energy" or "We Dem Boyz." You need to make a new record that people can jam, so you gotta get at one of the big record producers you can find and try to make a dope track together. What could go wrong?

Turns out that a lot of people don't really have their priorities straight when coming at a producer for beats, especially one with credits under their belt. Back in the day, the idea was that artists didn't have to worry that much about handling business with producers because that was something that the labels and their lawyers would handle. But it's 2015 now and times have changed; artists are increasingly more independent now and have to talk to producers themselves which means you have to be both an artist and a businessperson. This is something that's hard to handle at first for some people. But this has always been true in the music industry, now it's just much more so. If you haven't had much experience in the music business, you might leave a bad impression on a producer and make them hate you. So we asked Kydd Jones, Scott Pace and H+ of the LNS Crew about some "dos and donts" for how to get a dope joint from a producer! This advice, of course, can be generalized for creative types in general, but is specific to the hip-hop conundrum of a rapper asking a producer for beats.

- Be serious when you contact a producer because first impressions mean a lot. These people get hit up frequently by people they don't know that well and usually have to weed out the bullshitters. This means that they're looking for a red flag to indicate that you're going to just waste their time. Try to do a little research first and look them up before you ask about some information that's readily available (like if they have a Soundcloud or what they've done in the past), it'll show that you at least are serious enough about the music to spend some time learning about the person.

- Show them that you value their art and creative skills (aka PAY THEM $$$$). Yes, let's be honest. Paying a producer and showing them financially that you're willing to establish that relationship with them is the best way to get a beat. Ask for quotes because you'll get the producer's attention and they'll probably wanna write you back. Paypal is your friend, but Western Union and Money Gram are common as well.

- Don't hit up a producer about a beat until you have a business plan or are ready to make a transaction. You would think this might be common sense but you'd be surprised. Producers get annoyed when somebody bugs them about a beat but doesn't buy it until four months down the road. Doing this will basically say to a producer, "I don't care about your time, just follow my demands and hopefully you'll get compensated!" Even doing something like putting down a deposit on a beat will at least show the producer that you're serious about doing business with them. If you've expressed interest in a project or a beat, try to follow through or keep the producer updated because nothing is worse than someone who is always in your ear saying, 'Lemme listen to that what if you did that' and then never throws you any cash.


- Don't say that you're broke. Let's be honest, we've all been at tough financial points in our lives at one point. But there's just so many better ways to say "Realistically my budget isn't quite where I'd like it to be" or "Unfortunately our budget at this time is only XXX" than "I'm broke" or "Help me set up a payment plan." Saying you're broke just makes you sound hopeless. Hip hop music in 2015 is probably not going to be the best way to solve your problem of having no money.

- If you do exchange money for their services, handle your business properly. Try not to change up dollar amounts at the last minute (IE saying you'll pay $200 for a beat and then just send them $75 saying "I got you later" without prior notice).  A lot of producers feel like selling beats makes them have two jobs, producer and detective/hunter/financial planner/bill collector (which if you add that up kinda comes out to more than two jobs haha).

- Don't just say "let's work" and then nothing else because what the hell does that mean? Chances are, if you're hitting up that producer trying to get tracks from them, they're already working. So that means the producer has to work to make the beat and to make you sound good. After that, if you don't release the song or do but don't have the promo or PR game to push it, the producer ends up doing all the work for basically nothing except whatever financial compensation occurred. "Let's work" is such a vague phrase that it becomes meaningless. Even if you preface it with a compliment like "Dope music" or "I like your stuff," saying "let's work" followed by no other details basically means to a producer, "I'm trying to sucker you into following me into a rabbit hole of discussion in the hopes that I just may happen to conduct business with you."

- Know the difference between leasing and buying a beat and having exclusives. A news flash is that if you're spending less than a couple hundred on a beat, chances are it's probably just a lease to the beat and you don't actually own the rights to it. Trackouts are usually extra and some producers will consider that essentially "buying" the beat.

- Producers might not wanna be smoked out or have a vibing session or let you slide through the crib one time if they don't know you that well. If you ask them what they're up to right now, they're probably making a beat and they stopped to check their messages or their email. Maybe they don't need any new friends right now.

- Don't be creepy. Again, you'd think this was common sense. A lot of musicians are a little bit different than what might be considered "normal." And not everybody is the super social type. But being just a weirdo and a creep and bugging people too much is generally not a good way to make a favorable impression on someone.

- If you have a legitimate creative resume, it's always good to let a producer know as that may have them pay attention to what you're capable of. But be humble and don't overstress your accomplishments. It's great to have done cool things in your career and to be on the verge of doing something more but at the same time if you act like you're doing a hundred different things at once, most people in the industry will see through it if you're not being real.

- Personal connections always help, if you know the producer through a mutual friend or even if you know them personally. It always helps to have somebody independent vouch for you or if the producer knows you. But don't be the random cat from back in the day that tries to call in an old favor without handling business properly first. Just because you have the same friends and you knew somebody five years ago probably doesn't mean you deserve different treatment.

- Remember that producers are artists too. If you're working with them, try not to be the micromanaging type that asks them to change and tweak every detail (unless you're paying well) because they're probably going to think that it wasn't worth the effort dealing with you.

- Think about the context before you start asking a producer if there are samples in particular tracks. Obviously getting your work licensed and whatnot is cool and it's great if a track gets placed somewhere, but most amateur musicians working on a mixtape don't really have to worry about getting sued or having a sample cleared. Usually as an independent artist, if a song is big enough to get you sued, you probably did something right. Also, do some research on the producer you're talking to because if all they do is sample and you ask that question you'll seem ridiculous. Imagine talking to Pete Rock or 9th Wonder and sounding interested in a beat and then stopping to be like "Wait, are there samples? I dunno now bro…"

Hopefully this will give aspiring rappers and managers the mindset they need in order to successfully build relationships with producers who can ultimately help them make great music and grow their careers. Check out our next article on janky promoters... how to not be one and how to spot one!

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