As if it’s any surprise to folks who really pay attention to rap music, before this culture went completely pop it was sort of a rags to riches experience for people who made it in the music business. Even legendary author Tom Wolfe knows that.
For a guy as knee deep in the entertainment business as I am, I still keep things pretty ground level. So I come in contact with a fair share of street corner CEOs. These are the guys who read some article in XXL or Vibe about how such and such rap CEO (take your pick: Suge Knight, Diddy, Jay-Z, 50, Ted Lucas, J Prince) flipped some street money into an independent record label, which in turn became successful and them yielded them millions. Dudes come out of jail and the first thing they want to do is own a record label. That’s just the way it is.
But if you do the knowledge to the music business, you’ll know that the business of music has always had some aspect of street corner culture involved in it. This goes all the way back to MCA being tied up with Chicago mob connects, band booking, and things of that nature from the 1920s on. This is a seedy racket, no matter how you cut the cake.
So it was interesting, yesterday, when I was on the line with a rep from Sweetwater. Anybody who buys music gear knows about Sweetwater, they’re one of the best companies in the business. They provide more than customer service, those dudes are your friends. (Could be criminals too though, hey ya never know)
Somehow, in the midst of our friendly conversation, we get to talking about fraud. He told me that with gear purchases, most of the incidences of fraud that the company experiences come from the production and DJing world. That people will make huge purchases on big ticket items like MPC 5000‘s. They’ll make the purchase with stolen credit card numbers and then ask for overnight delivery, tell the sales rep that they need it ASAP for a session or something. He said a lot of these people won’t have any sales history with Sweetwater (they’ve got past purchases on file), and so immediately a flag goes up. He indicated to me that there is a LOT of this type of fraud taking place, and the biggest sector, again, is with gear that is used for production and DJing.
Now how we got to this topic, that was from us talking about Sweetwater’s marketing and advertising efforts. I basically asked why Sweetwater never advertised in Scratch when the mag existed, and he said because of all this fraud, they’re not really sure how much they want to target that audience. I thought that was a decent explanation.
It got me thinking (and as you can see now, writing) about people’s goals and aspirations in the music business, and the topic of conversation sort of jibed with Clover Hope’s “Why Be A Rapper?” blog post from yesterday. I think on the whole, people look at the music business as as get rich quick scheme, or at the very least a viable business that can be used to “clean” money (see: BMF).
Now that’s not to say every street corner hustler with a dollar and a dream is trying to flip stolen credit card numbers into a full-blown production studio. No, a lot of folks are legitimately taking the cash they have stuffed in between a mattress and buying music gear, trying to make something out of nothing. And even if I think on the whole that they’re fucking up the game and don’t really know how to do business, I’ve got to applaud their effort.
One could only imagine how well their efforts would go over though, had they invested their hard earned (or stolen) dough in a business that was actually experiencing some growth. Far be it to call the music business a place where people can get rich right now. In fact, if you’re thinking about getting into the music business, you might actually want to reconsider, and possibly go back to selling crack or what have you. There is a strong possibility that you might make more money doing that. What with the country in such a depression and all, it’s just a matter of time before folks– not just the hood– turn back to that rock to console them. Better yet, if you have a stolen credit card– fuck an MPC– right now you might actually want to just stock up on the essentials, like food.
But in all seriousness, I kinda sorta felt good when he told me that the frauds try to buy MPCs. In my twisted logic, the way I see it, this again reinforces just how popular hip-hop is. People wanna get in so bad that they’re committing crimes to make hip-hop. How many people you know slanging rocks for a guitar or drum set? Ok then. I don’t know that many folks just getting home from prison and talking about how their guitars going to get them out of their fucked up situation. In fact, it’s all the rich suburban kids, who actually have garages, messing with that kinda shit. They’ve got garages, hip-hop has garageband.
It really just begs the question, this music, how bad do you really want it?