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How To Maneuver In The Music Industry

Swizz Beatz, Halsey, Wondagurl, Boi-1da and more offer up pointers for success.

Swizz Beatz, Halsey, Wondagurl, Boi-1da and more provided pointers for success at the opening of Toronto’s creative incubator, HXOUSE.

On Nov. 5 and 6 in Toronto, The Weeknd, his creative director LaMar Taylor, and the founder of Toronto’s Influencer PR, Ahmed Ismail, launched HXOUSE in an effort to fix a problem they experienced while growing from high school dropouts to the team behind Abel Tesfaye and XO. In conjunction with Toronto’s Artscape Daniels Launchpad, HXOUSE has partnered with Google Pixel and Adobe to offer creatives something that has long been available for young people coming up in the tech space.

During last week’s launch, the team at HXOUSE kicked off their grand opening with two panels geared towards the programming that will be available for HXOUSE members. One of them featured legendary producer and entrepreneur, Swizz Beatz, moderating a panel discussion among pop recording artist, Halsey, producers Boi-1da, Wondagurl and OPN, spoken word artist, Mustafa The Poet, and The Weeknd’s manager, Cash.

Here’s what we learned about maneuvering in the music industry from their discussion.


Be conscious of what’s going on in the culture and how you can contribute, change, and push it.

While many artists are quick to share they tend to listen to their own music and not pay so much attention to the noise of the constant cycle of new music glaring over the internet, there is value in keeping track of what’s going on in the industry both from a business standpoint and creatively.

Boi-1da, the producer behind Drake’s breakout track “Best I Ever Had” and other major records by Drake, Rihanna and Kendrick Lamar said, “I love to dabble back into my past and stuff I used to enjoy and try to incorporate it into what’s going on now. Not everyone has the same experience, and I try to bottle my experience and put it out there.”

From a business standpoint, streaming as we know it today coupled with social media completely turned the industry on its head and it’s still continually changing. Spotify only launched 10 years ago, Instagram debuted in 2010, and Apple Music in 2015.

With direct access to fans, Halsey pointed out how streaming kind of democratizes the industry. “Social media and streaming platforms have pulled back the curtain,” she said. “When I was growing up listening to Britney Spears (who I still love), I saw what her label wanted me to see. Everything was an editorial photo shoot. Everything was an organized interview. It wasn’t iPhones and Twitter and Instagram Live for her to really connect and give me a sense of who she is. Because of that accessibility we have, it makes a more intelligent audience.” Mustafa The Poet added, “The fans and real people get to decide what’s hot. With streaming services, it’s in fan’s and listener’s hands.”

Artists and other music creators need to stay up on the constant changes to streaming in particular because it will continue to have an undeniable effect on how they profit from their music.

Educate yourself.

XO’s Cash immediately pointed to having a good music lawyer as instrumental in advancing towards success within the music industry, differentiating what he means by “good” by saying, “Find a music lawyer that’s your lawyer, not the label’s lawyer.” Swizz questioned if just getting a lawyer was the key, to which Halsey dropped some knowledge: “When you start out and you don’t understand something educate yourself about it. I remember sitting down with my lawyer and saying teach me what this means. What are points? What’s 360? What’s a backend? What does all this mean? So, when somebody says, ‘Don’t worry, Ashley. You’re 18. We’ll deal with it,’ I could say no, no, no. I want to know what I’m getting myself into. There was a lot of times when I caught sh*t, and I could say get rid of that, I don’t want that. If I didn’t educate myself, I wouldn’t have been able catch these things.”

While she also meant in the studio and learning about having a working knowledge of programs producers in sessions would be using as well, there was a big emphasis on creators being knowledgeable of the business end of things.

“The business part goes for anything creative—art business, music business, fashion business, TV business. Notice all these things have the word business attached to it. As creatives we have to take the power back and stop allowing the business people take advantage of us because we don’t know the business. We’re the talent, and they know our worth. The key to success is everybody knowing their worth,” Swizz emphasized. He removed his moderator cap to drop a few gems adding, “If you learn the business you’ll forever be empowered. Music can come and go but if you have the business mindset you can always reset. That’s why I’ve been here from ‘98 to 2018, and it’s not because of my records. It’s because being able to have a business plan and be business minded when you’re hot or cold.”

“HXOUSE is the next-generation incubator and accelerator that is at the forefront of fostering innovation and opportunity for creative entrepreneurs. We facilitate connections between talent and industry to build mutually beneficial relationships between future talent and current industry titans.” —HXOUSE

Learn how to collaborate or work with others without compromising your identity.

While nearly every panel member pointed to their biggest challenge being finding confidence in themselves and their decisions, Wondagurl added, “I think my biggest obstacles were working with people and confidence in myself.” It’s apparent the two go hand-in-hand and are obstacles creatives face. One of the main ideas around HXOUSE is aiding young creatives in the tools to collaborate with other creatives across different disciplines.

OPN offered an anecdote about a chance meeting with Wondagurl to show how she was overcoming these challenges. While both were at a session for FKA Twigs, OPN asked Wondagurl how she normally made music, to which she said she made beats and emailed them to those who needed them. However, this day in particular, she was in the studio specifically to watch. “Putting yourself out there and putting yourself in a position to observe the craft is something I think that is overlooked nowadays,” OPN said. “We have access to so much more through the internet and it all being out there and available. Getting back into the space just to observe how other people are doing things is valuable. She was in the studio to observe and sit and learn and absorb.”

Wondagurl herself pointed to The Remix Project, a mentoring program focused on cultivating young people from disadvantaged, marginalized and underserved communities’ creative energy by encouraging them to understand their abilities as real and their perspectives as valuable, as a place that really got her more comfortable working with others and being confident in herself.


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To everyone who attended OPEN HXOUSE, we would like to thank you all from the bottom of our hearts!  Everyone has something to contribute towards the development of our creative community that will help unlock the potential of our future leaders. Thank you to everyone who contributed to this project, we could not have made this such a Global Success without you!! #OpenHXOUSE @theweeknd @google @getstack_ca @remymartin @twitter @thedanielscorp @launchpadtoronto @firstgulf @lyft @westbankcorp @bellmediapr @roots @karanwa1ia @rebeltoronto @inkentertainment @dg_3 @limitless_cc @giantcontainers #PoweredbyPixel To continue to do this meaningful and much needed work, we need your support to donate to such a worthy cause of making our creative youth a priority! The link to our foundation page is in the bio please donate and support this rewarding cause! www.TorontoFoundation.ca/HXOUSE

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It seems that the first step in being open to collaborate with others is finding your identity and having confidence in it, though. Halsey drove home the importance of this: “Know yourself enough to maintain your instinct. Trust your gut and maintain a strong sense of self.” She recognized this allowed her work with others more easily. “You need to open yourself up to other people and allow their experiences to influence you. Open yourself up to learn from other people, all the matters is that you know the integrity of what you’re doing.”

Mustafa the Poet added, “You can always trace a feeling,” meaning in terms of authenticity within self and as the product of collaborations, listeners will know when it’s real versus when it’s manufactured.

Swizz brought it back to business and how this investment in self and working with others can affect creative output and your pockets. “The reason why I stress the money part so much is because that is the entry point into people into our lives—the money. It has to be something that’s tailored to you. Sometimes you can take less money and have more success. It’s important to have a gauge on what you want.” By having a firm identity, he points out when someone comes to you and you have a complete plan, you can leverage the money rather than having it influence your creativity.

Finally, Halsey offered an all-encompassing tip for all creatives trying to further their career. “Surround yourself with good people,” she said, “but look out for yourself first.”

READ MORE: Chance The Start Up: Dissecting Music’s Favorite Indie Obsession

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'The Old Guard' Celebrates Women On Both Sides Of The Lens, Says Director Gina Prince-Bythewood & Actress KiKi Layne

Gina Prince-Bythewood is not new to this. Her decades-long screenwriting credits go back as far as 1992 when she contributed to the Cosby Show spin-off, A Different World. Her directorial debut happened nearly 10 years later with her 2000 film, Love & Basketball which grossed over $27 million in the U.S. box office and went on to become a black cinematic classic. Since then, Bythewood directed more films like The Secret Life of Bees (2008) and Beyond the Lights (2014). Today, Bythewood is stepping away from the dramatic and romantic films of yesteryear and making her mark in the genre of action films with the new Netflix movie, The Old Guard.

Based on the comic book by Greg Rucka, The Old Guard stars lead actresses Charlize Theron (Mad Max: Fury Road, Hancock) and KiKi Layne (If Beale Street Could Talk, Native Son). Theron plays Andy, an immortal mercenary recruited for a mission to protect the mortal world. Layne plays Nile, a U.S. Marine recruited to join the badass task force. Before her "rebirth" into her new eternal life as a soldier, she learns about life as an Old Guard, what she'll stand to gain and lose as undying warrior and more.

Upon receiving the script, Bythewood was "incredibly excited" and happy to have an opportunity where she could not only take on a different type of cinema but also bring a young Black female hero to life and into the spotlight. "I knew the type of action film I wanted to do, an action drama," she says in an interview with VIBE correspondent Jazzie Belle. "And I knew absolutely when I got the opportunity, that I wanted us [Black people] to be in it." And that we are. With actor Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) taking on a supporting role, Layne holds her own in the action-packed feature film as she tests her body's limits in scene after scene. The rising star would be sure to let you know how physicalities set her and her character apart.

"I mean I love the opportunity to be that physical," she says. "Nile still has so much heart and, being led by Gina, being encouraged to dig deeper into that and to not be afraid of her vulnerability, which was exciting. So I kind of play that, but then still play that physical strength and being a Marine and all of that. So I would say that would actually be the biggest difference between us."

The Prince-Bythewood and Layne sat with Belle to discuss the limitations around the term "Black cinema," being a part of a film that has Black women in front and behind the lens, and what they hope for The Old Guard's impact 20 years from now.


On how music inspires her screenwriting:

Prince-Bythewood: Music is everything to my process. When I start to write, I create soundtracks for myself too. If it's just songs that either speak to what I'm writing or open me up emotionally to what I'm about to write. I have soundtracks for myself for directing, and then I create soundtracks as I'm editing. It's everything and I love doing songs for score. I love the traditional score, but I also love songs for scores. And those are songs that just help elevate the scene, add a little bit more emotion. It doesn't take over the scene, but it absolutely aides it and songs tell such a story...I love soundtracks, it goes back to Purple Rain. Where you could listen to that soundtrack and then watch the movie again in your head because the songs were that distinct, that's what I love to do with my films.

On the Black women she pulled influence from when preparing for her role:

Layne: Black women who I find to be strong and just maybe haven't seen it represented that way on film. Honestly, just thinking about my mom. Angela Bassett was the biggest example of strength. Who else was I thinking of? Those are like the first students to kind of pop in my head of just like, especially with Angela, the way that she just carries herself. There's such pride and dignity and integrity to her that I just, I mean love. Period. But it was definitely something that, when thinking of Nile, trying to bring some of that in there as well.

On the limiting term "Black cinema" as it relates to Hollywood:

The term "Black cinema" is not a negative to me, nor to us. My issue with it is with Hollywood. In terms of Hollywood using that to describe any film that has a black person in it. So suddenly they feel like, "Oh, we've done our one black film." As opposed to, "We should be in every single genre. Sci-fi, Western, love stories, period pieces." That's who we are, that's the breadth of our humanity, that's what I want to see. I just don't want to limit us, but I revel and celebrate black cinema and black film.

On how they would like The Old Guard to be remembered 20 years from now:

Layne: In 20 years from now, I would hope that it would be, you won't necessarily remember, but as a, I don't know, a piece of getting Hollywood to tell more of these types of stories with women at the lead in front of and behind the camera. I'm hoping that it will be an opportunity that leads to more doors like this being opened. Just showing that we're just as capable and it's just as interesting when we do it.

Prince-Bythewood: And then I'll just add in 20 years, if people are still watching this film that says it all, that this film had longevity, it spoke to them and it was a world and it's characters that they wanted to see again and live with again. And as artists, I think that's a pretty incredible thing.

Interview's music bed provided by Gus.

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Watch: Rodney Jerkins Talks Producing On ‘The High Note’ Soundtrack, Andre Harrell And How His Dad Sparked His Career In ‘Billboard’

When you think of your favorite R&B and pop hits by Brandy, Destiny's Child, Mary J. Blige, and Michael Jackson, you can't help but think about the musical genius behind the tracks: Rodney "Darkchild" Jerkins. Since his start in the music industry at the young age of 14 (under the mentorship of legendary musician Teddy Riley and his father Pastor Fredrick Jerkins), the Grammy-winning producer has created songs across countries, genres, and mediums.  To date, Jerkins has contributed to over 115 movie and television series soundtracks with his first credit for Joe's "Don't Wanna Be a Player" (not be confused with Big Pun's hit) on the 1996 Booty Call soundtrack.

His latest accomplishment is serving as the executive music producer for the new video-on-demand film, The High Note, starring actress Tracee Ellis Ross, daughter of the legendary Diana Ross. In the Nisha Ganatra-directed  film, Ross plays Grace Davis, a diva and iconic singer who has to "choose between playing it safe or listening to her heart in a decision that could change her life forever." Weeks prior to The High Note's premiere, Focus Features and Republic Records released "Love Myself," the lead single from the movie's soundtrack, which features Ross singing on her very first musical recording. As the film's executive music producer, Jerkins worked with her on another track, "Stop For A Minute," and helped Ross become comfortable with laying down tracks in a music recording studio, an experience she'd only witnessed second-hand while her mother worked on music.

"When we first started, that was Tracy's first time in the booths," says Jerkins about working with Ross. "That can become somewhat intimidating. I said, 'Tracy just trust me. I've worked with every artist. I've worked with actresses who had to sing before.' I said, 'This is what I do. Just have trust that we'll get through it.' As we started to work, her confidence started to build and she started to understand what it took."

VIBE and Cory Taylor of R&B Spotlight had a chance to sit down with Jerkins to talk about his extensive career, working on the official soundtrack for The High Note, his advice for upcoming producers, and more.


On when he got the call to be a part of the film's soundtrack:

I was in Florida at home and Mike Knobloch, the head of music at Universal, he called me one day. He was just like, "Man, I got a prize that I think you would be perfect for. Would you mind reading the script?" I said, "Yes, send me the script." And this was crazy. I was actually working with an artist at the time. I have this artist named Jac Ross and I was just listening to Lee Moses because Jack has this super soulful voice. In the script, the first scene had a Lee Moses song. I called Mike before reading the rest of the script. I was like, "Yo, this is mine." I said, "The first song. I just studied Lee Moses two days ago." So the fact that the first song in the scene was a Lee Moses song called "Bad Girl," I was like, this is mine.

On how his Dad sparked his start in the music business:

I got started with Teddy Riley working in Virginia Beach. I was kind of this apprentice down there. I was 14 when I first met Teddy. Every summer I'd go down there and just kind of sit and learn. I would go back home and work on stuff and work on ideas. It wasn't really until I was probably 16 or 17 when I really got my first songs heard by record companies, and people started paying attention saying, "Yo, there's this kid in New Jersey." I think what really sparked that and my father, who was mentoring me at the time, I think I said to him one day, "I got all this good music, but nobody knows who I am, because I'm from South Jersey, Pleasantville." There's no outlet down there. My dad invested money out of his own pocket, and he bought this ad in Billboard.

At first, people thought he was crazy because there were no ads in Billboard. Like if you looked through Billboard, it was just charts. For some reason my dad, he bought this ad and in this ad it said: "Super producer." I was young and wasn't a super-producer yet. He put this ad in and 50% of the people laughing at it were saying, "Yo, this is crazy. This dude is crazy." You had the other 50% of people calling and saying, "Yo, we want to meet."


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Dad, Thanks for instilling in me Christ at an early age. It’s because of you I choose to lead my family in that same direction. You’ve given me so many great moments as a child growing up. Believing in me when others didn’t. Pushing me to greatness. Being unconventional with your approach is exactly the way I do things to this day. Demanding respect from my counterparts. Not being taken advantage of, and being prayerful about everything. These are the life lessons and qualities you have given me. By watching you apply all of these things in your life I’ve learned to do the same. I appreciate you and love you dearly! HAPPY FATHERS DAY DAD!

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On his fondest memory of the late Andre Harrell:

He would call me up when I wasn't working with him. I remember when I did "Deja Vu" for Beyonce and Jay-Z. I was in New York City, the song was out, and Andre called and said, "Yo, where you at?" I said, "I'm in this old studio." "I'm coming to see you right now. I'm coming to see you right now." I ain't know what he wanted. He came up to the studio. He was like, "Playboy, playboy. Do you know what you just did? Do you know what you just gave this girl?" And I was like, "Nah," because I'm just keeping it moving.

He's like, "Man, you gave her Michael Jackson, 2005, like you gave her the Michael Jackson 'Don't Stop Til You Get Enough' for a female like this." I was like, "What you mean?" He was like, "The way you put the horns with the live bass and the drums, and still knocking with the 808, people aren't doing that." He was so animated when he spoke to you. He made you believe there's something much greater in yourself. That was my guy, man. He did that constantly with me. He would be like that all the time. I'm talking about even like three months ago, like in February, we had a similar conversation.

Advice to up and coming producers looking to get their foot in the music business:

First, I would say study all the greats that came before you. I'm not talking in the last 10, 20 years. I'm talking about going back, going back to Barry Gordy days, and study them. Study sound. Every sound and every genre possible. Don't be a one-trick pony. Be able to produce any type of genre. I would also say be different. What I mean by that, a lot of technology has allowed it for producers to become easy, but it's also become easy in the same sonic, in the same sound. All the tools are the same. You have everybody using the same tools right now. It all starts to sound the same. I would tell producers to challenge themselves to be different. Be unique, be different.

On his future plans to produce music for films: 

I'm going to continue to do movies. I've made it my thing. I can't say it right now, but it looks like I got another movie coming my way right now. With the same company, by the way. I'm going to continue to do it because I love it. I think it brings out a whole different side of emotion for me. It allows me to create differently. Sometimes we get caught up in what's popping at radio, what's popping streaming...I would love to do more in the TV and film realm because I just think that's the natural progression for me and my career.

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VIBE Vault: Jada Pinkett / August 1994 Issue

The first thing you notice about Jada Pinkett is her long, curved, scarlet-enameled fingernails—“ghetto Vogue,” she calls them, laughing. Describing her meteoric ascent from the Baltimore School of Arts (where her best homie was Tupac Shakur) to overnight Tinseltown success. Pinkett coos for a few moments over her continuing romance with former Duke star hoopster/future NBA player Grant Hill, and those acrylic claws click like miniature castanets.

With close-cropped hair and a pearly smile, the tiny, gamine Pinkett is even prettier in person than she was as Lena in A Different World or as Ronnie in Menace II Society. Her compelling feature film debut as the heroic teenage single mom at the center of Menace’s world of adolescent violence and moral indifference catapulted the 22-year-old actress to the top of Black Hollywood’s A-list and into starring roles in three major movies this year.

Those nails actually belong to Peaches, Pinkett’s loud-mouthed, sassy character in Keenen Ivory Wayans’s A Low Down Dirty Shame (tentatively due this fall). Peaches brings Pinkett a sharp 180 degrees from Menace’s serious, responsible Ronnie. Her performances as Lauren, the upper-middle-class BAP brat in Matty Rich’s The Inkwell “who only worries about boys spending money on her,” and as Lyric, a fragile rural rose blooming from the dusty back roads of a Houston ghetto in Doug McHenry’s Jason’s Lyric (due in November), showcase her range further still.

The challenge of playing four radically different roles back-to-back could unsettle a young film newcomer, but Pinkett’s characters are always grounded in her own sometimes difficult life experience. “Ronnie is very close to my mother; she graduated high school with me in her tummy,” Pinkett says. “Lauren was also familiar because my Jamaican grandmother raised me in that upper-middle-class background before she died.” That loss and the divorce of her parents (both substance abusers at the time) plunged 13-year-old Pinkett into a very different world, one she says equipped her at age 18 for the Hollywood jungle—and for a character like Peaches. “I have a really obnoxious nature,” she admits, laughing. “I can get stank sometimes, all attitude and just being forward with it.” In contrast, she says, “playing Lyric allowed me for the first time to be loving, vulnerable—to let the walls down and say, ’Here I am.’”

The self-confident Pinkett, who counsels troubled teens across the country in her spare time, seems particularly savvy about her career. “I’m extremely lucky not to have been typecast, even though I’ve done only black films by black filmmakers,” she says. “It’s not, ‘Let’s get Jada for the homegirl and blasie-blah.’ That leaves my opening to grow.”

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