How To Maneuver In The Music Industry
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.
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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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.”