A longstanding business model of the producer or “beatmaker” in hip-hop has been to sell or lease instrumentals for a wholesale price. This has been done by many up and coming producers as a practice in hopes of generating some revenue when a demand for their work doesn’t exist yet, and in hopes of creating a big record or at least being heard by the right people in the industry. In the nearly ten years, starting with platforms like Soundclick and Beatport, into Soundcloud and social media, the question is simple: does it really work?
As a music business professional who grew up making beats and records, and ultimately attending music school to study production and engineering, this has been one of the leading causes for my career redirections. The cheapening of the instrumental, particularly in hip-hop, has become so stark that the business of selling them has manifested itself into a drug dealing type of environment — undercutting prices, bulk deals to attract clientele, and a feeling of desperation and at times, ruthlessness. So when will the day come that these producers decide to make a major change to how they do business directly with artists in order to create a sustainable business model?
The major complaint you can hear from most producers is how artists don’t value their work or time. But it is hard to feel sympathy for the situation when they are the ones controlling the pricing. Plus, it doesn’t help that the customization or personal feel to these works has been diluted in an effort to have more works to sell, as opposed to creating their best work every time to increase the chances of making a better overall product. As I am certainly not the first nor the last person in the industry to talk about this culture, allow me offer some practical ideas to consider if you are producer who is tired of slanging beats for $50 a pop:
Yep, and for the same reasons why performance rights organizations like BMI, ASCAP, & SESAC exist is to protect creators and make sure their royalties are fairly and correctly paid out. In principle, the same construct can be used specifically for producers. Come together to create a body that sets an agreed upon standard for rates on original work, and offers specific benefits to those who are members. Though unions have been mostly associated with groups like the UAW or Teamsters, they have set a blueprint of demanding and receiving fair wages, benefits, etc.
Seek out brands or publishers, not people
It’s a simple yet over-utilized business mindset: if the clientele pool is not good, why do you continue to look for revenue in it? For most producers, creating a smash single is not a day to day or even year to year reality. Why not go where the legitimate money is? There are plenty of brands, licensing/publishing companies, and companies that constantly need original music for their content, and they are paying fair (mostly) wages and royalties for that work. It may not always be your preferred style, but boy does a $5k check versus a $50 PayPal payment help soothe your ego.
Make better work
In defense of artists, when they are perusing through a producer’s catalog and often find their work is generic, which is a big factor in driving the value of the beat market. So why not make a more premium and ultimately more valuable product? Create more inspired, original, and higher quality instrumentals, be choosy about who you work with, and watch better clientele and opportunities come your way. You may lose money in the interim, but if you were selling at Walmart prices anyway in bulk but want to sell at Versace prices at scale, what’s the true loss?
Think about these factors and apply solutions, and over time you will see the growth that your career as a producer needs to find the best opportunities in the music industry!