“Technology can be our strength or our worst enemy”: Interview with Sahpreem King
Sahpreem King is one of those guys who seems to magically have all the answers, but as is usually true of know-it-alls in any industry, those lessoned were earned through decades of experiences ranging from being a young rapper to an executive VP to a doctoral candidate with a handful of degrees under his belt. All told, Sahpreem King has experienced the music industry from as more sides than seems possible for a person to do in one lifetime, and has amassed the knowledge and skills to make him savvy on all aspects of business management, marketing, and professional strategy. His most recent venture is bringing the intersection of those two things – real music and smart business – to Muzooka. Here’s a little introduction to the ridiculous depth of insight about the music industry he has:
So you seem to do literally everything that a person can do in the music industry. So give us the rundown.
I’m a multi-platinum music producer; I’ve been producing/writing music for over 20 years. Now, I’m a music industry consultant and educator. I’ve written 4 books, one of which hasn’t come out yet. First book: Gotta Get Signed: How To Become a Hip Hop Producer.
What’s it about?
I talk about what it’s like to transform into a producer on accident. I was a dj and hip-hop artist, and there was no real job or title for “hip hop producer”. I was in my 20s, a college dropout, very arrogant…ego is a very powerful drug. In my pursuit to figure out what it was all about, I asked a lot of questions, read a lot of books, and I really felt like there wasn’t any educational element available. Years later, I was chronicling what I went through and decided to write a book.
How did you transition from being an artist to being a music industry educator?
[Doing that] was always sort of in the back of my mind. When I first started making music in 1987, other artists would always come to me for advice. It was weird – I didn’t know anything. How am I going to help you? I was just trying to help myself. But in that, I learned the music business inside and out. I learned business inside and out. And I ended up going back to college and getting an MBA and my master’s in education, and I’m working on a doctorate, but I learned how to negotiate deals and manage artists, and do marketing, promotion; I learned web design and advertising – because so many of those things I had to do for myself.
What kind of issues do you most commonly find yourself helping artists with as an educator?
The most common questions artists have asked me over the last 20 years. Because the people change, but the questions don’t change. Artists have a hard time swallowing the pill that they are now forced to be entrepreneurs. And when you have no business experience, that’s a scary proposition. People don’t just sit at home and record a song and put it online and become a huge success – that just doesn’t happen. There is a game plan. So the book says, “Here are the common mistakes artists make, and here’s how to avoid them.”
It’s interesting how, considering how much the industry has changed, that people’s basic questions haven’t. Why do you think that is?
Because although the industry has changed, the artist mindset hasn’t changed. I believe you have two types of people: Creative types and analytical business types. I’m a creative type who actually made a concerted effort to learn these things that I’m probably not cut out for in the first place. Most artists aren’t willing to do that.
Why do you think a lot of artists have a harder time dealing with the business aspects of their careers, or simply don’t want to do it?
Because it’s challenging. I’ve heard artists tell me, “Hell, if I wanted to go to business school, I would’ve gone to business school.” Because they’re not willing to do what’s necessary to be that different person. I teach business plans. I used to teach them in a certain way, but now I teach them like an art class. Creative people don’t learn in a linear fashion. They’re taught to, but they don’t naturally do that. They work from emotion, and they work in bursts of creativity. I wake up the middle of the night to write a song – I’ve never seen a business person wake up in the middle of the night because they have to write down an idea.
What do you think is a big thing artists are getting wrong when trying to launch real, sustainable careers in music?
Everybody wants to be a rock star. Not everybody will admit it, but they all want it. To at least taste that lifestyle. I get it, and everybody wants to be a star and be popular, but you can’t rely on the internet to make that happen. People say “Well I post stuff up on Facebook and nothing happens.” And I ask them, “What else do you do? How is it measurable?” It’s not a project unless you can measure it. It’s not effective unless you can duplicate it. Artists say, “I put stuff on Facebook, and I working on the video for YouTube and I’m hoping to get some plays,” and I say: For what? Leading to what?
What should they be doing?
No matter what business you’re in, you’re either selling a service or a product. So I ask artists to think about that: What is your product? What is your service? And I’ve seen a lot of these videos on YouTube and some of them are even really good, but you get to the end and there’s no call to action. Videos are commercials for music. That’s all they are. That’s all they’ve ever been. It says, “Hey, this is what the band looks like. It’s cool, but go out and buy the album and go to a show.” If the video doesn’t direct you to a website to buy the music, or if you’re not booking shows, what’s the point?
I think that’s a big disconnect lately – artists know all the different pieces of what they should be doing (posting videos, making music available online, being present on social media, etc.) but there seems to be a lack of understanding about how it all works together, or should work together.
Right. There are a lot of moving pieces and they all have a purpose and artists have to be aware of what they’re trying to accomplish with everything they’re doing.
What else are artists terrible at lately?
Artists are focusing way too much on the lifestyle of being a famous artist than actually developing the components that get them [to where they can actually have that lifestyle.] I get that everyone has a dream and hope – but there’s a real way to do it. To build a full-time vocation, and feed their families. It’s available, but there are things we need to have.
People have to start going to shows again. Concert tickets shouldn’t be $200 or $300 dollars. I can’t think of anyone I would pay that kind of money to see. I would rather go spend $10-15 and watch a bunch of indie groups and you get organic, real stuff. There are so many artists out there who don’t do shows. When you ask them, “How many gigs are you doing a month?”, they say, “I’m not.”
It does feel like there are an increasing number of artists who just sit behind their computers.
That’s a huge part of it. That’s part of the mechanism that makes you a star. I mean, the Grateful Dead used to have some the best concerts ever. It was an experience. People can like your song, but they want an experience.
Right. You have to get out in front of people and make them feel things or you’re forgettable.
You got it. You’ve gotta get out there and touch people and shake hands and give hugs and thank people. Make people feel like they’re a part of the music.
It’s creating a community. That’s how you stay sustainable as an artist. The Grateful Dead has one of the most long-standing, most loyal communities of fans and that’s what has kept them viable for so many decades.
You get people to connect to each other, and to connect to the music and you do that by creating experiences. So you gotta play shows, and not enough artists are doing that at all.
That’s what is cool about Muzooka – it’s connecting artists with a community of listeners and giving them a chance to share their music, but also allowing them to share music with industry pros like you who can give them some practical perspective and feedback on what they’re doing.
Exactly. Because artists – most of them – aren’t naturally programmed to pay attention to their thinking with a business mind, and developing a business plan, and being smart about that, and it’s absolutely necessary now. That’s how I ended up being an industry educator and consultant. It’s why there’s a need for someone to even have my job; Artists are now responsible for a lot more aspects of their careers, but a lot of them still aren’t taking responsibility.
You talked about how artists’ questions to you haven’t changed much in the last 20 years, but what about your advice to them?
I think all the advice and all the tactics for success come down to one main point: In the digital market, you have to be multi-faceted. You can’t be a one-trick pony. The hardest thing you have to do now, as an artist, is get your music heard. It’s about artists taking ownership and responsibility. They have to say, “I am the creative force and the entrepreneurial force behind this.”