A read a great article the other day featuring the head of operations of independent hip-hop label Mello Music Group (L’Orange, Oddisee, Ugly Heros etc.) which I enjoyed so much, and found so enlightening, that I consider it a must read for any independent artists or observers of the underground. It is a really enlightening, in-depth, wide-ranging Q&A which covers MMG’s approach to Bandcamp, blogs, scouting for artists and more. I’ll insert a bit of the article after the jump, but read it in full here.

An excerpt:

Your roster is full of incredible talent. What do you look for when scouting for potential signees?

This is the hardest question because I don’t know. Music is still an exploration, a journey for me, so I allow each record to be an experience. Those experiences naturally lead me to the next one. So I’ll be checking out a record and the features, the producers, the label will lead me to other records. As I travel through all those sounds, I develop a current taste – nothing scientific just a trip I’m on musically. So I’ll let the trip lead me and when I hear something that moves me, that hits home and resonates with something inside of me, then it’s on, I gotta go out there and meet people and work together.

The most frequent way this happens is through other artists I know. For example, L’Orange may feature Open Mike Eagle on his record, and that verse (“I only know 5 songs and they’re ALL Gucci’s Lemonade!!!) may just blow me away for some reason. So I’ll realize, okay my man Has-Lo has been doing work with Mike Eagle for some time now. I’ve checked him out a lot and liked it, but for some reason this verse was a tipping point – maybe I was at the right point, or maybe they reached a level as an artist that was enough to capture my attention. Either way, I run with those experiences and then dream. So in that example, with Open Mike Eagle, I go out and talk with him to see if we might be a good home to create some stuff. I start dreaming on what I’d like to hear from him and see if that stuff intrigues him. In this case I wanted to hear an Open Mike and Murs record. It didn’t lead that way, but we ended with some other ideas we liked better, and Murs ended up doing some stuff with Apollo, and the whole network just blossomed in a very organic way.

Now if you want something concrete for the DIY crowd – I’d say, I want an artists who is way better than he thinks he is, who has cut his teeth both live and in the studio, who has friends doing this professionally, who knows how to put together an entire project. I think the biggest misconception is that we are looking for talent – that you have so much skill everyone else pales in comparison – that’s that “I killed him” attitude. But the truth is, that everyone in this industry is talented – that’s the basic requirement to enter the room. You better be able to kill it if you want in – thousands of people kill it. So then what is it? Then what makes you different? For us, it means artists who know how to complete an entire record, mix, master, and develop artwork. Meet deadlines, stay in budget, make things happen. Someone who can understand how the music, the art, the photos, the album description, the marketing campaign, the physical product, the whole thing – they can see how it is all one big piece of art and that ultimately it is up to them to make sure is congruent.

Oddisee is amazing at this – he can oversee art direction, sound, visuals, marketing, all of it. Apollo Brown is the same way – that guy is there for every step – not a control freak, just present and working to improve things at every step. Apollo will routinely be on the phone with me for hours going over graphic design, saying move that 1 click left, now try this. He cares and doesn’t pass off any responsibility, he owns every aspect of his projects. At the same time, the guy is secure enough to let me do what I do, to let PR do what they do, he watches, listens, contributes, but also lets it flow. That’s beautiful.

So for an artist who isn’t having good luck, I’d say do these things yourself for every single project:
a) write an album description
b) list your best press links and pull quotes
c) write treatments for two videos
d) write press releases for two singles
e) write all your lyrics out
f) come up with 2 actual locations and photo shoot descriptions including time of day, lighting, and aesthetics
g) write an interview with yourself asking good questions that are revealing and insightful
h) write a 12 week marketing plan with weekly strategies with assets
i) write a bio
j) list the retail and media placements you want

Do all that yourself. Then go out and pay someone to do it better. Find someone who does just that one thing all day everyday for money – it’s worth it. Pay for the best you can. Present your work to them and get involved. The product that comes from that process is bound to be growing with each release – and that’s all you can ever ask for, a better understanding and a better quality product each and every time out. You just don’t know who is good or bad until you try it yourself though. The process of doing it informs you on the steps required and that will definitely help you in your quest for quality teammates. PA said it: Do the Knowledge.

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