Value of Beatmakers to be Key Factor in New Music Industry Success
|By Amir Said (Sa’id)|
Music producers have always played a major role in the success of the music industry. Indeed, producers have often been the driving force behind some of the biggest acts in the recording business. However, when the music industry shifted to a very centralized (narrow-minded) consumer market, the role of many music producers was reduced and fragmented. But beatmakers, the last major faction of music producers to emerge in the twentieth century, proved to be immune to this widespread marginalization…That is, until their services began to be devalued. After that, many hip hop beatmakers found that they were reduced to barely nothing more than an afterthought.
Before this “devaluation period,” many well-known beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) were able to draw the attention of both fans and music executives alike. Yet as hip hop music sales fell (as did sells across the board), labels and recording artists scrambled to find areas where they could make cost cuts. For the labels, this meant cutbacks on non-essential staff; cuts in artist development; cuts in marketing budgets; and, ultimately, cuts in—and a sever narrowing of—available product. Ironically, far too many hip hop/rap recording artists also saw cutting non-essential staff as a means to save money and maintain profits. Only thing is, these hip hop recording artists put qualified beatmakers into that “non-essential staff” classification.
Prior to the “devaluation” of beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers), hip hop/rap recording artists recognized the importance of beatmakers. But as recording budgets tightened in the music industry, many hip hop/rap recording artists became “budget beat buyers.” Indeed, they shifted their focus from quality, innovative hip hop/rap production, to “status quo” music, or rather a a “safe” music sound that was already out with presumably strong pop appeal. Almost immediately, this shift was picked up on by many new beatmakers, who were all to eager to get an oh-so coveted placement. This development ushered in a wave of hip hop/rap production that simply “mimicked”—or better still, flat out copied—the sounds of well-known beatmakers. And it should be furthered noted that this flux of “copycat beatwork” was usually offered up at a fraction of the price of the copied beatmakers…sometimes even at no price at all. And thus, along with this development, as well as widespread access to music production tools, the “devaluation” of beatmakers took hold.
Between 1982 and 2000, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music was amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And during that time, beatmakers and rappers alternated short periods of higher influence. But at no point during that period was the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music placed decidedly more in the hands of rappers. Now, however, with the concepts of unique sound, creativity, and quality (albeit often subjective) no longer serving as the guiding principles in a rapper’s beat selection; and with pricing (beat cost) emerging as perhaps the primary factor in beat selection decisions made by many rappers and clueless A&Rs, the responsibility of the general direction of hip hop/rap music has, unfortunately, been disproportionately placed in the hands of rappers and ill-qualified music insiders—both groups themselves seemingly influenced by so-called pop “tastemakers.” And to see how this shift has dramatically affected the direction of hip hop/rap music, one need only to look at the hip hop/rap commercial releases for the past 9 years. Aside from a very small number of solid albums, the overwhelming majority of mainstream hip hop/rap releases in the last 9 years have not bode well for the general direction of hip hop/rap music.
Lil Jon Universal Republic Deal: A Strike Against the Devaluation of Beatmakers and a Good Sign of Moves to Come
When it comes to Lil Jon, there is one overlooked fact that can not be denied: Despite what some beatmakers may think of his music, he was once among the half-dozen or so go-to beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) that was able to successfully stave off the “devaluation” effect. Known mostly for his role in pioneering the Crunk sound, Lil Jon was once seen as one of the limited number of beatmakers that could prompt success for any hip hop/rap recording artist that he worked with. But Lil Jon, as with The Neptunes, DJ Premier, Just Blaze, and noted others, proved not to be as immune to the “devaluation” of beatmakers as one would have thought. Yet the deal Lil Jon signed with Universal Republic Record last year perhaps signals that, in at least some corners of the music industry, high-level execs are ready to turn over important creative decisions to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers).
I’ve long been an advocate for putting the “control and power” of hip hop/rap music back in the hands of qualified, reasonably experienced beatmakers/producers, and taking it out of the hands of non-music music execs, music insiders, and clueless, “carbon copy” beatmakers. Well, on the face of it, Lil Jon’s Universal Republic deal seems to do most (if not all) of that. The pact purportedly includes: a label imprint, a recording agreement, a production arm, a digital presence, and a pivotal A&R consultant role at Universal Republic for Lil Jon. This means that Lil Jon will have is own label and a production outlet—which will allow him to bring in new beatmaking talent. More importantly, and perhaps even more telling, the deal stands to give Lil Jon crucial critical say-so in the signing, development, and marketing of new artists at Universal Republic. Whether the deal actually ever materializes as envisioned, (at the time of the publishing of this article, the deal may have already been downgraded or dissolved), it certainly appears that Universal Republic is at least willing to reach out to proven beatmakers (hip hop/rap producers) as a means of creating a winning formula for the new music industry. I suspect that in the near future, other music execs, who it must be pointed out are anxious about music sales and solid new product, will also be willing to implement packages/situations similar to the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact.
In fact, by placing the critical creative and talent acquisition decisions in the hands of a beatmaker (hip hop/rap music producer)—a real music person, not an accountant, unimaginative A&R, or some other insider with no authentic appreciation for music and its makers, the potential for an influx of more creative-centered music—that is, non-fluff-centered, superficially formulaic music—will undoubtedly increase. More importantly, because of deals like the Lil Jon/Universal Republic pact, conditions for beatmakers—the musicians solely responsible for making beats in hip hop/rap music—are likely to improve. And should deals like these continue to happen, (which I expect that they will), the “devaluation” of beatmakers will necessarily cease. When that happens, the responsibility for the general direction of hip hop/rap music will once again be, in large part, amicably shared by both beatmakers and rappers, together. And once the balance of this responsibility is properly restored, look for the overall level of hip hop/rap music to improve dramatically.Articles, BeatTips Jewel Droppin', Editor's Choice, Editorials, Music Business, Music Education, News