Hip Hop (Un)scene: What About Your Friends?

The delicate but necessary balance of business and friends

Nov 24, 2009 at 2:06 pm

For anyone who’s been reading these columns, I hope you’re catching on to the natural progression of the format. We started at the earliest stages for a new artist and are leading up to the more advanced business and musical aspects of the industry. With that said, at the end of my last column I mentioned that I’d be following up this month with a DJ Drizzle interview regarding the other sides of the artist/DJ relationship. After our interview, however, it occurred to me that what he and I spoke about didn’t fit into the natural progression I’m going for, so I’m saving that column for another day.

Instead, I thought I’d get one of the most important issues out of the way from the jump.

Writing, recording and performing is all good, but once you hit a certain stage, the foundation of your business must be on point. If not, just stop now. Seriously. Just stop.

Nearly all of us begin making music with our friends. And if they weren’t our friends before we made music with them, they probably will be afterwards. This is fun and all, until money starts coming into play. Who pays for studio time? Who pays for the mix downs and artwork? How will you split money from the CDs sold? Will you put it back into buying more product? Who do you trust to handle all of this?

I’m not here to give you percentages and numbers. That shit gets very boring very quickly. Instead, I figure I’d give some personal philosophies on mixing friendship and business (I won’t move into family and business — can’t fit that into an 850 word limit).

If not handled right, this is when simple and long-lasting friendships quickly turn into a tragedy. A majority of scene vets reading this are probably thinking of at least three separate situations where shit went down shady and friendships dissolved because of it. Even beyond your local scene, how many dynasties in music have fallen because of dumb shit like this? Did you hear Beanie Siegel talking about how Rocafella started falling apart just a couple weeks ago? He merged friendship and business and failed because of it. Old heads: Wonder why Pete Rock and CL Smooth stopped coming out with records? Eric and Parrish? Hot Boys? Dipset? “First the Fat Boys break up …”?! Yeah I thought so. It’s not worth it.

Now, most people don’t like the idea of bringing contracts out for business situations amongst friends, because it implies a lack of trust. I disagree. I think friendship is a very delicate structure and there’s a lot leaning on it already. Why add something as heavy as business and money onto it? You’re asking for a collapse. Also, I tend to believe that most sour business dealings aren’t intentionally shady. Rather, I believe two people usually have different understandings of what they stand to gain from a business transaction with each other, and rather than put it on paper (communication in black and white print), they verbally agree, all the while assuming the other guy knows what they mean. This is dangerous, because there’s no point of reference for either business partner to go back to. Everything is hearsay, and this is the point when a friendship dissolves.

Trust me when I say that it’s hard to go back to a friendship once a business partnership falls apart because it wasn’t put on paper. It’s like being friends with an ex after she slept with your brother because she’s “still a really nice person.” It’s just not the same.

With all that said, my philosophy is this: Creativity is the sun that all other planets orbit around. Creating great music and using this chemistry to do it should always be your first priority. Everything else (business, etc.) revolves around that. Once you and your partners decide you might have some good material and it’s time to mix down, get artwork, print some copies and start rocking shows, then it’s time to start putting numbers down on paper.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t even be making personal profit for a while. Any money you and your team make should go right back into the pot of recording, mix downs, pressing and promoting. There is a lot more that goes into making a successful team (personality traits, jobs, etc.), but it’s important to lock the foundation in early. If you start shaky you can’t go back, and it will always come around to bite you in the ass.

In closing, look at it like this: If you can’t handle the small business of selling CDs as friends and business partners, what would make you be able to handle the big business of running a label and dealing with investors, publicists, booking agents, etc.? Treat these “small moves” no differently than “big moves.” At the core, there’s really no difference. All money is money and all business is business.

ILL POETIC is a multi-tasking Hip Hop producer/performer whose "Hip Hop (Un)scene" column appears here once a month. Check out his latest activities at illpoetic.com.