Alkota Interview: Business Class (Customised flash drives, creating an personal idea of success, 'beat leasing' and more)
Whilst empty 'musician as businessman' talk is stale, artists who can mix creative and commercial skill with integrity will always be welcome sources of inspiration. These people are leading lights in a new musical landscape. Alkota aka The Drum Broker is one such leading light.
His production credits include Kool G Rap, Planet Asia and REKS. He has licensed music to companies including VH1, Redbull and the NBA. He's a keen video director (Blaack: 'Love For You') and, in a stroke of genius devised a set of USB's which perfectly resemble iconic beatmaking hardware.
His site hiphopdrumsamples.com showcases top drawer sample packs from the beatmaking elite including Alkota himself, Illmind, Ski Beatz, Khrysis, M-Phazes and Mike Chav, along with priceless technical and business advice.
Although art and business have always been uneasy bedfellows, Alkota maintains integrity and a respect for himself and the culture he works within, showing that 'music as a hobby' and 'selling out' aren't the only options to today's new beatmaker.
In this far-reaching interview, The New Beatmaker speaks to Alkota on number of topics including how he came upon the idea for his flash drives, how new artists must brand themselves and create their own idea of success, and the always controversial issue of 'beat leasing'. Grab your notebooks, folks: there are plenty of gems here.
TNB: You wear many hats – from beatmaker to flash drive designer to music video director. What’s an average day in the life of Alkota?
Alkota: My schedule is pretty sporadic actually. I prefer to work and schedule my work in "blocks", which can revolve around a drum kit release, USB drive development, beatmaking session, or music video shoot. Keeps things interesting. So I'm not always doing beats all day, everyday. Some days I'll write or work on marketing. Others I'll do sound design, etc. I think it's a more efficient and interesting way of doing things and keeps you fresh.
With that being said, I usually check my email upon waking up and handle any customer service issues or questions for my sites, do follow ups, business development emails, etc. After that I like to hit the gym and do some jiu jitsu or kickboxing to clear my mind and de-stress so I can be creative.
Once I'm in the right mindset I'll do work! I've been digging for samples pretty heavily the last year and taken a sabbatical from making beats the way I used to. If I do crank out new beats, I spend more time on details vs. quantity, working on mixing and completing full tracks.
TNB: You’ve created a diverse, multifaceted brand. Did you set out with this in mind, or did this diversity develop organically over time?
Alkota: I'd say it developed organically. I'm not the type of person who sticks to one thing forever. I know when to quit something and cut my losses. Music has fortunately been something I've stuck with a long time and I've been fortunate to develop a business around making beats without relying on making beats to pay bills. If you don't have a progressive mindset or attitude about business and music, you won't make the cut. You have to be willing to adapt and focus on your strengths. For me, that is developing businesses and ideas centered around my passion for beatmaking and music.
If you don't have a progressive mindset or attitude about business and music, you won't make the cut. You have to be willing to adapt and focus on your strengths.
TNB: You’re known as The Drum Broker. The sample packs on your site, hiphopdrumsamples.com, are highly regarded. What are the benefits of using one of these packs over samples or VSTi’s that can be downloaded elsewhere?
Alkota: As a producer or beatmaker you can never have enough sounds. I personally buy everything I can get my hands on. You can't be stingy with the drum & sound budget of your production arsenal. With that being said, our drums and samples are geared towards hip hop and boom bap producers. We don't really pigeon hole ourselves into genre drums because if you listen to any genre of hip hop music you're gonna hear all sorts of drums that don't necessarily fit the typical sounds of that genre. People ask us for Trap Drums occasionally…my response is…any drums can be used in Trap Muzik.
The benefits of course would be quality and versatility. There is a lot of bullshit out there being pushed for a quick buck. Our goal is to provide a dope product and continually improve our catalog and sounds.
TNB: I love your USB flash drives replicating iconic beatmaking hardware. I see you’ve also recently created one in homage to the Leica camera. Can you tell us how the flash drives came about?
Alkota: I was actually reading an article in Entrepreneur Magazine about a husband and wife who were artists. They had USB drives designed from cartoon characters they drew. It was at that moment I realized we needed drum machine USB drives. It was a literal light bulb going on in my head. I did a little research and dropped a hefty investment into the idea and it worked out! I had faith that anyone doing beats would love to get their hands on one of these things, so it was a no-brainer.
TNB: Let’s talk software for a minute. It seems that a lot of MPC-based beatmakers use Reason and I know you’re one of them. What do you personally love about it?
Alkota: Its intuitive if you are coming from a hardware background. I was used to plugging cables in and out of various hardware instruments, so naturally Reason's interface appealed to me. I was introduced to Reason by a friend who was making beats that sounded indistinguishable from something that was coming out of the MPC at the time. I hated tracking my beats into pro tools, so working inside the box was a welcomed transition.
With the new version of Reason, you get Rack Extensions (their plugin ecosystem) and a lot of dope mixing tools including the SSL mixing board. Taking it a step further, Reason 7 is bringing MIDI OUT, new mixing features, etc. So I'm pretty pumped that I don't have to leave the Reason environment to finish a beat or project. I haven't touched Pro Tools in a few years.
TNB: You’ve spoken about how good it felt to buy a legitimate copy of Reason 6. Do you think that the issue of ‘cracked’ software will ever be fully resolved?
Alkota: No. However, I think anyone who matures as a person and sees the value that their favorite software developer brings to their life and craft will eventually make the right decision to support the software company. I think a lot of folks now selectively pirate things. If it's quality or adds value to their life, they will buy it. If not…they will "steal it". If you are getting paid from creating something using pirated software…be an adult and buy it.
Lots of people really hated on my post about pirating software. But I really don't fucking care. Who cares what the majority thinks.
Focus on developing and branding yourself. If you aren't a brand, no one will pay attention.
TNB: You share plenty of great business advice on your site, alkotabeats.com. Where did you get all this business acumen from? Can you share any books or courses that our readers could benefit from?
Alkota: Truthfully most of it is from fumbling through business by starting businesses, failing at some, etc. I also have a degree in Finance which helps my #'s game and investment knowledge.
I read a lot of Seth Godins Books, watch Ted Talks, and a lot of other self help business books and blogs. Half the battle is mentally conditioning yourself to be positive and avoid all the "noise" in the industry. Its really easy these days to get caught up and pulled in all sorts of directions that will be counterproductive to your personal development.
For instance, Twitter is a great tool to engage and promote. However, it's also a great way to waste time and pay attention to communication(s) that don't add any value to your life, craft, or business. People need to learn to develop their own filter that suites their goals in life. It's not easy and takes constant recalibration.
TNB: What advice would you give to new beatmakers to help them thrive in today’s saturated market? Have you ever thought about writing a book on this?
Alkota: Yes. I have plans for a book. I am asking myself this very same question daily too. I think first and foremost, shed any prior conceptions you have about the music industry because it's a dynamic beast. Secondly, focus on developing and branding yourself. If you aren't a brand, no one will pay attention. Now is the best time to focus on branding yourself and creating a movement because the traditional channels of "success" are highly improbable. Finally, define what "success" or "thriving" is to you personally. For some its money, others working with their favorite artists. Set up a few small goals you can achieve so you always feel like you're making progress and don't get demotivated.
Set up a few small goals you can achieve so you always feel like you're making progress and don't get demotivated.
TNB: There seems to be a bit of a stigma around leasing beats. What's your take on leasing?
Alkota: I've tinkered with leasing here and there, but at this point I think it's a waste of time and energy for the small amount of money you can make. You are instantly devaluing your beats and setting your bar low. I'm aware some people make a full time living off leases and that's great. But not everyone is capable of doing that…plus who wants to hear 10 people on the same beat? 2013 is the year we should kill the lease and start bringing some bread back into the game, lol.
TNB: Finally, moving back to you, what projects have you got in the pipeline? What can readers expect from Alkota in 2013? Any shout outs?
Alkota: Beats. Working on making some dope beats as always. On the drum broker side, I have some pretty amazing things happening every month. Tune into hiphopdrumsamples.com to see what we are doing! I don't like to broadcast my moves too much ;).
Stay tuned for the ASR-10 Illmind Blap Drive. They just went into production! And I just copped a new camera to shoot some local music videos, then the plan is to get out and do some documentary work with producers I've been connecting with.
Shout outs to Matt Diamond @ DM360/Coalmine, Illmind, M-Phazes, Stompboxx Music, BBoy Tech Report and all my affiliates. I'm sure there is a million more people I could shout out, but let's keep it simple.
Many thanks to Alkota. Check out:
Image 1: reasontowork.com
Image 2: hiphopdrumsamples.com
Image 3: illmind.biz.tumblr.com
Video 1: youtube.com/user/alkotaak