Words by Leah Phillips
Photography by Indya Connley
We music industry folk are a multi-talented bunch. It’d be hard to get by without having at least a few skills of the trade under your belt. But when you’re a freelancing operator – with many fingers in many pies – making a brand for yourself is a fantastic way to gain recognition and familiarity. 10 years ago MJ of the boutique agency 100% Phat did just that. He shared some of his small business wisdom with Leah Phillips.
A self-confessed music head since his youth, MJ started out in the club scene after high school. He started promoting and hosting his own nights before moving into a marketing management role for select clubs.
After some time in the industry MJ realized the venues he bounced between were the ones getting the credit for his work and he wasn’t building up an audience of his own. That’s when 100% Phat was born. This umbrella brand tied together all the facets of the business, which included artist management, events, tour booking and hosting radio. Artists signed to his agency now include Tom Showtime, DJ Agent 86, DJ Flagrant, M-Phazes and DJ Hijack.
The multifaceted nature of the agency allows for each element to interact and cross promote each other. The radio show was a great advertisement for MJ’s DJs who were producing new music and the events run by his artists attracted interest in the agency’s parties.
“Tying it all together seemed logical so that every little thing I did contributed towards the awareness and the strength of the brand,” says MJ. The merging of skills has let the brand develop at its own pace into the boutique agency it is today.
Using the Internet and other digital mediums to get your business out there is an obvious advantage now compared to ten years ago. But it’s so easy for the music you’re uploading online to get lost among the masses. The only way to get ahead is by being smart about creating a strong online presence.
MJ advocates Bandcamp for his artists because the consumer can pay what they want, plus you can get their email address to build your database of people who actually seek your music. Then you can share more of your music with those who actually like it when the time comes for the next release. Hopefully this entices people to your gigs — you show them a good time and word of mouth will spread like wildfire. But just as important as a database of fans is a pool of talented creative music business people behind the scenes.
What’s helped keep the brand running – apart from MJ’s enthusiasm for the music and the DJs – is the network that he’s surrounded himself with. From his early days as a club promoter he’s met and maintained relationships that have played a part in carving his career path. A well trusted group lent a helping hand when there was a need for graphic design, travel arrangements and securing artist visas. Other outsourced skills like PR MJ learnt to do himself over the years, internalizing that cost. The other perk of having a support network is always having someone to ask a sticky question, something MJ wishes he was told earlier and recommends to anyone wanting entry into the business.
“Don’t be afraid to ask questions of others in the industry.”
Fostering and maintaining personal relationships with the artists themselves is also advantageous and fruitful. Each artist’s own sound and style of music is unique to them making it easier for MJ to decide which artists would be suitable for a certain opportunity, not to mention knowing which ones in particular they would enjoy.
So in the game of music business it seems that along the way you gradually gain skills that you learn to translate into other areas. Although it may be a risk to begin you own brand of this sort, it’s a calculated risk and a trust in the artists and associates you choose to surround yourself with will make a huge difference in your success.
For more info on 100% Phat, head to www.facebook.com/100PercentPhat