You Sing, I Write: The Roots ?uestlove Talks Music, Branding and Artist Survival at Social Media Week

Thursday, February 4, 2010

The Roots ?uestlove Talks Music, Branding and Artist Survival at Social Media Week

Photo Credit: Emily Tan

The Roots’ ?uestlove was on hand last night for Sound Ctrl’s Social Media Week music panel in New York. Held at the former Tower Record building, the night’s discussion provided commentary on the trading and bartering currencies among artists, corporations and labels in today’s constantly changing music scene.

?uestlove touched upon everything from commercializing and licensing of music to industry troubles. “Business and art and commerce are a dirty combination. I’ll put it this way, I don’t think I would necessarily say, ‘I’m going to write this song and it’s going to be the Phillies World Series song and then I’m going to perform it when they win the World Series.’” Alluding to “Empire State of Mind,” he joked with the audience: “I’m not going to say anyone else did: cough: Jay-Z. If he wants to celebrate steroids, good let him.”

With the record industry in shambles ?uestlove addressed artists’ needs to branch out and not solely depend on label support. “I’m amazed at artists I meet that strictly rely on the label and nothing else,” he said. “I have to produce other people’s records. I have to drum on other people’s records. I have to write in other magazines. I have to DJ, blog. I have to be as ubiquitous as I could be. Initially, I guess we wanted to be so spread out that the label wouldn’t drop us. We never technically depended on record sale revenue for our personal survival. Artists have to change their mentality. It’s 2010 you’re going to have to become a little more creative than, ‘Yo, man I spit!’ Can you blog? Can you teach a class? You’re going to have to do a lot more than spit.”

Despite the downturn within the music industry, ?uestlove remains hopeful. Witnessing the “visual tsunami that has washed over the music industry,” during the Grammy Awards, he is convinced the business is changing for the better. “I can clearly see now that labels are more or less the middlemen. If you were to tell me Mariah Carey, for a specific amount of money, will create a project that will lead people to Pepsi’s Web site where you can get 10 new Mariah Carey songs – I clearly see that’s the future. Who knows, maybe the next Roots album will be brought to you by Downy or Raid roach spray. I’m serious. It’s going to go to that. Any bug spray people, tweet me up.”

As for his Twitter addiction, ?uestlove admits a few companies have approached him. “That’s when it starts to get scary because someone is dangling a million dollar carrot in front of your face and it’s the angel and devil on your shoulder. I’ve yet to consider how powerful my Twitter brand is. My computer is always at my side on the set of the show, in rehearsal, on the tour bus. I like to run my mouth. I like one liners. I usually use my Twitter account to try to put people onto new music. I use SwiftFM to give you access to a lot of exclusive stuff that you haven’t heard before. I haven’t sold out to Twitter yet. But I will.”

While the future of the music industry and social media’s role is open to question, the artist’s influence is far from extinct. “It’s quite possible and actually achievable for you to be an artist and to make music that inspires people and for you to also realize that this is a business. If you don’t realize that this is a business it’s the equivalent of trying to cross FDR without looking both ways.”

Moderated by new media strategist James Andrews, additional panelists included Sr. Marketing Manager of PepsiCo Andrew Katz and co-founder of Uncensored Interview Marisa Bangash.

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