With an on-going focus on indie labels, we bring you the first installment of the Independent Spotlight series at AlLlindstrom.com. As the Independent’s Day pieces illustrated the business models of four record labels and their talent personnel, we want to continue this example by showing the readers that the music industry –Hip Hop specifically- is flourishing and creative. This time out we highlight Coalmine Records and Diamond Media 360. Matt Diamond talked with us about some of the specifics of his companies and how his mode of doing business developed and how it may be of assistance to someone else that is trying to get their label/company up-and-running. This guy has a lot going on (he also assists in the career of producer M-Phazes) and keeps a positive outlook in terms of Hip-Hop and its culture. Take note and see what gems Mr. Diamond has to offer.
How does Coalmine Records function as a label in today’s climate of low record sales?
I deal with this on an on-going basis. I really feel like today it’s an issue of quality and quantity and you need good music coming out frequently. One given release won’t keep the lights on, so to speak. You have to find a balance of the two. We do a lot of digital singles, even if we don’t do full-lengths to keep the brand out there with retail and blog recognition. It’s less of an overall risk for the label.
Explain digital positioning at digital retailers.
We have to make good pitches. If the editors don’t see the pitch, we won’t get the placement. A known artist like Danny Brown will eventually get noticed, but more unrecognized artists need a solid pitch. A lot of cats are trying the do-it-yourself approach via Tunecore and CD Baby, but you don’t get any retail marketing drivers this way. Would you rather have 75%-85% of something or 100% of very little? I understand the anti-label thing but it’s doing something independent the right way. Independent labels can help the artists with their independent movements.
How do you still enjoy the retail side of an industry that’s musically very different from the era of Hip-Hop that you were a part of?
I sometimes feel distant from it like many of us do. But 2011 has seen an amazing wave of artists and sounds coming through to reconnect us to Hip-Hop. We shouldn’t be scared of new music, but it needs to sound good. We saw some good, new artists with a revitalization of veteran artists and their careers in 2011. After being stagnant for some years, New York is starting to see more of its artists getting some shine now, too.
Who are some of your favorite artists of today’s generation?
Dopehead, Danny Brown, and Mr. Muthafu*kin’ eXquire. Danny Brown calls him “the next Biggie.” He’s got the recklessness of ODB but the similar posturing as Biggie. I think he’s New York’s answer to creating the medium between the hipster rapper and the traditional New York rapper. I want to work with him in some capacity. Actually, M-Phazes laced him with a Brooklyn beat: the one that helped him win Sha Money’s producer seminar in 2008. When judges like Premier, Swizz, and DJ Toomp -amongst several other notable producers- heard it, everyone in attendance including them had the “screw face” on (laughs). I like Blu, Kendrick Lamar, and Schoolboy Q as well.
Is the online exposure of a given artist taken into consideration in deciding whether to work with them or not?
It doesn’t necessarily translate to direct sales. The artist needs a fanbase and there’s a difference between this and online support. Certain artists may be on every blog or site out there and they’re receiving support that way. This creates an illusion that there’s a new artist on the come-up and it may or may not be something you want to commit to. Conversely, you see the artists with a fanbase like Schoolboy Q or Joe Budden and they’ll help drive their fans to sites where the music can be purchased. These guys interact with their core audiences via social marketing sites as well. Dopehead has developed a fanbase, too, without making the Hip Hop blog rounds, but was getting support from other music sites. It’s easier for us to go in this direction when trying to market a newer artist.
What growing marketing trends do you think will start gaining momentum with regards to online marketing and ‘blog love?’ How do you track this?
One of the biggest paradigm shifts has been the movement to Soundcloud. It’s quickly become the audio version of YouTube. I use it for all of our audio campaigns and it gives us flexibility to have it stream with or without a download option. The link now is easier to track. Labels and publicists can track this easier versus a site taking an MP3, uploading it and then being unable to see the number of downloads. Before, it was hard to promote one song that was being offered at retail without giving it away. Now, Soundcloud offers this ability. We need more analytics, though, and we as an industry are making it too easy for people to get the music. Music loses its value this way. Now, fans can be asked more questions about their preferences or basic demographic information in exchange for the music. It’s earning the music now and not just having it thrown at the audience. These analytics help grow an artist’s fanbase.
The classic “Free” Vs. “Retail” question: Do free mixtapes/’street’ albums help or hurt the industry?
Hip Hop is still the only genre, for the most part, that gives its music away to promote albums. If the industry would stop giving away music, retail sales would increase. The biggest problem is that some rappers only do it to be seen and heard without a business model. Now, that idea spreads and other artists clutter the pipeline. This makes it harder for quality music to be heard, but the cream will eventually rise to the top. When that good artist rises to the top, people get really excited. Also, music is easier to make nowadays and it’s much less expensive to make a song or an album.
If an artist has released a mixtape, that’s good to promote themselves and their music. It can be tricky when that same artist tries to sell that mixtape for full retail price. Why would someone buy it for $9.99 when they could have downloaded it for free? What we suggest to our artists or clients is taking that same mixtape and adding three or four new songs to it (i.e. Dopehead’s Plaid Palm Trees mixtape). We lower the retail price to $2.99 for the entire project. Now, people are buying the new songs but getting the entire mixtape with it. You create value and people don’t feel like they’re being taken advantage of when they’re now being asked to purchase something that was previously a free download.
What’s the difference between Coalmine Records and Diamond Media 360?
For me, I realize that I have to do other things. Diamond Media 360 is what really keeps me busy; Coalmine is a labor of love and it’s fun. Plus, I don’t have to worry about the realities of meeting certain retail expectations. Diamond Media 360 allows the a la carte marketing services for artists to utilize. I understand how this business works at a grassroots level for indie artists to benefit from at a very reasonable price. We don’t have to outsource to third-party companies for marketing and promo services; we do it. Also, an artist doesn’t have to be on Coalmine Records to take advantage of the services we provide at Diamond Media 360.
You view the digital EP as the new 12-inch vinyl. Please explain.
I work with the A&R at Coalmine Records, Lucas Zimmer, who used to be one of the head buyers at Fat Beats. In their business model, the 12” was an important component. Now, the process of making music is so much faster. It’s not necessary to have the artist commit to an album, commit to a tour and have a vast amount of resources invested in it. You give the fans some music this way like 12” singles several years ago. It allows multiple projects to come out without needing to drop a full-length. You can keep the momentum moving that way. With enough projects, you start to fill up the quarters with releases. We now have a couple projects a week between the two companies. The artists can still do their thing away from Coalmine as those outside projects help promote our upcoming Digi EP on the label. In terms of our retail expectations, we look to sell a thousand copies to recoup the artist advance and the costs associated with it. That’s a baseline starting point for us to make a little money and roll it into the next project.
What’s next for Coalmine? What forthcoming releases does the label have planned?
M-Phazes is the next project (Phazed Out) we have dropping. He’s one of the more relevant producers out there now. He can make the hard, boom-bap sound in addition to making bigger sounding, more accessible records. This project has some really good records on it with MCs like CL Smooth, Torae, Emilio Rojas and others making appearances. Plus, it’s mixed by the Beat Junkies’ own, DJ Rhettmatic,. We’re also releasing an ‘Untagged/No DJ’ version with an extra track for retail as well. We just signed Rah Digga and the album is coming out incredible. We have Quelle Chris, M-Phazes, Lab Rats, 6th Sense, Marco Polo, Khrysis, and Nottz on production. It’s a very relevant album.
Please be sure to check out the interview we did with M-Phazes here at Allindstrom.com. We want to thank Matt Diamond, Nate Flagrant and M-Phazes for their support and assistance. Many blessings and much success in your endeavors. GOD BLESS
Moss, Chris.“Independent Spotlight – Mining For Diamonds” Feb. 16, 2012,
http://allindstrom.com/2012/02/article-independent-spotlight-mining-for-diamonds/, Feb. 16, 2012.