Hustle in hard times - Page 2

Pinging the Bay Area rap business, version .08
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Dave Paul of Bomb

It is great in so many ways, like connecting with artists straight away and not beat around the bush, waiting for a phone call, or waiting for a nightclub to see someone."

MySpace is also San Quinn's lifeline where, the rapper said, his music's daily plays are in the thousands. San Quinn generates money beyond CD and digital music sales. "I do ringtones. I do shows. I have a San Quinn skateboard that I put out through FTC," the rapper said. "On our first pressing we just had, I sold a thousand skateboards at $50 a piece and I get $25 off every skateboard."

He also makes a tidy income doing guest appearances or "features" on other artists releases ("They pay me for a verse"). "I've done over 3,000 features," he said of the feat that earned him an inclusion in Guinness World Records for the most collaborations with other artists. Landing on television or video game soundtracks can be highly profitable but also highly competitive.

But for an up-and-coming Bay Area hip-hop artist, it is even more challenging to make a buck. On one recent evening on the Pittsburg/Bay Point-to-San Francisco BART train, Macsen Apollo of Oakland's V.E.R.A. Clique was putting a new spin on the "dirt hustlin'" sales approach pioneered in the 1990s by Hobo Junction and Mystik Journeymen by walking from car to car hawking copies of his hip-hop group's CD, keeping a watchful eye out for BART police, in an effort to make some money from his music.

Meanwhile back at the City Hall Records offices and warehouse, where Zelnick works on orders for new releases from local rap cats Balance and Thizz artist Duna, things have changed a lot in a decade. "We're really at a turning point here," he said. "We're still here and someone is buying music, but I don't know how much longer." Last week in the UK, with just a few weeks till Christmas, Britain's key indie label distribution company Pinnacle Entertainment declared bankruptcy, leaving 400 imprints with no way to get their music into the diminishing number of music retail stores.

"Next year I 'm going to put out Return of the DJ, Vol. 6 and that will be the final physical release I will ever do," said Bomb's Paul, who believes the only way for rap artists to make money is to be increasingly innovative and to constantly tour and sell merchandise, including music, along the way. "In the very near future I think the only place left to buy a CD is to go a show. Artists have to come up with new ways to generate cash. I heard of some artists who will sell backstage passes for $300 — or whatever they can get."

Cubano concurs. "If you're sitting around waiting for that call, it ain't gonna come," he quipped. "You have to get out there. You gotta be in traffic. People have to expand their hustle. Otherwise you don't eat."

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