Every music scene needs networking, support, and engagement to survive. From zines to message boards, there’s always been a desire to have a platform that allows members of particular scenes to collaborate, connect and share music. TuneCore’s partner, Tapes, is a UK-based digital platform for hip hop artists.

With the mission to “empower, develop and support the UK music scene by facilitating collaboration between artists and industry tastemakers”, Tapes was founded by Carla Brown. We chatted with Carla about the UK scene, being a woman in the industry, and more in the interview below.

1.Tell us a little bit about your experience in the UK music scene and what DJing means to you.

Carla Brown: I’ve been on the scene for around 15 years or so. I started out as a DJ, which has always been a passion of mine, on pirate radio stations and worked the full circuit in Birmingham. I showcased UK hip hop artists and did live interviews, radio sets and reviews. I built up a name for myself on the Brum (Birmingham) scene as one of the few DJ’s at that time supporting hip hop. There was a buzz around Birmingham hip hop around 2004 onwards and the radio at that time kept it alive and thriving.

I always wanted to support up and coming talent via my platform and it led me to developing hip hop nights. Ones & Twos was an ‘open deck’ night for DJ’s to come and spin tracks along to a theme. There wasn’t anything like it at the time and it caught quite a buzz. We had artists from London – Joe Black, Klashnekoff, B-Mus Khalil to name a few, perform alongside those from Birmingham – Malik MD7, Sykes, Royalists, Zimbo, Amnesia and more. We also featured artists from the US – Inspectah Deck and Oddissee.

DJing to me is a passion – it is also my artform. I am a very creative person and I have been able to develop my creativity through DJing. I had some turntablist friends who really inspired me to want to develop skills – I started doing competitions – both live and online. I then transitioned into VJing, giving me another layer of creativity.  Most of my sets now are visual and I feature a lot of UK videos in my sets. 

2. How have you been able to assist up and coming artists secure funding for their careers?

I’ve been taking UK artists to international showcases since 2015. I started off with A3C Hip Hop Festival in Atlanta, where I was able to secure some funding for part of the trip. I used my writing skills to put a case forward for receiving funding and it was the start of developing a relationship with PRS Foundation and British Underground.

Since then I have sat on panels assessing funding applications, often being a representative for Birmingham. I have also assisted with the actual writing of the applications so they are stronger and meet the criteria. For all the international projects I have developed (SXSW, Hopscotch, A3C Festival, Canada Music Week) the artists have been funded by PRS Foundation, who are keen to support the UK’s fastest growing genre. In many cases, this would be the first time the artists have applied for and received funding so it is a big deal for them. Arts Council has also given support for music projects which have involved international travel for the artists I work with and the projects have led to collaborations between UK and US artists and the production of a Tapes album. 

3. How have you been successful in using both your experience and Tapes to forge industry relationships in a way that helps UK artists?

My experience as an event organizer both nationally and internationally along with my ability to develop successful funding bids, has helped provide artists with funding for music projects, as well as showcasing opportunities. For most of the artists I have taken internationally, it has been their first experience of accessing US or Canadian territory. Tapes hosted an artist showcase and producer event for A3C Festival in October 2018, enabling them to network and engage with DJ’s, artists, promoters and music companies. Tapes also uses its ever extending network to get music in front of DJ’s and influencers in an easy and transparent way.  We are also working on getting discounts from music companies for services that would be beneficial for them.  We want artists to think of themselves as entrepreneurs and help them to get as much value out of their artform as possible. Through an introduction to Girls of Grime, I was able to get one of the Grime emcees her first funding application approved and also placement as an official artist (at a Tapes show) at Canada Music Week. 

4. What experiences led to you forming Tapes? What problems were you hoping to solve?

My frustrations at how fragmented the UK scene was/is. It felt as though there were many barriers to ‘making it’ or even just increasing your network of influential people. Artists and managers would always get in touch with me (usually via DM) to ask me to pass their music on to someone or make an introduction.

Also, as the recipient of frequent music emails from a variety of sources, it was really hard for me as a DJ to get through all the music I was required to listen to. For me it is all about providing access to a wider network, breaking down barriers, creating opportunities for collaboration and doing so in a transparent way.

DJs, as much as artists, are always looking for ways to increase their network and grow their audiences. It’s also about making it as easy as possible for DJs to connect with artists whose music they are feeling and providing access to music discovery. The ‘tastemakers’ are those that support the music and give it traction by exposing it to a wider audience – Tapes helps to facilitate that process in a streamlined and focused way.

5. What are some of the most common struggles you see facing independent artists trying to get ahead in the industry right now?

I think there are many – most of them seem to come down to money. To get good traction from a track, (which will get you noticed as an artist), there needs to be a budget in place to support that. It is also important to have a team – even if it is a small one – to help push music online and tap into new networks to provide opportunities.

Having a track mixed and mastered professionally to a high standard is essential if it is going to be featured on radio or in DJ sets. Then there are the visuals – in the UK it is REALLY important to have good visuals in order for the media platforms to feature them. A manager can help to come up with a good marketing strategy that will open some new doors and help to make waves in the scene – as well as help you fill out the funding application forms! All of these things cost – and can really add up when you start to do the sums.

6. To that point, what are some major misconceptions you see plaguing artists in your scene?

I’m going to list a couple by bullet point:

  • You have to break the UK before building an audience or travelling overseas.
    • This is just not true! The journey is as important as the destination and the bigger the audience and wider the network you can build, the better
  • Putting a video on one of the major media platforms means that you don’t need to do anything else to market.
    • There is a lot of groundwork that needs to happen behind the scenes – the video feature should only be a part of the plan, not the only plan!
  • You need a cosign or feature from another major artist in the UK.
    • Nope. Giggs broke down recently that it’s important to build your buzz – then the artists will come to you. If you get a big feature before you have an audience – where do you go from there? They’re probably only listening for the feature, it can do more harm than good!

7. How can artists take advantage of Tapes on a limited budget? Do you have any success stories to share?

The Tapes platform is still in its early stages – which means that now is the BEST time to get involved. 

We are working really hard to give value to anyone who is a part of Tapes, which means building our networks even more, getting partnerships in place, sourcing discounts for artist services, working closely with DJs and providing a real hands on experience. The artists that I was able to secure funding for, came to A3C in Atlanta and recorded at Patchwerk Studios, collaborated with US artists and producers and have gone on to make new music and build new relationships. Tapes is working closely with an up and coming duo from Birmingham who have a very ‘current’ and catchy sound that will do really well in today’s market.  We’re definitely excited for the future and the potential impact we can make on the scene.

8. What did you see happening across not only the industry at large but specifically among female artists and professionals that led to the development of Tapes?

I’ve always felt like females in the industry hold the keys! We just need to work together a whole lot more.  We play major roles behind the scenes with little to no recognition – it’s a case of if you know you know… the more we combine our efforts, time and businesses, the further we will be able to push and support the up and coming talented female acts. 

I feel quite strongly that female artists from Birmingham should be able to collaborate with those from London and provide access to each others audiences. If you work in music – particularly hip hop, Grime and subgenres – you should be open to working with other women in your field.  Give them a helping hand, make an intro, arrange a meeting, feature them on a track, in a video or get them an opening set on your show.  Grow together, glow together.

9. How important is organizing and networking when it comes to succeeding in a male-dominated genre/industry?

This one is real easy! EXTREMELY important!

As mentioned above, we definitely hold keys as women and we can capitalize off that.  Unfortunately we still face stereotypes as females in the scene – both as artists and professionals. The more we establish ourselves as ‘the norm’, the more we can break down some of those stereotypes and misconceptions.

We can also present a balance – the overly sexualized to the under sexualized and a whole lot in between. We are artists, DJs, managers, promoters, entrepreneurs and more – what if we all worked together?

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