HIP HOP

COMMUNITY

MUSIC

BUSINESS

DOPE TALKS WITH
DEV TEJWANI

BY MICHAEL LEE

CONNECT WITH DEV
ON TWITTER

Can you tell me about yourself?

California kid that grew up in the suburbs and grew up loving music. I’ve been in the music game for 10 years, but the backstory with music is that I always loved the community and movements in music. I grew up loving the alternative rock, punk rock, emo, screamo hardcore scene back in high school, because that’s what people did in the suburbs. In 2004 my friend Michael Lee came through and was like “yo dude, you gotta listen to this shit”. It ended up being the classic hip hop of the 90’s and 2000’s, along with the early 2000’s with living legends and Nas – and specifically for that time Kanye, when he came out.

I started immersing myself into the Hip Hop scene, growing to love it each day, and building my ear from an A&R standpoint within the genre. We would just listen to music, Mike and all our friends – and I didn’t know at the time how influential that was. I was going into college and started business administration, marketing, accounting and all these focus’s but never thought that music itself could be a career. It wasn’t until I started seeing success in my first business with Teambackpack, which you know grew a legs of its own and we built a movement out of nothing.

With a couple of people, a couple of artists, a couple of products, and with the will and hope - we built bridges between artists and producers and built Teambackpack. Now I’m working at Beatclub and continuing to help artists and producers be more effective at what they do and get them heard and find ways to help them monetize.

What do you love about music communities?

I enjoy the fact that when you have a community that’s built around common interest, there’s pure love in the within it. There may be a few pockets within a community that carry a toxic element to it, but with something like music, it seems to eliminate that negative factor, and people come together for the shared love of the art. I love the fact that people are able to unite through sound.

How did you get the idea for Teambackpack?

The idea was to promote a show. The cyphers were the main content piece, and we built a brand, a community, and event series around that. We used a cypher to promote a show, and that cypher was first shot on my iPhone 4 in a basement. We had 3 rappers, a producer, and the 3 rappers were playing a show that resulted in a bunch of people coming out to San Francisco. It turned out to be the cornerstone content idea that we turned into years and years of content. It was an early time for YouTube as well, so we rode the waves of YouTube and Facebook, when Facebook enabled people to go viral. From there, we collected that data on the people sharing that content and rode those waves - and the idea established into a self-sufficient, all Hip-Hop content stream.

Can you talk about your experience working on Teambackpack?

I learned a lot overall after the process, because it fell apart towards the end (either way shoutout to everyone that made it happen and created a brand with me). There were a lot of people, there were artists, there were the producers, the staff members, the videographers, the editors, management, and everyone had a part to play in it to make it work. The main thing is that if you don’t really build a foundation properly, and you just try to stack things on top of it - you’re not going to get very far. You might get far, but it’s going to collapse at some point.

The same goes for when it comes to building business models - you need the right foundation. When you have that business model figured out you need to constantly iterate on making it a stronger business model, building a moat, and not settling on something just because it worked last year because it’s way too fast paced now to settle on what worked last year.

"I love the fact that people are able to unite through sound."

How do you build a good foundation?

Conversations with your partners and your employees, and most importantly transparency. When I was younger and was managing that, I was scared to voice my opinion. I was doing as much as I could to make people happy, which can get in the way of putting your foot down and be conversational about it. That also takes away from  being open to ideas and being constructive towards the big picture.

There’s also finding ways to connect with the people that you’re working with. When you build a brand around community, you need to connect with community members and leaders. You need to figure out all the stakeholders, and figure out how to communicate with them effectively. If you marginalize towards one and not the other - you’re not going to be able to effectively create a business or build around that.

How do you build a moat?

I think what everyone is realizing, and one of the reasons why I’m able to stay with opportunities - is because you create experiences for the community outside of just the product. If you have a great product and it works, then yes, people are going to use the product. If you however also focus on talking to the community and you create content specifically for the community, there’s immediately an emotional connection to the brand.

At that point it’s about the content and it’s the in person or online communication that can continue all the time, which results in communicating with customers about buying your products – and maintain the customer service side of things. And then finding ways to talk to your base that is actually paying money for stuff. Content and meeting whether it be virtually or in person. Meeting through events of some sort. I think those really helped me the most and then iterating on products and building the product year after year and making it better.

Do you have advice for people wanting to become involved with the music industry?

If you’re a creator of some sort, and you want to be a producer or artist – here are two important things to keep in mind. Don’t look at your social media numbers or your followers as the count for success. It’s never really what it appears to be, and it’s so fleeting - and not very conducive to growth. All these platforms are great, but you need to focus on building an audience. That can only be done by putting work out timely, consistently, and then anyone who is interested in your work will take that in more effectively. You’ve got to take the time to build a relationship with them (responding to messages, resharing their story shares, thanking them for sharing and commenting, etc). Another thing is really start learning advertising and some of the ad platforms, because they’re the best way to get viewership and people’s eyeballs and ears on your work. Don’t just take what comes as far as potential deals (promo deals, label deals, or publishing deals).

So often people are getting screwed over in this particular area, so try to really learn how to build an online and offline business through the tools you have around you.
Really put yourself out there. You have to have your face shown. Your music can stand Jeson its own, but people are more likely to connect with your face, and who you are. Try to clean up if you’re an artist or entertainer as you have to look presentable in everything. Even now with producers, you can stay behind the scenes – but the Timbaland’s, the Dre’s, the Pharrell’s, and the Rick Rubins all display some level of a face and a brand. You have to put yourself out there to differentiate yourself.

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