Whether you reside in Seattle or not, chances are you’re familiar with Sir Mix-a-Lot’s ever-popular song, “Baby Got Back.” The song made its debut in 1992 and continues to be a cultural reference over 20 years later, most recently in Nicki Minaj’s hit single, “Anaconda.” While we all know about Mix’s musicianship and general love of big butts, it’s a lesser known fact that the MC/producer is a huge lover of technology. Featured as the midweek speaker for Seattle Startup Week, Mix took the couch at Impact HUB in Pioneer Square to share his thoughts about technology and entrepreneurship, specifically as it relates to the music and entertainment scene. Below is a summary, with Mix’s approximate quotes (didn’t have a voice recorder!) in bold and my embellished commentary.
Buy new stuff and break it.
Said mostly with reference to music technology, Mix refers to the idea of understanding how the items and systems we use are put together. Today, that applies mostly to apps and tech hardware, and while it’s increasingly harder to take your smartphones or laptops apart without voiding warranties, there are tons of online resources that can show you how they’re made. No matter what your role is in building new technology, it’s still pertinent to understand the inner workings of whatever it is you are investing your time and resources into.
Hang around people a lot smarter than you, and it’s bound to rub off.
That is to say, don’t be a one-man island and expect to take over the world. The increased complexity of technology requires more expertise, which generally means turning single or two-person operations into a multi-faceted team of specialists. Mix admitted that even when pursuing some of his latest app and online technology projects, he found himself in need of having to learn some basic coding in order to convey his idea and recruit the right talent to make his vision a reality. Along the lines of surrounding yourself among people who inspire and educate you, Mix encourages the asking of questions, especially when a concept isn’t clear. Challenge someone to further flesh out and demonstrate their ideas, thereby teaching you something new while improving that person’s communication skills.
Major labels are asleep at the switch.
This was such an important point that Mix repeated it emphatically several times in a row. He meant that major record labels today rely mostly on royalties as a form of profit and thus success, as Mix knows all too well as his smash hits came out on major labels. The underlying idea is that artists today don’t need major labels to bring their music to the masses, and there are other ways to find profits than royalties.
You are now your own brand. Record labels don’t make artists, artists do.
The statements above were meant to apply to artists and musicians, but they apply to just about any professional in today’s working world. As an musical artist, you no longer need a record label, publicist, and corporate management team to become an international sensation, as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have proved. Artist today now have the ability to manage their own careers and music distribution, and as a result have the unique opportunity of acting as their own PR reps, interacting with fans and other business partners via tools such as social media. Whether you’re an artist or not, there’s no longer a need to pursue traditional avenues to success. Take the reigns and be your own brand advocate, because if you don’t, no one else will.
Social media can be pimped out in more ways than you can believe.
Along the lines of being your own brand, Mix emphasized the need to use social media, but to use it the right way. He admitted his first approach to Twitter was buying followers, a fast yet authentic way to creating a seemingly popular social media presence. However, he was quick to say that as a result, it was nearly impossible to use the Twitter account for the HUGE benefit of creating a two-way conversation between himself and his fans. One can’t exactly get accurate feedback from an audience that was paid for. Today, Mix still heavily advocates for using social media the authentic way as a means of engaging with fans and followers to 1) build and maintain brand loyalty, and 2) get feedback from when developing or testing out a new idea. These days, there’s no reason to wonder if your new product or idea will work because an authentically grown and maintained social media audience will give you instant feedback. Mix clearly stays true to his word as he is very active on many networks including his Twitter account, and a recent Reddit thread that was used as a source for many news articles.
Music does not have to consist of guitar, bass, and drums.
When asked about the type of music that most inspires him today, Mix gave a somewhat surprising answer: EDM. Of Electronic Dance Music, Mix asserted that music doesn’t have to be limited to what traditional instruments such as the guitar, bass, and drum can play. EDM artists can make as much as six figures a night for their digital manipulations, termed by an audience member as “pushing buttons and twisting nobs.” While debates will regardlessly continue over the quality and authenticity of EDM, the sheer volume and market demand for it can’t be ignored. Mix declares his belief that musicians should be actively using and developing instruments to manipulate electronic music, and embrace it as a next level of music capable of enhancing and furthering sounds made by traditional instruments. Perhaps my favorite statement of all was when Mix asserted that “performing is not just about guitars, bass, and drums,” going on to praise the awe-worthy avatars, laser lights, and other forms of visual technology that can really enhance a live performance, regardless of what instruments the performer is playing. Of the artists that he sees as successful in bridging the gap between music and technology, Mix speaks fondly of Kraftwerk.
Thanks Sir Mix-a-Lot, for spending your lunch break with us! Looking forward to seeing how your latest music and technology inventions will play out.