Hip hop producer Daddy Kev has been transfixing audiences since the late 1990s and has been attracting well-deserved attention for his weekly party night Low End Theory since 2006.
The Wednesday party has lured artists like Daedelus and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke to their small space and has recently expanded into Japan and New York.
The multi-tasking impresario also keeps himself busy during the daytime by running Alpha Pup records, operating a distribution company that includes fellow 21st century psychedelic soul-man Flying Lotus’ imprint Brainfeeder and maintaining a rigorous schedule in his own studio mastering and recording some of Los Angeles’ best and brightest MCs.
Between countless phone meetings and a rapidly swelling inbox, Daddy Kev took some time to talk to Funnls about how he manages to keep his businesses profitable and gratifying while also trying to maintain his sanity and raise a happy family.
You run a weekly DJ night, a record label, a distribution company, a mastering studio and you still make your own music. Do you have trouble keeping up on every aspect of your career? How do you prioritize?
It’s definitely hard but I think that it has gotten easier for me. I reached a point where I prioritize things one of two ways: high priority or low priority. I don’t have any medium priority. Unless you have clearly designated priorities, then you have no priorities. It undermines the meaning of the word. I have gotten better at telling people “no.” Saying “yes” is easy and it’s expensive. I have really developed my ability to only say “yes” when things make sense for what our company needs or what our label needs or our partners. I try and keep all that in mind with every endeavor I take on.
Are there a lot of projects you regret taking on?
Are there a lot of projects you regret taking on?
Absolutely. 20 percent of the artists I’ve signed. Considering it’s the music business, we have a good batting average but for most people things go badly more often than not. Behind the scenes doing label stuff, there is a lot of disappointment especially when doing a big campaign. The public see a Pitchfork review or an LA Times premiere but what they don’t see are the five or ten other things that didn’t happen at all. It definitely takes a toll.
When you are communicating bad news to people, especially when dealing with artists, they do not like any negative feedback. To be on this end where you are trying to do a big campaign globally, you are going to get a lot of rejection. No matter how big the artist is, there will be people who don’t like it.
“You know that idea we had for xyz magazine? Guess what they hated the record.” Having to do that on a regular basis definitely stresses relationships. I have a thick skin about it. Nothing is going to get my blood boiling but especially for new artists, they are looking at this through a microscope. That kind of pisses me off sometimes, having to sugarcoat stuff.
Music marketing is mechanical and what we do is academic. I try not to get too emotional about it. I’m always happy when good stuff happens but when people pass on stuff I don’t take it personally. Sometimes the campaigns don’t go well. To be honest, a lot of those results are based upon the record.
When artists are hounding me, sometimes I got to tell people straight up: “maybe your record isn’t good enough.” I mean I like it but that doesn’t really mean shit. It is about how it is received by the public. Having to explain that to an artist can be frustrating.
These days, I am beyond sugarcoating unless it’s for my kids. We’ve had artists leave the label. Some artists really want to be babies. They want to be idolized and romanced.
How do you strike a balance between family life and business life?
To be honest, when it all first started happening I felt like my world was collapsing. My wife and I don’t have a lot of help. We’re raising these kids ourselves. It was the reality check of a lifetime, trying to be present and be around. It’s not just about having kids on but actually being an active presence in their lives. I tell people I’m a full-time dad and part-time everything else.
That’s been the hardest thing, balancing my responsibilities as a father with my responsibilities as a business owner. Nowadays, I’m trying to think about having money put aside for my kids. Before having kids, I didn’t value my time like I do now.
Before having kids we had the business going we just kind of took it for granted. Nowadays, there is no free time. That has made it easier for me to prioritize stuff. It is ultimately about balance and making sure all these things are being addressed in the right ways.
I know some people go overboard with their kids. These days I maybe sleep five hours a night. Sometimes less.
What are the aspects of business ownership you like?
Definitely the biggest thing is being able to make your own schedule but it’s a double-edged sword. With that freedom comes tremendous responsibility. You have to pace yourself correctly. Have time set aside when you are doing real work. I definitely have a pretty structured work regiment. I try to fit it all in.
What do you loathe?
What do you loathe?
Unrealistic expectations. Any time I’m dealing with a new artist or label I try and be conservative about how things will go. With the music business, the artists’ conception of things is very, very grandiose. They’re often way bigger than things actually end up.
I hate the idea of being discouraging to people. One of the things I love about the music business is the youthfulness and optimism. I’m all for healthy optimism but definitely not absurd grandiose thinking which is often what I overhear.
People say the craziest stuff to me sometimes while I’m thinking we are doing indie music here. Expectations should be fairly low. When I hear indie artists say “going platinum” I’m thinking to myself alright there is really one record that has gone platinum of all the records released this year. Let’s be realistic.
Was there someone that you modeled your career off of? Did you have a mentor?
My original mentor would be Raymond Roker from URB magazine. When I was in high school I got an internship at URB. That’s where I cut my teeth as a designer. It all began right there. He was an independent business owner and very hands on. He was a database architect for the whole company.
I work with a lot of data. He was a great mentor to me. He showed me that at the end of the day running a business is all about numbers. With 20/20 hindsight I think now I should’ve gone to business school. I had to learn a lot about business as I went along.
That said, I’ve got a billion books on finance management and business management. You could say I went to Amazon business school. Way less debt going to Amazon business school. It has given me a great insight. It has been huge for me because I didn’t study that stuff in school. I was a philosophy major and nobody is hiring philosophers. Maybe 1000 years ago.
Where do you see your business in five years?
Wow. I really don’t know. I want to say people will still be buying records. We’ll still be making our catalog available. I’m always looking to acquire new catalogs. I assume our catalog size will have grown. Hopefully we’ll have a more streamlined operation on some fronts. I always like the idea that we can be doing things more efficiently.
Streamlining royalties and marketing are important. I think that’s hopefully what will be going on. Man, the music business is so crazy and so hard to kind of call it sometimes that I wonder what will have changed. My great hope is that we’ll finally get a social network that was as cool as Myspace. My hope is that people will start discovering music again. Facebook sucks for musicians.
I’m really hoping that that’ll be better. It is tough. The record business has been contracting for ten years now. For most people their sales keep going down and down and down and down. My hope is that we kind of hit the bottom at some point soon.
To be honest in five years if all goes well, I’ll have acquired a venue or two and that’ll become a big part of the business I’m operating. That’s my hope.