Music industry insider Jonah Fialkoff aka “The Indie Renegade” talks with OneTwoOneTwo.com about his music business experiences that led up to the creation of his 7 Key Code System for independent artists.
So, you ready to get into this?
Jonah Fialkoff: I’m ready when you are.
Into the grilling and interrogation?
Jonah Fialkoff: Yes sir (laughing)
It’ll be painless. So, reading through your bio, you’ve got your experience. You’ve got your Fialkoff. Am I pronouncing it right? Fialkoff?
Jonah Fialkoff: Yah that’s right.
Ok. You’ve got your Fialkoff companies, your record label, distribution companies, and your seven key code system as well as your investment companies. The things that I want to focus on mainly were the seven key code system, your experience as owner of a distribution company and label and see how that pertains to Hip Hop and what not. So we can start with the label. From what I understood the first release (album) that you released sold 20,000 on the first day and was the top seller in that quarter of year that it came out. Now was this your solo project or was this distribution for Kool G Rap?
Jonah Fialkoff: Yah this was Kool G Rap. I actually never; I’m not a musician. I run the label and do all the business end of things, putting together promoters, working with the street teams, and publicists. I organize everything. The bulk of the work I did. I’m kind of like the conductor.
Ok. So that’s definitely a particular relevance in the hip-hop game. Kool G Rap is a legend in the field. Briefly, how did that come about?
Jonah Fialkoff: Basically, I started my label from scratch. I had one unknown artist from Wister, MA and we were looking for some bigger featured artist to get on his album that would help set a name for him. I started working with this guy named Dr. Butcher who produced Spike Lee movie soundtrack “New Jersey Drive”. He did Beatnuts, The Executioners, LL Cool J, Kool G Rap, and so we were looking to get Cormega on the album. But, he wanted a higher price than Kool G Rap and Butcher is a good friend of G for a long time and he offered him a really great price to offer me. So my partner and I went down and met G Rap, went to dinner and we clicked really well. He invited us back to his house and we chilled out with him and his wife. We ended up really getting to know each other and he proposing we do an album together. The vibe was good between us, and he made an immediate offer I couldn’t refuse. And I said I can’t afford you. You just got a 1.5 million dollar deal with Rawkus Records. I can’t afford this. But he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. The energy was good so we went with it and shortly after I got a distribution deal through Caroline Distribution out of New York City. They put up a significant amount of money for us to be able to manufacture the album and ship it out.
Ok. So, this was physical distribution?
Jonah Fialkoff: Yes, it was physical distribution.
And your distribution company is digital distribution?
Jonah Fialkoff: Yes, and how that happens is when I was about to put out Kool G Raps album, I needed digital distribution as well, because Caroline at the time did not provide that. So, my director of marketing, Howard Wilkin who now works for a major label and also used to do all the marketing for Def Jux, introduced me to Tooey and Roy, who ran a digital rights agency out in San Francisco. Tooey had just started his company. He loved Kool G Rap and we clicked pretty well, so I became one of his labels that he distributed digitally. As time went on, I ended up becoming a sub-distributor of his. Now his company has gotten bought out and merged (they got 20 million dollar buyouts), so that digital company merged with The Orchard. So, now we are part of a huge conglomeration and the company has just gone through the roof. It’s been quite a ride. Caroline never caught on to the digital distribution wave until too late and by then their distribution company was falling apart. They weren’t able to put a lot of attention in to a lot of their labels, so it was a good time to get out and that’s what happened. I decided to focus solely on digital and not worry about physical distribution.
And that’s a point I definitely want to bring up as we are discussing your 7 Key Code System. As far as your distribution and foray into the music business started, it’s actually a really good name to start with Kool G Rap.
Jonah Fialkoff: (Laughs)
So, from there you developed this system that you are presenting. I guess it’s a newly packaged system that you are using to market music and so I can assume that the details that you are selling in your 7 key codes system are the things that you use in order to push your releases.
Jonah Fialkoff: Well partially yes and partially from the mistakes I made along the way. Running a record label is like being a gambler. Some records I won big and some records I lost big. So through those mistakes, I learned even more. I went deeper and when piracy was taking a hold of everything my label started sinking. I got really nervous and didn’t know what to do, so I really went deep inside the industry and became very good friends with amazing industry experts who are far ahead of most labels and artists. And they turned me onto a lot of the lesions that I’ve been able to reveal in this 7 Key Code System. And these lessons come from major label insiders, some of the top entertainment attorneys in the United States, some of the top marketing guys for the indie world as well. So, this information is compiled of my experience and their experiences over the years. A lot of these secrets are things I used for Kool G Raps album and its also secrets I used to create 3 top ten billboard charting songs in the past year and a half, which comes from 2 different artist as well.
With Kool G Rap particularly regarding his album it seems like you did a lot of research into the independent Hip Hop and Hip Hop in general with the marketing and street teams. When I was listening to the teleseminars you have, you were throwing out the names of different labels and you seemed to understand some of their successes (Def Jux and the like). Employing the techniques that you’ve learned, how can they (as far as your 7 key codes system and everything you’ve learned), how can they work to the advantage of a Hip Hop artist or independent Hip Hop artist particularly?
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, fortunately for those who are in Hip Hop, I’ve had some of my greatest successes with Hip Hop. So, a lot of what I put together came directly from the Hip Hop world. Getting to know my target market was people who bought Hip Hop music and so understand that culture and delving deep into that culture. I feel I have a pretty good grasp on the psychology of a Hip Hop music buyer. And it depends, because there are different kinds of Hip Hop, but I feel I also understand the different kinds of Hip Hop buyers and I chose to focus on the Hip Hop buyers I connect with the most. I like real gangsta Hip Hop. I’m not so much into the southern crunk or simple minded gangsta lyrics. I like the original gangsta stuff like Kool G Rap where he told a story and had some real stuff behind it. And I like Def Jux who has alternative, off the wall stuff that no one is doing. I was originally and always a Wu Tang fan, so I love that style of music which it’s all original old school Hip Hop and for the new school, Def Jux, I love that type of stuff. I understood those types of markets and I grew up in the era of the Wu Tang Clan and so that was my life from a 15 year old kid and my dad had me listening to Hip Hop at age, I don’t know, 12 listening to Run DMC and all that, so I was raised on the stuff.
Quick question, to be fair, you started out with Kool G Rap and sold 20,000 the first day and it’s a nice feather in your cap. It’s in the bio and the marketing materials for the background on who you are, but to be fair though, you start with Kool G Rap. How much of it is Kool G Rap that pushed to sell that much the first day and how much do you think is what you did and how much you learned and the techniques that you used.
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, if it was Kool G Rap then the very next album I put out was Organic Thoughts, which was an unknown group coming out of New York City. They had one little record release on one of those unknown labels that really never did anything. We got them to number 8 on the CMJ charts in the United States. Coming up from scratch. Then I had Lyrical coming out from Boston who charted at number 1 on the college radio charts for a bit. So those are Hip Hop artist that I worked with that have come from nowhere. So, yes absolutely some of the success is from Kool G Raps stuff , because of his name he already has a loyal fan base following him, but I’ve proven with these other artist that I’ve worked with that you can come up from nowhere and make it in the Hip Hop business. We were able to accomplish that using the techniques. Now granite I could no sell 20, 000 of Organic or Lyrical the first day, but to be able to get what we succeeded with them and then for the other artist that we were able to get into the top 10 of the billboards, they came from nowhere as well. And I wasn’t even able to get that for Kool G Rap.
Ok. And I ask that question to kind of get a sense of what kind of legitimacy we’re looking at as far as in your system. Because, as you know there are all kinds of, not necessarily in music, but in all types of business, “here buy my system and this is the way to do it. You will make money off of it and you’ll be successful” and what not, so I wanted to try to bring that counterpoint in just to see where it was as far as if it was all you and your techniques or if you got by on the Kool G Rap name to get ahead to where you are at.
Jonah Fialkoff: Kool G Rap was just the beginning of my career in the music business and he’s actually small compared to the artist I currently work with. It wasn’t until after his album that I started learning some hard lessons that brought me to the lessons I learned today. A lot of the stuff that I have in the 7 Key Code System I didn’t learn until after the Kool G Rap album, so I had some really big failures and then created successes based off of what I learned from those failures. A lot of this knowledge is from the past several years as well.
I set that up to bring in what exactly is the 7 Key Code System?
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, the 7 Key Code System is a system that’s going to get loyal raving fans into your website and into your fan clubs. How to create a website that attracts all those fans and create the ultimate fan club, because a lot of artists don’t even understand that they need a fan club or how to go about a fan club. And we teach you exactly how to create a website that will succeed, because it is based solely off of successful artist websites that are all independent artist. And we give live case studies of those successful artist websites and we note that they all have one thing in common. All the things that make them successful; they are all doing the same thing. It’s a system that they use themselves and we use it as well for our artist. We also teach you how to drive traffic to that website. There’s the myth that you can get away with a Myspace page and that’s why most artist flop on their faces, because they think they can have a Myspace page and they’re golden. One thing that I teach that I don’t see anyone teaching is how to create your own internet street teams. That’s probably my favorite part of the whole kit, because to be able to create your own internet street team is like the new digital world. This is what technology has given us that they didn’t have years ago and before when I did Kool G Rap’s album, I had to shell out thousands and thousands of dollars a regular street team, but now can create and internet street team for free and we teach you the exact system to do that. That’s a lot of fun too to be able to have your fans working for you day and night, selling your music and how to entice them to join that partner program. On top of that, we teach you all of the ins and outs of digital distribution, what to look for, what to not, because I‘ve been inside the digital distribution world for a while and I’m swimming with the best in the world right now, so I know exactly what’s going on. I’m right in the heart of it. I know all about the ring tones. We teach you how to create the ring tones that will sell. We teach you all about ring tone distribution. We teach about how to license your music to TV, film and video games. That’s a major thing for artist right now and that’s key. One artist I work with, Blake Morgan, who I was actually on an IBF panel with him in New York City and Boston, and he’s licensed music to CSI Miami and a whole bunch of major shows and films. He says it’s a crucial piece to the puzzle. We’re also teaching you about the digital radio and how to capitalize on that. But the way I organized it, it’s a specific road map. It’s not just a whole do this and do that. We give you step by step instruction on how to do each thing. So, it’s an exact business plan, it’s an exact road map to make it in the digital age of this music business where the independents are now thriving more than ever before. It’s an incredible time to be in the independent music industry.
Ok. So, it’s like for the Donald Passman book did for the music business in general. It’s more of a somewhat of an equivalent, but a hand holding step in the digital world of music.
Jonah Fialkoff: Exactly. I feel that it is far more valuable than even Donald Passman’s book. I loved Donald Passman’s book. I read it and read it several times. I think that an artist should still read it. Some of it’s outdated, because it’s not up to date with the technological times, so he doesn’t talk about how to create the website or how to get raving fans. But, it’s definitely a must read for the legal side of things and that’s a whole other story (the legal side of things). But, this is focused on getting that raving loyal fan base that will stick with you and by your music and how to license that music as well. This is about making the money off of your music.
Ok. And have you had any success reports as of yet? I’m not sure how long you’ve been out with it.
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, I’ve been using this system on our artist for awhile now. You can call those successes and we have 4 beta testers now and we are testing it on artist who have totally no knowledge of the music business at all…they are just artist. We’re testing it in different genres to see if that’s going to work for the dumbest artist. We wanted to take the dumbest artist we could find and beta test it on them.
Jonah Fialkoff: Because, if I can take the dumbest artist and turn them into a success then that’s what I’m shooting for.
Well, I hope those artist aren’t going to be reading the interview (laughing)
Jonah Fialkoff: (Laughing) (Still Laughing) when I say dumb, I mean dumb as far as their knowledge of how the music business works. They don’t understand the business, but they are good at their music and know what to do as a musician.
Right. Right. That definitely sounds good. So where do you see as far as the music business has changed dramatically and the majors are scrambling to catch up and this point and they are kind of failing at it, and in my opinion driving a lot of it into the ground. Where do you see the music business going from here?
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, the music business is going more and more digital. There’s going to be new technologies constantly coming out that artists really need to be able to stay on top of these technologies. And that’s key because you have the dot com era, but that’s what’s happening for the independent artist right now. The dot com for the independent artist, if you know how to do it. When the dot com bubble happened you had all these millionaires come out, but you had a lot of people who didn’t know how to do it. If you know how to capitalize off what’s happening right now with the web and the internet, you will make a fortune as an artist. Those who don’t know how to do it and just try to wing it, those are the ones who are going to fall behind. The major labels are crumbling more and more, because they are like old dinosaurs and don’t know how to adjust. They’re too big and too slow and have fallen out of touch with the music world and they are focused on physical distribution. There’s a few that have gotten hip to it, but the majority are just dinosaurs. I see right now what’s happening, it’s the best time I’ve ever seen in the music business to be in the independent world. Now for the first time you can make it as an independent artist without a record label if you know how to do it and if you know how to navigate the waters.
So in your opinion, should independent artist focus on the digital side and not the physical distribution and physical pressing of CD’s?
Jonah Fialkoff: Well, my opinion, some people agree and some people disagree, I wouldn’t waste your time until you get to a certain level and even at many stages you have artist that make millions of dollars a year refuse to do physical distribution, because you are fronting money to manufacturing and the stores. And if they ship you back, you get stuck big time. I got stuck one time with 6,000 CD’s sent back to us and I had to eat that. With the digital there is no upfront cost with the album. So, that’s the beauty with the digital game. There’s no risk. The only thing you are risking is your time.
Jonah Fialkoff: I really wouldn’t recommend anyone going physical at this time. You can make a fortune on digital. You’ve got the kit. We’ve got a store in which we’ve created where a customer can go in, purchase your album, and if they want the physical version, we have it printed and manufactured on demand, so you don’t even risk any money and then they will ship it right out the door to your fan. So, that’s the beauty of technology. They didn’t have that years ago. So that’s as far as physical I would go, but I would not go physical distribution.
Ok. And where could people go to get more information about you and your systems?
Jonah Fialkoff: www.7keycode.com
Ok. And the name of your new label and distribution company?
Jonah Fialkoff: Blaze the World Records is my record label and Blaze the World is my digital distribution company. I’m in the music business up to my neck.
Sounds good. Well I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions.
Jonah Fialkoff: My pleasure.