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Back in January 2005, I profiled the masterminds behind Beatport.com just as they were launching version 2.0 of their online music store. At the time, Beatport was a fairly modest operation, with roughly 14,000 users. But the niche concept had epic potential, even if only a small number of people outside of the dance-music community recognized the brand.
Since then, Beatport has grown substantially, with about 350,000 people actively downloading music today. More than that, though, it's quietly revolutionized the distribution of electronic music in much the same way that iTunes has altered digital music delivery for the unwashed masses. And now, two and a half years later, the Beatport brain trusts are about to change the game again. This time out, they've set their sites on the hip-hop world. And wisely, just as they'd recruited working DJs to help on the initial Beatport rollout, Jonas Tempel and Brad Roulier are calling on the expertise and cachet of two of the Mile High City's most high-profile and influential hip-hop impresarios, Francois Baptiste and Mario Rodriguez (aka DJ Chonz of KS-107.5), to help build the new brand, Beatsource.com.
"It's a natural phase, the next progression," says Baptiste, urban music business development manager for Beatsource, who enlisted Rodriguez. "It's like, here's an opportunity to take the music industry in a new direction. If you read Vibe and Source, you can really see the atmosphere of music. This is definitely the next step.
"It's a cliche phrase by now," he goes on, "but the music industry's dying. Record sales and CD sales are down. Artists are getting shafted. Basically, in a nutshell, the music industry just sucks right now. But what Beatsource is going to do is to put the business back into the hands of indie labels and artists, essentially, first and foremost. I think it's going to allow artists to make creative music, and by doing that, they won't have to worry about budgets as much. You don't have to spend any more money on the process of printing up CDs and all that stuff. Basically, all you need now is a studio and some artwork. Shoot it to Beatsource, and it's up."
Not only that, but the music will be offered in multiple formats (320-bit MP3s, 192-bit MP4s and uncompressed wav files), as well as various mixes (clean, dirty, a cappellas and instrumentals). And like the early incarnation of its electronic counterpart, Beatsource will initially be geared toward DJs.
"This is a DJ-friendly site for the DJ, just like Beatport is," Baptiste points out. "The music is sold in non-DRM, non-encrypted files. If a DJ is at a club and is like, 'Damn, I need that new, hot song,' you can't directly download from iTunes, because it's a whole long process. First of all, they sell their stuff in an MP4 format. Ours are sold as MP3s, MP4s and wavs — they can download it right through the wi-fi in the club. Go to Beatsource.com, and bam! They can play it instantaneously with whatever method they want.
"It's basically like going to the record store back in the day to get that twelve-inch," he adds. "A lot of that stuff, right now, is still on wax; it's hard to find. If you're a DJ and you started in the ´90s, a good portion of stuff you really love is on wax."
When Beatsource launches (the tentative target date is next month), it will be stocked with 20,000 titles from hundreds of labels, everything from those hard-to-find titles, to classic hip-hop from labels like Delicious Vinyl and Nervous, to current hip-hop releases. Baptiste believes Beatsource will have an even bigger impact once the labels recognize that this is the way the business is headed. "It's all going digital," he declares. "I think it's just changing the business strategy, the business model. You have to change with the times.
"Since July, when we started," he says, "I've heard Rick Rubin from Columbia; I've heard Jay Z [talking about digital]. We've talked to Warner Bros. personally, and everybody's saying, 'We're looking for other ways to make money.' Everybody knows they're not going to make a lot of money. But some money's better than none." To that end, Beatsource has set up a generous 60/40 split with the labels.
"I think this is definitely a catalyst to start a domino effect," Baptiste continues. "I enjoy the challenge, you know what I'm saying? That's kind of really what I've always been into with hip-hop: How can I make it look good, and where can I help take it? It's a real good look for me right now."
And for the genre itself. Unlike iTunes, Beatsource is being driven by bona fide hip-hop aficionados who have a genuine passion for the music and care about its presentation. For years, Baptiste has been grinding with his 3 Deep Productions as one of the city's top hip-hop promoters. Remember all those dope parties a few years ago during All-Star Weekend? Yeah, Baptiste helped put many of those together. Like Baptiste, fellow Radio Bums associate Rodriguez, who's taken on the role of U.S. label manager, lives and breathes hip-hop. He's like the mayor of Denver hip-hop and has been shaking hands and kissing babies in this town for the past decade. From being on the radio to founding the Radio Bums' longstanding record pool, which until just a few years ago was the primary vehicle for DJs to acquire new music, he's built up some solid relationships over the years that will clearly benefit the organization. He'll be working alongside former Church manager Steve Christou.
But as anyone with even the slightest business sense will tell you, it takes more than just passion and great sensibilities to produce a successful company. So while Baptiste's crew, which also includes Timothy Barnes (aka DJ Mantis), will ensure that the site keeps true to the essence of hip-hop culture, director of operations Anna Thompson, previously a label manager at Beatport, will see to it that everything's done the Beatport way.
And the Beat goes on.