When you think of Alaska, usually you think of pristine landscapes, ice-capped mountain tops and grizzly bears.
But there's another important cultural element that has taken hold in America's far north that you might be surprised to learn about - an emerging hip-hop movement.
A key player in this movement is Travis Brady – a hip-hop producer and entrepreneur from Anchorage, Alaska.
Brady’s website, The Drum Broker, is the largest online drum sample business in the world selling digital drum kit downloads to everyone from music hobbyists to some of the biggest beat-makers in hip-hop.
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In this Shopify merchant spotlight, we take an inside look at how Travis built a successful global hip-hop music business from the smallest hip-hop market in the United States.
But first, we want to give you a rare look into the Alaskan hip-hop scene in general with our latest film 907's Own, as well as introduce you to some of the other key players shaping the sound coming out of the far north.
Ok, now over to Travis.
Tell us a little bit about who you are, where you're from and what your business is all about.
My name is Travis Brady and I’m from Anchorage, Alaska. I’m a hip hop producer going by the alias Alkota and I run the largest hip hop sample and sound design distribution business in the world called The Drum Broker.
When I’m not working on music or hacking away at various projects for The Drum Broker, you can find me in the wilds of Alaska fishing and hunting, at my cabin, or travelling around the world and within the United States.
So what exactly is The Drum Broker?
In a nutshell, The Drum Broker is the #1 source for hip hop drum samples and original musical compositions specifically for hip hop producers and beatmakers. I work with a handful of talented producers, sound designers, and composers to create original musical content and drum samples that music producers can incorporate into their own productions.
My customer base is quite broad. The typical Drum Broker customer could be a 14 year old hobbyist beatmaker who just got his first Drum Machine at Guitar Center, or an A-List Super Producer with a Top 40 record placement. In both situations, the customer demands the most unique and highest quality samples that will help set their music apart from everyone else's.
I hand select and work with some of the most talented producers in the music industry to create unique and high quality products specifically for this niche market. The Drum Broker team includes a wide range of talented individuals, production teams, and musicians including: Beat Butcha, Illmind, MSXII Audio, 9th Wonder, Frank Dukes, Cardiak, Bullyfinger, Erik Jackson, J-Zone, and many more!
The Drum Broker’s products are a mix of digital music samples and physical musical releases in the form of Vinyl LP’s.
I also have some pretty neat USB Flash Drives that look like miniature Drum Machines and Samplers. Currently, my product mix is about 90% digital and 10% physical.
My order fulfillment is handled digitally using FetchApp (a Shopify app) and our physical products are distributed globally through the Fat Beats warehouse in LA. I’m able to manage shipping anywhere at any time using cloud shipping software called Shipstation, also another great Shopify app.
How did you come up with the idea for The Drum Broker?
In 2011, The Drum Broker idea was spawned bedside at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas where my father was being treated for stage 4 stomach cancer. I was taking care of and spending time with him before he passed away. At the time I was living off of selling beats and the Custom USB Drives shaped like drum machines that I had created two years prior.
In order to escape the reality of the situation and kill time in the hospital, I spent a lot of time on my phone scouring Twitter and blogs of various interests. One day I noticed on my Twitter feed that a producer and associate by the name of Illmind was selling his debut drum kit called ‘Blap Kit Vol.1’.
I knew that the customers who had bought my USB drive creations, predominately music producers themselves, would also likely be interested in purchasing Illmind’s ‘Blap Kit Vol. 1’. I reached out to Illmind and struck a deal for non exclusive distribution rights to the kit.
Immediately after doing an email blast to my customers, sales for the Blap Kit Vol.1 started pouring in. It was at this time, that I decided to become The Drum Broker. Within a few days I purchased the domain name www.hiphopdrumsamples.com and had a graphic artist crafting The Drum Broker logo.
In the early days, how were you promoting your business? How did you make your first sale?
My first sale came shortly after emailing my customer mailing list about the release of Illmind’s ‘Blap Kit Vol.1’
The large customer database from selling the custom usb drives was a great foot in the door when I began selling drum samples. I was using Facebook, Twitter, and my blog at the time (Alkota’s Blog) to market my products to the world.
Social Media Marketing was a huge component in the early days of The Drum Broker. However, the best promotional tool for The Drum Broker was SEO. I had spent the previous year studying SEO, which was crucial to getting high ranking search results for search terms like ‘Hip Hop Drum Samples’. I purchased the domain name www.hiphopdrumsamples.com for $2,000 which was probably the single best investment I’ve ever made in my life. Anytime someone searches for “drum samples”, or “hip-hop drum samples”, The Drum Broker is the first result to appear on Google, Bing, etc.
When did you realize this was becoming a compelling business?
There are literally dozens of these stories but I’ll narrow it down to two different types of situations. The first is was being able to work with hip hop producers that are my personal idols and create unique products with them that do not exist yet. I’m literally a fan of everyone I work with!
For instance, 9th Wonder, a very prolific hip hop producer decided to release his official drum kit through The Drum Broker. I had been a 9th fan for many years before I’d ever imagined I’d be working with him on a professional level. In 2013, I was able to visit 9th Wonder’s Studio in Raleigh North Carolina and visit with another one of my favorite producers Khrysis during the trip. This was such an awesome accomplishment for me personally. To be sitting with one of your favorite beatmakers and hip hop producers and watching them work is indescribable. The Drum Broker has afforded me so many opportunities to work with the most talented individuals in hip hop and made the transition from fan to peer a reality.
The second type of situation where I realized how compelling this business could be occurred while travelling. The Drum Broker requires a huge amount of time to project manage and create individual products, but since these products are digital, the income is largely passive once they are released. The ability to travel, play, and create your own schedule around digital products and passive income is very rewarding! I’m literally able to work wherever I can get an internet connection. I’m passionate about all of this stuff, so it never truly seems like real work. It's highly satisfying to make your own hours and see results from all the time and effort put into each project.
What channels are currently generating the most traffic and sales for you?
Right now search engine traffic and social media. I’ve been investing in content the last few months. The Drum Broker has a highly successful ‘Behind The Beats’ YouTube video series which generates quite a bit of traffic for the site.
However, most of the videos we’re creating are value added. It’s stuff that I love watching myself, so being able to contract and create a video that is going to add value to my customer’s career and education is really rewarding.
What were your biggest mistakes or wastes of time and money (if any)?
Worrying about all the ‘other stuff’. And by other stuff I mean advertising, social media, blogging, logistics, etc. At some point all of this ‘other stuff’ which is essential to running an online business can get out of hand. You can easily over do it. I’ve wasted time and money on advertising, promotion, design, analytics, etc.
Part of this is the learning curve of running an online business but in the end, creating a product you believe in and would personally buy is going to sell itself. I’m not saying you don’t have deal with the ‘other stuff’, but focus on the product first and make sure it’s absolutely the best thing you can make. If it isn’t you’ll waste precious time and thousands of dollars on the ‘other stuff’ and it won’t affect your bottom line one bit.
How has this experience changed how you see business? What do you think it tells us about the future of entrepreneurship?
Business is no longer what I learned in business school while getting a degree in finance. Business is not a bunch of guys in suits, it's not Wall Street, it's not hedge funds, it’s none of these things you imagine when you hear the word “business” anymore.
Business in 2015 is doing what you love. We have all these awesome tools at our disposal and this massive market called planet earth. If you have an idea or product that is great, you can potentially become the new face of 'business'. You can dress how you want, work the hours you wish, and work from wherever you wish. Hell you can still even wear the suit if you want to.
Business in 2015 is doing what you love.
This experience has turned me into a complete optimist about humanity and the global economy. While everyone is doom and gloom and naysaying, there are millions of people creating some really amazing sh*t and living the life they want to live because of it. That's extremely powerful and inspiring.
The future of entrepreneurship is evolving and I honestly believe it's critical for everyone who wants to survive to embrace becoming an entrepreneur on some level. We as humans MUST become more self sufficient to survive and live the lifestyles we wish in a global economy. Entrepreneurship is the answer to the layoff, the poor job market, inefficiencies, and so many other economic problems. People and Institutions must adopt and embrace the entrepreneurship mindset.