Cam Meekins On Hip Hop, Major Labels vs D.I.Y. And Giving Back
Here TuneCore talks with MC/Producer Cam Meekins about the challenges of making a career in hip hop, his signing to and subsequent departure from Atlantic Records to start his own label, and his decision to donate part of his album profits to suicide prevention.
Guest Post by Kevin Cornell on TuneCore
Boston-based MC and producer Cam Meekins has gained a lot of music industry experience in a short amount of time. By 2012 he had dropped his third mixtape, signed a deal with Atlantic, and racked up over a million YouTube views. While Cam used TuneCore to distribute prior to his signing, we were psyched to have him back in the community after leaving Atlantic to start his own label, Lamp City.
Meekins’ newest album, Stories From the Green Line, is due out September 21, and he’s got it available for pre-order on iTunes – but there’s more to it than just a free track before the album gets released. Cam has committed to donating $20,000 to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention if Stories From the Green Line gets 5,000 pre-orders! (Contribute by copping your pre-oder here.) In an interview, we ask the young artist about his beginnings in Boston, his time with Atlantic, and using your influence to make a positive impact:
You came of age during an era of total accessibility for hip hop – from the big budget albums to varying underground subgenres. Who were your earliest influences?
Cam Meekins: No doubt, early 2000’s hip hop was the music I grew up on and was what motivated me when I started making music of my own. Early on my influences were Kanye, Jay-Z, etc. Because I started off as just a producer, I used to always re-make old Kanye beats. Once I got more into rapping I really learned a lot from studying Atmosphere and the whole Rhymesayers circle. To this day some of those Rhymesayers people I know personally now, and I just look up to what they did for independent music and let that motivate me to try to make that level of impact with what I’m doing with music and with my record label, Lamp City.
Beyond hip hop, where else did you initially seek inspiration for your music?
Sublime, Dispatch, Thelonious Monk – in high school I got super into jazz piano.
In what ways do you feel your songwriting has evolved as you’ve acquired more years of experience, both in life and in the music industry?
Oh man, as an artist or writer of any kind, you’re constantly evolving. But for me personally, as time goes on and I get more years in the industry under my belt, and more years of life experience, my writing has gotten more direct. I feel like I am able to express myself better than when I was younger; just knowing the right way to say something.
Boston isn’t an easy city to break out in as a hip hop artist. You’ve admitted in your own songs that you grew up just outside city – explain your experiences connecting with your local scene.
Most def. I’m from the suburbs outside the city. I live in the city now, but as a teenager, I had to spend time putting the work in in the local music scene out here just to get enough respect from people who control the live music shows to take me seriously.
Really though, it all comes back to a fan base and believing in what you do. I always focused on keeping the fans I had happy and engaged with my music, and that’s really paid off for me. I do music so that I can connect with people, and when people on the outside looking in see the power of such a devoted fan base, they give you respect and they want to work with you, and that’s how it happened in Boston.
Your internet buzz started while you were in your teens. How did you handle transitioning that success to hitting the stage and marketing yourself offline?
For a lot of up and coming musicians, this is a really important question and hopefully my answer can help people understand this phenomenon going on in the industry right now: An online following doesn’t automatically correlate to touring success or album sales. Social media is absolutely amazing and has changed the game for music, but it’s only one piece of the puzzle.
It’s still incredibly important to be out on the road, meeting every single fan that you can, because that one-on-one human interaction is what builds devoted support. That type of support is priceless. Early on I built a buzz online, but it was only once I started touring that things really became real for me. Think of any artist that is really killing it right now in my lane: I guarantee you all of them spent grueling hours on the road, probably years ago before you even knew who they were, building up that touring fan base one person at a time. It’s the people that stick with it that really get somewhere. It’s definitely hard sometimes but when you start having great shows it is absolutely worth it.
Most kids these days graduate and head to a dorm. You graduated and bounced to LA with a major label record deal. Tell us about adjusting to a new coast and any pressures associated with recording for Atlantic.
There weren’t really any pressures, but major labels (at the time that I was at Atlantic) were still trying to wrap their heads around what was happening with social media, and that confusion really led to my frustration. . I love the guys I worked with over at Atlantic. Some of them I consider good friends, and others I look up to as business people and mentors.
But even from the first day I signed the contract in Mike Caren’s office I had a plan. I was 18. I knew I wasn’t going to college, but I wanted an “education”. I honestly decided that signing a record deal would be such a great learning experience. I could always get out of it sometime in the next two to three years, take what I learned and start my own company – and that’s exactly what I did. I consider it my college education. People might not believe that was my intent, but it was.
After leaving Atlantic, what was it like to regain control of your career and start anew?
A little bit rocky, but also a very rewarding process. The biggest thing about running your own label, frankly, is understanding the depths of distribution that major labels already have, and having to build those relationships yourself. TuneCore, for me, was a huge player in that way.
What kind of a role has TuneCore played in your musical journey both before and after your life on a major?
Well unlike Warner Music Group, TuneCore cuts me checks every single month. But beyond that, I’ve been a TuneCore member since before there were any resources for artists beyond distribution. It’s very cool to see as a small label owner, and an artist, the types of expansion TuneCore has made into publishing, marketing resources, and other creative resources. That type of business model really makes it apparent that you can do this stuff independently, you just gotta build the right relationships and for me the relationship with TuneCore has been very helpful.
You’ve committed to donating $20,000 to suicide prevention if the pre-sale orders of Stories From the Green Line hits 5K – that’s pretty impressive.
On a more serious note, I really think that being an artist or a brand, or someone recognizable online just gives you so much influence. With influence comes the ability to make a positive impact, and people are going to be willing to follow you down a road if you explain to them you’re being genuine and you actually have a reason to do something like this.
Suicide is obviously a big problem, but it has personally affected me and my family in a couple different ways and I often write about it in my songs. I came up with the idea to do the donation because I am always trying to think outside the box about unique things to do, but it also had the potential to be meaningful to a lot of people and raise awareness to a foundation that really deserves it: The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.
What other ‘stories’ are you hoping to tell on your upcoming album?
This album is really about giving people a first hand account of my life. As always, for me, I get inspired by day-to-day life, and I just want to tell my stories about love, work, my social life, whatever it might be, and come at it with a unique perspective that hopefully can resonate with people.
Got any additional touring/promotional plans for the rest of 2015 and into 2016?
Yes, I am doing a nationwide Stories From The Green Line headlining tour this fall.
You can catch Cam Meekins on his upcoming tour on these dates!