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Your Demo Is Dead

Bashir exploits the new psychology of the record industry.

Let’s face it — the demo has always been the weakest way to promote yourself as an up-and-coming artist. So you can rap over Ludacris’ new beat, big deal, and you could send that out to a rep at a major label. But according to Bashir, the head of Petersburg’s Illyaas Records, there are better ways to spend your time.

Even if a demo once got you in the door, the 32-year-old producer says, you likely would have become just one of many Slim Shadys in waiting. “The key to the whole thing is selling records,” he says. “Major labels look to us as independents to develop our artists — to market, promote and sell a lot of units. When you sell a lot of units, believe me, those record labels find you out.”

Illyaas, which is a hip-hop collective (similar to the Wu-Tang Clan) as well as a label, sold out of its 2001 album, moving 5,000 units in all. “Major labels were calling my cell phone,” Bashir recalls, “and I hadn’t given the number to nobody.”

The performers include Mumeet Daddy, Young G.O., Buck J and J-Life, all rappers in development as solo artists. Mumeet’s next album, “The Game: Straight ’Gynia Talk,” is due shortly. The group also works with Tim Reid’s New Millennium Studios. They provided music for 1997’s “Nothing to Lose,” 2003’s “For Real,” and 2002’s beach comedy “Malibooty.”

“Malibooty” probably won’t bring Bashir and Illyaas any Oscar attention, but any and all development as an independent operation helps, especially when it comes time to divvy up the rewards. It means you get to keep the largest portion of the business, Bashir says. Servitude is out, way out. Partnerships are in. Major labels may not start you out, he says, but they “want to get to you before you get to a point where you don’t need them.”

The thing major labels bring to the table is the power of promotion and distribution. But the effort has to be worth it to Epic or Warner Brothers, and that’s why they watch markets so closely. Theoretically at least, a major-label rep in Los Angeles doesn’t need to check her mailbox or sit through pitches every day to find the next big thing. She can just sit in front of the computer with a cup of coffee and watch the sales numbers of various markets. When someone blows up in, say, Petersburg, the mighty hands of the entertainment gods come down to snatch them.

At least that’s Bashir’s hope: “I’m at the point where I’m not interested in the fame. I’m interested in the fortune.” S

Hip-hop in the 804 ...

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