Hip Hop tours are notoriously difficult to pull off in Australia. A combination of factors works against most promoters and even the most seasoned professionals often get caught with their pants down when it comes to dealing with the egos of the genre.
A perfect example of the problems surrounding the genre was the ill-fated Mos Def tour about a year ago. At the time we were quick to point out that a large number of the problems come from poor management, often provided by a friend or family member.
Now a year on and in an interview with The Vine, promoter Sam Speaight has opened up about what really happened on that tour and the fall out he had to endure as the financial backer.
“Even before I signed the contract with his ‘management’ in inverted commas, I was aware that this was a difficult, tricky, potentially trouble-fraught artist to deal with,” he muses in hindsight.
“I structured as best I could my strategy for dealing with this artist to minimise the potentiality for misadventure in the establishment phase of that project. But all the pre-planning in the world couldn’t have prepared me for the living nightmare that was the reality of doing that tour and dealing with Mos Def.”
“When I plugged the words ‘Mos Def’ and ‘cancel’ into Google, there were a number of different results that came up; ie he’d cancelled other shows in the past. His compulsion toward cancellations seems to have increased a lot in the last 12-18 months.”
“But look, anybody who deals with US hip-hop artists, they’re — by the very nature of what they’re doing — dealing with a high risk business model. I’d like to think that, up until the start of this year, I’ve specialised in delivering these US hip-hop artists. I’ve directly involved in managing, delivering and promoting shows for Public Enemy, Method Man, Redman, Lupe Fiasco, De La Soul; all sorts of different international hip-hop artists.”
“I like to think that I’ve developed a system for ensuring that these projects are delivered successfully, and that they don’t cancel. And, touch wood, prior to Mos Def, I’d only really had one serious disaster go down, in terms of a total cancellation.”
“I thought to myself, ‘I’m used to dealing with these artists, I’m going to strategise this as best I can. I’m going to incentivise it for the artists as much as I possibly can, and deal with it in the most professional way possible.’ I looked at my track record and went, ‘I can do this.’ And I was wrong!”
Mos Def ended up cancelling four out of 11 shows, offering up a range of excuses from his DJ being ill, the flood devastation in Queensland, and an immediate family member being unwell in the USA. The matter was only finally put to rest when very nervous festival promoters got a last minute reprieve when the temperamental hip hop star finally turned up at The Hot Barbeque just minutes before he was due on stage.
But the damage was already done and Speaight knew he was staring down the barrel of a huge financial loss of around $250,000 due to the cancellations. Speaight now thinks the ordeal he went through is just the tip of the iceberg of the problems facing the American hip hop industry. Despite an excellent track record with the genre he has made the decision to steer well clear of the genre for future tours.
“I need to talk in the past tense now,” he said. “I have stopped touring these US hip-hop artists. I’m still in touch with one or two of my old clients who are managed by reputable, well-resourced management companies, and managers. But I’m completely done with working with any artists in that sphere at all.”
“There’s a total lack of management expertise anywhere in this end of the industry. This is the immediate reason that drives these outcomes. The people managing these artists couldn’t manage a bet in a casino, you know? Most of the time they’re friends. Very rarely are they reputable managers.”
When asked why he hadn’t pursued Mos Def for breaching the tour contract Speaight replied “We absolutely had bulletproof, watertight contracts in place with the artist. They were breached… God, I lost track of the number of contract breaches in the end, to be honest.”
“But unfortunately a contract is only as good as one’s willingness to go to court to prosecute it. If you’re not willing to put your hand in your pocket and go to court to get your money, then you might as well scribble some incoherent lines on the back of a napkin and exchange that with your client, and call that your contract. ”
Speaight is currently trying to decide his future in the music industry and whether he should soldier on. But one thing is for certain. He is no longer a Mos Def fan, “I don’t listen to his music anymore.” he says.