Music Entrepreneurship: Portland rap legend Cool Nutz shares the secrets of his success 0

For 20 years now, Terrance “Cool Nutz” Scott has called music his job. A rapper, tour manager and talent manager, Cool Nutz has generated a lot of buzz and revenue for himself and  other local artists. I sat down with him to try to understand what’s made him so successful, and why there aren’t a lot of rappers in his position.

When did you realize that you could make a living off music?

It kind of happened by accident. First we started doing it and putting out records as a hobby. Then, as we got more serious about it, we had to figure out if it was going to stay a hobby or if it was going to be a job. We decided that it was time to put it out in retail stores and see how the sales do.

Once we did that, we started to have forms and inventories; we started having multiple titles and having to account for everything. We opened up bank accounts, got tax ID numbers, and we always had product on hand. We started to think more from a marketing standpoint: We asked ourselves: “how can we outdo the last project.”

As we started to move more units, started to do more shows, and started to have more opportunities, the business just evolved with that. But the difference is we weren’t working for somebody we were working for ourselves.

How did you acquire that industry knowledge? A lot of these things don’t come intuitively for a lot of musicians.

Honestly, man, it was kind of a thing where I was watching different cats from the Bay, and reading articles and different stuff on people. Portland is an independent musician city, so I was around a lot of people in the rock business, doing a lot of the same things. I could watch them and build a blueprint off of stuff that they were doing.

A lot of the ways I was operating my business was based off what I saw indie rock artists doing from a do-it-yourself perspective. I was in a position where I was able to not only make the music, but also exercise the blueprint of how to sell the music of how to communicate with record stores. I actually sold a lot of records myself. At one point I was managing 50 record stores in my basement, in terms of stock that was going out to them.

Wow.

So at that point, I’m dealing with Sam Goody, Tower Records, Musicland, Music Millennium and even independent stores in different parts of the country. I was packaging stuff, shipping it out, and then following up and signing the forms. It turned into a real business.

You’ve been releasing albums since 1993, working with artists from all spectrums of hip-hop. From conscious artists to Bay Area icons like E-40. What’s been the secret to your longevity?

I think one of the things for me, man, was that at all the different points in my career that I have been what people would consider “on,” I always shared that: I use Prohop to put on 50 artists from the region; my radio show plays local music; when Murder Dog Magazine came to town, I’m took them around to everybody. I understood that it’s not just about me. And I empowered a lot of people and showed a lot of people how to do it.

That always comes back to benefit you. Whether it be somebody coming back to extend a hand, or people saying, “I know that this dude is a good dude and he operates in an unselfish fashion, so I want to extend another business opportunity to him.”

I see how that keeps you in business, but how do you stay relevant musically?

Just by understanding evolution of music. Following with the times and progression. As we both know, and I’m sure in your time of appreciating music, you’ve seen a lot of rappers come and go. I’ve seen a lot of rappers that are my partners — bigger artists than me — have stuff poppin’, but three or four years later they’re not doing anything.

In my music I was never doing anything where I could play myself out. I just make solid music — that’s Cool Nutz. When everything changed to trap rap, I’m not shifting gears. I’m not getting a mouth full of gold teeth, and rapping like I’m from Atlanta. The thing is, once that fad goes out, what do you have to hold yourself down?

People know that I’m going to make consistently good, solid rap music. All of those elements have been beneficial to me because it prolonged my career.

I’m going 20 years deep into this, man. I’m working for myself, making a living, and I’m able to provide for my family. I’m seeing the world off of my music.

Music is what you do? You don’t do anything else?

Yeah music is my job. I have a radio show, but that’s like three hours a week. You’re not going to feed a family off of that. Everything from putting out records and managing artists, to booking shows and promoting concerts, my whole business is based off of music. From the management part to the consulting and marketing part, there are many different facets to how I’ve been able to sustain my career and business over the years.

When you first got into music, did you ever expect getting into so many aspects of it?

No because when we started doing music, it was just about rapping. Honestly, we started breakdancing. Everybody was breakdancing. But then breakdancing went out, we started rapping. And when I started rapping, you know it was rapping for fun. It was like going to play hoop. When you start playing hoop, you’re not imagining, “I’m gonna go to the NBA, then I’m gonna have a sports management company,  then I’m gonna facilitate all these big charity basketball games.” You’re just out there hooping. That’s how it was with rapping for me. I just had a love for rapping.

When I was growing up, an album would come out, and me and my homeboy would go to the record store and buy it. We’d go to the house and put it in and we sit around the stereo listening for hours, talking about how dope this new Snoop Dogg record is. It was just a love for the music and it turned into something that ended up being a business.

What do you think are the mistakes that artists make that shorten their careers?

A lot of artists are too proud to do certain things, man. Or they don’t educate themselves in the ways they can extend what they’re doing. When I had put out my first album out, I was super popping in the town, You could go into Sam Goody and the Cool Nutz album is in there, people was coming in there buying them and everybody rides through the town playing the music.

My friend came to me and said: “Hey, man. You are one of the most visible people in this city, and one of the most powerful people in terms of your voice, and what you could do. I got an idea: we could do an event called the Prohop, it’s the Portland Oregon Hip-hop Festival and basically, what I’m going to do, is use what you’re doing to facilitate this idea, and for you to not only build a platform for local artists, but for people to also see the power that you have to make bigger and better things happen for the city.”

And so, we put Prohop together man and it POPPED.

Now, I’ve done Prohop for 13 years. That opened a whole new door for me because it showed me exactly how much more ability I had. Not only could I rent a club, but I could rent a club, get all these artists, put a show on here, get the newspaper to write about it, put us on the cover of the newspaper,  get sponsors — and I can make all these things happen through that one event. So if I channeled that into multiple events and different things with my career, it only opens up more doors.

How did you get into managing artists?

How that happened was, artists saw me managing myself, and then started coming to me sayin’, “hey nutz, I wanna be on your label” or “hey, Nutz, would you help me with my record?” or “Nutz, can I pay you to do this?” And it was all from people seeing what I was capable of.

You did some tour managing for Kreayshawn, how did you land that?

That came from her manager. Her manager also managed Mr. Fab. Fab and I are real tight, and me and her manager are real tight. So, when he started managing Kreayshawn, and he knew that I had already tour managed for E-40 and stuff like that, he came to me and said “Nutz, I got this gig with her, you wanna come on board and tour manage for her?” And I was like “Let’s do it.” And it just kept building.

It’s no secret: When you think Portland, the first thing that comes to mind definitely isn’t hip-hop. So what’s motivated you to be such a proponent of local music?

Because I know we have dope artists here. We have artists that need to be heard. Also, this is where I’m from; I’m not from anywhere else. I’m not from LA. I’m not from the Bay. Portland has afforded me the luxury to be able to have a rap career and be able to not only be a celebrity here, but I could go to LA and somebody would come up to me in the mall and be like, “Aww, you’re Cool Nutz from Portland!”

Me doing my thing for my city opened so many doors for me, that I would be stupid to try to go somewhere else and try to act like I’m from there, or try to claim somewhere else.

I’ve been talking a lot about music entrepreneurship. When you hear that term, what do you think of?

I just think of people like Jay-z that have created so many avenues for themselves and laid the blueprint and continue to show people like myself what’s possible. Owning clubs, owning part of a basketball stadium, liquor companies and all type of stuff like that.

It’s incredible to just sit back and watch al the stuff that’s possible through music and hip-hop, and then all the different avenues and opportunities that get created through people like Jay-z — cats from the same type of situation that we came from.

A lot of people in music never see the whole picture. They just get stuck into the art as the art, and they’re hoping that their music is just going to promote itself because it’s good. Where do you think that comes from?

I think because rap music started from you rapping, and everybody hears you rapping and everybody thinks you’re the greatest dude. And a lot of people nowadays they saw the Master Ps and different people that have paved the way for hip-hop independence. Master P and Cash Money showed a lot of people what it was really like to make something happen. But people don’t see it all.

Even with me, for instance, people don’t see me out there at 3 a.m. on a bike, putting up my own posters. People

don’t see me up at 4 a.m. in my basement  with 200 packages putting the labels on them, printing the labels out, collecting and putting together databases and different stuff like that. All they see is Cool Nutz the rapper.

“I seen Cool Nutz open for E-40! Man, Cool Nutz, you need to put me on a show! If I open for E-40, it’s gonna be poppin!” But they don’t see all the work that got you to opening for E-40. Or what got you in the magazine or what made certain things happen.

People just think “I’m a rapper, I’m dope — I’m doper than him! Why is he doing that? Why ain’t I doing that?”

A lot of rappers don’t wanna pass out flyers, they don’t wanna get out and sell CDs because they feel like they should just be sitting in the VIP drinking champagne, while people look at you saying “ooh, he famous!”

Some people are just chasing the celebrity of it. They’re not chasing a career. They’re not chasing doing something monumental or legendary. They’re chasing being on the stage at the Roseland with a thousand people screaming, “Ooh, he rocked that show.” And really, that’s it.

I see what you’re trying to do to change that. You’ve got the Prohop event going on, and you’ve been putting artists on all throughout your career. But what do you think needs to change in the industry as a whole to promote artists as entrepreneurs?

Our people need to be schooled to understand that taking time to listen and acquire knowledge is a big part of being successful. Surrounding yourself with other successful people is also a big part of it. And I think traditionally and inherently, a lot of things are hidden from our people in terms of long-term knowledge, longevity, generational success or assets being passed down.

I think from that perspective, as it applies to hip-hop as well, people have to be given that information. They have to be given that opportunity or the ability to be taught how to be really successful.

Even with Jay-Z, somebody took him under their wing and there are probably a bunch of people that have sat down with him and given him powerful information and knowledge. He might have a mentor that we don’t even know about. He might sit on the phone for hours talking to Warren Buffet, and Warren Buffet is giving him all this game. A lot of it is really about information and connection.

If you don’t have the connections or if you don’t have the information, then you’re just an outsider.

What’s next for you? What are you working on?

I’m working on new albums, new music, the management side of things, I mean a lot of the same stuff as in the past, but the biggest part of it now, is figuring out the next level progression of it. How to take things to that next level. How to turn what I’ve built already into something bigger. How to progress that to the next thing.

I’m not getting any younger, so now it’s time to create something that I can pass on to my children. Stuff that I wasn’t given — information that I wasn’t given, or game that wasn’t passed down to me. I want to be in a position to pass that down to my kids.

What advice would you give to all the musicians out there?

Work harder than everybody else, and follow-up.

Follow-up?

When you’re out working and you’re meeting people, or you’re making something positive happen, one of the biggest things that you can do, is follow-up with that person or the situation. You might get someone’s business card and not call him back, or not introduce yourself.

Or you might go to a show, and the club owner is saying, “Hey, I would like to do more stuff with you,” but instead of following up with him, you were in the club kickin’ it, got drunk, lost his card, and other stuff you know?

So basically, if you’re a musician, don’t lose sight of the connections that you could make, and always be thinking about those?

Exactly! Another thing is, you never know who’s who, or who’s gonna be somebody. A classic example is Macklemore.

Macklemore used to open for groups that I managed.  And now he has the number one song in the country.  And he’s from Seattle. Nobody ever thought that he would do something to that level or that caliber when you go to a show and see him rapping for 60 people.

But the biggest part is working harder than everybody else. When everybody else wants to be up kicking it, smoking weed and hollering at females, you could be somewhere reading a book or doing something else that’s going to benefit your music career.

About the Author Tyree Harris hopes to motivate young, business-minded people to explore their entrepreneurial potential. Read more »

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