Birmingham music promoter tells us about her new venture.
Tapes is a new music tech start-up that connects users, producers and influencers active in hip hop and grime within the UK. Users create their own customisable profiles with photos, music and cover art, and use the platform to discover new music, share, network and create opportunities.
Born out of frustration with the music business, Tapes is the brainchild of international DJ and VJ Carla Brown. Also known as Miss C Brown and hailing from Birmingham, Carla has worked on the inside of the music business for fifteen years and has certainly earned her stripes. Fed up with a fragmented scene, being unable to reach the people she needed, with artists bombarding her DM with video and audio links she found impossible to manage, Carla decided to play solution architect.
The journey has been a slog and a revelation, one of self-discovery and development, of challenges,particularly as a black female in a white male-dominated sector, let-downs, determination and success against adversity. Here’s Carla’s story, in her own words:
I knew I had to solve a problem, but I wasn’t sure exactly what I was trying to create initially, so I went through a long-winded process of trying to ‘find myself’ and figure out exactly what role I wanted to play in the industry and where.
I decided to join NatWest’s Espark programme, Sprint, and that’s where I learned how to turn my muddled thinking about what could be an idea, into an actual music tech start-up. Learning to think in terms of customers, revenue, early adopters, addressing a need etc, allowed me to delve into the murkiness and come up with something that looked like clarity. And Tapes was born.
I was commuting back and forth from Birmingham to London at the time, fulfilling my roles as Education Manager for a charity and as a freelance teacher. This meant work on the business was limited to the rare times I felt alert and had any time to spare. Working eight days a week for what felt like twenty-five hours a day was still never enough! Things started to take their toll on me and I found myself feeling low, drained and unmotivated at a time when I needed to be feeling upbeat, energetic and inspired. So, I handed my notice in and ‘took the leap’.
And at that point, in 2018, the real challenges began: Stepping into the alien world of tech was very daunting and I felt out of place and far, faraway from any comfort zone. A base at Innovation Birmingham helped; I could access free hot-desking space with other tech entrepreneurs – but even that sense of community couldn’t prepare me for the frustration yet to come working with developers!
I unwittingly wasted money on products that were never delivered, didn’t work or didn’t even exist: All I wanted was an MVP (Minimum Viable Product) but it seemed so difficult to get over the line. I was forced to abandon them all and build the first version of Tapes myself, using templates.
The result was a very clunky first version, but at least it provided a place for people to learn more about Tapes, test the business model and build the community. All it cost me was the hosting. With some support from Coventry University, I was able to find a great Chief Tech Officer to undertake the build of Version 2 – a fully automated and mobile responsive version of Tapes, which is now live and kicking.
Being a black female in the music industry is hard enough – being a black female in the tech industry is waaaaaay harder. The more investor pitches I participated in, and networking events I attended, I soon realised that there were not a lot of people that look like me in this business.
There is a definite lack of black investors in Birmingham, as well as black females in tech.It seemed like investment was reserved for white males who have big teams and sponsors; added to that my target audience is made up largely of minority groups active within Hip Hop and Grime music! Imagine pitching using lines from Stormzy, in front of a predominantly white male investor panel.
I’ve lost count of the amount of pitches I’ve delivered, with the blank stares, and the patronizing comments. I’ve always been told my pitches were great and engaging – but “not quite what we are looking for” or “we don’t touch music” or “we like you, but don’t think it will work.” But thankfully, each ‘no’ made me that much more determined to be unapologetically ‘me’ and continue to push my business even further. I have worked so hard to get great people supporting what I do, those who look like me, believe in me, know the industry and want to support.
I’ve worked at a table in coffee shops for hours on end – too broke to buy more than a couple of lattes (thank you Costa!) or sat in libraries or anywhere that has free Wi-Fi.
My determination has led me to think creatively and outside the box. I’ve developed a great complimentary side-line project too – I applied for funding to produce a Tapes music album featuring UK and US hip hop and grime artists and producers.
Funded entirely by the Arts Council, the initiative led me to take a large group of creatives to Atlanta to record at the legendary Patchwerk Studios. I also took a group of high profile UK artists to perform at the only UK show at the A3C Festival in Atlanta. That trip worked wonders for networking, branding and new opportunities and helped validate Tapes within the music industry. We really are a force to be reckoned with now.
There have been days I haven’t wanted to continue with Tapes, and days I just wanted to stay in bed. Nearly every time I had to pitch I would have a mini-meltdown and tears would flow. But these episodes are few and far between now and I certainly don’t cry any more over pitching, so that’s progress. It’s still super-emotional, but I’ve achieved great things over the past fifteen months so I know the importance of focusing on the positive, and exactly what happens when I stay tough: I can proudly say I raised investment, produced an album and launched a tech start-up which is going from strength to strength.
The Tapes album launch party takes place on Friday 22nd February 2019, from 6pm at Suki10c in Bordesley Street, Birmingham. www.tapesmusic.co.uk has successfully moved into its second wave of investment thanks to Carla and her team’s tenacity, drive and ambition. The platform is now live, and hosts a growing, thriving music community.