All Harlem co-founder Norman Brand Jr. AKA “Just Norm” speaks about the impact of Harlem and different tips for success in the music industry. All Harlem is a full service media & entertainment company. Norm started the company with Semaj Horry and Donjai Gilmore. In this interview Norm breaks down some of the barriers independent artists have to face, and how his company his helping serve these creatives.
Young Atlas: How did All Harlem come about?
Norm: It started off with me an my best friend Semaj. We started selling “Harlem vs. Everybody” shirts. This started off in 2015. Back then it wasn’t really even a company, we were just printing out shirts and they were starting to click. In addition to Detroit we were the only two communities with that “Vs. Everybody” design. I was taking classes downtown at CUNY and would always take shirts with me. We didn’t care if you were in Queens, Brooklyn or Long Island, I would hop on MTA or Metro North to deliver a shirt for $25 dollars. I saw the vision and after a while it started to pick up and we said why don’t we expand the platform? We were taking pictures of people wearing the shirts and posting them online. We decided to create a platform to showcase unbiased Harlem content.
Young Atlas: What have you been working on recently?
Norm: Right now we have been working on music distribution. I started to create a branch of All Harlem, giving artists a place where they can call home, just like: EQ, Awal and United Masters. What I’m trying to do is add a Harlem taste to music. If you’re from the south and you want to work with us, we will be able to enhance the track. We want to add that Harlem flavor to music.
Young Atlas: What made you want to work behind the scenes in the music industry?
Norm: You can do so much more in music behind the scenes, outside of being just an artist. I started to see the transition of the music industry, from a consumer stand point. I saw a lot of platforms opening up for independent artists and realized that a lot of indie artists didn’t necessarily want to sign to major labels. I noticed there were a lot of tools independent artists didn’t have. I wanted to fill in the gaps and provide independent artists with resources they wouldn’t receive while working with major labels. I wanted to offer artists my personal connections to help them with their music careers.
Young Atlas: Do you see a common characteristic ,with artists that have been successful in terms of how they handle their business?
Norm: It’s 2 things mostly. I feel like one thing artists lack is artist development. For example, being media trained for interviews is a major skill a lot of independent artists don’t have. It’s actually an art how to divert certain questions and have the right posture. I can tell when watching tv if an artist is media trained or not. I feel like a lot of independent artists have too much on their shoulders. There is too much that they have to deal with outside of just the music. I’m a strong believer if you’re an artist you should focus on one thing and one thing only and that’s your art. Not managing, not marketing, not your promotions, you shouldn’t be working on anything else other than music.
Young Atlas: It’s so much going on being an independent artist, because most artists don’t have the luxury to simply just worry about the music. What are your thoughts on that?
Norm: Thats why its so hard for independent artists to break, because they have to worry about so many moving parts outside of just making the music. Releasing the music is the easy part. After you release the music what are you going to do? Like Nipsey Hussle said “Its a marathon” I don’t think people caught on to that aspect of the music industry. Its not just about releasing your music. You have to have a budget behind it. I have seen people with the smallest budget make a record go compared to people with a much larger budget.
Young Atlas: Hypothetical question! If you were an artist and you had $1,000 for marketing, you a have a track done with a music video. How would you use these funds to market a track?
Norm: We live in a digital age, people think they can just market through Instagram and digital ads. One of the main things people over look are tangible assets. Physical material people can hold is very important. For example a piece of material a fan can put in their room. I would use half the money to create some merch with a QR code. Merchandise is one of the main revenue streams where artists make money.
Young Atlas: What are some aspects of growing your business that stuck out?
Norm: As you grow your business, your business eventually has to have a face to it. We tried so hard not having to show our faces. I’m a strong believer that if I start a business I don’t want people to know it’s mine. If you put a face behind it people might not mess with it because you put it out. They will secretly like it but they may just not like you.
Young Atlas: As a business owner how have you seen envy play a role in your career ?
Norm: Someone told me a while back, “Your going to hear no so many times”. I use to let that affect me a lot. After I had my daughter I realized that other people’s opinions should not affect you. Nobody owes you anything. Even if they don’t support what I’m doing I’m still going support them. When you support people and they don’t support you, guess who looks crazy?
Young Atlas: What do you see as the New York mindset for creatives?
Norm: I feel like a lot of creatives, live and die by New York. We have been programmed that if you want to be successful in anything you do, New York is the place to be. Yes that is true, to a certain extent. I don’t think you have to live and die by New York though. If you started your business in New York, wherever you go after, people will hold you to a higher standard because you were able to build something in New York. That doesn’t mean you can’t be successful somewhere else.
Young Atlas: There is such a competitive atmosphere in New York, that can also hold people in the city back. Do you think Atlanta has surpassed New York in terms of the amount of talent coming out the city?
Norm: Of course! They didn’t even say they were going to take over the New York scene. They came in the back door while we were so busy fighting with each other. We just let somebody come and get the bag that could of been ours. Same thing in Harlem with gentrification. We were so busy fighting amongst each other that people came in and took the brownstones.
Young Atlas: We are living through some revolutionary times. As a father, are you optimistic for the next generation?
Norm: They are rebels! Just from them hearing stories from the older generations, we are living in an age of black privilege. They know they are descendants of kings. They are not going to take any of this laying down like their ancestors did.
Young Atlas: What are some goals for 2020?
Norm: Right now one of the main things is building the catalog. My whole goal from now until December is to release two official records a month. Not anything on mixtape sites, but two official songs. After that I want to work on visuals for those tracks.
Young Atlas: Who do you look up to in the music industry?
Norm: I’m glad you asked that. Have you seen the documentary “The Black Godfather?” about Clarence Avant. That’s somebody I aspire to be. In this digital age the coolest thing now is to be exclusive. You will always have a leg up if you are putting somebody else first. You are only as good as your name in this industry. You can’t build up your name just thinking of yourself.
Young Atlas: Who are some people that helped you build All Harlem?
Norm: Donjay, Semaj, my girlfriend Rosetta who is one of the best I know at social media marketing. I was also blessed to sit down with Chris and Irv Gotti. There is also Rell Carter from Roc Nation, he has given me some game. Lastly I can’t forget Gray Rizzy from Serius XM.
Young Atlas: Any gems you can share from some of these mentors?
Norm: One of the gems I got was when I sat down with Chris Gotti. I remember him telling me that the best intern you can have is somebody that is not in your age bracket, but somebody that is younger then you. They are not going to question your authority about what you need done. You don’t want someone that is working under you that is asking so many questions about getting a job done. I know its a cliche but, “Your network is your net worth” is a true statement.