Robert Harris

Smashing the Record

photograph by Larry Kuzniewski

One artist who has taken the entrepreneurial approach is Robert Harris, aka “The Vinyl Producer.”

Harris produces beats, which are the background music over which rappers perform. Beat production is a seriously competitive industry that provides musical architecture not just for all of the hip-hop superstars, but — perhaps more important from an economic perspective — the millions of aspiring rap superstars who want to make demos.

Harris charges $350-$500 per beat when the deal is a straight sale: meaning all rights in the intellectual property go to the buyer in perpetuity. When he started up in 2010, things went slowly. He met with Mann at the MRC and they reviewed how larger production sites in Atlanta were selling beats online.

Harris developed a website and social media strategy that combined an online store that gave clients the opportunity to lease a beat. This combination of online strategy and innovative pricing has proven successful. He also expanded to providing Web services for beat clients including lyricist and singer/songwriter Marc Avery.
“The online model helped me expand as a producer,” Harris says. “Opening up to the Web brought in a larger fan base and consumer base. It definitely resulted in increased sales. Offering the Web services has served as an avenue into the production work; it leads to them buying my instrumentals.”

The leasing model is working for Harris and for artists who are facing the challenge of making those huge R&D expenses.

“Most people run into the financial issue,” Harris says. “Beats lease for $19 to $24. I’ve had quite a few lease and then contact me for purchasing. They just pay the difference. The beat for lease is taken down and can’t be used by any other artist.”

Lease your own beat at

Harris’ situation illustrates the sort of decision-making that faces artists in the new musical economy.

“In Memphis, by virtue of the difficult environment, you have to be an entrepreneur. That’s the common thread that I see,” Mann says.

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