Like many industries during the pandemic, the music industry was a sector that was rocked to the core when live in-person events were temporarily shut down. With no way for artists to tour or throw live shows, companies like Deep Root Records had to make a smart pivot toward technology to still support artists.
The independent Black-owned record label based in New York City, founded in 2014, has been known for its live music experiences — including their annual Yacht Party Series in New York and Paris. But when the pandemic hit last year, the company had to find a way to save its live shows so they could continue to thrive in a new realm. It wasn’t before long until Deep Root Records pivoted the way many other brands and labels did, and turned toward hosting virtual shows online.
The live show to livestream concept was the root of Deep Root Records’ success during the pandemic, but their ability to collaborate with other labels and brands in the same predicament is what helped put them on the right side of history.
The music industry is relying on technology now more than ever, and Deep Root Records can say they were a part of the collective that helped revolutionize the music sector. Through initiatives like the United By Music Fund, in partnership with the Recording Academy’s MusiCares, the record label was able to actually donate money raised to help support artists and entertainment professionals during such a difficult time.
AfroTech spoke to Deep Root Records co-founder Ajamu Kambon about how his company was able to prosper during the pandemic and how technology played a major part in that success.
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AfroTech: What in your professional career inspired you to start your own brand?
Ajamu Kambon: I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit since selling candy, sports drinks, and nutritional bars growing up. [Then] starting and launching apps in college, and running my own parties in my late teens. The move to start my own company [happened] when I met my co-founder, Francis Mercier — who already had his own successful event planning company — to create a management firm which then turned into a record label and event production company.
We both made the commitment to start our own brand and continue growing it throughout the years, as we felt it was our duty as minorities to independently succeed within the industry and own something that was ours. We’ve always wanted to control our destiny, who we partner with, who we employ as well as our activities and mission as a label.
AT: Where does your interest in the music business come from?
AK: From dancing for more than 15 years of my life. I’ve always had a knack for knowing what sounded good. Growing up, I knew no matter the genre that if it made you dance, cry or feel something, then it was worth sharing with the world. My co-founder’s interest stems from his desire to help other artists have a financial cushion to make music as well. He and I work tirelessly every day, alongside our tight-knit and industrious team, to ensure hundreds of artists are being paid by us every week.
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AT: Did you face any challenges transitioning into the industry as an entrepreneur?
AK: Transitioning into the music industry as an entrepreneur [actually] wasn’t much of a challenge for me. Being an entrepreneur is about seeing where one can produce value or find a need and/or solution to a problem. So transitioning into a different industry than where I came from only meant figuring out the nuisances, culture, and the general terminology used on a day-to-day basis. The only thing that can sometimes deter people from working within the [music] industry is the scheming and constant let me tear your building down so I have the tallest one mentality. It’s not the whole industry, but it’s a challenge and culture shock compared to other structured industries. The industry can be very unwelcoming, and even heartbreaking at times, to those who have a passion for music, arts and entertainment.
AT: When did Deep Root Records start curating live music experiences?
AK: We’ve been cultivating live music experiences for 7-8 years now. Since we started as an event company, that’s what we did the most at first. We started doing livestreams through online platforms like Facebook about two years ago, a few months before the pandemic even hit, as we wanted to give people who couldn’t make it to our sold-out shows the ability to see and hear our artists as if they were there.
AT: What type of technology and platforms helped the company pivot to live-streamed shows during the pandemic?
AK: What really helped us the most was Facebook’s new application, Crossposting. Essentially, Facebook pages can now give access to other pages to share posts and videos as if they are original posts. Deep Root Records can make a video post and give five other pages the ability to post that same video, attributing the views and shares from all the videos and compiling them together. [Thus] showing the total count across each respective page, while also having the content be organic and native to said respective page. This allowed us to partner with many pages and even larger companies, brands and radio stations that had [bigger] audiences.
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AT: How did the pandemic help you grow and strengthen business relationships with other music companies?
AK: It opened new opportunities to work with several other labels since no one was doing shows and everyone was focused on reaching a worldwide audience. Because of this, there was this common goal among competing record labels to work together to support each other’s growth during this tough time. We would exchange and share posts that were relevant to our genre of artists and share songs in each other’s playlists and live-streamed sets. Additionally, by partnering with other companies and artists [for our] livestreams, it allowed event organizers, venues and booking agents who followed/ worked with respective artists to hear music from other artists and see the content being created by other labels.
AT: Now that the industry is bouncing back with music festivals and live concerts in full force, how is Deep Root Records easing back into the swing of things?
AK: We have been going full force since employing six plus artists & DJs every weekend, [as well as] an event staff of 4-5 people on a weekly basis. Our Yacht Series has held strong for months now, and our events platform is announcing new music curated and concert driving events every weekend. We are now in talks about beginning a weekly club residency and planning big [shows] on a monthly basis.