It’s interesting to think that there are so many different kinds of creatives in the world that are thriving and contributing to our culture. They range from photographers, videographers, writers, actors/actresses, visual artists, musicians, fashion stylists, DJ’s and so on. Although the list is extensive, it’s disappointing to think that a lot of the creatives out there lack the resources to gain an opportunity to showcase their creative talent. This is where REC Philly has stepped in to bridge that gap. From a small music group that consisted of a few friends to now being one of the most recognized creative agencies, REC Philly is using their current streams of resources to give back to emerging self-starters and entrepreneurs. Ultimately, these resources connect the talents to the opportunities they need to build a foundation for their brand.
I had the chance to speak with co-founder Will Toms about how REC Philly started, their membership program, the biggest motivating factor for the brand, linking up with Wyclef Jean and much more in our interview below.
1 – How did you guys come up with REC Philly?
REC Philly came as a pivot from a prior business that my partner Dave Silver and I had in 2012 called Broad Street Music Group. Back in 2012 we were in a space where we always had musician friends but we realized that we’re playing management roles to rappers and creatives and such, we realized how difficult it was for hip-hop artists or musicians in general to get the opportunities that they were trying to get as far as opening slots on shows that were coming to town or even just knowing who to go to for services. So we were just out here saying to ourselves that if we don’t have the resources we need, we have to start building. At that time, both my business partner and I were in a fraternity so we basically had the resources of fraternity houses. We came up with the idea to create a space on an off night and allow people to express themselves, sort of like an open mic. Dave was out doing that at Temple out of his frat house and I was doing similar things over at IUP where I went and it just caught on.
2 – The team is apart of a lot of different things but before putting REC Philly together, did you have any experience in like music, photography, event planning and such?
When I was a kid I wrote a lot of poetry and I always had a passion for film production. I was doing TV broadcasting and journalism and that kind of stuff throughout high school. I ran the TV studio when I was in high school and then when I got into college I ran the TV studio there. I was able to produce a couple of shows so I figured my trajectory would be somewhere in the lines of producing TV for a big network. I actually got the opportunity to intern for NBC when I was in college and they gave me the opportunity to work in news and then they gave me the opportunity to work in the creative department and that’s where I fell in love with creating content and I knew I wanted to build an agency after that. That internship gave me that spark.
3 – Aside from Philly being a city of talented musicians, what inspired you guys to get into helping other creatives?
With my background in understanding communications, I always knew how important TV and media was and how it controlled the way people viewed themselves and how people understood each other. I knew that whoever was controlling that had power. I always said to myself how interesting would it be if better people had this same influence and power. As Dave and I started building with these artists, we just realized how little access these creative people in Philly had to the smallest things like business professionals. You know, the real resources to build. I’ll speak for myself first, it was really important for me to have people have that sort of access because it came to down my economic understanding. We live in a capitalistic society so if anyone is going to have a say in what the f*ck is happening, we have to have capital. We gotta know how to do business and as a young black potential entrepreneur I was like, it has to be easier for people who didn’t have the luxury that I had to be able to build their businesses. That was the driving factor for me.
4 – REC Philly has planted their flag in the city as far as events go but you guys also have your hands in a few other things outside of that. How exactly does REC Philly work as far as getting people access to what you offer?
That’s a great question. So essentially our business model is broken down into two sides. One side of our company is a more traditional creative agency where we help solve the creative problems from the hip-hop artists who need a music video up to Comcast when they’re trying to go to SXSW and engage with more millennial audiences. So in that realm, we’re creating content for brands of all sizes. Then on the other side of the coin, we have what we call the creative incubator. That’s the newer side of things. We launched a membership program called the Free Thinkers membership. That was a response to us saying instead of doing a little bit for a ton of artists, we want to do more for fewer artists. And the people who really understood what we were building and want to buy in and support that, they’re able to pay a low monthly cost for a membership that gives them access to our spaces including our studio space, our venue and more. They also get discounts to all kinds of service providers so, for example, an entertainment lawyer. If we get one of out creatives in contact with our entertainment lawyer, right away we can get them up to a 30% discount just because they’re REC Philly members. Essentially, I look at the Free Thinkers membership as a gym membership for creative people.
5 – Does REC Philly offer management for the creatives you work with or is it more so them just paying you for a specific service and you cater to that?
No, it’s not management. That’s the one thing that we’re not. Reason being is because typically management deals are structured with a manager who gets a percentage of ownership of everything. They make like 20% or 25%. For us, while we’re working together, we create things but the artists retain 100% ownership over everything. So when they sign up for membership on a high tier, they’re actually given an account manager internal. But the account managers’ job is to make sure the member understands all the resources that they have at their disposal and they can help manage projects. So for example, an artist says “hey, I want to throw an event.” We’ll say ok cool, let’s connect you to a venue. And then we’ll ask questions about the promotional strategy and XYZ and then we’ll help move that project from start to finish but everything that’s paid out to us is based on the services that we’re providing. But, when it’s all said and done the artist owns everything.
6 – You guys are doing something that not a lot of people have been able to do and you guys have a lot of support. What has been one of the biggest motivating factors to keeping REC Philly a household name?
For me, it would have to come down to impact. I hope that doesn’t sound cliche but it’s definitely impact. It comes to taking a step back and realizing what we’ve done. For me, I get excited when I see our internal staff. These are the people who have been with us for years and I’ve seen their professional development because of what we’ve been able to have them do with us. They are out here literally doing things that they are genuinely excited to do. Sitting back and looking at one of our members who’s a videographer. Last year, we were able to put over $12,000 in his pocket through projects that we were doing with him. Or a guy like Guru Media is who now a day to day shooter for A$AP Ferg through an oop we were able to throw him. We connected him to Tory Lanez randomly. Tory came by our studio and said he was looking for a shooter. I told him I had someone I wanted to introduce him to. They connected on a Thursday. Tory had a show that following Friday and believe it or not that same weekend Tory took my homie on tour with him. To see the impact that’s caused by the strategies, that’s the most fulfilling thing and I know there’s creative hope. Other cities and other countries need creative structures just like this to give people access to opportunities and resources.
7 – I know a lot of the team is pretty engaged in social media but how does the team manage to stay on top of what’s relevant in music, fashion, photography etc?
The one thing that works in our favor is that we are our market. The people that we’re servicing, these creative entrepreneurs are extensions of ourselves. How do we stay on top of new music? It’s the sh*t that we’re consuming. How do we stay on top of digital trends? That’s who we are. Scarlett is the queen of the internet when it comes to memes and new platforms and things like that. I think that’s our leverage. We are the people we’re servicing. I feel our team is the best people in the world for what we’re doing and that makes things easy.
8 – REC Philly has been apart of and done a lot of different things. What would you say is the teams biggest highlight and why?
I would say our SXSW show back in 2015. I say that because it was such a pivotal moment. You know how at SXSW there’s a Chicago stage and then there’s like Tokyo houses where people from that region come out… we went down there and bootstrapped our own show and this was all in the middle of us transitioning from Broad Street Music Group to REC Philly. We brought down like 12 acts from Philly and we were able to get an official Philly stage and when we got back home, we felt like we were really able to accomplish what no one else could’ve done to that point. And, I think the city realized that. When we got back and people saw what we were doing, there were so many inquiries of who is REC Philly, what is the brand, what are they doing etc. Every SXSW after that, the same thing has happened but just on a larger scale. To put things into perspective, David and I raised about $12,000 to throw that show and we had Lil Uzi Vert, Freeway on the same stage and this was when Uzi was on that same run before his breakout. This was when DJ Drama and Don Cannon were literally taking him to every single show and letting him pop up and do shows. When we got back to Philly and realized there wasn’t a Philly presence similar to what we did, we were able to go and tell the big brands like Comcast and Temple University. We were able to tell them that there’s no presence for Philly here. Fast forward to 2016, we raised $100,000 and helped create something called Amplify Philly. Once we did that, it really set us apart.
9 – Aside from REC Philly growing as a name, in what ways do you feel it has grown into an overall brand?
There’s a couple ways. The first way, the REC name I kind of gave it an acronym and that’s Resources for Every Creator. I think the brand has grown in a sense because it has really become that. I think we’re at a point now where people look at that logo and they respect it because when you see that logo on a flyer or on anything, there’s almost an inherent level of value that you know it’s going to have. And that’s just based on us consistently delivering quality experiences, quality content and more. I’m obviously biased and close to the whole thing but I think that’s what people look at us as. What I want this to ultimately feel like is when you see that blue check on Twitter and you know it’s official, that’s what I want our logo to become. You’ll see it on people events flyers and peoples content but not so much on behalf of the brand being important. More so saying what the brand has done is done with quality and you can trust it.
10 – I noticed that REC Philly has a hotline number. What exactly do you guys use that number for?
Great question. So that number that you see is what we call the REC line. We use that number to engage our fans on a much deeper level. I understand that we can always hit people through Twitter and Facebook and Instagram and email but it’s getting to a point that with social media now, even if you have a million followers when you post something that doesn’t mean a million people are going to see it. It’s with the understanding that if we can only connect with our fans through email and social media, we don’t really own that relationship. If Twitter and Instagram were to die tomorrow, how will we then engage with all of these people that we’re trying to reach? It’ll be difficult. So that number allows us an address book for everyone who supports our company and it just gives us a much better way of engaging with our audience. So at any given time, someone can call or text that number and get any info about anything that we’re doing. Members such as musicians can easily text that number saying something like #studio and from there they can get easy access to studios to book a session.
11 – I know the team was able to put something together late last year with Wyclef Jean. Talk a little about that. Is there anything else that might come from that event?
The Wyclef event came as a partnership between us and Professor Timothy Welbeck of Temple University. Prof. Welbeck conducted a Freethinkers Interview with Wyclef covering his upbringing, the state of hip-hop & more. This was a great experience, hosting an auditorium of students, artists & creative entrepreneurs eager to learn from the musical legend. After the first sit down, Wyclef was excited to come back and further the conversation earlier this month. We got to chat a little deeper about the trajectory of REC Philly and he’s taken interest in what we’re doing.
12 – What can we expect from you and the rest of the REC Philly team for 2018? Any big surprises?
In 2018, we’ll be increasing our focus on our technology and membership program. This will start to position ourselves less as an entertainment company, and more as a tech company that serves entertainment brands. Watch out for the growth of membership and the launch of our web app in 2018, as well as a mobile app in early 2019. You can also look out for the growth of our creative agency, powering really strong entertainment experiences this year.