How Curiosity Creates Opportunity: Expertise isn’t Gained; It’s Shared

The moment Chance the Rapper won a Grammy, the music industry changed — and that change meant opportunity. Nick Wareham has turned this opportunity into signing his first up-and-coming music artist client, a new business and a playbook he’s using to break into an industry changing at warp speed. Sometimes the best way to stand out is to admit you don’t know squat, learn like a sponge and share with the world, which is what you can expect from Digital Hustle.


Nick Wareham burst into my office, looking like he’d just come from a track workout. A smile cut across his face, “An old friend of mine reconnected with me over music. He decided to let me become his manager!”

He barreled on, barely letting me process let alone congratulate him. “I’m going to start my own management company — he’s stoked and I am too. I can’t believe I’m doing this! I never would have thought I’d me able to actually work at this.”

“That’s insane!”

“Yeah! I’ll be able to promote Ahmed’s material and really establish his following over summer. And then release the project when the timing’s right and it’s more professional.”

“This is so big! And think about it, just a couple of months ago, you weren’t even considering the possibility of a music career.”

Ahmed Bile, a world class runner and aspiring hip hop musician.

Music experts have predicted that 2017 will be known as the turning point for the music industry. 2017 is the year of Chance the Rapper — the first time in history when an artist won a Grammy despite not having a record deal (Chance was nominated for 7 and won 3).

The wins cemented the beginning of a new era for the Grammys, which nominated the digital-only Coloring Book amidst a new rule change that made streaming-only albums eligible, where in the past only traditionally released, physical albums were considered.
Speaking with Rolling Stone about the rule change, National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences President Neil Portnow said, “We wanted to make sure somebody wasn’t disenfranchised or excluded just because of the technicality of a distribution format.”

In his new book Digital Hustle: How to Make it in Hip-Hop, manager and author Nick Wareham has written a playbook for the next Chance the Rapper — in some ways he wrote the book because he needed to learn the game (and quickly). Artists have sensed the world moving under their feet and recognized to “make it” it’s no longer about handing out mixtapes or hoping for a “lucky break” from a Radio DJ, club promoter, or label head.

Nick decided that for a new industry, a new artist and a new approach — the world would need a new manager. Welcome to the game, son.

As Nick details in Digital Hustle, today sharing sites like Soundcloud and now streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music have revolutionized user relationship with music. Now social media followers seem to translate to entrance into the Billboard Hot 100.

The rules have changed.

“The talent marketplace is digital and moves faster than ever. It’s why avoiding signing with a label is possible today — artists like Chance can shoot to success in months, make more cash than they’d ever imagined from tours and promotions, and not need the backing of a label. It’s that newfound model that allows artists to reimagine their relationship with the music business and traditional music structures.” — Digital Hustle, pg. 20

Chance’s music is shared free and publicly, and has been from the very beginning. Other rising artists have similar stories. Lil Yachty? A ‘nobody’. Joey Badass is starting his own record label, not needing to sign to anyone.

More money. More exposure. No ties. No hassle. 
 
 And who is poised to share not only the implications of the history of these changes for the present but serve as a guide for a rising generation of new rappers and artists? None other than a white kid from Minneapolis.


Nick Wareham doesn’t look the part of a music manager. Nick looks like he’s from Minnesota — which he is — pale skin, closely cropped light brown hair and a runner’s angular build. He’s usually wearing a hoodie and his quiet voice is barely heard unless he’s talking about music. Definitely not the look you’d expect from a guy now managing a talented rap artist, but much like we’ve seen nerdy, analytics types take over NBA and MLB front offices, a changing of the guard is happening.

Nick grew up on the mean streets of… Minneapolis?

Nick shares, eyes gleaming, that “hip-hop has intrigued me from a very young age. I remember growing up playing SSX Tricky on Gameboy Advance with Eminem, Jay Z, and Kanye blaring in my crappy headphones I got courtesy of Northwest (now Delta) airlines.” During his early years of playing hockey, “being from Minnesota obviously”, Nick would “use it for getting pumped up before a game, that kind of thing.”

His passion for lyricism and music was nurtured at computer stations in Borders bookstores, “legally” burning explicit versions of Eminem’s songs away from his mother’s knowledge. Still, Nick is the first to admit that covert song downloading is about as close as a suburban track athlete with good grades could ever be to emulating Eminem’s notorious attitude toward authorities.

It’s no surprise that Nick looks up to today’s big-names as well. “I’ve always been a big fan of hip hop as a whole, the sincerity and complexity of lyrics and everything but it really grew a lot in my freshman of college. I really bought into hip hop and became a huge fan of Chance the Rapper and what he was doing.”

Part of the reason Nick’s love of hip hop grew so much over his freshman year was because of the encouragement of fellow track team member Ahmed Bile. Between track and classes, they quickly bonded over their shared tendency to obsessively analyze Drake lyrics on Rap Genius.

“We talked about everything, albums, merchandise, headphones. It was great, I found a dude who liked music just as much, if not more, than I do, and it was awesome.”

Wareham was certainly a devoted fan of music and artists, but was equally intrigued by their strategies, their stories about entering the industry, and how these were so incredibly different from the path of a group like NWA.

Nick himself had “pretty much no idea” what he wanted to do with his life, but knew he loved music. He didn’t write or rap, so wasn’t music just an interest, a hobby to be listed right like concert-going or listening to J. Cole’s newest album?

Not exactly. Nick’s friend Ahmed? He hadn’t exactly told Nick everything about his interest in hip hop. Ahmed was writing his own music.

Ahmed Biles is a track star who trains professionally in Africa and writes and produces his own music.

Over Thanksgiving break, Ahmed sent Nick a video of a Garage Band screen, with Ahmed’s lyrics.

“I thought it was awesome. While I was eating breakfast, I pondered the idea that maybe I just liked it because of my relationship with this guy, being that he was a friend of mine, I thought I might be partial to his music. I listened to the 1:47 long clip again. That couldn’t be the case, this really is dope! I wanted to be sure though.” — Digital Hustle, pg. 97

Nick privately shared Ahmed’s music with a music-savvy friend from Minnesota who immediately loved it. And on the plane back to DC, the guy next to Wareham noticed him rewatching Ahmed’s videos, enthusiastically scratching his favorite lyrics on the napkin in front of him. His asked if Nick rapped. Nick shared that it was his friend’s first thing. The guy, a rapper himself, took a listen and loved it.

Ahmed offers the unique, personal connection fans vibe with on his YouTube vlogs from airports and cities around the globe.
“‘Damn, that’s tight! Sounds different than most of the stuff out there. I love that line about the Odyssey too, had me thinking about the tenth grade. Who is he?’
‘Ahmed Bile’ I responded. ‘He doesn’t have anything out on SoundCloud yet but him and I are working on it’ I lied. I hadn’t talked to him about that at all, but maybe I should, I thought.’”

Nick was feeling high on life after this conversation. A rapper had said his friend’s sound was dope! Nick “was craving more music, and Ahmed delivered.”

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas breaks Nick listened to even more of Ahmed’s tracks, and finally, after plenty of encouragement, convinced him to unlock his SoundCloud. Nick loved this process of guiding his talented friend in the process of publicizing his music. He wanted to share not only his friend’s music with as many people as possible, but encourage other artists to put their stuff out there and take full advantage of an industry that worked with, that rewarded even, humble beginnings.

Think of a way into the music industry? That’s one thing. But become a manager to an emerging hip hop artist? That was an even bigger stroke of luck.

Nick wrote Digital Hustle as a parallel to his experience with Ahmed — in many ways as his own guide for managing an up-and-coming artist in the new era. A playbook for helping those starting out in the hip hop industry. And Nick was starting to see how his passion for hip hope and desire to see his friend succeed could have a critical role in music not just as an avid listener, but a hype-man in the most official of ways. A manager.

As Nick readily admits, it’s early in his own career of artist and music management, but ya gotta start somewhere… and for Nick his start is with Ahmed.

Running connected Wareham and Biles, but music has helped extend the relationship.

More than anything, Nick wanted to help his friend make it in the industry they idolized. And if their favorite artists didn’t need famous labels or legendary managers to share their music with the world, there was no reason why Nick couldn’t be that extra support in guiding Ahmed through the process. And not only involved as a support, but great at it.

As for the book? “It started out small reaching out to guys I was friends with in high school who had made music in their spare time and were artists and would hustle mix tapes, that kind of thing online. I reached out to them first and got some interesting insight from them.”

This process led Nick Wareham to talk with a lot of people in the industry.

“I’m a big fan of guy named DJ Skee from Minnesota, which is where I’m from. I reached out to him over Snapchat which is kind of bold on my part but I sent him an email and he gets a lot so I wasn’t too surprised that he hadn’t responded yet. Sure enough six minutes after sending him a Snapchat chat message, I got a notification that DJ Skee is typing… and he responded to me very quickly saying he’s really interested in what I was doing and he definitely wanted to conduct an interview with me.”

Later on, I got this message from Nick.

Ultimately, Nick is proud of not only how he’s going to be able to continue to support his friends and others, but the opportunities he has ahead of him.

“This book opened up new doors and definitely expanded my horizon of what I thought I might actually do for a career.”

Nick now doesn’t only have an idea that his dream job will be in the music industry, or know steps he can take to eventually pursue that. He has tangible affirmations of his ability, opportunities he’s taken, and connections he’s made as he makes this childhood dream (that he didn’t even know was for him) a reality.

His work alongside his friend, directed by the framework of his book, has very much become his launching pad. “There’s been a lot of things. I connected with DJ Skee who is now living in Los Angeles. I’m looking at potentially getting an internship for the summer. Just last night I found out I was going to be having a conversation with the lead man of Passion Pit, very famous band and the start of a new company. I think I’ve gotten a lot of opportunities already and the book hasn’t actually launched yet so it’s pretty awesome.”

Nick will not only be essentially involved in this new iteration of the music genre and business he loves, “I think that this adds credibility to what I think you need a lot of in this music industry. I think that’s certainly a career path I’m really looking to flourish in.”

A client and industry contacts. And a new side hustle?

“I am essentially starting my own business, starting my own management company — WarehamMedia.”

From not believing, or even feeling like he as a white suburban midwestern boy could translate his enthusiasm for hip hop to a future as much of a game changer, Nick is happily positioned to take it all by storm.

“My first client at Wareham Media, intends on dropping a late summer project, and I will be working with him directly, promoting his material and more. The main goal is to establish a much larger following, and release the project in a calculated and professional manner.”

Essentially, that’s the new chapter after publishing this book, to really focus on taking my clients to the next level.”

The revolution of a true opportunity for ground-up fame in the hip hop industry? Nicks’ individualized approach to encouraging entrance into the industry and work to date parallels this all too well. Nick is ready to keep breaking molds by breaking new tracks, and their artists, into the mainstream.

To connect with Nick for management, speeches, presentations, interviews or consulting work, naw49@georgetown.edu. Purchase Digital Hustle on Amazon. Watch his interview on Youtube at Signal Class.

To learn more about Signal Class visit www.SignalClass.com or to apply for an upcoming experience, visit www.SignalClass.com/apply.

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