One of my favorite performances by Denzel Washington is his portrayal of drug lord Frank Lucas in the 2007 film, American Gangster. I’m not keen on idolizing drug lords or glamorizing the drug trade, but a lot of things that the movie version of Frank Lucas said makes absolute sense in a business sense. Everything from dressing respectably to quality assurance is practically a how-to guide on handling your business. The one aspect that stood out the most was cutting out the middleman to get quality product. Like I said, I don’t idolize drug dealers, but anyone who’s anyone knows the hassle of dealing with the middleman, be it a retailer or an A&R at a record label you’re trying to get to sign you. (I have a lot of friends in music who dealt with that last one o a regular basis.) The middleman is the gatekeeper that’s in the way of you and your goals. Thankfully, in this information age, skipping the middleman has become easier to do, in more ways than one, and in more fields than you think.
My first experience of the benefits of skipping the middleman came in a situation we all can relate to: getting a replacement cellphone. Less than a year ago, I had a Motorola Rambler. I had bought it in 2010, and that phone lasted me for 4 years. Sadly, one morning, I reached to turn it on, and, in a way that replays in my memory in slow motion, the Rambler fell from my nightstand and…..CRACK! Split into two. I tried re-attaching the QWERTY keypad to the screen, but it was no use. My Rambler was no more. With a trip out of town coming up, I needed a cell phone QUICK.
That very day, I went to one of those mom-and-pop Boost Mobile stores, insisting on a phone that was under $80. They handed me a Kyocera Hydro, saying it was 80 bucks, but after tax, it was over $90 bucks. Not only that, but I was made to pay an EXTRA $30 bucks for some nonsense network change fee, so the $80 phone became a $120 phone. To make me feel even worse, not even a month after I had bought this slow-but-waterproof smartphone, I find out that the price had dropped to $50, and almost two months AFTER that, the price dropped AGAIN to $30! I felt like an absolute fool for paying what I did for a phone that was slow as molasses. To make matters worse, my Kyocera Hydro only lasted 7 months before the touch screen became non-responsive one day. When it came time to replace it, I had two options: go to the retailer and beg for a replacement, or….skip the middleman and get what I deserve.
Rather than getting bamboozled by that retailer again, I went to Amazon.com and found not only did they have the Kyocera Hydro for $30 on there, but for five dollars more, I could get myself an LG Realm, a smartphone that was getting a lot more positive feedback than the Hydro. Eager as can be, I not only ordered the LG Realm, but I ordered it with one-day shipping, the total coming out to just over $60 aftter tax. The next day, I got my phone in the mail, and I’ve been as happy as can be wih that phone. I thanked my lucky stars I didn’t go back to that store, and I’ve never needed to step into that store ever again.
Retailers can be good for a quick fix, but to get the deal you really need, sometimes you have to skip the middleman.
The Music Industry
Once upon a time, in order for a music artist to make a living, or at least make a name for himself, he needed a record label to sign him. I remember the days when getting signed to a record label was the holy grail of “making it”. Sadly, for most artists, getting signed to a record label either meant getting turned away again and again, or, if you got signed, being at the mercy of the label’s expectations. And there were so many stories of rappers, singers, and bands getting signed to record labels and not even dropping a debut alum.
Back in the early 2000’s, when I worked in sporting goods, I had a co-worker who was getting respect as an underground rapper in the local scene. One day, out of the blue, he quits his job, bragging that he had just gotten signed to a record label. The next week, he shows up, showing off his fresh new clothes and his Motorola two-way pager. (Yeah, this was back when those were in style, way before everyone had cell phones.) Not even a month later, rumors had it that the label had dropped him, and that he was looking for work. He even had to sell his pager. Stories like his were way too common.
Flash forward to now. Artists can now rely on the internet to gain fame and make money. Everyone from Macklemore to Childish Gambino have been able to use the internet as an outlet to get their music out there, getting millions of YouTube views and SoundCloud plays before radio stations can even blink. Back in the day, major labels were the only way for an artist to get recognition. Now, artists can take destiny into their own hands if they’re willing to work hard enough. Thanks to the internet, artists can skip the middleman
I could go on and on with examples both in the day-to-day and in the mainstream of people who skipped the middleman and got more out of it. Book authors who chose to publish e-books instead of trying to pitch their product to a publisher, independent filmmakers who took their vision and made a cult classic on a shoestring budget rather than begging Hollywood for a job, t-shirt designers who sold their merchandise out of their garages rather than begging retailers to push their clothing and became household names. Skipping the middleman could be something as small as going online to get a microphone for a decent price instead of bleeding your wallet at a downtown retailer, or something as big as drawing a graphic novel and selling it on your own site rather than begging for a job at a comic book publisher. If you want something bad enough, sometimes you have to skip the middleman and go direct.