As part of The Stage platform, we sat down with Hip-Hop star and social activist K. Sparks to talk about how he got started in the industry, what changes he’s noticed in the Black Lives Matter movement, what the pandemic has looked like for him and his exciting upcoming releases. We hope you enjoy!
Hi K. Sparks, and thanks for chatting to us today! Firstly, tell us about your background. How did you get into music? And what has been the biggest change across the years since you started your career in music?
I was raised in Queens, New York. Our culture musically is very rich. We’ve had acts like Run DMC, LL Cool J, NAS, The Lost Boys, 50 Cent – the list goes on! Even some Jazz players historically came out of St. Alban’s.
Growing up in Queens during the ’80s was very turbulent. During my younger years, there were a lot of narcotics being flooded into our community. We saw a lot of substance abuse, gang violence, high rates of incarceration, and things were terrible. My brother and I always knew that we didn’t want to stay in that environment and that we had to motivate ourselves to come out of that. So for me, my thing was always music.
I started writing for artists at various studios, then graduated to putting together my own projects. My Street team and I would sell them out of the trunk of my car, driving around Queens and handing out around 500 mix-tapes. We started generating a buzz locally, building great relationships, shopping music to labels, and writing for lots of different acts. From that point, things took off for me musically.
How did you get into music licensing? What has been the best thing to come out of that?
I first got into music licensing because of Sarah Hunt at Audiosocket. Sarah reached out to me years ago in regard to possible representation for licensing my music, and it was new for me. Before that, I had never heard of music licensing. After giving Sarah some songs to pitch, she was able to obtain lots of placements, and we’ve been working together ever since. The best thing to come from that was my ability to learn about the music licensing industry!
What kind of lyrical topics/themes are you currently working into your songs?
I’m currently working on an eclectic range of topics and themes. My content and creative themes vary depending on my mood. Some days, I’ll create some uptempo music that’s a hybrid between Orchestral and Hip-Hop. The next day, I could be working on chill laid back vibes. It all depends on my mood for the day.
Which artists inspire you the most and why?
I gain inspiration from various musicians. A lot aren’t even Hip-Hop based. Miles Davis and John Coltrane are two of my favorites. Then others like Esthero, Charlie Porter, and B Slade are some of my favorites as well. Some Hip-Hop musicians and Producers that inspire me are Es-K, Silk Beats, Kurser, Dream Chaos, Wezt MAAD, Nation, and Volen.
What trends are you seeing in the industry currently?
I see a duality between positive and negative trends. The positive trends involve artists having access to more opportunities for music placements within TV, movies and digital features. The negative trend is that several companies are emerging that take advantage of musicians.
Music licensing is a big business, and as a result, some companies prioritize their bottom line over ensuring musicians are properly compensated. I don’t agree with the current trend of paying artists a nominal amount upfront to buy the rights to their music, and not even allowing the artists to retain any Publishing rights or to be registered with a PRO. On the flip side, you have companies that have severely diminished the pay rates of music licensing with their blanket licenses. Musicians used to be able to earn decent rates that were fair for them and the consumer. Nowadays, those rates have been reduced to small annual fees that allow consumers to utilize music for whatever they want.
I’m all for things being affordable, however, there has to be a respectable balance between what is fair for musicians. Ownership is paramount, and musicians have to realize that having ownership provides them with a retirement plan to have residual income.
You have been very active in fighting systemic racism and challenging individuals and companies to take a stand. Have you felt any noticeable change since the protests and coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement this time last year?
I challenge myself to always remain active in the fight for justice. Since the Black Lives Matter protest, I’ve noticed more awareness in the sense that people are cognizant of issues that minorities contend with. However, there is much more work to be done.
Fighting for social justice is an ongoing battle. We presently live in a society where the rich and guilty are treated better than the poor and innocent. Every day, we’re inundated with images and audio of racism. It’s a constant battle to fight that, and it can be draining. When we state ‘Black Lives Matter’, our protests for equality are met with a counter-protest of ‘All Lives Matter’. That logic is the equivalent of going to a Breast Cancer awareness rally and someone shouting that ‘HIV matters too’. It’s divisive and manipulation at its finest to divert from the issue at hand. To invoke true change, one must embark on a journey of self-reflection, accountability, and action.
How has your career changed or developed due to the impact of the Covid-19 Pandemic?
My live performances were definitely affected by Covid-19. I was supposed to perform in Italy with my band Bardamù for fashion week in Milan, and it was canceled – along with other concerts. Despite live performances being impacted, my streams and sales flourished due to amassing several music placements. The pandemic made me truly appreciate the power and impact of music licensing. Regardless of what’s happening in the world, music remains essential and can continue to generate revenue.
What’s kept you going throughout the pandemic and do you have any advice for anybody finding it hard to get back into the swing of things?
In all things, it’s important to be passionate about what you’re doing and to enjoy it. If you start with that foundation, everything else will flow. Don’t chase money, instead chase your dreams with a passion and everything will fall into place. Lastly, when things get hard always remember ‘Persistence wears down resistance’.
What’s been your best moment in the industry, or the work you’re most proud of?
Probably music placements, and it’s hard to choose just one! But a few of my favorites are having my music featured in the 50 Cent series ‘Power’ on STARZ, Monster Energy, NBC Sports, Powerade with LeBron James, Calvin Klein, Martin Lawrence, Les Mills, VANS, The New York Times and Wix.
Here’s your chance to plug anything new! What should we be listening to or looking out for?
I’m working on various projects at the moment that are coming soon to TV and film. Be on the lookout for new music with Es-K, Silk Beats, Kurser, Wezt MAAD, and Nation. Also, shout out to my Rhythm Couture team, Robert, Matthew, and Ali. We have some dynamic things coming on the way. Lastly, thanks to Audiosocket for being a game-changer in the music licensing space.
Keep Up With K. Sparks
A big thanks to K. Sparks for chatting to us and for all the hard work, excellence and integrity that he displays as both an artist and a social activist. We can’t wait to see what you do next!
You can follow K. Sparks and eagerly await his new releases here:
You can also check out his moving guest post entitled ‘Black People Should Not Have To Die To Feel Alive‘.
If you’re an artist and are interested in being featured on The Stage, you can submit your music to be part of our catalog, or inquire specifically about this initiative by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org and referencing The Stage.