Bad Perm: What was your biggest obstacle in this industry? How did you overcome it and did it change you as a person?
Lola Plaku: I still haven’t overcome it. The biggest obstacle in my opinion is getting paid what you deserve, or getting your dues. I can only speak from personal experience, and personally I love to see others succeed. I have no problem putting my relationships to use for the benefit of someone else because it genuinely makes me happy to see someone I like, respect or support be successful. The problem is that most people don’t turn around and say ‘Oh hey remember when you helped me? Well I owe you this much from that relationship you helped develop,’ unless they’re obligated to do so by a binding contract.
Unfortunately I have always worked with people out of genuine friendships and respect and haven’t stopped to get my “friends” to sign contracts or agreements with me over a phone call I’ve made or an e-mail I’ve sent. And the problem when handling all your business yourself is that a lot of the times you can’t ask for money upfront because your so called “friends” are going to be like ‘What? You’re going to charge me just to get someone on my record…I thought we were homies. Forget you then.’ And just like that they’ll never fuck with you again. And some people might be like but ‘That’s not a true friend’…and yes obviously that’s true. But most people in this business are not your friends…but once you make them feel like they are, they feel it’s okay to ask you to do favors as a friend.
I think in the earlier stages of my career it was a little bit easier because I didn’t know everybody as well so it was easier for me to say ‘This is what I charge and this is how it is,’ but now, knowing people in certain positions, you want to have those relationships, you want to maintain your relationship so you feel bad to say ‘Show me the money.’ You want your work to speak for itself. I still have to overcome being able to send out invoices.
BP: That’s actually really valuable advice. And, you’ve worked in quite a few major metropolises in America, so being a Canadian, how did you transition into the international market? What’s you’re favourite city to work in?
LP: New York. Well…no…New York. And Toronto. I love Toronto. I was able to assist a lot of international artists to gain a fanbase in the Canadian market and that’s what allowed me to present myself in their respective markets. I was then able to go to Atlanta or L.A. or New York and bring whatever I was doing in Toronto back to where the artist was from. I built those relationships and that kind of got me popular and introduced me to a lot of people in whatever market the artist I was working with what in.
Perfect example; I lived in Atlanta for a few months in 2008. During my time there I got a chance to see a lot of artists and check out some great shows. I went to an underground show at Lenny’s bar and Yelawolf was performing. I thought he was great and I wrote a review about him in The Smoking Section – a blog I used to contribute to at the time – and that mattered to him because it was the early stages of his career. I still have a great relationship with him and his team, which is why we did an in-store appearance with him in 2010 and then two shows, in collaboration with Union Events in 2012. During that same time in Atlanta B.o.B had just started to bubble. I saw him perform at the Underground and I thought he was absolutely amazing. I did an interview with him for an Australian magazine and he was like “Oh my God, this is a great interview! You know so much about me,” and I kept in touch with him and his management since.
BP: You’re definitely on the pulse of what’s hot. You brought A$AP Rocky to Toronto, you brought French Montana and gave the Weeknd shine. How do you know what’s going to pop off before the rest of the world?
LP: I like to see live shows and that’s the same thing I was doing with B.o.B. and Yelawolf. I think it has a lot to do with knowing people – I know a lot of tastemakers and I know people who are in the industry who are fans of the music as well. A lot of the times I’ll be put on to something by the people I keep around me. When I was in Atlanta, I knew somebody who said “Yelawolf is great, go see his show.” I didn’t just pop up at Lenny’s bar, somebody suggested it. When I saw him I thought he was awesome and I used my personal judgment to write about him.
Before The-Dream blew up in Canada I saw him in Atlanta and I wrote about him in The Smoking Section as well. When I came back to Toronto, everyone was playing The-Dream but I’d already written about him and talked about him from when I was in Atlanta. I think I have done three interviews with The-Dream since. I travel to these cities and I know people in certain cities and they’ll be like ‘Hey, my homey is making dope music, you should check it out,’ and I’ll check them out and be like ‘Oh my God, they’re great!’
I was the first person to bring Big Sean to Toronto three years ago. In 2010 I had just done an iChat session interview with him and his manager at the time told me about a show they were doing in New York City at S.O.B.’s the next day. I literally jumped on the latest Greyhound from Toronto, got to New York in the morning, watched the performance and then jumped on the Greyhound again at 7 o’clock in the morning and came back to Toronto.
After seeing Sean perform at S.O.B.’s I thought he was amazing and I wanted to do a show with him in Toronto. I actually asked several people to partner on that show with me – since it was my first real concert – and a lot of people said ‘No, you’re not going to sell tickets, he’s not popping; he’s not that popular.’ I didn’t care – I was going to do it because I thought he was good and when he came here shit was crazy.
A lot of times the industry and media are late on to what’s hot. Sometimes it’s just fans discovering artists themselves and creating enough hype about them by talking about them that it draws attention. Sometimes fans gravitate towards an artist before the media gravitates towards the artist. Honestly for me it’s just knowing and seeing the interaction between a fan and an artist and knowing that it’s going to be long lasting. That’s what makes me want to work with an artist, being able to say ‘You know what? You’ve got next.’
I think that’s how a lot of my concerts have happened though. Someone has put me on to an artist – I’ve believed in the movement, formed a genuine relationship and then taken it to the next level. My friend Ebony put me on to Trinidad Jame$ in October of 2012 and immediately I asked if I could do his first New York City show. I flew to Atlanta later that month for the A$AP Mob tour and convinced Rocky to bring him out as a surprise guest during his set. His management and I spoke briefly about my request to do the show – why I felt I was the best person to do his first live show in New York, etc., and when they heard what I brought to the table they agreed to let me do the show. The Trinidad Jame$ New York City concert is still an event that’s talked about in New York. That was my first ILUVLOLA production in New York and we had people like Kevin Liles and Joie “IE” Manda and Shawn “Pecas” Costner and Trey Songz, to Busta Rhymes, to A$AP Rocky and every who’s who in the city show up at the door not knowing who to ask for and how to get in. The only reason that show went down was because someone I knew wanted me to know about him and I believed in their vision and together we created something remarkable.
BP: Those are pretty epic stories.
LP: All these stories have one thing in common. Great relationships. I have taken the time to listen to an artist because of who has told me about them and the artist has believed that I could carry out the vision for their brand because they or someone around them has trusted me to be able to do so. French Montana – who is currently one of my clients was introduced to me circa 2007 from my very good friend Rick Steel who is an incredible producer in New York City and who I have known for a very long time. He introduced me to French when he had just started to rap and was producing the Cocaine City DVD’s at the time and I’ve paid attention to him since.
In August of 2011 I wanted to bring French to Toronto. Everybody told me that I was crazy – ‘He’s not gonna sell out, he’s never been here, he’s gonna have trouble getting across the border, you’re not going to be able to do it.’ And I said ‘Nope! I wanna do it, I don’t care.’ And I literally dealt with French directly every day to make that show happen. I flew to Atlanta and took him to lunch and went over our contract and how everything was going to go down and we got on the same page. He knew I was for real and gave me his word he really wanted to make this happen so we just worked really hard and in November 2011 we pulled off an amazing convert together. I have been working with French since and I currently handle his booking and touring.
It’s just always been about knowing the right people, keeping my ears open and just paying attention to what’s going on in the streets…that’s where it all really starts, where the true fans are.