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TheBasement seeks to reinvigorate artist development

TheBasement seeks to reinvigorate artist development
Upstart soul singer TeaMarrr performs at TheBasement on Sep. 27. Produced by A&R executive Ericka Coulter, TheBasement aims to create a space for up-and-coming talent to get exposure. (Christine Jane Armosilla)

Not a thing in sight tipped off guests that they had arrived at TheBasement, an invitation-only live event series aiming to reinvigorate artist development and discovery.

There were no spotlights. No velvet rope. No suited bouncer or frazzled publicist scanning a guest list. No snarled line of pretty people impatiently awaiting entry.

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And that’s exactly the point. If you know how to get here, you’re supposed to be here.

Anchored in a rather unremarkable studio off Pico Boulevard, TheBasement is largely a secret.

Part artist showcase, part social gathering, the bimonthly event has become one of the music industry’s most exclusive creative hubs for aspiring and rising musicians to be seen by label executives, A&R reps, producers, songwriters, managers and publicists.

In simpler terms, it’s one of the few places in L.A. where an artist can actually catch a break.

“If I’m a new artist, how are people supposed to see me? And if I’m an executive trying to find new talent, where can I go?” said A&R executive Ericka Coulter, who produces the series through her Instor3 management company.

“When I go to Atlanta, I know there’s always something going on that a new artist is performing at. In New York, there’s going to be a speakeasy I go to late where someone is singing,” she said. “But in L.A., I felt like that was missing.”

Frustrated by the lack of platforms for fresh talent to get exposure to the industry — particularly for R&B and hip-hop upstarts — Coulter launched TheBasement last year.

Its inaugural installment played to an audience of 75. Now more than 300 people come out to the event.

The concept is straightforward. A handful of artists are handpicked to perform, and they aren’t announced until the day of.

Coulter knows the age of streaming has made it easier for artists to launch themselves without needing the infrastructure of a traditional label. But what hasn’t changed is the need for artists to develop their artistry before stepping into the spotlight. With labels spending less time — and money — developing artists, it’s easy for acts to blow their shots.

The laid-back, private vibe of TheBasement makes for a low-pressure incubator for talent who can get immediate feedback from industry players.

“When you’re trying to launch an artist, the dream is you put a record out and it grows. But there are key tastemakers in this room and they will talk. For a small indie label like us, that’s invaluable,” said Tyler Bacon, founder of Position Music, who came to last month’s installment to catch his artist TeaMarrr — a jazzy soul singer he hadn’t seen perform live but signed solely on the strength of her demo.

TheBasement founder Ericka J. Coulter addresses the crowd during last month's installment of the secret industry showcase.
TheBasement founder Ericka J. Coulter addresses the crowd during last month's installment of the secret industry showcase. (Christine Jane Armosilla)

Coulter — an industry veteran — didn’t want the series to be a typical showcase or a party where guests are far more interested in the open bar than any of the music (“There’s enough of that out there,” she said with a laugh).

For her, the goal was to cultivate a creative space that can serve as a one-stop shop for performers. This is the place where artists — signed and unsigned — can find a label or brand partner, representation or their next record in a relaxed atmosphere devoid of the haves and the have-nots culture that turns industry functions into stuffy, formal affairs.

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“As much as there’s a lot of unsigned artists out there, there are a lot of artists signed to labels that you still don’t know about. TheBasement is really another way of artist development,” Coulter said.

“Either you’re ready and you’re just trying to get in front of the right people or you might not be ready yet and you’re trying to find the right people — a manager, a brand, a publicist, a producer,” she continued. “This is the room where you should be able to level up.”

TheBasement’s most recent installment boasted its first all-female lineup, which included Philly rapper Bri Steves, electro-soul singer QUIÑ, London-bred R&B chameleon Taliwhoah and TeaMarrr.

“I’m one of those people who doesn’t know what’s hot,” said TeaMarrr, whose fiery showing received a rousing ovation, much to the delight of her indie label. “I just love to perform. If you’re telling me there are people in the room that are executives or can do something for me, that’s not what I’m thinking about — I just want to deliver the gift I have to whoever will listen.”

With just seven installments under its belt, TheBasement has already yielded some impressive results for some of the artists who have appeared there.

Dallas rapper Asian Doll signed to Gucci Mane’s 1017 Records shortly after her performance in March, and Kansas City rapper Jooby Truth landed an endorsement deal with Basement brand partner Dutch Masters after his performance in May, which led to him getting booked for the BET Experience this summer and opening slots for Nipsey Hussle and Rick Ross.

Coulter’s ambitions for the series go beyond showcasing talent. She wants to transition TheBasement into a full creative agency for artists, and plans are underway to stage the series more frequently now that it has grown.

“We are really trying to bring back the ‘art’ of artist development,” she said.

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