by Adam Meghji
For a 20 year old hip hop head living in Waterloo, it seemed like a decent idea at the time: get University co-op credit, establish a foothold in Toronto’s hip hop and drum & bass scenes, and launch a platform to promote a mixtape I was about to release. What I didn’t realize was the single largest impact it would leave on my social, entrepreneurial, and personal life. I’m a sucker for birthdays, so many years later I’m looking back fondly on where we were at 10 years ago.
A little backstory: before the term “blog” existed, Prakash Surapaneni and I were pushing a chronological online magazine and forum for our talented friends to showcase their work. Honestly, at first it was a struggle getting everyone online, and helping some artists create their Hotmail account so they could attach profile photos But in the end, we launched, and formed a tightly knit community of artists who used our platform to showcase themselves internationally. Our “Earwaks Fam” were posting their own DJ mixes, amazing video pieces, photo galleries, event photos, and tons of high-profile artist interviews and homegrown content on the daily.
Meanwhile, our forums picked up speed, with a few thousand visitors a day at its peak (mostly regulars and returning visits). The forums became the promotional basis for weekly and monthly events in Toronto, Kitchener-Waterloo, Guelph, and Cambridge for about 5 years. Between the events and the forums, it was a fun time
A little while later, Prakash and I hustled hard on launching the online Earwaks Store and stepping up the business side and shipping t-shirts, vinyl, and CDs. Shortly after, we launched one of Canada’s only digital music stores, selling downloadable tracks worldwide for $2, a whole year before the iTunes Store existed. We’re pretty proud of that, and it was exciting to build something that hadn’t really been done before, which was also fully automated making money for our artists.
Fast forward a bit, and we started getting a small stream of ad revenue from promo campaigns, had expanded into a studio at 358 Dufferin to facilitate content creation / interviews, partnered up with the brilliant minds of Ryan Paterson and Che Kothari, and launched the 4th version (complete rewrite) of our web app. Our team also expanded and included many, many passionate and talented contributors, photographers, interviewers, and editors, most of whom are still our homies until day. Manifesto (who turns 6 today as well!) was spawned from this same creative energy and talent in 358, and continues to flourish through the Manifesto festival and worldwide community initiatives — pretty remarkable accomplishments, and big impact much love.
In the end, Earwaks was successful in giving DJs, emcees, producers, graff writers, and break dancers an online presence and way to showcase their work, before the tools became available for artists to host themselves online. We didn’t always have WordPress sites, iTunes purchases, Soundcloud hosting, Bandcamp downloads, Facebook pages, and Twitter accounts so 10 years ago, we made our own. It worked out pretty well, I think.
We’ve all since moved on to other ventures, startups, and passions, but the experience was definitely the single-most valuable learning experience a young entrepreneur and hungry hungry hip hop head could have asked for. It was also the first database-driven web application I’d ever built — a fact which sort of blows my mind today, because I had other career aspirations at the time, but I guess I kept building them for the next decade funny how that works, sometimes.
Thanks to everyone that was along for the ride! The Earwaks fam, the forum peeps, event regulars, site contributors .. the quality of the online community we built was impressive. We had fun, and I learned a ton.
So, what can we build together in the next 10 years? Until then ..
Happy birthday, Earwaks