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Sam Lachow is a producer, songwriter, rapper, videographer, director, and editor of video and music. Based in Seattle, WA, Sam began making music in middle school and has built a career for himself as a musician. In this interview, he shares the book that helped him learn how to write music without substances, how he has found his place within the music industry, and lots more. Here’s his story!
Tell us who you are and what you are currently working on.
My name is Sam Lachow and I’m a rapper. Currently, I have an album that I’ve been working on for about two and a half years, and it’s my best work yet. It’s finished, but we haven’t put it out yet due to COVID and what’s going on in the world today. We’re waiting for an appropriate time to start marketing that, and in the meantime, I’m working on new music.
Give us a brief overview of your journey from high school to today. How did you get here?
It all started in about sixth grade. It was around the time that GarageBand came out and I was rapping a bunch. Those two things coincided at the same time and I was able to put my ideas onto a computer. They all sounded terrible, but I was learning something.
In seventh or eighth grade, my friends and I started a group called ShankBone. It was kind of a joke but we were passionate about it. We were just having a blast making rap music. We even started selling it throughout the school and that continued as we all went to high school together.
I remember around eleventh grade, we went to a party and they were playing ShankBone and it wasn’t even a party from our school. That was the first time we realized, “Whoa! Maybe we have something here!” We thought it was just our friends that listened to it as a fun thing.
Then, after high school, we all kind of went our separate ways. We are all still best friends to this day, but I was the only one that continued with music and art as my main focus. I met a guy and he convinced me to go solo and do the “Sam Lachow” thing. At first, I wasn’t really into it, but I tried it out, and ever since that’s what I’ve been doing. It was about 5 years ago that making music really started making me a living.
Can you tell us about some of the different music you’ve put out?
It’s been a long journey. It started with an album called Brand New Bike that I started working on it when I was 18 or 19 and it came out when I was 20 or 21. That album was all fun, happy music because that’s where I was in life. It was fun rap music, about partying, hanging out with my friends, growing up from a kid into an adult, and other stuff like that.
The next album, Huckleberry, was my biggest album. We did a Kickstarter campaign to launch it. We were trying to raise $10,000 and I think we raised around $30,000 and we were able to make the whole album independently which is pretty expensive for studio time, shooting music videos, everything else.
Around that point, we were almost going to sign to a label and we decided not to because we were able to successfully use Kickstarter. The label was trying to take 60%, which didn’t make sense. In retrospect, I think because I stayed independent, it’s the reason I’m able to pay my bills and continue making music now. But on the other hand, it’s also sort of halted me from going to that extra step. So right now, we are looking into partnering up with a big company to see where we can take this.
Then I continued making EPs and I eventually made a project called Friends, Funk & Liquor that’s one of my favorites. I made it during a time where I was just partying my ass off and I was in a weird place in life.
After that, my drug problems got really bad. I made a project called Play Pretend, which is sort of the opposite of Friends, Funk & Liquor. It’s sort of the dark side of all that partying and all that self-centeredness and the hedonistic lifestyle I was living.
After Friends, Funk & Liquor, I began working on the project that I’m finished with now. It’s sort of a mixture of coming out of that world, getting sober, and also reflecting on the world I was in. It’s sort of my whole journey up until now in this new project.
What does growth mean to you?
Growth to me has been everything this year. I have grown more in the last maybe 6 months than the last 10 years because I finally escaped that lifestyle of men that are in my field where drug use, partying, and sex are glorified.
It had kind of become my life, but you can’t sustain that forever. You either die or you’ve got to grow up. It has been a beautiful thing that I made it out alive and have been able to gain all this wisdom and start figuring out what life is all about. As long as I’m growing, I’m going to keep doing this. Once the music stops evolving and growing, I’m going to lose the passion for it, but right now, I’m still learning and growing every day.
Is there a piece of media that has been particularly impactful for you and helped you on your journey?
There is a book that’s called The Artist’s Way. It is amazing. It’s written by this woman who was an alcoholic but had a successful career as a writer. She always wrote while drinking, which was similar to my writing process of a glass of whiskey and maybe a bag of blow. Then, at a certain point, she realized that the alcohol was going to kill her but she wanted to keep writing so she had to figure out how to continue writing without the substances. She figured it out and she wrote a whole book about it. It’s very spiritual and it has helped countless artists.
I’m really lucky I found it. It’s about accessing all of that creativity without substances. It’s a little bit heavy into meditation and patience, not expecting things to come too fast, letting it happen slowly, and getting out of your own way.
How do you think about mentorship? Do you have any mentors that have helped you and how did you start learning from them?
Professionally, I have a few. For example, Macklemore has helped me out. Also, a guy named Sol, who is a rapper in Seattle. He is really good and is a couple of years older than me. He figured out the independent grind and how to make a living before I did, and he has been so open to telling me all the tricks. There’s no competition. He tells me how to do it, and I try to mentor the younger kids as much as I can. I try to explain to them how to get your stuff on iTunes, how to make money from streaming, where to cut corners, how to not get screwed by the IRS, and stuff like that. Those are things that I’ve learned from my big homies–my mentors.
As far as my personal life, I don’t know if it’s really a mentor but in AA, you have a sponsor, and it’s basically the same thing. There’s a mentor that has been sober longer than you and teaches you how to live because you spent so many years not really knowing how to live without substances. You need someone. It’s pretty much all about reaching out for help.
I think mentorship is everything.
Can you talk about the importance of being creative while building?
I’m a creative. My dad is an artist. My mom is an artist. It’s just what came naturally to me. School didn’t come very naturally to me. I’m smart enough, so I was able to get passing grades, but I look at the world through creativity and art. I don’t really see the point of living if you don’t make art about it. So I had to figure out the art in building a business and having fun with the creative side and the marketing side of building a business.
It’s important to be grateful for what you have and make sure you are staying creative and having fun with it. If you are not having fun with it then who cares how much money you make? You’re not going to be happy. I learned that pretty early on that money doesn’t buy happiness. I’ve learned that the creative process is more important than the end result. Just enjoy the ride.
What principles have you used to be able to build a successful business in the very difficult music industry?
It’s tough because so much of it was not on purpose at all. Sometimes I take for granted the fact that I make a living doing what I love, but the reality is that it’s pretty rare. It’s getting less rare though. It used to be that there were straight up gatekeepers. If you weren’t signed to them and they weren’t taking all your money, you were never going to get seen or noticed.
Now, anyone can do it. You can make music at home, get it online, and as long as there are no samples, you can put it on Apple Music and Spotify and make some streaming money. It’s still hard because the streaming money is pretty low, but I started young and built a fanbase.
All my shows got canceled because of COVID, and it made me realized how big of a part of my career concerts are. If tickets are 20 bucks and there are 500 people at the show, it’s not exactly a ton of money, but if you’re touring–for example I did a tour that was 59 shows in 61 days–it’s a good chunk of change for a couple of months.
A lot of independent artists I know, make decent money on streaming and then do 2 or 3 tours a year and that pays for their year. A lot of artists make all their money off touring. I’m lucky that I do pretty well on streaming, so during this COVID crisis, I’ve lost a lot of money but still been okay.
How do you think about overcoming obstacles?
I think that an obstacle is the best thing that can happen to you. You need to fail as much as possible and it’s the hardest thing to do. I was so scared of failure and there was a point in my career where I kind of let drugs and stuff stop me from making music for a while. I felt like a failure, and I was so scared of failure that I almost wanted to quit rather than continue, rather than keep putting stuff out, which is just insane.
That’s something I learned with The Artist’s Way, is to stop being afraid to fail and just let yourself fail because every time you fail, you learn something. And once you fail, then you’re not scared anymore. You’re like, “All right. I failed. That kind of sucked, but I’m still alive and I only live once, let’s just keep making shit that I like to make and f*** them.” Once you get to that point, you’re unstoppable.
The crux of it all is that you need “the serenity to accept the things you can’t change, the courage to change the things you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” So you’ve got to ask yourself the question: “Is this thing that I’m stressed about or scared of, is this something I can control or not?” And if it’s not then don’t worry about it. Don’t let it consume you. Just keep up pushing.
If you had to give a one-minute keynote to our audience of builders, what would you tell them?
My main thing is to follow your passion. It’s pretty simple I guess. If the reason you are doing something is not that you enjoy it, but because you think it’s something you’re supposed to do–maybe your parents did it, maybe your teachers told you should do it but it’s not something you’re passionate about–it’s not going to lead to anything that you want.
I spent a long time thinking that I had to go to college, and I even started to go to college for a communications degree. I didn’t even know what that meant. I just thought that’s what you’re supposed to do, and I didn’t want to tell my grandmother that I’m going to be a rapper. I didn’t think it made sense to follow my passion.
But I think no matter what, helping people is sort of the best passion you can have. That’s what I try to do with my music. If you’re in it just for yourself and for selfish reasons, you’re not going to be happy. It’s got to be for something bigger than that.
Where can our readers find you and support you?
All my stuff is on Spotify. I’ve got a few new music videos out and I just put out a new song with Raz Simone called Ghost Town. I also just put out one of my favorite songs I’ve ever made and it’s called Fifteen Pennies. (Editor’s note: Listen to this one. It’s so rad.) And Lady Sunday, I love that one too. Those are all on my new album that comes out pretty soon.