Tommy Banks talks passion, marketing, upcoming artists, and building a brand
As pop culture grows day by day, a sizeable portion of media coverage focuses solely on the rap scene. However, Tommy Banks has a different vision—he’s here to put R&B back on the radar. Around the age of 25, Tommy Banks began to realize that his love for R&B was much stronger than his liking for rap. Realizing that he had the chance to put his passion for R&B to work and defy the odds by showing us that R&B is still very much present, Tommy created RnB Radar. In our interview, the Toronto native explains his strong vision for RnB Radar, how he wants to help artists grow a platform from his niche fan base, the needs for artist to get to that next level, and how this past year was one for the books.
After sitting down with Tommy and picking his brain, I can say that even though he has a lot on his plate, he has what it takes to be great in all aspects—building an R&B empire, putting out polished content, helping artists out, conducting interviews, and most importantly, being a father. A couple weeks ago, I got to interview R&B mogul Tommy Banks and learn about his journey with RnB Radar.
Nick: Tell me a little bit about yourself, your journey with the music industry, and RnB Radar.
Tommy: Well, I'm originally from Toronto. I got into the music industry when I was in college; I started working for a couple of record labels and a couple of local publications. They were mostly all rap-based; there wasn't any R&B publications. So, I just went into rap and I hated it. I won't fucking lie. I'm an R&B enthusiast at heart. So, being in rap—especially the era we were in—it wasn't like a lot of the rap that I grew up with. It was a bunch of the newer rap that I wasn't a big fan of. So, that was a lot of me just interviewing people. I didn't want to interview or do articles on people who I didn't really want to do it on. So, I started talking to people who I was working with, and I was like, “I want to start covering R&B.” I remember one of the people said, “R&B is dead.” Then I was like, “Bet.” He was like, “Yeah, it's not viable. We're not gonna get clicks on this stuff,” and I was like, “Alright,” in my head.
I felt like that was wrong, because I know a lot of people like R&B and talk about R&B a lot; I can see the community that's there. So, I was about to turn like 25. And I was like, “Okay, I need to do my own platform. I need to do something that houses R&B and proves that R&B is viable; it's still something that people tune into and care about.” That's when I came up with RnB Radar, but at the time, we called it RnB Vice. That lasted like a week until Vice hit me up. They're like, “You can't be RnB Vice.” Yeah, that was true. That's when I met my now-wife; we were just spitballing what we should call it. We came up with so many different names, and she kept on saying it had to be an alliteration; there had to be an R and R. We thought of RnB Radar, and we're like, “Yeah, that's the one.” It started off as a playlist; it was a Spotify playlist that I just threw R&B on. I started seeing people every time I reached out to an artist that had been looking for R&B playlists to get on. I was like, “Okay, so people really want this shit. And they need it.” So, I was like, “Okay, I need to expand; I need to do more.” I started thinking about what I wanted RnB Radar to be.
Essentially, anyone who has a platform is creating a community around their interest. So, whatever you're interested for your platform, your brand is usually something like that. And if people draw into it, you make a community around it. I started reaching out to more and more artists, getting more connections, networking with them, and started reaching out to more curators and more people who love R&B just as much as me. I just kept on going until we kept on seeing followers and people come in and respect what we were doing.
Your growth over 2020 was pretty crazy to watch. Especially because I started following RnB Radar at the beginning of quarantine when I was really locking in on music. So, I’ve watched the whole thing. My next question is, “What was the turning point that made you realize that RnB Radar is really something?”
Oh, I hated this year. But this was also like the best year of my life, simply because everything became digital. Everything just got pushed onto Instagram and Twitter and websites and all this shit. So, everyone started gravitating towards RnB Radar. But it wasn't until artists that I really, really love and respect were hitting me up asking me for help. When that happened, I was like, “Holy fucking shit. Like, I'm actually doing something and people care about it and they're buying in.” That's the thing that I really pride myself on. When I get to see artists and they fuck with what we're doing and they love our brand, that's what matters to me the most. So, when I saw that happen, I was like, “Okay, we have something. Let me go full force,” and it really started blowing up and getting bigger. From January to September is when I saw the most growth.
You're really putting R&B back on the radar. I mean, everything I see R&B-wise is mostly coming from you, even though I follow so many other platforms. One question I do have since you're a big R&B guy: if you could curate your own modern version of Destiny's Child, which three artists would you pick?
Oh, that's crazy. That's a great question. I'll probably make SZA one of them. Could it just be a group?
Yeah, it could be a group.
Okay. I'll put SZA, and then I'll get Noname—she can be like our Lisa Left Eye that raps and all that shit. Who else would I want? Shit. Maybe Summer Walker. I think Summer Walker, Noname, and SZA would be a nice group.
That's fire. Yeah, dude, that would be tough. One thing I want to ask you about is your platform. The first thing I remember is that I was on the live for Monday submissions, and you were just playing mad songs; there were some really talented artists in there. When a good one would come on, you'd be slamming the memes. How do you find a happy medium between new release posts and meme/fan engagement posts on RnB Radar?
See, that's the hardest part for me. Because when I look at other genres like rap, their platforms are doing amazing because they kill it at the meme game, but they also have a lot of content. That's because rappers drop content like every fucking day; they always have something new that they're doing. With R&B artists, you have to wait. That's why I try my hardest to know as many artists as possible. I always feel like I'm plugging in artists, but I try to make it like a three-to-one ratio. So, for every four posts, three of them would be new artists that I'm trying to put on, and one post would be a meme. The reason for that is because I still want the whole thing to be about putting people on your radar. It's fun to laugh and shit like that, but I also want to help put on artists. I try to make sure that's my main thing, but I tried to mesh it all together. So, it's fun. R&B is supposed to be fun. People always act like it's supposed to be like, “Oh, we're in our feelings and we're crying,” but it can be funny, too.
What are three things that can take an artist to the level of being that next up-and-coming artist?
Number one is a solid team. Once I see an artist that has a good manager, and a group of people around them that are helping them with pitching and getting them on the right distro deals and the right playlisting, I'm like, “Okay, they have like the right engine behind them.” Then it comes down to their branding, because you can be the most talented person in the world, but if you don't have the brand, no one's gonna want to listen to you. Like they're not going to click it. You have to have that branding down. Then the third thing is the elevation of your music. There's a point where you have to take it to the next level; your production needs to be more full, your lyrics need to be a little bit better, your vocals need to be taken somewhere. You have to really put a nice body of work out. So I think those like the three things that you need to take you to the next level.
What do you guys have in store for 2021? Anything big? You're more than welcome to promote whatever you got.
Yeah, we got a few things. We have our website finally launching January 8; we're finally gonna have interviews with R&B artists. We're gonna have an RnB Radar podcast where we interview really dope artists; we have a bunch of dope artists lined up that I can't wait to announce. I can't wait to put people on; they're going to see them in a different light.
Watch the complete interview here
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