By: Ali Shana
Dylan Houghton is a living example that with good intentions and some work ethic, anyone can beat their said ‘assigned’ fate. The 22 year old independent A&R, former manager, and effortlessly hilarious internet personality currently resides in L.A. Here, he continues to network and take steps towards his end goal career as a major label A&R, perhaps having his own imprint on a record label. However, this was not the path Houghton had chosen for himself initially.
I chose to interview Houghton because he solely introduced a new style of music to me and my peers through the internet. What some have pegged as ‘emo rap’ is still a relatively new phenomenon and is especially new to the midwest. This is not to be confused with simply emotional rap, which has been around for decades. This style of music, especially championed by Lil Peep but also Ok To Cry, smrtdeath and many others, is derived from a nostalgic feel of emo music. Bands like UnderOath, Three Days Grace and The Postal Service have all been sampled in this new wave of music. Lyrically, the content is more blatantly vulnerable, this time in a way that most millennials can connect with. The sadness portrayed by these artists had nothing to do with street struggles and more to do with heartbreak and unasked for depression.
More so, Houghton introduced the non-gender conforming artist smrtdeath, also known as Sethany. It was through his heavy promotion of the artist that I finally checked out his work. At the time, I was surprised to see a rap artist with long dyed hair and long painted fingernails. Even the tiles of smrtdeath’s songs, such as ‘let my broken heart take the wheel’, reminded me of the longer titles of bands like Taking Back Sunday and Fall Out Boy. A few years ago, I asked Houghton about this artist and discovered he was then managing him. We kept in contact over the years and I watched him influence several emo rappers musical success.
Houghton was originally born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin to a sizable family burdened by the stock market crash. After taking four years of Japanese in high school, and studying abroad in Japan, Houghton studied the language for one year before having to drop out due to lack of funds. “Growing up, my dad was working 3 jobs. My mom was working 50 hours a week just to keep me and my siblings alive,” says Houghton. “I’m still paying off student loans for only a year worth of school.”
However, this experience sparked a bit of soul searching that made Houghton and admirable figure with an interesting life story - so much so that I asked to sit down with him and discuss that journey.
Over the last few years, Houghton has worked with artists such as smrtdeath, Lil Lotus, taxpurposes, and more. He describes his current role in music as “a supporting and independent A&R where I’m not working with labels and helping artists move their craft along.”
All the people Houghton has worked with are really his friends, which makes it easier to market their music. But the whole process of making these friendships usually starts with simply liking one’s music or their tweets - internet relationships are essential to his success. That and staying incredibly dedicated to these platforms. He’s had his twitter account since 2009, almost 10 years now. He had 100 followers just a year and half ago. Houghton constantly tweets funny thoughts and memes, some tweets going so viral they land a story in Vice News.
“With artists like smrtdeath, taxpurposes, Lil Lotus, and Macho Randy, I found them online,” says Houghton. “When I found smart death, he was was under 1,000 followers on every social media account. I found his video in my YouTube suggestions and I liked it - everyone starts out as a stranger at some point.”
Before working as a manager, Dylan worked with various blogs. The loveable media man claims it was around this time that his brand started gaining more exposure, people knew he could provide them with something.
When Houghton started managing, though, he had connections that were more than blogs and people wanted to work with him specifically. “I still get emails everyday with links to their music. Maybe a few years ago I’d gladly help out a stranger who took this approach,” says Houghton. “Now if someone wants consultation work done or advice, I charge for that.”
In the Q&A below, we discuss Houghton’s story and insight as a former manager, social media genius, and now independent A&R. Although these things are significant and come with stories of their own, there was a more serious reason I decided to interview Dylan Houghton.
Houghton’s job led him to a very famous, some have stated essential, podcaster and tastemaker in the underground hiphop scene, Adam22. The podcast ‘No Jumper’ got its massive following due to his niche market of underground rap and overall internet celebrity interviews. Adam also owns a successful BMX store and clothing brand called ‘ONSOMESHIT.’
Right around the time Adam was talking to Atlantic Records for an A&R position himself, a woman (and now several more women) came out with multiple allegations, ranging from rape, online harassment, and sex with a minor. It may seem like second nature to the average person to stop supporting this man and his efforts, but countless rappers and fans turn their heads. Houghton not only stopped supporting Adam, who he had developed a friendship with, he blatantly called him out to his thousands of followers. He could have remained silent and seriously benefitted from that connection, but Houghton’s priorities are in place. I have the utmost respect for his morals, which he regularly incorporates into his tweets.
Whether Houghton realizes it or not, he is an influencer. He was completely comfortable with being asked and quoted on this topic. That portion of the Q&A will conclude this feature. Again, Houghton is a living example that with good intentions and work ethic, anyone can beat their said “assigned” fate.
Who have you managed?
Originally I managed smrtdeath and Lil Lotus. My run was Lotus was brief, but it was a great time. I started managing Lotus November of 2017 and stopped February of 2018. During that time, his social media presence popped off from various things - we had just did the video for body bag, played Emo Night Festival in L.A. with Lil Aaron and smrtdeath, as well as the Nothing Nowhere tour. But unofficially, I’ve helped a lot of people reach their immediate goals, things more attainable in a month or two. Especially taxpurposes, one of my best friends throughout all this. I’ve helped him sell beats to others to a good degree. I feel producers are often underappreciated, and normally it’s hard to dish off beats to people.
I feel that!
Yeah, and when you have an ‘in’ with someone, it’s easier to get beats to that person. The first time I heard taxpurposes it was the song ‘CAVE’ by Kenny Hoopla. I loved the song and instrumental so much I immediately message him after and said I wanted to help him get bigger because you’re genuinely good. Right after that, we did a song called ‘let it bleed’, him and smrtdeath.
At this point that you were helping out taxpurposes, how long had you been managing smrtdeath?
This was four months after I started managing smrtdeath. Taxpurposes was also featured on smrtdeath’s EP ‘sethany.’ I also got him on a smrtdeath x Coldhart song and a smrthdeath x Slug Christ song. So all in all, independently, I’ve helped out a number of artists, some local some not.
A lot of the artists you’ve listed, and even artists I’ve seen you support on Twitter, are similar to you. They built their brand and utilized the web. Of course, with the internet, record labels don’t mean as much as they used to.
Right, and I have a love-hate relationship with labels. They’re useful for marketing...if you wanna break it down, labels are a bank. A loan. You’re not making any money off of them. It’s a loan you’re gonna have to pay back.
That’s crazy...but the advance?
The advance is what draws artist in. Unless you’re a charting, viral artists doing crazy numbers. But artists sign because they think they’re going to get a bunch of money - no. Your music has to repay advance, and if you don’t you’re just fucked.
So from your experience, what would you suggest to upcoming artists.
Stay independent as long as you can. Unless you get a fat check from a label where you don’t have to re-coop. Another thing to keep in mind is distribution. A lot of artists are making money these days through distribution deals with Empire.
And until them, anyone can utilize the internet.
Oh, absolutely! I’m a prime example of that, not even an artists, just a brand. I’ve made all the connections I have over the years purely off the internet. From time to time I’ve found myself starstruck. Getting flown to New York by 300 entertainment, Emo Night Festival, everyone I’ve worked with - these are all due to internet relationships. Internet relationships put me in L.A., because who the fuck comes to Wisconsin? Only person from here that’d be exciting to meet would be Sexual Jumanji, and even him I met through the internet.
What kind of music are you’re into?
That’s an interesting question, I’m actually all over the board. Let me pull up my Spotify right now - Moses, Oliver Francis, Oliver Tree, Blockboy JB, Soul Low, Lil B, Lil Pump - I’m all over the board! More recently I’ve been trying to get my bearings towards pop music because that’s what sells. I know that people like to think music is about the lyrics, it’s not. No matter what you think, music is about how it sounds, how it makes you feel.
Right, if something sounds bad, it doesn’t matter how great it is lyrically.
Exactly, exactly. Look at ‘Gucci Gang’, it’s gotten 3 times more plays than ‘Tiny Dancer’ by Elton John. Half the song is him saying “Gucci Gang!” The song has more plays than Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’, ‘Don’t Break My Heart’ and ‘Tiny Dancer’ all put together. If you watch the video of Bighead breaking down how he made the ‘Gucci Gang’ beat, it’s simple. And I think that speaks volumes.
Alright, alright. All these artists you’ve worked with. The people you associate with make a certain style of music. How’d this whole thing start.
It’s funny, actually! I heard ‘Beamer Boy’ by Lil Peep and I was just so taken aback at how different it was to anything I’ve ever heard at that point. I saw him live February 2017, same time I met that asshole Adam22. And so I started looking for more music like that...I mean, what people call “rap” now, that’s subjective and rightfully so. In my opinion, people who create what is now called “emo rap”, they have bars but they aren’t rapping. It’s singing for the most part.
Yessir, melody and cadence.
Exactly. So I found Lil Peep, from there I heard It’s Ok To Cry. At the time I was writing for blogs doing 8-10 posts a day, so I was really looking for new music. Specifically, music like that, very experimental and new.
Is putting on new artists important to you?
Oh, extremely! I know the market right now is oversaturated with new artists, but they’re talented. And I feel good helping new artists prosper.
You’ve been to L.A. four times. I know one of those four times you met Adam22 of the No Jumper podcast. It’s evident that you and your friends, people like Lil Aaron, had a pretty good relationship with the guy. These allegations against Adam started coming about, recently, around the time Adam was looking to become an A&R himself. You chose to speak out against multiple times to your audience - a niche of people who listen to underground rap, who clearly know of No Jumper - and I admire that you’re willing to take that risk in a career based on networking.
Ethics are incredibly important to me, and Adam is a prime example. I ran into him completely by luck, really. I was at the ONSOMESHIT store in February of 2017, at the time I was writing for Daily Chiefers and Elevator. Elevator had just done some sort bio/introduction type video on who Adam is. He knew of both publications I was working with, and so I met him. Through that, I put him onto the artists I had been working with.
Right, I remember seeing the picture of you two at the time on Twitter.
Yea exactly, that happened while I was in his store, I’m in one of his blogs...I don’t like to talk about it much. I don’t want to be associated with that. I don’t care for anything he’s said or done in the last year and even before that. In my head, I knew everything he was saying was just wrong. At the time I wanted to further myself, having a relationship with him is very beneficial. But it’s not worth people thinking I’m a bad person.
I don’t want to use terms ‘allegations’ anymore. At this point, so many people have come forward and talked about things he had done. How can it still be an allegation? If you’ve got 30 people claiming you sexually assaulted them, or whatever the case may be, one of them has to be telling the truth.
It’s upsetting to watch fans of his show say these girls are “clout chasing” when they’ve made these allegations anonymously. How could this be a matter of clout?
I know, look, you gotta look out. Because you can’t give these people power. They’re gunna keep running with you if you don’t stop them. When we heard about this, me and even my friends working for No Jump, Kash and Sam, they quit. You can’t justify working with a known predator. Not only Adam22, but also Yung Goth, for example. He has hundreds of allegations against him. It’s important to put these people in check. It may not do anything to tarnish they’re reputation, but maybe they’ll change as people.
You’re really looking at the big picture of the situation, I respect that.
Well I’m not trying to take away anyone’s platform, I’m trying to stop them. Because...why would you? Why wouldn’t you want someone to stop raping others - even if you run with this guy or whatever - you wouldn’t let someone else get away with something like that, why would you make an exception for a stranger. I just want to make a statement now: I wholeheartedly do not rock with No Jumper. I did once, never again. If you are someone I know, and you rock with him, or any predator, or don’t like what I’m saying, unfollow me. I don’t care about a relationship with anyone who can’t be a decent human being.