Vinyl Revival: Meet the man behind a boutique Detroit hip-hop record label

Emcee and entrepreneur Ty Farris is sitting in Ferndale’s historic F.T.B. Studios, surrounded by history. The multi-million dollar studio is mostly known for being one of Eminem’s favorite recording workplaces but has also seen musical legends The Dramatics, D-12, and T.I. grace its recording booth.

“All the big dogs have been through here,” Farris says. 

Farris is the CEO of BarsOverBs; a boutique record label that partners with aspiring and established hip-hop artists to distribute their music via exclusive merchandising deals. He initially had the idea in 2014 and started releasing music under the imprint in 2016.

“Me and my man Famous was trying to develop a brand,” he says. "At that point, I just knew it would be smart to start branding ourselves […] the game is more about commerce and being able to sell physical merchandise."

Farris has been a mainstay on Detroit’s hip-hop scene for over 20 years with more than 30 projects under his belt. He’s worked with Apollo Brown, Conway the Machine, and Royce da 5’9 (just to name a few). In the mid-2000s he was signed to the record label Iron Fist Records (later Iron Fist Global), launched by Eminem's close associate DeShaun 'Proof' Holton, and Farris has witnessed the highs and lows of the music industry. 

“The hardest part was staying at it and not getting seen," says Farris. "Putting out projects back in the day there was no way to get out there without being on label. The only thing I had was a work ethic and persistence."

Proof and Eminem in Munich, Germany, in 1999. Photo: MikaV / Wikimedia Commons. Farris' stint with Iron Fist Records ended when Holton was gunned down in 2006. However, Holton had given Farris a template for running an independent label that he still follows.

“Proof was one of my main motivators because he was the one who believed in me,” Farris says. "I remember convos with him about being an independent label.  We had conversations about him taking his artists to Shady Records but he said, ‘No, I want to do it this way’. That always stuck in my mind."

Farris goes on to cite Holton's work ethic as an additional source of inspiration. 

“Everyday he woke up and wrote a list of things to do and he would do them all. On Tuesdays everybody who sent demos in — he would listen to them and he called them back with honest input. I do the same things when people submit music to me,” he adds. 

As an emcee, Farris has always considered himself a wordsmith who creates music on the boom-bap side of hip-hop. The kind of rapper that prides himself on lyrical dexterity, wordplay, and clever usages of metaphors and similes. His peers and fans would commonly say he had “bars” (a slang reference used to describe a lyrical rapper). Thus the name of his label was born.

“All I could do was rap really good so it just hit me;  BarsOverBs!”

The first official BarsOverBs was his album "Room 39". Farris continued to only release his own projects until he was confident he had built his infrastructure and fanbase up enough to be able to support other acts.

“I didn’t start working with other artists until last year. I didn't want to risk it. I didn’t want to risk not doing right by the other artists,” he says.

During that time period, Farris focused on building his brand. He used email lists, customer engagement, and social media to connect to as many fans as possible. He reached out to every customer after purchase and encouraged communication and feedback.

“When I first started I had like 10 people that would buy my CD,” he says. "Something just said all I needed to do was find 100 people that would buy my stuff every time I drop it. The hard part was trying to find those people. For the sound of what I was doing, I was one of the only ones. Just trying to find the audience that I knew was out there was challenging. I just didn’t have the understanding on how to find them at first."

Slowly but surely his target audience started to grow and that 100 patron benchmark was reached 10 times over. Farris discovered that his fanbase was not just interested in CDs; but cassettes and vinyl records as well.  

“If you can tap into that audience that's committed, there are a ton of vinyl collectors.  People don’t even know about the vinyl hysteria,” he says.

Dr. Kahlid El-Hakim is a historian and avid record collector who was once the vice president of Iron First Records.

“There’s a sense of nostalgia for those of us who grew up listening to records, to see them come back around, it's a feeling of nostalgia,” El-Hakim says.

The numbers back it up. Revenues from vinyl records grew 17% between 2021 to 2022, to $1.2 billion, according to a new report from the Recording Industry Association of America. For the first time since 1987, vinyl albums outsold CDs.

“The other reason is that having vinyl and having something that's in your hand, that's tangible versus something you just download is a different experience,” El-Hakim says. "Having the picture, the artwork in your hands, being able to read the studio it was recorded in, being able to read all the artists and engineers. To see that physically is different than seeing that on the screen. It's a more personal, more intimate relationship with the music and the artist."

Farris first collaboration deal to BarsOverBS was with Mickey Diamond, an emcee that had the same love and respect for lyrics as he has. In 2022 he released Diamond’s “Bangkok Dangerous Volume 1-3”.

“He was in the same realm of sound that I was into,” Farris says.  "We did a CD, a small run, and we sold out in 2 minutes. He’s not known in Detroit but he sells thousands of vinyl in minutes everywhere else."

Farris has gone on to do collaboration deals with 10 other artists. Every deal is structured the same, his merchandise deals consist of a profit split of physical sales only, not online sales or streams. CDs and cassettes sell for $25.00 and vinyl albums sell for $50.00. Farris receives over 30 monthly submissions from other artists looking to do merchandise deals with him. 

“I’m very upfront with the artists. I’m very transparent. They can see everything I paid for and I pay them right off the top,” he says.

Despite the never-ending changes within hip-hop music, Farris is staying dedicated to his brand.  He’s turned down profitable collaborations because they weren’t good fits for the sound he’s made BarsOverBs known for. He understands that the wealth of the label has been built within the sum of all the projects; not just one or two albums.

“I’m knee-deep aware of just about everything in my realm of the underground. The boom-bap shit. I know what my audience likes at this point. People trust my brand. My base knows that I’m not going to give them no bullshit,” he says confidently.

Moving forward Farris plans to slow down on the number of releases and put his marketing dollars and industry knowledge towards “more potent projects." Farris has no plans to put down the mic and he sees no limits to how big he can BarOverBs can be.

“I became engulfed in this livelihood. I would be a fool to stop right now. This is my legacy now, my kids will be eating off this at the end of the day.”
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