Rapper-turned-producer Vaiper, Vitalijus Puzyriovas, tells the story of his transition from hobby musician to godfather of Lithuanian urban music scene
Vaiper’s opening words to Music Export Fund are somewhat of an admission: “The beginning was weird,” he begins. “Music was more of a hobby, a side-line activity of self-expression. I wasn’t looking for anything specific; form was more appealing to me.”
Since his parents did not see it as something serious or of value, Vaiper did not think music would one day become his occupation.
In their view, it was important to study “something proper”, and the boy Vaiper chose mathematics. However, music was always somewhere amidst his conscience – a vehicle of self-expression. “Rap and hip-hop were familiar to me as a means of self-expression,” he reminisces. “[Since] my friends and I could associate with street culture.”
As a teenager growing up in the town of Švenčionys, some 84 kilometres north of Vilnius, he started a band with three friends. When the threesome headed to Vilnius to prepare for school entrance examinations, they would find opportunities to attend music events.
“That was the first time I went on a stage that was not in a culture house, like we had in Švenčionys,” Vaiper remembers. During this early 2000s period, the Lithuanian hip-hop scene was relatively small and according to him, there were more Russian-speaking performers than Lithuanians in Vilnius.
During one of these parties in the Lithuanian capital, he met his future music partner, Shmekla. In 2002, they released their first song, and two years later followed it up with an album named Iš kitos ekrano pusės (En: From The Other Side of the Screen) in 2004. For Vaiper, the release marked turning point in his music career.
Fast-forward to 2015, Vaiper has become a hip-hop old-timer who now refers to himself as a “music industry aficionado.” He even goes as far to admit his musical career started out as a game to him. “I began taking it more seriously at some point around 2006,” he tells MXF. The reason? He formed a small music production company with a friend and the pair found an investor. “We were totally inexperienced,” Vaiper remembers. “I was very naive in that I believed alternative music can become popular.”
The initial company didn’t work out – he eventually parted ways with his partner due to artistic differences. Furthermore, their investor had a different opinion on the project and prioritised a quick return on investment rather than the creative process.
Despite his initial attempt at running a production company not ending as planned, Vaiper maintains it would have been tough to have quickly made alternative music popular in Lithuania during the mid 2000s. The only example of such success was G&G Sindikatas.
Following Vaiper’s exit from the firm, it operated for another 1.5 years and was then wound-down. However, he considers this period a positive – during his time there, debut albums by MC Mesijus, Shidlas (Lukas Šidlauskas), and Vaidas Baumila were released; works he believes “were seminal to Lithuanian urban music.” Despite making no profit from any of the three albums, for Vaiper, their ground–breaking nature outweighs any financial reward.
Individuality is essential
Later in his career, Vaiper worked various positions in a number of advertising agencies in Lithuania, but like during his teenage years, music remained at the back of his mind. “Back in 2011 I decided that I’d had enough of these jobs,” he admits. “It was time to try and fulfil my vision once again.” Having no investments and using his own funds, he gradually started developing his business model, which he believes still has room for improvement.
“Performers I manage to attract, introduce, and teach are my main drive now,” he explains. “Because they are younger, they have taught me individuality is essential, and nobody tells you which rules to follow. “In this business, everything is built on fraternity.” In short, performers find Vaiper, not the other way.
According to the music industry enthusiast, his work has finally started paying off after 1.5 years. However, he outlines the difficulty in finding new employees. “There is a serious lack of culture management in Lithuania,” he explains. “Only the minority focuses on music. The older generation, people who started working back in the 2000’s, dictate everything in this business, and there are not a lot of profitable companies.”
“Of course, greater profit is associated with television,” Vaiper adds, but notes the market between TV and music is beginning to split, and consumers are now choosing what they need and want most.
Vaiper is now concentrating on the music group ba. “We released an album in February,” he continues, and reveals during a tour in Lithuania in November and December last year, “maybe three thousand people” came to their concerts. “That’s a lot for a fresh band”, he enthuses. “[And] the festival set-list for the summer is almost full already; there will be 10 to 15 additional gigs. We are scheduling a third video clip and a record compilation.”
While speaking about the development of the project, Vaiper also points to his friends, who also massively helped his project in terms of financial and emotional support, as one of the reasons for success. “I think success depends not only on the amount of investments, but also on support, the reflection in society, and emotional response,” he notes.
The good and the bad
When asked about the pros and cons of being a musician in Lithuania, Vaiper is enthusiastic about the “creative environment” seemingly sweeping the country, adding “there are a lot of great venues.” He specifically points to the “attractive atmosphere” in Vilnius. “There are many talented culture professionals, and the potential of creative industries inspires me,” he continues. “In general, it is not bad to be a musician in Lithuania; it is bad for those who fail to find a place where they would feel good.” He names the size of Lithuanian market as the only drawback – it’s very small and prevents artists from dreaming big.
According to Vaiper, Lithuanian musicians are solely responsible for the export of the country’s music, and few have managed to create an exportable music identity. “We should develop a characteristic Lithuanian sound, but that requires time – we have been on a par in terms of quality for a long time,” Vaiper believes. “We have our own professional niche and we can do something, but we lack the faces and the voices of performers and musicians, whose original sound would appeal to foreign markets.”
Vaiper says that The Baltic Scene initiative – a concept created to unite the music of the Baltic States, and an idea he is no longer associated with – was interesting at first. Baltic Scene was intended to create an environment for artists from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in which they could exchange knowledge, help each other expand the Baltic music market and open doors to new contacts within the region’s music industry.
However, sociocultural differences made it hard to establish on common ground. In response, and to continue the idea of open cultural dialogue, Vaiper and his Latvian friend, Kristaps Pukitis, came up with the idea of Baltic Trail. “It’s a creative camp where Baltic musicians come to get to know each other and start a conversation for two weeks,” explains Vaiper. “The camp will take place for the third time in 2015, and will be in Lithuania this year. “While we’re currently working with this project, I think it’s still too early to discuss a common economic zone for the music market so far.”
What advice, then, would the Lithuanian hip-hop veteran offer to beginner musicians?
“Don’t believe in luck blindly and don’t be egotistical. “You must assess the market to see if there are similar artists who are better than you, evaluate your competitors, and see your niche.
“You have to engage in a serious analysis, and spend a lot of time rehearsing. If you have money, spend it on vocal and choreography lessons.
“Strive for professionalism.”
Other areas of work
“Despotin’ Fam is our band, and we released our debut album in 2010,” Vaiper explains about his other musical project. “In 2011 we formed a band consisting of 12 members. We had a very good streak of gigs for two years.” Later, emigration halted the group’s progress – at present, one member has returned for just six months, and another plans to come back at some point. The third is on another continent.
Nevertheless, the group’s activity has not stopped and an album and video clip are almost finished. “Our main goal is to return to the stage,” reveals Vaiper. “[And we want] to tour Lithuania during autumn and winter this year to let the people get to know the songs.”
Despotin Beat Club, a radio show hosted by Vaiper, is also doing well, and has been on air since 2008. “The show was created due to the need to spread music that had not been previously played on radio – various genres, plus the roots of hip-hop and black music,” he enthuses. “For the first time in the history of Despotin’ Beat Club, we are being broadcasted on LRT Opus radio station this year, and we are very happy about that!”
For Vaiper, another point of interest is the former Ritmo kovos (En: Beat Battles) competition. “Back in 2009 we decided there was a lack of electronic musicians who perform live, and we aimed at instrumental hip-hop, which was based on electronic sounds.
“We decided to organise the first contest – a competition for producers who work at home. We called them Bedroom Producers, and we tried to find people like that.”
Vaiper believes it went well, and three compilations were released during the period between 2009-2013. “We would gather at least 15 performers for each competition,” he recalls. “During that time, 10 or 12 competitions took place, and some went international with French, Spanish, and German musicians participating.”
However, the creative potential underwent a shift in 2013, as music trends underwent a change as a result of a shift in consumer priorities. The sense of community surrounding hip-hop also decreased. However, according to Vaiper, he is planning to release the fourth compilation in 2015 and revive the Beat Battles idea.
“We want to rethink the principle of the competition,” he concludes. “We want to return to the core, to the reasons why people find it fun to create electronic music; to Bedroom Producers enjoying what they do.”
Photo by Linas Justice