By, Wendy Day from Rap Coalition (www.WendyDay.com)
The first record I was ever involved with putting out was Do Or Die’s “Po’ Pimp” in 1995. “Do you wanna ride…In the backseat of my Cadillac…” That was 13 years ago. It’s funny because the industry has changed so much, but the work ethic and grind has remained the same—for the smart artists anyway.
Whether your choice of distribution methods is on-line downloads or traditional sales of CDs, one thing has remained the same: The Importance of Marketing. [This month’s column is dedicated to Grand Prix out of Jacksonville, FL. He’s an artist whose grind caught my eye months ago, but his limited budget has forced him into the reality of proceeding slowly and cautiously. He’s very unique, in that he thinks everything I write is talking directly to him—not in a stalker sort of way, but in a mentor way. And he sends me emails telling me where he agrees and disagrees with me (he finds me negative and mean… LOL) and requests certain topics—Marketing being one on them! This one’s for you, baby!]
But that’s the point….agreeing and disagreeing, picking and choosing what will and won’t work for you. Just because something works for me, doesn’t mean it will work for you! I can only show you what I have done, and then you can tailor it to your region, your budget, and your abilities. And let’s be real here…not all rappers are entrepreneurs!! For every Jay Z, there is a Damon Dash. Or there should be! If you are not entrepreneurially gifted, find someone who is to partner with. Choose carefully and wisely as your career will be in their hands. For every Jay Z/Dame Dash success story, there are millions of failures that you never hear about.
If you live in a city where everybody, even the local pet store, has a wrapped vehicle, wrapping a van would not make sense for you because it won’t stand out (unless you plan to take it on the road). If you live in a major city where everyone who has come before you has posted posters on every wall and abandoned building, so that now all that happens is you get an expensive ticket for their removal, then posters are a bad investment for your project. For the projects that I consult, wrapped vehicles and posters make tremendous sense, so they are part of my promotional tool box.
Part of me wishes I had a column somewhere of “Million Dollar Mistakes,” because I have learned more from other people’s failures than I have from their successes. And how thankful am I that folks share their successes and failures with me—especially the failures because it’s so hard to admit where we’ve fucked up. And then of course, I spread the stories to anyone who will listen so they can learn from them too. Hence, this column at AllHipHop…
Well, I’m trying to be less negative and less mean (no, I’m not really), so I’ll focus on the positives today!
Marketing is the overall image and awareness that is put forth by your brand as you advertise, promote, do interviews and basically spread the word about your music (which is your product). One of the keys is to know exactly who will buy your music, and tailor your marketing campaign to them.
Taking it outside of music for a minute, can we all agree that the person who shops at K-Mart is different from the person who shops at Neiman Marcus? The person who drives a Hyundai, may have different interests from the person driving a Bentley? So back to music now—the person who is listening to or buying Souljah Boy’s music is different from the person who supports MJG and 8Ball. Souljah Boy is a younger audience, more pop music and radio and internet driven, while MJG and 8Ball still make music to ride and smoke to—meaning the fan is older and probably more likely to be male. They are also more likely to buy a CD at the local Swap Meet or the Car Wash, while a Souljah Boy fan may be more likely to download his music to an iPod or MP3 player, or buy the CD at the Best Buy next to the Mall for $9.99.
So, if I was marketing Souljah Boy, I might try to book him on Nickalodeon shows and set up a high school or Mall tour. With MJG and 8Ball, I’d probably do more of a college tour, and club dates reaching a 21 and older crowd. So, it’s important to know who is buying your music. My resource for this is a guy in Atlanta called Scorpio. He is a DJ, DJ Manager, has run one of the DJ crews, street promotes, and works marketing for Crunk Juice. He has a wonderful ability to figure out the demographic for a group or a song, and then this lets me know the direction my marketing needs to take. If you are able to determine who your fan base is yourself, even better. But you better be right. If you are making music that appeals to white skateboard kids and you market to young inner city teens, you are fucked in the gate!
When I was out on the road with BloodRaw in February, I kept dragging him to college campuses because he makes anthem type party raps, and he kept telling me, “Let’s go to the ‘Hood.“ It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, but that he knows who buys and listens to his music. In this case, we blitzed the ‘hoods first and then grew out to the college and party crowds. He had a perfect understanding of who his market is.
Once you know who will buy your music, it becomes pretty clear what your image needs to be to reach your market. In Young Jeezy’s case, he’s that dope boy turned rapper who’s about making money, partying in the clubs, buying material items, and driving expensive cars. In Jay Z’s case, he’s that Billionaire Mogul running his own empire and living the life that this brings. Kanye is the intelligent around-the-way guy who dropped out of college to pursue a dream. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are the ‘hood chicks that every guy knows and loves.
In terms of imaging, Jeezy could rock a suit, but you’d assume he was going to court. He’s much more at home in some Efizu or Red Monkey jeans and a white or black T shirt with some Gucci or Prada loafers. Jay Z is more likely to be recognized in a button down shirt with cuff links or an expensive Italian suit. Image is a big part of marketing. What is your image? What sentence would a fan use to describe you? Is that description unique or does it fit ten other rappers?
Now, as you promote your image to the masses to gain awareness, it’s important that your message is clear, concise, and easy to understand. A flyer with 20 things crowded on it, and no empty space for the eye to rest, is a waste. Having things mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect is terrible too. Photos that are too low resolution that they look grainy and out of focus make you look cheap and clueless. The look of your promotional materials says a lot about who you are as a person. It would be easier for Plies to get away with something grimy and street than Jay Z or Puffy. Image is everything, and yours should be consistent.
If you have no understanding of design or aesthetics, find someone who does. If you suck at writing copy, find someone who has that talent to write the words for your flyers, MySpace page, website, and CD booklets. Find people who are good at what they do and hire them to help you. Know your role and play it. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Teamwork is key here.
When you choose your own lane, try not to bite what has come before you. There is already a Jay Z, already a Lil Wayne, already a Plies. Try not to copy their style or image or sound. Usually the one who does it first, does it best, so be unique.
I suggest to labels all of the time that they use one image of the artist to have consistency in marketing. First of all, you don’t have the budget of a major label who can afford to market Busta Rhymes in a suit as well as street clothes. Pick one image and use that for your CD cover, vehicle wrap, website, flyers, posters, etc. It is very rare that a fan recalls a new artist’s name. There are just too many new artists. So very often they will go into the store asking for the kid who is rapping next to a Lamborghini on his posters, or that kid who is Pimp C’s protégé, etc. Make it easy for people to figure out who you are. Use one strong image that stands out to market yourself, and sets you apart from everyone else.
When I first started working with TMI Boyz, our t-shirts were so ugly that I would never wear them. We gave out like 10,000 of those ugly shirts. Finally, we had the logo and shirts redesigned. We had everybody asking for our shirts and wearing them (including me). We even had folks offering to buy them from us (truth is t-shirts are more expensive to print, so we should sell the t-shirts and give out the CDs for free. Ha ha ha ha).
Your marketing mix should consist of whatever you can afford from the following:
Don’t forget to incorporate the internet as part of your campaign. While we still aren’t 100% digital yet in this era, it is a crucial part of your marketing mix. To those of you with no budget who think free internet promotions is enough to build an artist, you are wrong. It is exactly what it is: free promotions, but just one part of your whole marketing pie.
I can’t stress enough the importance of your imaging and marketing. Make sure your messages are clear, well designed, spelled correctly and grammatically correct. And most of all, make sure you are reaching the people who will buy your music, with your imaging, your design, and your marketing mix.