By, Wendy Day (www.IndieLabelBuilder.com)
I started another new company last week! It’s an incubator for indie labels and indie artists so they can make more money doing what they love to do! Getting paid for doing what you love to do is wonderful. How many people in life get to say that they love their job and make money living their dream? Most do not. But I am living proof that it is possible. Almost every rapper who makes money is living proof, and certainly every person working in this industry-- and getting paid for their work, is living proof. And thankfully, my clients are living proof of this, too!
That doesn’t mean that you don’t have to grind hard, or pay dues, or any of the other things that come with building success…it just means that it’s possible. And some people are even superstars at it! Early on in your career, you have to decide what you stand for, and what you are willing to do to succeed. For me, it was as simple as deciding that I was willing to work harder than everyone else, give up personal relationships, personal time, vacations, and large sums of money to achieve success with my companies (I own and run 5 businesses within the music industry right now). What I was NOT willing to give up was my integrity, my morals, and I was never willing to compromise an artist’s career or what was best for them in order to advance myself (which slowed me down considerably in this fuck boy industry).
It took me 6 years to get paid for my work in this industry (I started a not-for-profit organization first). It took me 10 years to make enough money to support myself, and another 5 years on top of that to actually have a comfortable income so that I could invest, start new businesses, get some life insurance, and help my family.
Learning a skill in the music business is important, but even more important is getting really good at it. OK, not just really good, but great at it. Malcolm Gladwell in his seminal book “Outliers” proved that it takes 10,000 hours of doing any one thing to get really proficient at it—to master it. Ten thousand hours of doing something repeatedly to master it!! If you do one thing for ten hours a day, that would be 1,000 days—3 years and 9 months (roughly) without a break. Are you willing to do that?
So, if you aren’t willing to master a skill, it’s important that you find someone who has mastered that skill and put them on your team. If you want a manager who is great at what they do, you’ll need to find someone who put the time into becoming a great manager. In most cases, that’s someone who studied under someone else who was great and got the benefit of their experience and connections. Now, bear in mind that the greater the manager is, the more likely he or she is to look for an artist who is the best! Very few people who are good at what they do want to spend time with mediocre folks around them.
DJ Greg Street sent out a tweet on Twitter last night that said it best, “Know your strengths and hire your weaknesses.” It’s important to know what your own weak spots are so you can compensate by hiring someone who’s is skilled in areas that you are not. [As an aside, I gotta point out the incredible access to free knowledge we have on Twitter! Just by following the OGs in the industry and reading their tweets every now and again, you can pick up incredibly valuable jewels about this industry! You can also learn a lot about people’s personalities, who is fame driven or money driven, and who is truly approachable! www.Twitter.com/RapCoalition]
So, I get inundated with artists asking me what they can do to move their careers forward with no money at all. And while I don’t truly feel it’s possible to do anything in life with no money at all (shit, even sitting home and watching TV costs rent, electricity, and cable), a good place to start a buzz is on the internet (costs: computer, internet connection, electricity) because there is a lower barrier to entry (that means any idiot can get on the web).
When promoting yourself or your artist, whether online or on the streets, there are two distinct categories of people you would want to reach: fans and the industry. The better your balance at reaching these two segments, the faster your star will rise. So as the fans get to hear your music and be excited by you (and if they’re not excited by your music, investigate that sitting home and watching TV thing some more), so should the folks who work in the music industry. The fastest way to reach them is by attending an event that brings them all out. The Ozone Awards, TJsDJs quarterly events in Tallahassee, the A&R event in New York City that happens a couple times a year, the Core DJ retreat twice a year, TUMS event in Dallas, the GO DJ event in Houston, the SEAs in Mississippi, Mary Datcher’s annual event in Chicago, The Hittmenn DJs Reunion in Jacksonville in early July, etc. To get a full understanding of which events attract the industry and are worth the expense, you have to have some access and some understanding of the urban music industry. Oh, and they all cost money (travel, food, hotels, entry badges, crap to hand out to promote yourself, etc).
Once you have CDs to sell in the marketplace, whether you are an indie label that is NOT looking for a record deal or if you are an artist already signed to a major label, promoting to the industry is a terrible waste of time and money. At that point, consumers and fans should be your focus. But the printing companies are happy when an established artist is stupid enough to blitz industry events with posters and flyers. At that point in your career, a performance will work wonders to spread the word about you throughout the industry—posters and flyers are wasted on the industry because they won’t buy your CD anyway. Again, only promote to the industry if you are looking to get signed to a label (and sales of your CD regionally is really the ONLY way to catch their attention if your goal is to have a successful career, but you won’t listen, so have fun with your hanging posters and passing out flyers and mixed CDs—I think you should do that, too. Bumping your head is a great way to learn).
The point is that everything costs money, and while you don’t have to spend millions to do this effectively, it will take SOME money on your part. If you have less than $50,000 to start promoting yourself, expect to lose it. If I had less, say $10,000, I’d press up mixed tapes and sell them and keep flipping the money until I had at least $50,000. Then, I’d make a list of everything I wanted to do in an area that consisted of a 3 to 5 hour driving radius from my house, and I get price quotes. Posters, flyers, snippet CDs, mixed CDs, t-shirts, travel money, industry event money, etc….a list of everything I would need and what it costs. And that would be the target I would need to raise before starting my promo blitz. There’s nothing worse than being $10,000 into your project and not being able to go any further because you ran out of money and hadn’t made a plan. Then and only then, once I had a budget (even a minimal one), I’d begin to apply it.
The cheapest place to start a promo campaign is the internet. MySpace is still effective for all the late adapters that are still there. It’s a place to see a quick and easy profile of you and your music (plus still a great place to go to get laid). At some point they might even figure out a way for you to get paid for putting your music there… Twitter is a great way to build your movement and invite people to follow you so they get to know you and like you. It can backfire too, you could alienate fans if they see what an asshole you really are in real life. There are quite a few artists and promoters that I am following who seem to get it. You could follow them for awhile and do what they do. But remember that the internet is only one part of a full campaign:
Tyrese is Tyrese4ReaL (brilliant use of Twitter)
Mistah FAB is MistahFAB
40 Glocc is 40Glocc
Rock City are RockCityVI and R_City
Plies is GoonAffiliated
Gangsta Boo is GangstaBoo901
Toure is ToureX
Universal Records is universal_music
Nipsey Hussle is Nipsey Hussle
Yung Joc is IAMYUNGJOC
K’naan is Iamknaan
Inertia is Inertia9
Kingpin is streetkingpin
DJ Khaled is TheRealDJKhaled
Drumma Boy is DrummaBoy_Live
Quest Love of the Roots is Questlove
Nicki Minaj is nickiminaj
Theda Sandiford is BondGyrl
Asher Roth is asherroth
Brandi Garcia is djbrandigarcia
Then there are quite a few industry people that if you follow them, they drop jewels and you can read and learn for free:
Ed Lover is MrEdLover
TJ from TJsDJs is TJsDJs
Julia Beverly is JuliaBeverly
Wendy Day is RapCoalition
Daymond John is DaymondJohnFUBU
Kim Osorio is kimosario1
Nancy Byron is rappublicist
Gary Archer is Legendgary
Classic from Da Grindaz is Classichiphop
Then there are the people who just purely entertain or share industry news:
Slim Thug is slimthugga
Lil Duval is lilduval
Ludacris is ludajuice
Paul Wall is paulwallbaby (he farts a lot)
Charlemagne is cthagod
Don Cannon is DonCannon (he’s cranky a lot which is funny as hell)
Rap Radar is ElliottWilson
Andreas Hale is andreashale
XXL Mag is XXLStaff
Harry Allen is harryallen
All Hip Hop is AquaAHH, allhiphopcom, steveraze, Grouchygreg
Tony Neal is TheCoreDJs
Music Registry is musicregistry
Bob Lefsetz is Lefsetz
Amanda Diva is amandadiva
DJ Scream is djscream
DJ Smallz is djsmallz
Hip Hip is HipHop1978
Swizz Beats is TheRealSwizz
Miss Info is missinfo
Plus, as you eavesdrop on conversations, you learn what’s important to people, how they feel about the music in general, what their philosophies are, and where they are speaking or attending events. When you see the same names come up over and over, you start to learn who the players are and who has power. If you Tweet to people who do not know you, and even some who do, don’t expect a reply. It’s more to read their thoughts, ideas, and promotions, than to have a real conversation. For me, it’s not the place to do business, just to keep in touch in 140 characters or less…
Since Twitter isn’t the place to really try and do business with folks who don’t already know you (and even some who do), it’s important to build your own email list and keep in touch with fans that way. I won’t go into detail with that because there are so many free articles and services out there that can educate you on e-newsletter building. Fan Bridge offers a free email service, and the more popular paid ones are: Mad Mimi, Constant Contact, My Newsletter Builder, Campaign Monitor, and I just got an e-newsletter this morning from ListMails.com swearing they are cheaper than everyone but I’ve never tried them. Expect only 10% to 15% of your emails to ever get opened, and even less to be read all the way through. My emails that offer something, like advice or articles, have a better rate of response than just the purely promotional ones I send out. I still send both because I want people to know what I am working on for the most part…
If you are promoting yourself or your music, make sure you have a point to it. Just sending around music for people to listen to, isn’t very productive. Personally, I rarely open up anyone’s emails with mp3s attached. If I haven’t already heard of you or you don’t already have a buzz, I don’t have the time to check out your music. There are thousands of folks out here who WILL listen to your music. But I get over 600 emails a day, and probably 100 of them matter to me. I just don’t have time to listen to everything. There are more artists and producers today than ever before, and everyone thinks they are the best and offering what’s missing from the industry. Personally, the only thing I think that is really missing from the industry is for the truly talented artists to put in some serious hard work. Just talent alone is not enough…
But even though the internet is as close to free as a promotional device will come, it’s not enough. It’s only one piece of your promotions and marketing pie! You need publicity, advertising, radio spins if you have a radio record, street awareness, club awareness, word of mouth, performances, a promotional tour--and here’s the kicker….it all needs to hit at the same time. So if you have a radio record that will take 12 to 16 weeks to get hot, and if you want the local magazines and rap magazines to write about you and they have a 2 to 3 month lag time, and you want the local bloggers and internet websites to cover you and they have a 2 to 7 day lag time, you have to make certain that you work your project to people when you want it to hit, not when it’s convenient for you. If I want the January issue of XXL Magazine to cover my artists, the publicist will be getting all the photos and press releases and stuff to them by September. Yet the Bloggers will receive the material in December.
It’s like cooking a meal…everything has to hit the dinner table at once or it isn’t a successful meal. This element of timing is where I see the majority of indie labels and indie artists mess up. And it’s a costly mistake because it is usually means the end of your project. Anyway, it’s enough of a problem and a challenge that I’ve been able to build an incubator to show folks how to do it right! Many of us out here are still making money in the music business, doing what we love and selling CDs (and selling downloads)! And it truly doesn’t get any better than that!!