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“There are a million people trying to do the same thing.” “It’s a cool idea, but it’s not realistic.” “I think it’s time to stop dreaming and get a real job.” “You can work hard, but making it in the music industry is mostly luck.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong, a thousand times wrong! I hear these statements, every Christmas party, every family reunion, and every time I’m catching up with anyone. Not only are these people unsupportive (a problem on its own), but they also couldn’t be more wrong! The music industry historically has been one of the most cutthroat industries out there, chewing people up and spitting them out one after another; and although this still remains the case, the ground has shifted, allowing for a complete alteration to the balance of power. Originally landing in the hands of the record labels and business executives and now moving to the hands of the artists. This creates a new monster to tackle when facing the beast that is a music career, where an artist is the deciding factor of their success. So all the ideas that have been pumped into our heads of luck, or of that one in a million chance…are now obsolete. In 2017, luck has nothing to do with your success in the music industry, dedication to your craft, and hard work are all you need.
In 1994, the game was changed when Geffen Records made the biggest marketing move, that would soon redefine the way music was consumed, by offering Aerosmith’s “Head First” exclusively as a downloadable file! This would lead to websites and apps like Spotify, SoundCloud, and Apple Music that now rely on streaming to bring your favorite recordings to the tips of your fingers! Before these services, distributing music was impossible to achieve at scale without the help of a record label, without access to the proper distribution companies and methods. Pressing your bands record onto vinyl, or into CD, or even cassette tapes had a huge upfront cost. Then on top of that, getting those into the record stores was a whole other beast to deal with, one that some people dedicate their entire lines of work to. So for an artist to achieve all this by themselves…impossible. Now, it’s as simple to distribute music as it is to buy it! Services like “CD baby” and “Disco Kid” operate around infiltrating the complexities of the giant streaming services and allow anyone’s music to appear on the same platform as top 100 artists. Depending on the company, you can either pay a one-time fee of about 50 dollars per album and 30 for singles, or an annual fee of 25 dollars for albums, and 10 dollars a single, and these companies will distribute your music to all major platforms (Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music, etc). Now let’s say you’re flat broke. You’re screwed, right? Nope! The number one website for streaming music is…wait for it…YouTube! Yes, the place where you spend hours watching dogs “fail at being dogs” is also where the most people listen to their favorite albums! In case you’re living in fear of some computer takeover apocalypse, and you don’t know why this is a huge deal, I’ll tell you. Everyone can make a YouTube Channel, everyone can post, and everyone can do it FOR FREE! Along with YouTube, you can post FOR FREE, on sites like SoundCloud, and Bandcamp. BANDCAMP EVEN LETS YOU GET PAID FOR DOWNLOADS! “But David I posted on all of those websites! And I’m not famous yet!” Uh…yeah, I said the music industry has had a power shift, not that you could just sit on your ass! If anything now you have to work twice as hard!
“…people don’t buy music in this day and age, they buy the brand.” This line in Logic’s “44 bars” speaks magnitudes about this “new era” of the music industry. It’s not enough to put out good music anymore! According to Gary Vaynerchuk, in his bestselling book, Crush It, consumers love to feel like they know their favorite artists and celebrities on a more personal level. The best way to describe this is through an example. Odd Future, a low-fi rap group from California, blew up during the mid 2000s. Their music was only half of their appeal to the mainstream. What they were mostly known for was their insane personalities. During shows, they would stage dive, run around on stage with their friends, get kicked out of venues and generally not give a fuck what anyone thought. They then starred in an Adult Swim series titles Loiter Squad. The show's premise was similar to that of Jackass, which meant dressing up in costumes to go out and prank people. They also had raunchy sketch comedy mixed into the show. And even though the group split up, you can still see people from the group continuing their musical journey, like rapper Tyler the Creator. He continues to publicize his antics, like the fact that he was banned from Australia for insisting a riot. Now if you like his personality or not, there is no denying the fact that his personality drives fans to adore him just as much, if not more, than his music itself. Now if even though Tyler doesn’t appear on Adult Swim anymore, he is still able to publicize his personality through his social media platforms. Which is exactly how up-and-coming artists can push their personal brand.
During the “old era” of the music industry, musicians would play shows around their city in dive bars, and house venues. The only way you could create a fan base was through word of mouth. The people who saw those shows would tell their buddy about an awesome new band, then he tells another friend, and that trickle down process continued until you had a large enough fan base for a label to hear about you and start paying for billboards and magazine spots. So is word of mouth dead? No! It’s actually the most important part of being successful without the help of a label. The difference between then and now is that the “word of mouth” now is through social media.
In Vaynerchuk’s book, The Thank You Economy, he outlines the idea of the “new word of mouth.” Now when someone wants to share something with friends, they have the ability to instantly share with all of their friends at once, through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram (mainly). Artists who post valuable videos, pictures and other media on their social accounts have the opportunity to reach thousands, if not millions, of people, without ever leaving their home. One viral video of a band’s cover could easily get one million views on Facebook or YouTube. With the power of social media, you can reach a stadiums worth of people, with just a few clicks.
The perfect example of an artist using the power of these new distribution companies, personal branding, and social media, is Grammy awarding winning artist Chance the Rapper. He began by posting his debut mixtape, 10 Day on SoundCloud. He told the story of the mixtape all over social media, and soon everyone was talking about this Chicago kid who recorded an entire mixtape during his school suspension. People connected with the story and connected with him. He is now one of the most successful rappers of the modern day and is still not signed to a label. With the tools availed to people today, the only things that hold people back are laziness or lack of talent. If artists are willing to put in the work, to make better music, create good content for social media and push their story, and personality. There is no reason they couldn’t be the next Chance. The power is in your hands…do something with it.