In the early 1980s, when rap started, there were few rappers and producers, so they had no difficulty standing out. Today, it seems everyone wants to be a rapper or a producer. I sometimes think we have more rappers than fans…
As more people want to get into the rap music business, it gets cheaper and easier to do so. The price of production equipment, recording equipment, and microphones has dropped substantially, making rapping and producing open to more people. And it has become easier than ever to get music to the masses by uploading finished songs to the internet to share them with the world on free social media pages (Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc), music sharing pages (SoundCloud, BandCamp, ReverbNation, etc) or inexpensive websites. Marketing has become cheaper and easier as one can sit at home and use the internet to market, promote, and drive traffic to one’s website or Tumblr page. Because of this, it seems that everyone wants to be a rapper.
Distributing music is easier than ever. Today, an artist is rare if his or her music is NOT for sale at iTunes or available for streaming at Pandora or Spotify. The playing field has been leveled. Any artists smart enough to market and promote their music, and who have some money (budget) to invest into themselves can build a career in music–or at least feed themselves with their music. Hopefully.
The days of needing a record label are over. So why do so many people still want to be signed to a record label?
Regardless, there are less labels, less money in the industry, less people buying CDs, and less positions for artists to get signed to record labels. So if you really want to be an artist, and have your heart set on being part of the traditional music business, you will need to STAND OUT!
You stand apart from all of the others by building a buzz.
As I travel around the country, I meet tens of thousands of people who say they want a career as a rapper (and even more who say they want to be a producer) yet very few stand out. Handing a demo CD to anyone is a waste of time, energy, and has never been very effective at catching someone’s attention. What I do see, are the artists who stand out because they are putting in the work and building a buzz.
Grinding. An artist’s grind is far more important than their talent. Talent is easy to find—people who will work hard are less easy to find. You may think you are the most talented rapper around, but the truth is that talented rappers and producers are a dime a dozen. There are more than 300 million people in the United States.
Not only are you competing with other artists from your area, but you are competing with artists from all over the country. The odds of winning a lottery are probably greater. So how will you stand out?
The best way to do so is to choose an area that’s workable. I suggest taking a map and drawing a circle around your city that extends about a 5 hour driving time away from where you are based. That will become your territory—your marketing area. Your first step is to own the city or town that you are from, and then expand out slowly in that territory (the 5 hour circle around your home).
After you’ve made your songs, you will choose the best one to focus on as a single. It’s best to ask for feedback from strangers (malls, gas stations, and high schools are good places to get feedback) as to which song is your best one. Strangers will be far more honest than people who know you, plus they are your potential fans. To build a buzz in your own area, you will work that single locally. That means you will attend all of the legitimate open mics and showcases, perform as much as you can (if a major artist comes to town, you should be the opening act and you accomplish this by building relationships with the key clubs and promoters in your area), hang posters, distribute flyers—basically get your image and song in front of as many people as possible. Make sure all of the local DJs know who you are (club DJs, mixtape DJs, and even eventually the radio DJs). All of the employees at the local record stores and nightclubs should also know who you are.
It’s important to promote your song in as many places as potential consumers who’d buy your music will be. So, marketing yourself to retirement homes and nursery schools would not make sense, but college campuses, high schools, and ‘hood malls make perfect sense. Anyplace where large amounts of your potential fans gather is ideal. As your song and name catch on in your own area, you can begin to expand your buzz within that 5 hour circle. You can also begin to attend the regional conventions and record pools. You should already have some sort of buzz before traveling, unless you are attending to learn more about the business (there are many free websites these days where you can go to learn how the music industry works, however).
On the record label side (I’m talking about the real record labels—the ones that have a track record of success in putting out rap records, not Lil Rey Rey from down the block who printed up business cards saying he has a record label), the people who sign artists to their rosters are called “A and Rs.” Their job is to help the artists who are already signed to the label make their records, and to find new talent. Since there are tens of thousands of rappers and producers, it’s hard to catch their attention if you do not stand out. Almost all of the major labels prefer the A&Rs to find the artists making noise in their own areas: getting radio spins, building viral followings, and selling music on their own.
Last year, I attended 12 music industry conventions/gatherings/record pools. I received over 1,000 demo CDs, and I can’t even sign anyone to a record deal. Additionally, I receive over 100 emails, tweets, Facebook posts and links to music each week. So someone that CAN sign an artist, how many CDs and MP3s do you imagine they get in a week? The ONLY way you are going to stand out is if you put in the work and effort to build a buzz for yourself. Instead of going to them, you want them to come to you.
The chance of you sending a CD to a record label and getting their interest is so slim that the odds of you getting struck by lightning or winning a lottery are greater. Even someone very connected in the music business (like me) can’t help you if you don’t stand out among all of the other rappers and producers out there. Great music is no longer enough. You have to have a strong buzz, and you have to be willing to work harder than everyone else—not just in your own area, but in your own region. Without a buzz, you may as well just go get a job and make music to be happy as a hobby. By the way, there is nothing wrong with doing it for the love!!
Meanwhile, how will YOU stand out?