Let’s face it.
We live in an instant gratification culture. A culture of excess. We want it all and we want it now.
These statements are so synonymous with our current climate, they’ve in fact become clichés. And one of the biggest culprits to let this stunted way of thinking permeate and remain is the music industry. Fallacies, fairytales and the 1% “overnight success” stories we’ve been fed and led to believe, have left many artists – up and coming and veteran – to a place of frustration, confusion and exhaustion.
It’s overwhelming and detrimental to the psyche to continue to enact a philosophy built on falsehoods, but an overwhelming majority of creators have and continue to believe that “getting discovered” or waiting for that one song to blow up on Soundcloud will part the heavens and let the music industry Gods reign mercy on them.
Let’s cut the bullshit.
Long gone are the days of a major label breaking someone from relative obscurity and pumping an exorbitant amount of money into promotion and recording costs, let alone giving the artist time to develop and grow. Approaching a would-be successful career in music essentially as a lottery ticket is both limiting and short sighted, which is why it’s imperative to start radicalizing the way success in this industry is approached, especially as indie artists. It’s about building equity and longevity into your brand, not the quick fix.
But how are artists doing it?
One of the biggest dichotomies faced by up and comers is that impressive statistics and analytics are needed on streaming platforms/social media to land Spotify editorial playlists. Yet, landing prominent editorial playlists help boost your streaming numbers. Of course, there are always exceptions and the effect COVID-19 has had in terms of the gigantic influx of submissions over the past year is something of note. To compensate for current live restrictions, artists were far more inclined to pad out their audio/visual content and pitch to playlist curators.
Throughout this time, creativity – not only artistically but in business – has been crucial. And let’s not kid ourselves, it is a business.
Use Your Tools
Look at the UK Grime movement, a scene that’s arguably been leading the charge for indie acts skirting major label trappings – cleverly utilizing modern DIY techniques to promote their craft. As far back as 2016, before this conversation was as prevalent as it is now, London rapper Abra Cadabra netted the Best Song prize at the MOBO Awards, spawned from a loyal YouTube following.
YouTube channels like Link Up TV, GRM Daily and SBTV, stronger now than ever with millions of subscribers are breaking completely indie acts at a shocking rate. No major label deals. No middlemen. Just utilizing a video sharing platform that’s become the new pirate radio. These artists, like Soulja D and Kwengface are seeing more views and subsequent streams than artists getting played on mainstream radio/signed to major label deals.
Consistently creating content, be it videos, music, visuals, behind the scenes footage, etc. can work to such an advantage, it’s no wonder it’s making major labels’ heads spin. It’s a direct link between you and your audience. Grow it, nurture it, hone your craft and watch it blossom.
Between TikTok, Discord and Twitch, 100% independent artists are forging their own paths at staggering rates. Alec Chambers, the 26 year old Connecticut singer/songwriter is currently sitting at 2.5M followers and 2.5M streams on Spotify for his debut single “Something To Cry About”, after building a fanbase through often light-hearted, digestible clips involving recording, short sketches and calls to action.
Singer Talia Mar has netted endorsement deals with Anastasia Beverly Hills and L’Oréal through her relentless and dedicated work on TikTok/YouTube, her single “Better” now at 4M Spotify streams. The revenue generated through her endorsement deals alone, no doubt furthering her productivity and allowing her the freedom to create at a more ambitious level.
But it didn’t happen overnight and this is a major take-away. Most, if not all of the above artists were grinding from the inception of these platforms, educating themselves on the mechanisms or at least creating engaging content on a regular basis.
Developing a fanbase (something a major label used to be looked at to do) is key to eventual success on streaming platforms, and you can do it yourself. Building any business takes trust, between you and your clients. Your audience are your bread and butter, so treat them with respect. Put something on the table they want to eat. Pat Corcoran, the infamous self-made music mogul/confidante who helped Chance The Rapper reach record breaking indie success, speaks in the seminal Complex Original of how gobsmacked he was the first time he witnessed Chance rap at a listening party. He had to be a part of his orbit.
Leave people no choice but to want to be part of your orbit. Artist development, attaining the most focused and crystallized vision of who you are and what you want to say is fundamental. It’s something, frankly not a lot want to or are ready to hear – but you need to offer something that stands above and outside what’s around you. That takes some serious looking inward, editing, working, re-working, trial and error, etc. If that’s where you’re at as an artist, let people in on that process too. Include them on the journey.
Bottom line? Look at the long game. Tend to and nurture every aspect of your output, with no illusions of overnight fame and fortune. Stay dedicated, open minded, creative and above all consistent. Let go of the notion that artists are popping off left, right and centre magically while you’re being left short changed. Make your own mark.
Get to work. You got this.