Written by Matt O @boardinogilvie
2015 was the year of the independent artist.
As you know, I went to the A3C Conference and Festival this year and left with a phone-full of knowledge. While I was there, I took notes and recorded most of the panels I went to. I wanted to take full advantage of the opportunity so I could share insights from the professionals. What I found out is that 2015 was the year of the independent artist. No, they didn't outsell Drake or Jay-Z BUT more and more artists are seeing success as an independent artist. You don't have to "sell out" to make it anymore. Artists are starting to creating brands and companies around their music. One panelist even went as far as saying music is used as a promotional tool. Artists are learning how to monetize their audience and some are getting very good at it.
"Yes, there still is money to be made from music."
Some artists still make money from selling albums. Some sell them out of their car like mixtapes back in the day. Most artists sell their music on iTunes and some do very well. It all depends where your audience likes to buy and how loyal they are to you and your brand. For example, Drake and Future are the top 2 most-pirated artists in Hip-Hop. Artists like Witt Lowry and Chris Webby have built loyal fan bases over the years that WANT to support them and they do with money.
“If someone puts out really great music. People will buy it.”
Nipsey Hussle is another great example. He sold his album for $100 so you wouldn't think not many would buy it. He made a lot of money off that album by the way. Do the math; if 100 people buy it, that’s $10,000! Artists can also make money from shows, merchandise, TV & film placements, licensing, features, video games, lifestyle brands, radio play ASCAP or BMI, music streaming from Sound Exchange, and more.
“Your creativity is something money can’t buy.”
A lot of artists were asking the panel if signing with a major label is unnecessary now because so many artists have found success in the digital age. Record label artists might have bigger budgets but they also have a lot higher expenses. One thing you can do as an independent artist, is to find creative ways to shoot videos for cheap. I mention videos because they are very important to have. If you are going to be independent, you need to more than just make music. You need to be an entrepreneur.
“You need to be on the street showing love, kissing babies, and taking pictures with fat girls.”
Scotty ATL, a Hip-Hop artist based in Atlanta signed to B.o.B's label No Genre was on the panel giving advice because he is at the beginning of his success in the music industry. He has sold tapes out of his car, met fans, performed at open mics, and even sells grills to other artists. The point I'm trying to make is that he has put in the work. He says a good way to connect with blogs and professionals is; “Go to the places where blogs and fans are. Meet them and build relationships with them."
"Your relationships are collateral.”
They then spoke about making and finding your 'hot track.' This should be your best track and you need to focus on promoting it all the way through. Perform it at EVERY showcase and open mic. Get it in the hands of DJs, friends, fans, blogs, and media. You will know when you have a hot track by how it reacts. If people start hitting you up and DJs get requests for it, you are getting close. Some tracks take 8 months to really catch attention and other tracks take two weeks. Remember “If you put money behind every record, you will go broke.” You will never know until you make the track and put it out. They also spoke about the most popular records include “conceptual but appealing” topics.
“Build your own bandwagon. People can’t follow if there isn’t anything to follow."
Your friends will be around when you finish the track and they will tell you it's "dope" 90% of the time. This is why you need to surround yourself with professionals and people who want to push forward. One of the panelists recommended new artists building their team with people that have been there since the beginning. This way they have proven they are committed to your success. You need someone to tell you are making bad decisions. Your full team needs to know the vision and plan of the artist. You need both parts though; great music and a committed team. A manager, for example, can’t take an artist who doesn’t have a following and get them sold out shows. The artist needs to get the initial following and build from there. Try holding monthly or quarterly reviews with your team to get everyone on the same page. You can talk about your campaigns and whether they are worth continuing or not. If something isn't working, try something new. It's 2015, you never know what people will like.
"Labels vs. independent. It’s about ownership."
To continue the discussion about major labels versus the independent artist. It usually comes down to one thing; OWNERSHIP. Do you want the label to own the copyright to your music or do you want to own it? A label was necessary but it isn't any more. If you can get a deal with a major label and keep ownership, I would high advise you consider it. One of the panelist made a great point by saying that indie-artists and label-artists are NOT competing. Both can survive in the music industry. If you are an independent artist, use open mics and showcases to perfect your performance because when you do get a chance to open up for a bigger artist, you can kill it. It’s also crucial for you to work with artists outside of your local network; you can do this on any social media network. I personally know people who have done worldwide collaborations and more than once. All I am saying is; put in the work and think of new, unique ways to market yourself. Upcoming artists are getting more and more opportunities that labels get and will have more in the future. Always be thinking about the future so you can be ahead of the always-changing game.
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