As fans, we’re quick to point the finger. We point it at the artists for conforming to the mainstream’s demands. We point it at the labels for not signing artists that we consider genuine. We claim that “hip-hop is dead” and there’s no real music anymore.
We almost always forget to blame the ones most responsible for the mess that we’re in: ourselves.
Yep, as music fans, we’ve never had it better. All the music we could ever ask for, all one click away. We have a virtual buffet of music. All we can consume, all the time.
And what do we give back in return? More complaints.
We ask “is his album worth downloading”? That is how little we regard an artist’s creativity.
Let me preface this by acknowledging that there is plenty of blame to go around. But for the purpose of this entry, I’m going to focus on what we can do to improve things. See, all too often, we sit around and look for people to blame when, in reality, we have the power to help change things. So these are the little things that fans can do to help the urban music industry grow.
A label, a producer, an investor, a manager – they’re only going to invest in an artist with whom they see potential. It isn’t so much about musical talent anymore. Labels don’t want to build an artist. They want to partner with an established brand. And that’s fair because, due to the internet, every single aspiring musician has the opportunity to create and build his own brand.
How can you determine if an artist has potential?
There needs to be a buzz around him/her. There needs to be interest in the music. Anticipation for a project. Sales are great. Buying an artist’s album or single is always a pure form of showing support. If an indie artist can show a label that he sold 5,000 of his album without any marketing, it may lead to the label taking a chance.
But investing money is not the only way to support an artist. It’s actually not even the most effective. What an artist really needs from a fan is time. See, what a label can offer an artist is a support staff. A marketing team, advertising dollars, etc. As a fan, you need to become the artist’s team, the artist’s advertisements. Artists at all levels, especially indie, need you to invest your time in spreading the word. Compare it to buying stock in an artist.
Let’s use John Regan, who I managed, as an example.
When we were preparing Sorry I’m Late, the biggest challenge we faced was showing labels/websites/blogs/DJs that people really liked the music. I had plenty of friends at blogs and websites who’d post the music. Then I’d have plenty of people on twitter telling me how much they loved the song. Problem was, they’d listen to it from my soundcloud, download it, then tweet me that they listen to it every day on their ipod.
While that sure made me happy, it didn’t do anything to spread John’s music. Because a couple days later, I’d tweet that nahright posted it, and then allhiphop. I’d tweet those links but nobody would listen to it from there cus they already downloaded the song. Nobody would leave comments because they’d tweet me directly.
Hearing from a fan directly is always a nice thing, but showing the labels/websites/blogs/DJs who are supporting the music is far more important.
For example, AllHipHop will post a song. But their job is to drive traffic to the site. If the song they posted isn’t getting any interest, there’s less of a chance they’ll post any more from that artist.
So as a fan, you need to invest your time. That means, if you like a song or artist, you need to become a mouthpiece for the artist. You need to visit any and all sites that have the music and stream it from each site – even if you already have the song on your ipod. You need to leave comments. Post about the artist on forums. RT links to the music – and not just once, but numerous times, as often as you can (without seeming spammish). You need to leave reviews on iTunes and Amazon. Leave timed comments on SoundCloud. You need to encourage others to do the same thing.
This is beneficial twofold. First, when meeting with a label or prospective partner, you want them to google you and not only find the music posted, but find that people are actually engaged. You need the decision-makers at okayplayer to want to post the artist’s music because they know people will interact with the site. That can make them start seeking out the artist for new music as opposed to the artist constantly soliciting help from the websites.
Secondly, the more marketing you can do for the artist, the more he or she can focus on creating more music. See, the time I spent trying to get people to leave comments on DJBooth.net was time that I wasn’t spending on creating new music.
For example, let’s talk about this blog.
Every night, I sit and write out my thoughts for an hour or so in an effort to help guide aspiring artists. I don’t make money off of it. I don’t sell anything. I do it to help. I enjoy writing. Getting my feelings out is very therapeutic.
But what I don’t like it having to spend all day promoting the fact that I’ve written this. The more that I have to do that, the less likely I am to continue writing. I’m providing you, the reader, a service. Your responsibility is to help spread that message. If you want me to keep writing, you have to take some of the burden off my shoulders. I see people RT my tweets, and that helps, but you need to tweet about it often. You need to leave comments on the blog, which will lead others to leave comments, which will then make the blog show up more in searches, which will lead to more readers. More readers will motivate me to write more. Knowing that I have to promote makes this blog seem more like a chore. So as fans, you have the power to help grow the site and keep me writing.
Music is the exact same thing. Urban music is a terrible grind. It’s constant work and not much reward. The fans are what keep artists creating music. The fans have the ability sway what labels eventually support. By tweeting a DJ and telling him that you’d like to hear a particular artist, you’re replacing what a label’s function would be.
Do you have to do this? No. You can just hit download on your megaupload link and listen in your headphones. That’s your right as a fan. But once you do that, you forever lose your right to complain about what artists you hear on the radio or why your favorite artist is performing at some non-descript bar on a Wednesday evening. You can’t expect to get without giving first. It’s a give-and-take now.
Fans have a responsibility. We have power. We are what makes the labels and websites profitable and we must use that to our advantage. We have the power to effect what they support. We need to attend shows and buy t-shirts. We need to RT links, post music on our facebooks, use word of mouth. Is it time consuming? Yes. Is it a bit of an annoyance at time? Yes. But the payback is well worth the effort. If we want our favorite artists to flourish, these are the sacrifices we must be willing to make. Or, we can accept our free music and give up our right to complain.
Please leave your thoughts, rebuttals and comments below. I’d love to hear your opinion.