Aspiring Artists

True Value

Written by Wil

I wish every aspiring artists who spammed me their music would instead tweet “Hey Wil. I really enjoy your articles and respect what you do. If there’s any way I can ever help, just let me know”. I’d probably take the time to listen to each and every link.

The quickest way to make it onto somebody’s “ignore” list is to give them the feeling that any time they see your name pop up in their inbox, they know you’re going to be asking for or promoting something. You need to make yourself valuable to others.

I wish every aspiring artists who spammed me their music would instead tweet “Hey Wil. I really enjoy your articles and respect what you do. If there’s any way I can ever help, just let me know”. I’d probably take the time to listen to each and every link.

How do you make yourself valuable? Interesting question with many answers.

I’ll tell you about my personal experience. After releasing my last solo album “ninety-four”, I saw that blogs were interested in posting the songs I had with features, but nothing else. That’s a pretty obvious statement and makes complete sense. Well, when I agreed to oversee John Regan’s “Sorry I’m Late”, my initial challenge became how to garner attention for the project once it was recorded, short of having a feature on every record.

Obviously, some guest features would be very beneficial to the project. At the time, we had almost no budget. So, without calling in favors from friends – which is not something I was comfortable doing – how could I get successful artists and producers to be on the album? Better yet, how could I get them to want to be part of the album?

How could I make myself valuable so that others would want to associate themselves with what I was doing? How could I make myself valuable so that whatever we did would be beneficial to everyone involved?

I brainstormed for about 3 months.

What was I good at? What unique talent could I offer?

Enter Wordsworth (@wordsworthemc).

About a year earlier, I had reached out to him randomly about doing an interview. I was a huge fan and greatly respected what he had accomplished in hip-hop. I wanted to discuss the independent hustle with him as a way to help aspiring artists (similar to what I’m doing with this blog now). It was just going to be a one-off. What I thought would be a ten minute interview turned into nearly an hour long discussion. At the end, he said “that was one of the greatest interviews I’ve ever done, thanks”. Considering I had never interviewed anyone before, I was pleasantly surprised. He said I should interview other artists and got me in touch with Punchline (@Punchline_NYC) and Masta Ace.

We built such a rapport that when I was finishing up “ninety-four”, I felt comfortable enough to ask what it would take to get him on a record. He respected my approach enough that he told me to send the record. He ended up really liking it, then next thing you know, not only was Words my first ever interview, but he was my first ever record with an established artist.

The song, by the way, was “Sinatra”.

So now I have this incredible hour long interview with Wordsworth. What do I do now?

Well, first off, nobody’s going to sit and listen to an hour’s worth of anybody talking. So I went online to www.warezstore.com and paid $25 to download the latest version of Logic Express. Then I went to Lynda.com and paid $25 for a month so I could watch the tutorial on how to use Logic Express. This way, I’d know how to edit the interview up into pieces.

Then I downloaded dozens of pictures of Wordsworth, slapped it into Final Cut Express and exported a video, which I then uploaded to my newly created YouTube page.

Then, I waited.

It didn’t take more than a day to realize that the entire world wide web wasn’t going to run home from work and search YouTube to find new Wordsworth interviews. How would I spread this to the people?

No. I didn’t do what most of y’all did. I didn’t start tweeting or spamming Miss Info and DJ Vlad, telling them that they better post this “new smash” interview. I actually worked for views.

I asked myself who might be interested in such an interview. I only knew of a handful of blogs. Most of the major websites did their own interviews. How would I find the smaller blogs who might be interested in this?

I went to my good friend google, typed “Wordsworth” into the search bar, then clicked “blogs”, and blam – there was a list of blogs who had posted music, reviews and interviews of Wordsworth. I created an Excel spreadsheet and started clicking each link. I copied the link, the name of the site, and then found the contact page so I could get the names and email addresses of the owners.

I did this for a couple of hours.

When I was out of blogs, I decided to search artists related to Wordsworth. I searched eMC. Then Punchline. Then Masta Ace. Then searched for artists whom they have collaborated with.

Once I compiled my list of hundreds of Wordsworth related blogs, I drafted the body of an email. I then emailed EACH BLOG INDIVIDUALLY, using the same basic email body, but addressing each blogger by name. I didn’t use a program, I didn’t use a mailing list shortcut. I just invested old fashioned time. I marked down who responded. Who was interested, who wasn’t. My email was simple. I introduced myself. Told them how I’d interviewed Words and asked if they might be interested in posting it. I closed by offering my services if ever they should need anything.

I received dozens of replies. Many from smaller blogs. I answered each and every one and had back and forth conversations with plenty of blog owners. Many of whom I’m still friends with today. The interview received hundreds of views. I was thrilled.

Fast forward. As I’m brainstorming ideas, I thought back to my Wordsworth interview and how that benefited us both. I had conducted a few more interviews since then. I went out and bought a new high def video camera, mic and light. I started reaching out to friends and people I knew asking if they were interested in being interviewed. I watched the Lynda.com Final Cut Express video tutorial and learned how to edit my own videos. My interviews went from getting hundreds of views to getting thousands. I linked up with Joell Ortiz (@JoellOrtiz) and did numerous interviews with him, including following him for the Slaughterhouse XXL photo shoot. I did a three part “Lunch with Joe Budden & Tahiry” video, which received over 80,000 views combined. I continued to brand “Culture VI” on every interview.

I googled dozens of interviews with each artists before I sat with them so I could see what questions were asked already. I didn’t want to be repetitive. I wanted to ask questions they haven’t normally been asked. I got Joell Ortiz to explain the origins and spelling of “Yaowa”. I got PackFM (@PackFM) to finally tell us what the “FM” stands for. The interviews were unique.

I kept googling blogs for each artist that I interviewed and discovered more and more blogs. I kept emailing them individually. I created a google group for those who wanted to be kept up to date on my interviews. Eventually, the top blogs like 2dopeboyz and nahright began posting my material. They had to. They were posted everywhere else already. I didn’t email them out of nowhere then get mad that they didn’t post. I built from the ground up. I worked with the smaller blogs who needed new content first, then the bigger sites began posting. It’s the natural order. It’s how things should work.

What else did I do? I began featuring the logos of some of the bigger blogs and my strongest supporters on the interviews as a thank you. I got some of the artists to shout out some of the blogs.

My relationships with the blogs kept growing. My relationships with these artists and managers grew strong, as well. I continued to grow my blog database, which also gave me value.

Sitting with an artist for an hour and just talking music helped create bonds. That’s how many of these “Sorry I’m Late” collaborations happened. We formed friendships. These artists wanted to help. The managers were appreciative of the work I put in, so they wanted to help me as well.

I didn’t just conduct interviews. I worked hard at my video editing so that the interviews looked crisp. I formed relationships with hundreds of blogs, so artists knew when we did something, it would end up on every major blog and website and received thousands – sometimes tens of thousands – of views. I became valuable. Managers and artists began reaching out to me for interviews.

I built a reputation for quality. I also built a reputation for integrity. When Crooked I (@therealcrookedi) and I got drunk off Ciroc for our interview, he let go some stories that he’d rather have kept personal. When he called me the next day and asked if I could hold those back and not post them, I gladly obliged and deleted them from my camera. When I recorded Joell Ortiz’ album and Royce’s albums months before the release, I never let go a single song.

Integrity.

The result was an album that featured a slew of amazing producers and artists, despite John not having had released a single song. They trusted me, trusted the quality of my work. The album recorded by an unknown artist that began with no budget now featured Marsha Ambrosius, Joell Ortiz, Skyzoo, Nottz, Needlz, 88-Keys, Ill Bill, Sha Stimuli, Naledge, Dub B, PackFM, Jaiden and others.

Not because of money. Not because of a label. Not because of begging for favors. No spamming on twitter. No mass emails. Just hard work, a patient approach, and integrity.

And guess what? When I wanted a blog to post a record, I wasn’t some random rapper begging for a post. I was someone who had supplied great, original content to these blogs. I had provided a value to them. They then wanted to post the records, regardless of if it featured a big-named artist or not. I had built relationships with them already. They wanted to see me succeed.

What was the point of this post? It was not to get my 5,000+ followers to run out and buy video cameras to start doing interviews. Honestly, that’s become over-saturated now anyway. The point was – I thought outside the box. While everybody else was dropping countless mixtapes, a million unfinished records or spamming links on twitter or email, I found a way to make myself valuable.

What’s your value? It could be anything. Maybe you’re a good graphic designer. Maybe you can help design mixtape covers or fliers for an artist. Maybe you know how to design websites. Maybe you are a good photographer. Or maybe you can pay $25 to subscribe to Lynda.com and teach yourself how to do something. How to edit music videos, for instance. Maybe you can offer to send emails for an artist. There are countless things you can do. The trick is to not copy what I did – because that would just be more of the same. Use this story as motivation to find and build a value. Recognize that it’s a long process and will take time.

I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions in the comments below.

About the author

Wil

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  • Throughly enjoyed what was presented. The main concept of this blog post revolves around building authentic relationships with people. Individually contacting blogs and websites may be time consuming but at the end of the day it comes across as genuine and sincere. Your approach worked because you actually RESEARCHED the competition and presented stimulating and interesting content.

    Thank you for this post and inspiring people to think outside the box,
    Praverb

  • No doubt man – thanks for the read. That’s what I’m trying to do – inspire new ways of thinking. As a hip-hop fan, I’m so tired of seeing the same old ideas recycled. I’m trying to force people to be creative. Thanks for reading and understanding what I was saying.

  • Dope blog…Gives me ideas..Makes me think i got a chance in the world….

    *couple years later fails*

    so IV….do you wanna interview me?I got 500 views on youtube Im a hit…

    but seriousness keep going with your blogs there insightful and interesting and inspirational.

  • Culture, again, your writing, I don’t even know how to compliment you anymore. It’s the bomb?

    It’s funny that you’d recant how you were able to build relationships with artist and managers by basically putting your nose to the grindstone and doing it the old fashion way.

    This is very similar to my approach back in 2004. I was hired as the program director for Howard University’s student run radio station, even though I majored in computer science. Since I was a bit more internet savvy than other communications majors, I almost did exactly what you did except my approach was more towards the label’s radio liaisons. I’d email them individually, introduce myself and ask, “what can I do for you now that I’m in this position to reach a ton of students at the most well known HBC?” I also did this with student label reps. What happened was we ended up bringing in A LOT of artist (Mario, Cormega, Grafh, John Legend, Jae Millz) for interviews. I got CD singles at the same time as other well known DC stations for my on-airs to play. I even got some t-shirts and merch to give away on the air and a few months prior I didn’t even exist to them.

    All of that because I didn’t go begging for free crap, I just simply asked how I can help make this beneficial for the both of us.

    • damn that’s awesome bro! i love hearing success stories like this. listen, there are many different approaches one can take. nobody can say there is a right or wrong way. but this is the way that i wholeheartedly believe in. it’s the best long term strategy, and that’s what’ll allow you to be successful in this industry. great read man, i’m glad to hear that this worked out for you!

  • I love this blog. It really makes me feel less delusional about my vision. (lol) I love that the focus of your message is about relationship building & hard work… I’ll tell you, when I first joined the Twitter bandwagon, I didn’t realize that there was great potential to connect with people in such an intense way. Soon after I joined, however, the opportunities to build rapport with my favorite artists became apparent… I told my husband that Twitter may be the tool to help us build relationships with these individuals, which, in turn would increase the likelihood that they would come and speak to at-risk youth in our (upcoming) non-profit facility. In the past months, I’ve been amazed at each experience I’ve had in getting to know artists in a different light, and even getting confirmation from a couple individuals that they would be more than willing to participate in our program. Wow. I never would have thought that things would unfold this way.

    Just as an example, I’ll talk about Sha Stimuli. After a few tweeting back & forth, I took a chance and asked him if he would be interested in allowing me to interview him regarding his views on mental health for an assignment that I had due within the week. He immediately showed interest, and that Sunday, follow through with the appointed time that we set aside for a phone interview. We spoke for nearly an hour and he was even open to talking with my husband about hip hop for a while. I mean, how cool is that?

    Anyway, I think the bottom line is that there are opportunities all around us, and it’s just a matter of reaching out, taking risks, and thinking outside of the box. I’m done, I’m out… Thanks for your insight and keep the blogs coming!

  • aw man sha is my dude – love that guy. was just talking with him today. im so glad that worked out.

    yea, twitter makes everyone accessible. something too accessible though. there’s definitely a balance. it sounds like you’ve struck it tho – nice job!!!

  • Hey, thanks for another eye opening post.

    After following your tweets about building relationships a month or two ago on Twitter, you really opened my eyes to what I should be doing – offering to help people as well as ask for help. It may seem dumb, but until that point I’d never thought to offer my services – it’s not that I wouldn’t want to help people out, especially those whose work I admire – I just didn’t think that’s how it all worked.

    I started offering help with building websites, as that’s what I do do pay my way whilst I try to crack this music thing! Since then I’ve helped a few people out and at the same time got my work featured on prominent UK/Australian music blogs. Building relationships works much better as you all get to help each other, so it’s win win.

    I’ll be following all your blog posts in the future, thanks again for your insight. It’s definitely helped me on my quest.

    • aw man that’s great! congrats! glad to see it worked out and i’m happy that i may have helped in some small way. i definitely believe in these things. not that there aren’t other ways to go about it, but i feel this is the most effective, PLUS you get to feel good about yourself at the end of the day.

      hearing how these things have actually worked is always inspiring. hopefully, someone will read your comment and it will really help drive home the point that it works. it just takes a little patience.

      thanks a lot for sharing the experience. i’ll actually be writing an article on relationships very soon, echoing much of what was said during those tweets. thanks again for taking the time to read and comment!

  • Yo thanks for posting up these articles they are really helpful i barely know shit about marketing and the music business business wise and your articles are really insightful but i was just wondering how long it took you to get to that point where the big blogs started noticing you?

    • I appreciate that man. Sorry for the super late reply. Just noticed your comment.

      It didn’t take long, honestly, because I was valuable to them. I started offering good, relevant, original content (interviews). They started getting attention on smaller blogs so the bigger blogs had to take notice. I would also put some free promotional banners for some sites on some videos.

      Once we had that rapport, the rest was easy. Once we started releasing music, they were offering to listen and post it’d without me even asking. Then, because the music was GOOD and because I helped promote the sites who posted it, they wanted more.

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