Yesterday I made a post on Facebook that inspired me to write this. I had been planning to do a column like this for a while as a companion piece to our Network & Parlay night that we used to do in the store, to recap some of the things we spoke about.
Truthfully, I’m always a bit reluctant to give artist advice. Even though, I find myself in the position of doing so every day in one context or another. Most often it is with upcoming artists that I have only briefly crossed paths with or never even heard of. However, most of my friends and acquaintances are artists and I regularly get hit up from some of those people; ranging from upcoming artists, well established artists, and even some artists that people would consider veterans or legends in the game. I’m not getting hit up by these people because I have ALL or even really ANY of the real answers for their issues, but more so, that there really isn’t any DEFINITE answers out there, so with that in mind, it pays to reach out to different people and work the various angles.
Probably the single most common advice I give out to all artists is “Work All The Angles As Effectively As Possible”…you never really know what is going to be the thing that sticks are pushes you over. Many of us probably wish that talent and making great music was the most important, but clearly it’s not. To me that is the important first step in the benefit of the Culture, so I will always stress that, but the truth is that is just a “Bonus” in the so-called “Industry”. Anyway, that’s an article, or rather a novel, of its own.
My focus with this column is the art of “Making It Easy”. I think that theory applies to every artist no matter what level they are at, as no artist is beyond losing their fan-base, but it should definitely be a focus and concern for any upcoming artist. There is just entirely too much music out there for any unknown or barely known artist to expect people to do any amount of unnecessary work to listen to their music…no matter how good you think it is, people are more impatient than ever.
This basic concept applies to all potential listeners, whether it is getting your music listened to by fans, potential fans, record labels, show promoters, radio programmers, or whomever you deem important to hear your music.
One additional challenge, beyond having an unprecedented amount of artists in the world, is there are steadily increasing means of how people receive info/music/videos. On a daily basis I get hit up via Email, Facebook, Twitter, and in person, for a variety of things, but the most common reasons are; 1)Listen to their music & 2)Arrange a meeting to talk about their musical career, direction and get advice.
Truth is, I find myself working anywhere from 12-15 hours a day every day of the week, sometimes more. I don’t really have any time to meet with people about their career and very little time to listen to a whole lot of new music. I’m a fan of the Culture so I make time as much as possible, but it’s a lot more work than you might expect. I have to choose not to sleep or neglect spending time with my family to listen to someone’s new album, so trust me I’m expecting it to be special or I’m skipping thru it quickly. I used to make it a point to listen to everything completely, just because there might be a “hidden redeeming quality in there somewhere”, or so I would tell myself. That was true next to never. Generally if something sounded bad or bland early on in the listening, it stayed that way or got worse, rarely better. Now I don’t have that time luxury. I’ll give each song a chance, but I’m quick to cut it off if it’s corny, poorly written, un-creative, bad flow, a carbon copy of whatever is popular, or any other handful of common turn-offs.
That’s just an example of my schedule, you should assume most people are busy and you need something special to take them out of their daily routine. Too many artist make the mistake of acting like people listening to their music is an obligation, but truthfully no one owes you a listen or support. You need to earn that. If you want people to take a listen to your music, then hit them with your best and make it count. Also, be aware of who you are targeting. Like it our not, music tastes are not universal and people tend to have selective tastes. I consider myself pretty well rounded in my taste, but there are certainly things that can peak my interest and at the same time, other things that can lose me right away**. Of course, you can’t do that for every person or potential fan you send your music to. However, if you are sending your music to a DJ or Radio Show, for example, become familiar with whom you are sending it to first. I don’t think you should go make a song to fit everyone’s format to please them, but once you discover where they tend to lean in stylistic preferences, search your catalog for whatever you think fits best.
All that leads up to the main point of this…
Songs VS Albums: As previously mentioned, people are impatient. Many have already stopped reading this post…ha. With that in mind, try to narrow your focus to your best material. I imagine some people will disagree me on this, but I maintain this position, based on, not only my personal preferences, but also my conversations and observations of many others, from fans, to artists, to people on the business side of things.
I’m of the belief that Albums are for people who you have already won over. I don’t think an Album is great way to introduce you to people. Each week a multitude of artists hit me up to listen to their music, that generally leads to about 20-30 emails, 2-5 links on Twitter, 40-50 posts/messages on Facebook, 5-10 people in person. That means on a busy week I have approx 100 artists a week who want me to listen to their music. There is absolutely no way I can find the time to listen to a 100 new albums a week, amiss all the other things I need to do in work, life, and my own personal musical choices. I can’t and honestly not willing to try to do even half or really a third of that. Time is just too valuable. Keep in mind I’m not even on the high end of receiving material. Record Execs, Radio Programmers, Show Promoters are certainly getting hit with significantly more than that. Any Hip Hop Fan who is actively on Facebook or Twitter is also getting bombarded with a wealth of new music choices every day, potentially as much and possibly more than me.
Consider this when sending out links. It can potentially be infinitely more effective to focus on a song or two and then provide the info on how to find more if people are interested from what they hear. I think I can pretty much guarantee you will greatly increase your chances of being heard right away by sending one song VS an album or even a handful of tracks.
If I get an email with one song attached and all I have to do is hit play and listen to it while I go about my other business, it’s quite likely that I will just give it a listen right away. Even if I only listen to a few seconds of it to see if I’m interested enough to download it. However, when I get an email with 5 tracks attached or a link to D/L an album from someone I never heard of, I identify that as “work” right away and I likely will skip it to come back to later. I know for a fact that I’m not alone in feeling that way.
I discovered Hip Hop at the start of it being a part of the Record Industry in 1979 and it was a Singles market until about ’84 when Run-DMC and Def Jam became instrumental in changing it to an Albums Market. Albums remained king pretty much every since, with probably a near evening out in the mid to late 90s with the Indie Label Single Explosion. That is until recently. The singles market probabably hasn’t been this strong since the early 80s for Hip Hop. Of course, it’s different now. The single back in the day was focused on the 12” vinyl and today it is primarily digital sales or music videos, but regardless the same basic principals apply. It’s essentially a proven formula that, more often than not, Artists win fans from songs/singles and that creates fans that buy albums.
That is the science of the day good people. Hope it proves helpful. I’ll be dropping more tidbits of info over the next couple weeks.
*Personally, I prefer to receive my any business related communication via email (Kevin@fifthelementonline.com). Sometimes on Facebook and especially Twitter people send things and I can’t get to them right away because I’m caught up doing something and then I tend to forget to go back because in Facebook I can get dozens of message per day and things get buried once I get to overwhelmed and it’s even worse in Twitter as things are just going by so quickly. Honestly, I hardly spend any time on my personal Twitter. I use it mostly as a promotion tool, so I jump on, tweet something, take a quick check of anyone shooting something my way and then jump back off. I try once a day to just scroll down the main timeline to look for interesting things and try to support them via retweets or replies, but I’m trying to digest so much info there that I’m not really trying to distract myself by clicking on links in that process. Once again, that is a personal preference though. One of the most talented rhyme writers I know from the 90s Chicago Underground Scene is Griffen and he got a record deal with Facemob thru sending a tweet at Scarface about a year ago, with an album set to drop soon, so obviously that approach works for some people.
**As for musical taste, I have one particular thing I check for initially and that is “effort”. It’s hard to explain, but I can sense it when I’m listening. If I feel like little or no time went into the writing or the production then I figure if they didn’t give a 200% then why should I. I want there to be some sort of creativity involved. I accept that originality is not as common as we would like, but there is a fine line between influence and carbon copies…many cross that line. Also, I don’t need songs to be 100% positive and peaceful, I enjoy all sorts of content. I recognize Hip Hop is a reflection of environment and the world and that’s sometimes not pretty. I’m a fan of Jay Z, Mobb Deep, 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G, Chief Kamachi, Kool G Rap, and many others who would be classified as “Street Hip Hop” or “Hardcore”. However, I have no interest in hearing songs that are mysoginistic or objectify woman (or men) as sex objects. I actually love the Women in my life and value people in general, so I do not relate. That in mind, it’s a waste of time to send me your strip club song or your track about how much of a player you are, I’m not going to care or enjoy. I suppose that applies to being hateful or disrespectful to any group of people in general …not my style.