This Is My Rifle: Advice for Indie Artists - Minimal Budget, Maximum Impact (Pt. 1)Posted by Jason James on 11/17/10 | Filed under Top Stories, Features, This Is My Rifle, How to Blow...
You're On Your Own Son
I still remember that feeling. Sitting in my bedroom staring at that piece of paper. Repeating it over and over again. 100 bars of all the ologies, osophies, all of me’s, and cosmicallys that I could think of and strung together so they made sense. Sure, I copied Inspectah Deck’s rhyme pattern from the first 4 bars of “Triumph” and I rapped it in a Kool G Rap flow but this verse was me.
Before this moment in time, graffiti was my vice. That special form of expression that I used to show the world who I was and what was going on inside of me. I spent almost all of my time cruising the city of Vancouver looking for those spots that all graffiti artists dream of. Those places where other artists look and say, “How the fuck did he do that?”. I took insane risks day in and day out but it was all worth it. I was bombing (or writing my tag everywhere, for those who are unfamiliar with graffiti slang) so often that my handwriting looked like one long tag. Krylon spray cans bounced around in my backpack and you could hear me coming from a mile away. There was a rush that I got from graffiti that I couldn’t find in any drug in the world. But then I wrote my first real verse and I never touched a can of Krylon ever again.
The year was 1997 and I was 15-years-old.
So there I sat, bobbing my head to the beat, running through 100 bars of murder. Since the age of 9 years old I had written little raps here and there but never anything that sounded or felt like this. Until now rapping was just something I did for fun in the train yards or wherever else me and my crew decided was a good spot to leave our mark. But now it was different. There was nothing in my life that was comparable to this. I was expressing my thoughts and ideas without having to say, “No, no. That says WEB. That’s an E not a Q”.
The next day I wrote another verse and then another, and again another. The words just seemed to be pouring out and fitting perfectly between each other. Each bar better than the last, I got more excited the more I wrote. I spent weeks doing this. I would write to anything that had a drumbeat. I did it at home, at school, on the bus, wherever I could put a pen to a pad you would find me in the corner eagerly writing. The world around me became brighter and at the same time non-existent. I absorbed and regurgitated everything that I could, the words and the music blocking out every bad look, hurt feeling and negative gesture I had ever received. This was it. This was what I was going to do for the rest of my life.
This was the birth of ambition.
Today’s music industry is something that is impossible to navigate. New technologies, trends and ideas emerge on a daily basis at such a rapid pace that even the evil overlords (aka major labels) are unable to keep up. This new era has provided a wide-open lane for independent music, as it’s easier for a small group of people to make immediate changes than it is for a massive 100+ person machine. Over the past decade, resources and tools have become available that have given independent artists the upper hand and are slowly making major labels obsolete.
A big problem with the digital age of music though, is that most artists aren’t using these resources properly. Time and time again I see artists wasting valuable funds and energy on promotional methods that are completely unnecessary. Just this morning I was sent a link to a music video from an artist I’ve never heard of before. Upon clicking the link, I again saw a shining example of a poorly timed promotional plan.
I could tell that this artist had spent a considerable amount of money on their video. From the quality of the video itself to the usual Hip Hop clichés (car rentals, models, club rental, etc.,) this was at least a $5000-$10,000 production. Aside from the song being awful, the artist may as well have flushed their money down the toilet. The reason for that being is they had taken the 3rd step in promoting their music before even attempting steps one and two.
A lot (as in 99.9%) of artists are lazy egomaniacs. They are absolutely useless when it comes to creating and executing a solid promotional and marketing plan. Most artists refuse to do any of the legwork necessary in order to make their own music a success and they like to ignore the fact that they are indeed at the bottom. And so what you get is promotional materials designed to do nothing more than stroke the artist’s ego while simultaneously draining their bank account.
What the aforementioned artist should’ve done is spent his money getting the song to the people and finding out if he actually has a “hit”. There are various companies that specialize in this area. Most of them are a scam but there are a few that are worth the money. Companies like Digiwaxx are a great way to get your record to the blogs and DJ’s with guaranteed results. From there you can determine if the song is strong enough to warrant a video or if you need to hit the studio and get back to work. A few thousand dollars invested in these services are worth their weight in gold. Plus, you’ve now created a familiarity with the digital music outlets and from that point forward they’ll be less hesitant to give your music a listen.
Of course, if you’re like me, you have bills to pay and you’re running on a minimal budget. If this is the case, brace yourself and get ready for the scenic route because you are officially on your own.
Back in 2006 I was introduced to the modern form of music distribution. My “manager” (in quotes because he was more of a “ unemployed guy that sleeps on the couch and smokes a lot of weed” type of dude than a manager) had recently finished his stint as an intern at the now defunct Russell Simmons Music Group. Upon his departure from the label he managed to take with him RSMG’s entire email list, which I can only guess was also Def Jam’s since RSMG was an extension of Def Jam. With that list we entered the world of digital music distribution using the dated but highly effective “email blast” method of promotion.
My relationship with the “manager” dissolved soon after but I maintained possession of the email list. After having turned out moderate but solid results with the previous blasts, I decided to continue using this method but first I needed to expand my contact base.
What I did first was get an idea of where I would be sending my music. From our previous work I knew that my music had a strong response in many different corners of the world. So instead of focusing regionally I decided to go big and set my eyes on the entire planet, working from the outside in. Using Google maps, I printed a map of every single country in existence as well as a map of all the major cities included within them. At the time, MySpace was the social networking site of choice so that would be my point of contact for sourcing out DJ’s.
From there I downloaded a program called “MySpace Friend Adder”. The program was an automatic friend adder that used keywords to locate people on MySpace and add them to your page. For example, I would type “DJ, Hip Hop, London” and the friend adder would find people that used those keywords in their location, description and about me column. I added 200-500 DJ’s at a time depending on how big the city was that I was searching.
It took about 6 months for me to find DJ’s in every major city on earth. Once I had a massive pool of DJ’s to work with I went through each individual page and sent a personal message that went something like this:
What up DJ (insert name here),
I’m currently updating my contact lists. If you’re interested in receiving new music and drops, hit me with your email address and I’ll add you up.
The one thing I knew was that DJ’s love getting new music. Their careers depend on it. And aside from having new music hand delivered to them, most DJ’s also love breaking new artists. Knowing this, the MySpace DJ mission was a huge success. In a matter of a year my original RSMG contact list had increased tenfold.
Once I sent the music off to the DJ’s I patiently waited for their response. From that point, whether the response was positive or negative, I asked the DJ’s to send what’s called a “drop script” which is basically just a recorded shout out from myself to the DJ. I knew that whether they liked my record or not, most if not all of the DJ’s wouldn’t turn down a drop. And once they had a drop from me they’d be more likely to give my song some rotation since at the beginning or end of the song they had a recording of me saying, “What up it’s your man WEB kickin it here with my man DJ (insert name here) on (insert mixtape or mixshow name here)” that they could play.
I spent hours recording drops. I would hit the studio and spend an entire day going through stacks of drop scripts and sending them as soon as they were done. The result was that I had created a presence on mixtapes and mixshows around the world and I did it completely by myself on a zero dollar budget. I stretched 3 basic resources (MySpace, Gmail and an email list) to their absolute limit and utilized these tools to their fullest potential. As a result of my hard work, my original RSMG email list became a thing of the past and was never used again. It was a great launching pad but the relationships I had built on my own had become more viable. Overall the entire process took an entire year but what I lost in time I made up for in coverage and valuable relationships.
In almost every circumstance you find in the music industry, time and money seem to be interchangeable. If you have a budget, you have a shortcut. If not, your ambition and dedication has to make up for it. It’s all a matter of what you do with the resources that are available to you. All the time and money in the world won’t matter if you don’t know how to manage it.
Or you can just make one super stereotypical music video and pretend that you really own those things when you meet teenage girls. It’s up to you.
(Jason James is an artist, freelance columnist and writer for RefinedHype.com. You can listen/download his most recent album, "Marvelous World Of Color", here and you can contact him here and here.)