This sums up about everything that I have learned the past year going on two years since venturing into music with “Lil Red”.
Randal and I grew up in a different time. We came up during a time where people stalked the offices of labels slipping their demos in to major record execs and A&R’s in the most bizarre ways and creative ways. Craziness. Stalking A&R executives. Gatekeepers. Anything to get a chance to be seen or heard, perform in those offices. We live for the Unsung and Finding documentaries that come on Centric and BET. All of the “Behind the Music” to hear these stories. The airwaves ruled and nothing was yet digitized, social media didn’t even exist yet. And the outlets that did exist were either “underground” or very rudimentary by the early 2000s.
We started watching The Hip Hop Game with JD, the past year to 2 years. From that show I learned and earned my first bread crumb as JD rattled off exorbitant numbers of followers and views. When he started talking numbers, as an Accountant, he had my attention. I realized the obvious, it’s a numbers game. Following other gurus I learned the obvious, it’s not always about “talent” but marketing, a gimmick, a catchy hook or tune that brings in the numbers. Talent is a plus if you have it but sadly no longer a must. Nowadays, the executives are chasing down the people who have already gone viral and have a massive following. People that have a track record to catch views which accumulate payouts with plays, downloads, purchases and views. So what have else have I learned thus far…?
1. You Will Need to Structure Your Music Legally and Electronically…
Are we pushing this hard to get signed? Realistically speaking it’s not a priority but if it’s God’s will then I’m here to negotiate. The reality is you have to structure your music electronically and legally to even put it out anywhere let alone be considered (yes only considered not guaranteed for airplay). Imagine that!
I soon discovered that even though our music would only be on YouTube (initially) it would need to be structured and protected in preparation of things that may come. From copyright law to BDS encoding it has been an adventure. Everything needed to prepare for the inevitable once you put your own original music on the internet. Once you place your music online anywhere you open a Pandora’s Box. Preventative maintenance was needed which came along with making our music available for streaming. I have chosen streaming we will not be available for download anytime soon. If you follow the bible then you know the parable of the farmer. The one who waits to plan for the perfect conditions. The truth is you know that the rain will come so you are best to prepare for it. Rain can be either good or bad situations.
From obtaining copyrights, to ISRC codes, to promo ads on Instagram, to contacting radio stations for interviews and spins, getting our own distribution; I have done it all in the span of 1 to 2 years. If you can hear our music online somewhere it already has a Copyright, ISRC code, and is BDS encoded by Nielsen. We are also registered with ASCAP, and Sound Exchange in case we end up elsewhere. I’ve learned a lot thus far. No, I am not ready to manage anyone else at this time 😄. However, if the opportunity presented itself and someone else wanted to be managed I’m definitely open to managing others.
2. You Don’t Really Need A Label Anymore
The biggest epiphany in this journey has been the obvious in all of the ground that I have covered in such a short amount of time. You just don’t really need a label now, that is, until you’re ready to do things on a grander more monumental scale. Typically, once you are seeking financing to reach a wider audience with greater traction, larger venues like arenas and stadiums. For some landing a label is the be all end all. As heartbreaking as it is we live in a different time. With a love for music and a knack for Accounting, at one point in my life I wanted to get my CPA license so that I could serve as honest financial and business management for these acts. The truth is when people get signed it’s not necessarily a “deal”. It is an advance, an advance that must be earned back and in the event that it isn’t the advance can be recouped. People sit dumbfounded like is this the same person I saw in a Bugatti or Maserati or that went platinum yet they are bankrupt now? How is that even possible? Yes, that is very possible. And I won’t get into the mathematics of that since this is just an overview of what I have learned. I will just say chasing a label is not high at the list right now.
3. There Are ALOT of Places to Put Your Music
Millennials and younger generations don’t watch tv, at least not in the traditional way. Even I stopped subscribing to a traditional cable package years ago and have an al a carte option from which I stream now. Likewise millennials are not really listening to the airwaves or traditional radio as much anymore.
If that’s your audience then you are in the wrong place banging down traditional airwave radio stations. Go where they are. You have to find your people. Most of the younger generation and those more open to hearing new music are either live streaming or on YouTube now.
4. The Perception Of Others VS Reality…
People get dragged for making music (undiscovered) at an older age. But the truth is they have probably been at it for years. Likewise, “Lil Red” has been making music for years. With a catalogue that in its entirety can span over a decade of consecutive releases.
(0ld promo pictures circa 2007)
When I met Randal he was making music long before I even came around or knew of my existence. If you’ve done the math between the kids and married life thats some years and notches under the belt. If the people you came up with don’t know that side of you then they aren’t going to see you as an artist. Subsequently, they may not support, that’s just the way it is. There are people that will tell you this to your face. The best thing to do is just shift your focus elsewhere and focus on what you love doing and why. Which should be for nothing more or less than the love for music.
5. You Do Need Good Management, Marketing and Promotion
You may not need a label right away or possibly ever. However, you will need good management, marketing and promotion. The name of the game is “target practice” as I like to call it and have even named some of my audience models on my promo metric tools. Through “target practice” I have learned our audience. We have global appeal. This shocked me the most, as I started reviewing our stats regularly, but with my first dubstep track I got a glimpse of global reach as we reached the UK, Amsterdam and countries that I forgot existed. As far as our audience, I have learned who they are, where they are and where they aren’t. They aren’t on Facebook or places where our numbers and engagement are very low. Through “target practice” I have learned that you can think your music is majorly tanking but it’s just the wrong audience. You will have to narrow or expand your target. There’s a bit of toggle involved to get it just right. More often than not it’s the need to shift and narrow your audience. Dissociate from the ones that are not supporting and don’t aim for them.
As far as management goes you need someone who either already knows the answers you are seeking or someone who will research and seek out the answers you need. You need someone willing to LEARN in an industry that keeps changing and evolving. You need someone who has a vested interest in you. You need someone who can spot and smell a scam a mile away! There are many and they are rampant.
You will need your own “Gatekeeper”. You need someone who will do what needs to be done to keep things going and to get what you want. There are a lot of people who claim to have connects that they really don’t have and you will have to learn to spot this clever angle as well.
6. Hold That Hash Tag…Hold That Comment
Don’t go overkill with these!
A hard truth is that a lot of artists and celebrities have people or social media management who manage their social media accounts. You can also call it damage control and preventative maintenance. “I have people that do that” I have heard a celebrity say and from there I was not surprised though amazed that people do not even run or police their own social media pages and accounts. As a result, I have become a secondary social media manager of sorts. There are times where I have given advice “do not engage” or to engage with the audience. If it’s constructive recommendations for a better camera, frames per second, sound engineering, or beats how to improve in those areas we will listen. But if its destructive we probably won’t respond to you.
7. Likes and Follows Are Not Genuine Indicators of Anything…
While it’s a numbers game I realize the obvious likes and follows are superficial. They don’t always equate a fan or friend or loyal supporter or a play. As I dove deep into the numbers from my first promos it relayed the obvious that likes and follows don’t really matter. Though we are grateful for the genuine ones. The biggest downside to likes and follows being less than genuine is the fact that people purchase them as well as other empty numbers
Though, online engagement has some gray area to consider. For instance, all of the highly coveted likes and follows don’t mean much of anything when you get into the nitty gritty of digital marketing.
You can’t take them to the bank and sometimes they don’t even equate or parallel your actual play count or engagement. Another revelation I soon discovered shortly after finding our REAL audience. The arena of digital marketing is quite complicated too.
8. Your biggest supporters will be strangers.
This was yet another shocking revelation. From the constructive feedback that you receive to Far before this journey I learned this when we moved to Wesley Chapel when strangers took care of us as if we were their own family. They looked out! However, there are people in your circle or family that that just aren’t going to like or “get it” for that matter. Don’t lose heart. As you look into your comments, there is a “strange phenomenon” that you will notice of total strangers who definitely like it and get it. Once you consistently notice this herd or tribe of loyal supporters…Congratulations! You have found your people!
9. To Stream or Download That Is The Question?
I would have to say that it’s better to save the album and downloads for later. Make your music streamable across platforms to gain traction first. Only market your strongest tracks for download. Later down the road as you amass greater numbers in plays and fan base you should definitely consider downloads.
10. Pay For Promotion But Don’t Pay To Perform…Anywhere!
Paying to perform is a waste of time. Chances are there are dozens of others there just like you who paid to perform. The ones who have paid to perform, more often than not, outnumber those who are actually there to listen. Instead, you are better off finding a local venue to perform at and build your audience. Promote those performances to your growing audience. They will come to see you and new people will see you and you will cultivate and build an audience while taking home a little bit of money in turn.
11. If you’re aging…
There comes a time where you will have to be real with where you are going with what it is that you are doing. If you are making traction take those royalties and roll them over into other business ventures that are either passive income or things that you can see yourself doing when this chapter closes. Get an exit strategy together for the inevitable retirement or changing the way that you present your music.
That concludes all that I have learned this far with a little bit of opinion mixed in. This should not serve as professional music management or legal advice. However, merely a place to think and build on how to move forward if you are considering releasing music.