I can’t say it enough, but the internet really fucked the world up. Not in a bad way (necessarily), more so in the sense that any notions we had on business/relationships/art/etc were dramatically overturned with the introduction of unrelenting information being on our desk, and in the palm of our hands. Applied through the lens of music, we saw the value of it as a product plummet with Napster and Limewire, and how major labels have adjusting in accordance; more 360 deals, inexpensive/guerrilla marketing efforts, involved in tours, etc.
On the flip side, there has been a leveling of the playing field for artists starting out--it’s never been easier to build a studio at your house, record some weird music, release it with ill art/visuals, and blow up overnight. One can garner a huge amount of attention simply by dropping a good song, with only Soundcloud and a couple blogs acting as the middleman. All of which would have built up a pretty large debt to your label for time/money spent on production, marketing, and distribution in the past. With this boost in responsibility for independent artists, it’s more prominent than ever for an artist to develop their identity in other mediums.
With that being said, the rigid perspective on how an artist can release a record, stemming from the ‘big-money’ era of music at the turn of the millennium, is still present for a lot young artists. Take for example the yearly release schedule, and how it’s generally frowned upon to drop something in the Winter. I suppose it can be partially attributed to the physicality of music in the past--with a foot of snow on the ground, who would really venture to Target to snag that new Royce Da 5’9” CD? (Nobody) But with the internet playing middleman, I see it in a totally different light: Winter allows listeners to truly digest an album, spending more time than usual in the crib working on stuff.
From the beginning, Tyler's been super involved with every aspect of OF's identity. His distinctive graphic style works its way onto all merch and album artwork; he does all his own videos; not to mention his huge library of music. Now with a successful annual carnival/festival, subscription media app, and articulated cut-and-sew brand, the dude seems to really be figuring out the impact he can make.
I've always appreciated Thom Yorke's perspective. Dude is undeniably a musical genius, but beyond that, he seems to be interested in providing an experience to people who actually are down to spend money on music. I remember In Rainbows was one of the first albums to have a "name your price" option, while his recent release was sold as a unique BitTorrent bundle with visuals and exclusive content
Beyond that, the idea of releasing an album only on some pre-ordained Tuesday is very bogus. This is done to match up with Soundscan’s schedule, getting accurate ‘first week’ numbers for whoever still cares about that--with streaming so prominent, at this point I find those sales-statistics representing the pull of an artist less and less. As we’ve seen with Drake, Beyonce, and hella other artists recently, fans are attentive to their favorite artists, moving quickly when they drop a new song/album. Regardless of how they release it, they’ll still move tons of records, but by not relying on some aging schema, it gives them freedom to deliver the project in the best way possible. Looking at the two methods a lil closer, you can see one requires months of honed marketing and strategy, while the other recognizes both the hype of the artist and ease of connectivity with the listeners.
I guess it’s all about unbiasedly-acknowledging where you’re at. If your music fits a certain “internet-savvy” group of peeps, it’ll probably spread more easily compared to a sound that garners older fans. Certain songs/videos just have a ‘sharability’ where it clicks with the right group and blows up. I remember A$AP’s “Peso” video spreading around my high school like wildfire because of how accessible it made these weird tumblr subculture groups. At the time, I knew little more about him more than the video, but he maintained a coolness by treating every facet of his artistry (vid, lyrics, beat, melodies, etc.) as a medium to present a sort of slick identity.
And this overnight-stardom only seems to have gotten more regular recently. In the past year, I can’t count how many people have blown up off of a single viral Soundcloud release (Father’s “Wrist”, Post Malone’s “White Iverson”, Makonnen’s “Tuesday”, etc). But the same facet of the internet that makes it easy to gain a big audience, seems to be what makes it easy to lose them. All it takes is a couple offensive tweets or lackluster songs before people start to look elsewhere (think Trinidad James for the latter). So the question becomes, how do you convert a fleeting, ADD-plagued set of listeners into a group that consistently supports you both creatively and financially?
As if creating a record label and comprehensive clothing brand wasn't enough, the man Drake had to crank out a couple of the coldest pairs of Jordan's I've seen recently, just in time for the teeny-boppers' back to school shopping.
It would've been tight even if it was just for the Rodeo album cover, but I've heard Travis Scott is actually selling these action figures of him. Hell yeah he looks like a gargoyle but you want a doll that doesn't look like the real dude?
Tough to talk about musicians taking on other mediums without mentioning Kanye and his move to Adidas. The clothes are clearly more developed than the basic logo tees that other artists are putting out, but the price tags are offputting.
It’s been well said over the past few years that touring and merch are the only places artists truly make money anymore. But at this point, it seems to be more about making money wherever you can. It truly is a free-for-all, with the most inventive, personable artists typically rising to the top. Look at Tyler, The Creator and OF--from a business perspective, they’re one of my favorite things in music solely because of how spread out they are. Tyler’s been pretty hands-on with everything from jump, but that’s grown exponentially in recent years. Look to the 15,000+ attendees of his annual carnival, the thousands of subscribers his app has, or all the kids rocking cut-and-sew OF merch, and you’ll see an inventive businessman/musician at the center of it all.
None of these moves could have been done by artists before the internet, but given the mobility in mediums and personability of social media, artists can quickly recognize their audience and adjust their business to it. In the case of Tyler, he’s got millions of die-hard fans throughout the world that love him for his personality almost more than his music--why wouldn’t they want to engage with him through unique events/media offerings/clothes?
Bronson is another example of an artist who people just want to see more of. Given his deal with Noisey, he’s been pumping video content out the wazoo to a clan of anxious fans. Each episode of “Fuck, That’s Delicious” gets thrown around the internet the instant it drops, feeding in to a certain pull that Bronson has, completely outside of music. With that being said, in due time it acts as a seamless medium to plug his new releases.
In a totally different sense, Soulection represents what a truly dynamic label looks like in this new era of the music industry. I stumbled on them as tastemakers at the perfect time--Soundcloud had become so over-crowded that their regular 3-hour radio show seemed to cut through the bullshit and smack you with good music. In the age of unrelenting info and data, the people able to sift through it all for quality are who’ll truly rise to the top. In the realm of music/labels, this means being able to find the most-talented kid making music out of his parents’ basement and offering them resources. As Soulection has developed the show into a comprehensive label, they maintain regular tour and release schedules for all their acts. Beyond that, their radio show is now syndicated on Apple Music, so best believe that’s some regular Benjamins. As a business model, I feel like they have very little overhead costs, but have been able to make a massive impact by responding to the habits of listeners.
But what does all of this mean for the local act with a release that just isn’t doing what they had hoped? First things first, I would recommend that you take an active interest in how you want to gain exposure, because who can explain your perspective better than yourself? Some people will look at the business side of the music industry as an unnecessary evil, but I hope I’ve shown that one can have fun while developing their ‘marketing strategy’ (for lack of a better phrase). Beyond that, I’d recommend actually developing skills in other mediums, something which will save you money, in addition to adding clarity-of-message. Assuming you have a concise message in your music, it has never been more important to adapt it into other mediums.