There’s a cool little coffee shop/bar here in Boise, ID, called The Crux, that has a reputation for being a very indie, off the beaten-path (some would even say “hipster”) kind of place, and for booking obscure indie bands, both local and touring. On top of that, they serve an awesome drink there called the Crux Deluxe, which is essentially dark beer mixed with a shot of espresso—don’t knock it ‘til you try it, because it’s delicious. Recently, the venue started holding monthly musician meet-ups that I’ve been going to, and it’s been awesome to see the number of artists that have shown up to network, offer input on the music business, and ultimately how many people went there, like myself, to learn. The difference between most of them and myself? I’m a hip-hop artist. This got me thinking, what can hip-hop learn from the indie music scene…
The 10/90 Split
Whether you’re strumming a guitar, singing, or spinning on the ones and twos, the advice that my producer gave me when I first started recording is something that all artists should take to heart: “10% of [the music industry] is actually making music—the other 90% is all business.” This is potent advice in a world where ‘getting signed’ is increasingly harder to do and doesn’t ensure success, even after it’s accomplished. We live in the era of the DIY artist, and the business surrounding all of the music is essentially the same.
At these monthly musician meet-ups, one thing that I find more often than not in Boise is that those in the indie scene seem to network much better than those in the hip-hop scene. Whether it’s because there tends to be more of a lone-wolf attitude among rappers, or perhaps the ever-pervasive “I don’t need help” attitude that permeates hip-hop, DJs and emcees alike could benefit just as much from musician meet-ups as indie artists. I was disappointed to see no more than two other rappers from my scene at this event (I know of at least twenty that could have gone and benefitted from the workshop), while the room was packed with about twenty indie artists in punk, ska, and rock bands alike.
It’s not just meet-ups that are useful, make sure you’re networking online.
The problem with a lot of small-time rappers in my area, and, indeed, a lot of artists in general, is that they either don’t have the work-ethic or the knowledge to succeed on the business side of things. “The will” and “the skill” is what we call it. You can’t teach “the will”. If an artist, hip-hop or otherwise, thinks that everything is going to be handed to them, they’re in for a rude awakening, and that’s just something that artists will have to figure out for themselves. “The skill,” on the other hand, can be taught, and as long as the artist has the will to apply that skill, they stand a chance to be successful.
Nowadays, many artists will want to know how to be their own promoter. They’ll need to know how to promote themselves properly, whether that be through guerilla marketing, social media marketing, or good ol’ word of mouth. They’ll need to know about the legal side of music, including how to file taxes and write-offs if and when they start making money, how to copyright your brand and IP, and how to send or respond to take down orders (especially for rappers that make mixtapes over other producer’s beats). They’ll want to learn technical tips, like how to create a better stage presence with lighting, or how to shoot and market a music video. What better way to learn all of that than to ask the people that have already done it? It doesn’t matter what scene you’re in, the tips are pretty much the same—and chances are that there’s somebody in your scene that can provide the knowledge you lack.
Get Over Your Ego
One of the most pervasive reasons that many local hip-hop artists don’t seek out this kind of information or try to network within their scene (and indeed one of the reasons that many get into rap in the first place) is that they are blinded by the cars, the drugs, the money, and the misogyny that is inherent in mainstream rap culture. They adopt the ego that too many of these rap cats flaunt in their music videos and expect that emulation will beget results, which simply is not true. I can’t speak on how prevalent this is in the indie scene for other towns, but I can tell you that in Boise you don’t see very many promoters, business owners, or members of the musical community that are also rappers. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of rappers out here—but for the most part, the promoters are either a part of indie scene or are working independently. I don’t care what type of artist you are, unless you’ve been signed to a label or have a team of people that are doing it for you, you’re gonna have to get over yourself, pay your dues, and put in the work.
I had a friend that used to say, “I prefer to be the dumbest person in the room. If I surround myself with smarter people, it’s inevitable that their knowledge will be passed on to me.” Utilizing this knowledge and working with other artists in your scene, be they rappers, rockers, producers, or singers, will prove fruitful for anybody looking to further themselves and their careers.
Knowledge is power. Seek it and use it.
About the Author: Andy O. is a hip-hop artist, freelance writer, and co-owner of Earthlings Ent. out of Boise, ID. When he’s not playing video games or writing rhymes about super heroes, he’s grinding as hard as he can to build the hip-hop scene in his hometown.