Indiana's hip-hop representatives.

BABA: You Really Must Have Great Music & Great Perseverance

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything for our Be A Better Artist series, and today I wanted to touch on something that most of us artists tend to overlook. Well, it’s really a rambling of thoughts that I’ve collected through my 12 years as a hip hop artist and producer, mixed with my last five years as a blogger, kind of focused with a general point, but you know what I mean.

That main point: you really must have great perseverance at what you do to have longevity in the music business…as an artist. I hate even calling it “the music business” because quite frankly, most are nowhere near the etheric plane on the business aspect. I know this because I’ve lived it. Let me rewind a bit first.

Most of us that have been making music for a while understand the levels of our growth. I remember when I started making beats and rapping, and how good I thought I was. I remember thinking a couple years after that how bad I was before, but how good I was then. This cycle recurs and continues to do so to this day for the most part. Granted, there was definitely some great music created in my early days, but the process and knowledge behind my growth as a musician could only be accomplished through time, in my opinion. You know, that whole “find yourself” as a musician thing.

whereamigoing

It’s important to note, as I have in the past, that I’ve lived through a couple different eras in the music business. I was “coming up” when the digital age was taking off. I started making music in 2002 and didn’t put anything out online until 2005. That’s three years, and although it seems like a lifetime in today’s standards, I really wasn’t shit until about 2006 (just as much of the music that is submitted to us at BDTB today seems to be). Sure, I had flashes of genius, but I didn’t truly know what was good and what wasn’t, and most of the time I didn’t even know how I was making the stuff that was good. It was just like, an accident. Sure, I liked stuff I was doing, but I was kind of oblivious outside of my bubble. Granted, not everyone grows the same as me, but not everybody has my understanding because of the way I chose to grow. I remember when all I did was make beats and try stuff out with my homies, and it’s cool to see some younger cats I know do the same stuff that I was at their age. I was that Kanye West “lock myself in the basement for three summers” beat maker. I had thousands of beats (before that fatal dropping of the external hard drive two hours before an iStandard showcase back in 2009). I was that guy. I think that I’ve probably officially put in my 10,000 hours, 12 years later.

10khrs

Why do I say all of this? It’s not to boast, as it’s nothing to boast about; it’s to put things in perspective.

It was literally three years of nightly work before I paid any real attention to trying to get my music out of my apartment, and a couple more after that before I really took it semi-serious. Sure, it was in the back of my mind, but I never did anything to actually pursue it. That simply will not ever happen again because of technology. Before Twitter, Instagram, Soundcloud, and modern day Facebook, there was just MySpace, Soundclick, and college Facebook. I remember trying to figure out the next big thing and how to get my music out there. I started doing remix contests online. I was in forum beat-sample-flipping-battles on Stones Throw’s website back in the mid 2000’s, and I joined many message boards including ones where I’ve created some really cool acquaintances (shouts to all of my Access/Ban’t homies). This was before blogs were “the thing” to be featured on. I was feeling around for the best way to get my music out because I honestly had no idea how to share my music moving forward, and I wanted to figure out what the new way was going to be.

Then blogs really started to strive. I remember the first blog I got on, in 2007, and it had no relevance of importance for me. I was just like, “that’s cool.” This was all around the same time I had the idea for BDTB. From there, I moved to Indianapolis in 2008 and went to every single hip hop related event that I could find. I tried my best not to be that “thirsty” artist (a topic for another day) that demanded a conversation, but I wanted people to know I was around. I passed out my latest project and ended up striking some good conversations with some like-minded folks. Eventually people heard my music, liked it, and things evolved. I only started doing this because it was the next logical step… I didn’t know what else to do. There was no “guideline” to success in this new digital era. I learned that regardless of that fact, speaking face to face with people was the one way to create fans and respect. It was necessary to succeed in my world.

8246808706_cbdf8c39e2

From 2009-2011, my group Hinx Jones was doing some really good things in Indianapolis, but we were struggling outside of the city. We were one of five acts selected to perform at the A3C Hip Hop Festival (in Atlanta, GA) on their Sonic Bids stage. We were in the green room like flies on the wall with Rhymefest, Tanya Morgan, DJ Booth’s DJ Z, the fellas at 2dopeboyz, Homeboy Sandman, 9th Wonder, Statik Selektah, and you name it. We did multiple festivals around Indiana, too. We were travelling and performing in Chicago. We were featured on a national mixtape by Fake Shore Drive. We were getting booked left and right and had lots of local anticipation for our next album, “Frozen Liquor.” On the surface, that looks amazing, yeah? Well, there’s more to it than that.

We wanted more people to hear our music. I submitted our music to blog after blog, but really didn’t take the time to do it the right way. I’d find emails and send music to a bunch of people (never do this). I didn’t know anything about formatting emails or how to appropriately create relationships (learn this). This was before BDTB was really jumping; I learned it all on the fly. I remember thinking “we got a video on Kevin Nottingham a year ago so we’re good there,” yet they wouldn’t post any of our new stuff. It was a trying time because we thought we were making great music, and doing everything we should be doing, but couldn’t get anybody to really pay attention to us outside of Indianapolis. That’s the dreaded “local” musician’s dilemma, isn’t it?

In retrospect, years later and thousands of music submissions reviewed by me, myself for BDTB, maybe our early recorded material “quality” should have been better if we wanted to reach a larger market. Sure, we were the new guys to like in Indianapolis, but we weren’t just competing with Indianapolis anymore. We were competing with the world. We were competing with hundreds of thousands of submissions and people just like us, and nobody knew who we were. We were competing with media outlets, individuals with lives, time, and so much more. We all want to be heard. I’ll touch more on this later, but what we artists don’t initially understand is that we bloggers have lives too.

It’s important to read that a few times and let it sync. I am an artist and musician, producer, entrepreneur, boyfriend, friend, son, and I have a regular normal person job. I have a mortgage. Artists like to assume that it’s the job of the blogger to share great stuff the moment it’s given to them, but that’s just a pipe dream at best. You might get lucky and I might have a Wednesday where all I have to do is go out and search for the greatest talent abroad and find you, but it’s more likely that I’ll go through our submissions, delete the stuff I don’t like, forward the stuff I do to the queue, check a few sites to see what just dropped, work in my business, and if I’m lucky be able to make a few beats before I cook dinner. There are certainly blogs where the owners can truly dedicate most of their work-space-time towards these things, but the point I am making supersedes this. It’s important to keep in mind that you are not living in a utopia, and that no matter the blog, person, store, producer, artist or whatever – people will always have other things to prioritize. Let me simplify this a bit.

Goal-setting-its-not-all-about-me

Why should I pay attention to you more than someone else, or hell, even myself?

I mean, really ask yourself: what are you offering that will make me want to stop what I am doing and focus on you? I’m not talking about me per se, I’m talking about anybody that you want to pay attention to you. I’m not talking about money either, I’m talking this: is your music really bringing value to the website you want to be featured on, or to the person who is listening? You need to stop thinking as if you’re deserving of a charity post from these sites, and that people are blessed to be able to hear your words. How about a step further: is your music going to stimulate me to a point to where I really want to know more about you? A decent song is not good enough because anybody can make a decent song, and the web is over-saturated with decent music. Not everybody can make a great song that you can feel, though. Ask yourself: seriously, is what I am doing forgettable?

That’s not all. Let me take it a step further and a bit to the side: what do us as human beings do when we are overwhelmed? You know, you want me to check out your stuff, but I’ve got bills due, hours to pick up, and this article to write. I could either completely ignore the extra stuff or, perhaps, really focus on what is really worth my time. Where do you fall in that situation? Keep these things in mind.

72percent

We at BDTB realized that the submission and music race was one that we were never going to win. We can’t nitpick between handfuls of “decent” songs; we simply must make it so that everything share is something we absolutely enjoy. That’s why we have the submission guidelines and form set up the way we have it. We eliminated email for a reason. We want to cut all of the guess work out. We press play, and if there’s a hint of doubt of if we like it or not, we delete it. It’s that simple now.

It has to be like this.

It has to be like this because otherwise we are not doing the submitter, ourselves or our fans and followers justice. You need to feel honored to be shared. Not because of any type of power trip or elitism, but because we as artists need to know what we are doing is appreciated, and that what we are doing is being perceived as we think it is. We need to be held accountable if we put out sub-par music. We need to be told about ourselves from people that actually have taste, and listen to thousands of submissions every month. That can be a friend, blogger, producer, DJ, or anybody worthy of such in between. It’s up to you to determine who that person is, and if you submit music to a blog that you do not respect, your selection is the main problem. At that point you are not doing yourself justice.

This whole segment I’ve been talking about is bigger than blogs. In the last few months I’ve witnessed the stronghold of blogs seemingly fade a bit, which is great in my opinion, as artists (for at least a good 2-3 years) were depending on blogs (and only a few of them at that) to get their music out. This is backwards because the focus is then not based around building a fan-base, and it’s instead focused on relying on people to randomly “happen upon” them on a website. You really have to stop that.

sheep zombie

This blog confusion is/was like a deadly zombie apocalypse. It spread really fast and convinced nearly everybody of its importance. Getting on blogs is/was like the old being signed. Sometimes it’s hard for an artist to switch his/her mind from art to business because when their main focus is “make good music,” all they want to do is “get people to hear it” as soon as possible. Let me tell you, I had two different remixes that had nearly 25,000 plays in a day because it was featured on a major blog. I woke up to the numbers the next day and felt great, but my life has not significantly changed because of this. There are a couple bumps to the ego, but otherwise it is really still business as usual. You have to learn to keep that momentum going.



You must realize that to keep that momentum going you have to actually have fans. Sure, I have fans, but I didn’t really have any in that aspect. I was just the producer in this case, and a remix producer at that. I then realized how finicky this whole thing is. The success fairy didn’t just drop out of the sky and scoop me up; I’ve been and still am working at it. All that it did was help me understand another level of what I was pursuing. It was a great feat accomplished, but I’m not playing the short game. I’m playing the long game, and most of you reading this are too. Don’t get caught in trying to play the short game if you are a long game artist. Sometimes the home-run isn’t available, and you have to realize that a base hit can eventually accomplish the same outcome.

All being said, having blogs share your music is great for your career, but it is not where the battle is won. Do not fall victim to “depending on bloggers (you don’t know)” and instead focus on creating real relationships with people you do know (including bloggers). Confusing eh? Well, this is how you get fans. Build relationships. Yes, it’s a long process that you have to work at. Blogs do help, but knowing the blogger personally helps more. Having a cosign does help, but making music with the consignee helps you more in the long run. Don’t get stuck on the surface. Understand why things happen, and understand the levels.

Let me go back a bit to touch on music quality.

When I talked briefly about how the music I made could have been better, I was a bit bland. When we (Hinx Jones) were making the “11 Piece” back in 2009-2010, we really just put it out as a feeler to see what people liked from us. We were brand new. We put it out without a lot of expectations, and although the project succeeded and helped us grow in many ways, I feel that our recordings were a bit too “raw” for most blogs (it was the first project I recorded and mixed fully in Pro Tools; there was a bit of a learning curve). One thing you’ll notice is that, most people, and blogs, don’t mind sharing “raw” or different sounding music from people they know, but they won’t from people they don’t know. It’s a familiarity phenom. It is not blog specific. Fans from “Blog A” would’ve probably rather heard Blu than us on the particular day we submitted our music, the same way our fans would have rather heard a song by us than some other act from Indiana. It’s relative.

Its-All-Relative

Learning all of that took time to really understand and digest. We’re dealing with people, not robots. We personally had to go through it to truly get it, and it was still quite disappointing to realize that we still had to play the popularity game. I took it as paying my dues. Sometimes you have to find stuff out on your own. I am close with many artists who are trying to get over that hump, and we’ve all tried (and are trying) different things to get ahead of the curve. I think the one common denominator though, for all musicians that take this serious, is that you need to focus on building relationships. You need to build your own fan base from the ground up and through the relationships you build. You need to build relationships with people that are like you in your field of expertise, and all of the associated fields. You need to go out of your way for people. You might need to take a few losses in order to build in other areas, and you might need to get out and go on tour. It is important for you to get out of your comfort zone and meet people you don’t already know. For example: I have personally thrown shows for artists so that I could have the chance to build with them. I may have come out of pocket, but it was a great way for me to build and become friends with a lot of people I’m close with today. It’s not about the money; it’s about finding those people that are like you that you can build a valuable relationship with. It’s different for everybody. “Let’s continue to do cool shit and try to pay our homies.” My friend DJ Castle said that recently when chatting about my Drums Bang project, and it’s exactly what I strive for. It’s what a lot of us strive for.

To succeed in anything worthwhile, at least in my experience in life, is to tactfully “try and do” repetitively until something works. Not just try. Try and do. We do not always know the best way to do things, and the processes are changing all around us, but unless we work at these things and improve to the point of one day becoming great, we’re in for a hard time. Good luck.

POST TAGS:


I'm just trying to make my art and do what's smart. Cake donuts are clutch.