BABA: Be A Better Artist
You can call me a blogger that has no taste. You can say I don’t know anything about being an artist. Well, you will also be wrong.
Being a blogger, musician, engineer, show promoter and manager of sorts helps me see multiple sides of this music world in a way that most just don’t have the luxury of seeing. So, instead of just chiming in when I see something on Twitter, or dropping a couple ideas upon people exclusively in random studio sessions, I’ve decided to take the time out to share with you a few things I’ve personally had experience with.
Why am I doing this? Well, whether the information is coming from an artist trying to get his music on sites, a blogger reviewing music, a producer working with rappers, or the many things I’ve done in between, what I’m sharing with you is something that hopefully helps you acknowledge areas you might be weak in. Something like “don’t do that” or “fix this” with the hopes that it helps your journey to be the successful artist you want to be. You might be successful, and that’s great, but maybe this will help you be more successful. I mean, let’s be real, you rappers need guidance more than ever these days because the world is flooded with you aspiring spit kickers, know-it-alls, and it’s hard to know what information is worth accepting as good advice. So, read this thoroughly, print it out, put it under your pillow at night, and recite it every morning. Oh, and check BDTB daily. Ready?
The Top Ten Reasons Why You You Might Be Failing As A Rapper
1) You are not being honest with yourself, and you do not have QUALITY ORIGINAL CONTENT. Those last three lines are capitalized for a reason! Maybe you’re simply not that great at what you do yet, and fall victim to the societal brainwashing that content in any form is better than none. You’ve been mislead. One thing many artists seem to lack these days is a good quality control system. Sounds funny when written, but not everything you do needs to be heard by the masses. The information age has changed the whole “pay your dues” process (for lack of a more descriptive word at the moment) because of how easy it is to do music. I honed my craft for 3-4 years before I ever tried to let the masses hear it, yet that doesn’t really seem feasible anymore because of the information wave. Still, this does not mean that bloggers, writers, and everybody that is looking out for talent will be less critical of your music because of that reason. It’s important to take note of that.
Sure, share your songs to your friends, but us bloggers do not want to hear halfway done, non-mastered and unpolished confusing raps. Especially if you’re new and it’s your first impression to us. Maybe you don’t have any great producers around you so you jack beats. Maybe then you think that nobody will notice. Maybe you try to say that you’re paying homage? Well, we’ll not only notice, but we’ll classify you as that certain type of artist. The blog world is fast – we don’t have time to learn about all of the things that make you cool – you have to strike quick, confidently, and with a certain type of respect and class. As a blogger, if we don’t know who you are to begin with, and you don’t have original music, we cannot take you seriously as an artist. It’s that simple. You need to show us you are taking yourself serious before we can try to.
2) You think you’re entitled to something. A lot of rappers, and managers for that manner, don’t understand that it is not a blogger, magazine writer, fan, or anybody else’s job to listen, review, post, tweet, like, share, download or support YOUR music. That thought is hilarious to me…and I’m an artist too. You are creating “creative” content and you have to realize that nobody has to like you. It is the blogger and writers job to fuel THEIR audience. It is YOUR job to fuel the audience and the blogger with great content. You are a pawn on their board, and as arrogant as it sounds you must understand this. You don’t pay them, the advertising money from their visitors pay them. It’s important to realize that, and believe me, they can do just fine without you. I haven’t even mentioned event booking, but I will later as this is a great segue to number three.
3) You don’t understand the importance of building appropriate relationships with the people you want to help you out. Or, if you do, you don’t do it very well. I’m more interested in sharing somebody’s music I’ve had a conversation with than somebody that’s obnoxious and annoying. The same goes with event booking. It’s simple human stuff, man. Build relationships with the people you want to work with. Network. Don’t hit them up on Twitter and demand them to listen to your music if you don’t know them (hell even if you do). If you don’t know them, follow them on Twitter and strike conversations with them randomly based upon what they are talking about. Don’t invade or intrude, but be persistent. If you are in the same city that they are in, go to their events. Make yourself known with class and respect. Offer them something. You don’t have to kiss ass, but you must realize that you must add VALUE to whatever they are doing. Being socially pleasant is possibly one of the biggest skills you can acquire.
Now, I understand there are websites that ask you to pay, and there are promoters that either won’t pay you, or even ask you to pay to play. Fuck all of that shit, but make sure you gauge the value of the situation. If you get asked to open for Brother Ali with no pay, and you’re a little-to-no-name act, fucking open for Brother Ali and shut the fuck up. Sound harsh? Well, do you know how many people would PAY to open for him? Build that relationship. Nurture that relationship. Certain opportunities do NOT happen more than once, so grab that opportunity and push forward around that momentum. You must also find ways to work with rising artists in and a step above your bracket, as well as in and outside of your city. Find a way to be valuable to them. This rolls perfectly into number four.
4) You don’t understand how to gauge value well. Maybe you try to do everything for free and you shouldn’t, which is something I’ve done wrong in the past. It’s not that people try to take advantage of it, it’s just that some really know how to capitalize on a good thing. Know your value and adjust accordingly based upon the value coming in. I know, it seems like common sense, but it’s not for everybody! Make sure everybody knows prices, costs, and anything expected UPFRONT!
Let’s flip it though. Maybe you charge for everything and you shouldn’t. You probably don’t realize that investing in your career means that you must actually INVEST in your career. Oh shit, that was literal? Yeah, man. You might need to come out of pocket for that gear. Sometimes you have to bite the bullet and not make any money at a show. Sometimes you shouldn’t charge for that feature. Sometimes you should pay extra to get that somebody on your track. Sometimes you should pay for that beat rather than jacking one. Not all investing is monetarily based, but a lot of it is. You need to remember that you get what you pay for, and you should realize that in this world where money seems to be what everyone is after, that what everyone is really yearning for is value. Not money. Well, at least the people that I want to do business with.
Building valuable relationships is extremely important. Ask anybody that’s doing something that you wanted to do how they got to be able to do it, and I will bet you that 90% of the time it is because of a valuable relationship that they have built. Either that or they paid for it, and unless you have the money to just pay for it (and get labeled as such (or laughed at depending on if the person doesn’t roll that way)), maybe you should focus on this whole value system. You’ll get respect that way too, and yeah, that’s a cool thing to have in this crazy music sphere. Shake hands and build together!
5) You are not good at turning criticism and commentary into positive results. A blogger, A&R, producer, writer, reviewer, fan, other rapper, and anybody that has ears are all important people to get weighed opinions from. You must decipher appropriately what is great and horrible information, and learn how to constructively fix the parts of your art that is lacking. You don’t have to change who you are to do these things if you are talented at what you do. At the end of the day you can always learn something new, and you can always be more efficient and effective. Let your peers talk; you know deep down if what they are saying is true or not. This plays into number six though…
6) You have too many YES men and consider everyone else a hater. Be very mindful of the TASTE of the people that like and dislike your music. Understand your audience. Stop thinking you’re special because friends and friends of friends like your music, and don’t think you suck because somebody that likes Miley Cyrus thinks you suck. Find the good and bad in it.
Taking from my own experiences, I’ve found that the best way to get an honest opinion from someone is to gauge your sound on people that don’t care about you. People that don’t have any incentive to like you or not. Close friends have other factors to consider, and so do colleagues. Relationships. Rappers are sensitive, bro. You know, you can be happy when people in an old folks home rock with you, but still don’t let it influence your productivity. Sometimes people will simply just not like your music because they don’t like you. Take it in stride.
7) You get caught in the hype machine. I’m sorry if you’re one of those “artists” that purposely or accidentally copies whatever is HOT in your POP media circle. It’s honestly annoying and disheartening to see talented people fall into this category. You know, you might be able to rap your ass off but you don’t seem to have an ounce of originality in you.
Listen to me here: You will not have longevity in this or anything artistic by being a one-off imitation of someone/thing else, and you MUST create yourself to stand out in the best way that fits you. Frauds will always be exposed!
What do Mos Def, Black Thought, Kanye West, Riff Raff, Action Bronson, Earl Sweatshirt, Future, Danny Brown, Mac Miller, and Chance The Rapper all have in common? They are the best at what THEY do; they are unique. Sure, they may be similar to other artists, but they have defined themselves with distinct characteristics. All artists do. They are in the top position with who they are. Danny Brown is the only Danny Brown, and you don’t want to be the third best Riff Raff. You want to be the only Riff Raff, or better yet, the only YOU.
These next one has multiple parts to it.
8) You aren’t keeping up with the ever-changing revolution of internet media. Everything changes. Daily. Have you ever wondered why a site went from sharing Hulkshare and Mediafire to AudioMack and Soundcloud only? Have you even noticed? Do you understand why Bandcamp, Soundcloud and AudioMack are the best mediums you can put your full-length project on? Do you know the differences in them, and why certain sites and fans like them? This is VERY important for you artists that do not have somebody doing all of your stuff for you. Hell, it’s important that you do know these things so that you can make sure the person doing it knows what THEY are doing.
Aside, do you understand what blogs are the best to submit to for your sound? Do you understand how annoying it is to receive emails from artists of completely different genres? Or flipped, do you understand how much time you are wasting sending your music to the wrong site? A rock blog is not going to share your jazz tunes. An eclectic hip hop site is not going to share your trap music. A trap music site is not going to share you boom bap. Understand your lane. Do you know how many emails get deleted before they even get read because they are either formatted wrong, too hard to understand, contain poor grammar, and/or don’t follow simple guidelines? A lot of you are really hurting yourselves in this area, and it’s completely unnecessary if you would slow down and target your distribution.
Also, this does not mean that you need to be put in a box, but it does mean that you might need to adjust your target. You know, the difference between accuracy and precision. I know you rappers out there play COD.
Another thing that plays into this is that a lot of you want to be posted on a website, but you act like you’re too busy to read the site’s submitting guidelines. Or, you drop a project, and don’t do the proper planning to put a release out. Look, there’s nothing more annoying to someone that wants to share fresh new music than some rapper hitting them up in a public place, on Twitter or Facebook, or in some way that has nothing to do with the submitting guidelines, and then expects them to randomly remember to share their music. To go out of their way. Yo, these guys are probably busier than you are. Sure, mention it to me, but follow the rules!
Submitting guidelines are in place so that us bloggers can keep track of everything. I know it may not be the case for all blogs, as some don’t even take submissions, but if you submit using our form, we will not only be able to keep track of it, but we can put it in a queue to be reviewed and you will at least know that someone looked at it. If you hit us on Twitter, phone text, or wherever, it’s simply not going to be looked at. And you will be looked at with one of those angry kid faces.
9) You distribute your music horribly. You need to make sure that your music is easy to get to. Before that, you really need to plan out your releases ahead of time. I’m talking singles, videos, show dates, interviews, and anything else that you may want to do. And man, they all have to be high quality. Great videos. Hi-resolution, professional artwork. High production quality my friends.
If you don’t plan ahead you are planning to fail.
Proper planing prevents poor performance.
You know what else? You should have a website. A simple yet effective and efficient website. A hub. Not for bloggers necessarily, but for your fans. Fans need websites more than blogs do, and sites appeal to people that want to book you. Don’t send me to Reverbnation, Live Mixtapes, Dat Piff, Soundcloud, Bandcamp, or anything of the like if I’m trying to book you. Sure, have these things for blogs (preferably one that is EASY to embed), but you need a central location so that everyone can find you. And yes, it has to be greatly efficient, pleasing on the eyes, and NOT automatically playing music when I arrive to your site.
10) Success takes more work than you will want to do. And I repeat…success takes a lot more work than you understand. Years.
Use to wish on a star that I’d have big plaques
Big awards right here on the wall, everything that gleam
Lamp shades, back stage, for this nigga askin’
Tay, would you work ten years for your dream?
Seven years later, now I see just what he mean… – Phonte “The Pressure”
There is no such thing as overnight success my man/woman. Even the most horrible artists worked to be where they are. Sure, they may have caught a break, but they were doing what they needed to be doing when that happened. If you get that moment, really plan around it to make sure that you can piggy-back off of it continually. Keep your momentum going; it’s very important. Do NOT underestimate the phrases “work hard” and “hustle” because you gauge those things based upon what you consider hard work and hustle. You must work hard based upon the people you are in competition with. As sad as it is, hustle always outweighs talent in our world. And always: Kaizen. Continual improvement will get you to where you need to be.
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If you have comments about something you want to know more about, or disagree with something, drop a comment. Let’s discuss some things. Good luck!