Portland’s hip-hop scene, in many ways, mirrors the rest of the art scenes in the city. There’s an overabundance of talented emerging artists, many of whom have the same afflictions. Mainly, a need for discipline and business sense. Or, as some would say, a need to stop bullshitting. As a writer, I’m certainly guilty (see: serial offender).
This is most evident scrolling through a Facebook timeline on any given day. Seriously, if you’re bored, just drop a Top 10 List, sit back, and grab some popcorn.
While it’s true that social media is a great avenue for new marketing (Do yourself a favor and check out some Seth Godin books), ego flexing on Facebook isn’t helping your career. I’d be lying if I said these endless threads aren’t entertaining (Just know that people are laughing at you, not with you) but there comes a time when, if you consider yourself serious, you have to stop striving for ego capital and focus on REAL capital.
There are far more than 10 things that are more productive than Facebook drama but here are some thoughts to get you started:
1) Build a fan base
Despite that write-up you got or the spin someone gave you on the radio show, chances are, no one in Tualatin or Hillsboro (never mind outside of your time zone) knows who you are. Media is first and foremost in the business of getting your existing fan base, not growing it. There’s a sentiment going around that if all the artists just support each other, the scene will grow. But how many times do YOU want to see the same act over and over again? When it comes to other artists, do you think your friends and family will be even more patient? You need people who don’t know you, and you may never meet, telling their friends about you. Personal recommendations are still the most reliable form of marketing. Give people in places outside of Portland (many have a significant amount of disposable income) a real opportunity to listen to your music. There’s too much music out there to expect people that don’t know you to first, randomly find it, and second, give you a chance. Be deliberate in letting these people know you exist.
2) Build relationships with media
It blows my mind how many artists don’t understand why someone who doesn’t know them isn’t covering them. The media game really isn’t magic. There are people that cover music. Find out who they are and the best way to contact them (spamming is never the answer). Learn how to write press releases. If you see these people at shows, introduce yourself. Also, it helps to understand that different outlets/people have different tastes and audiences. Don’t get mad if someone who doesn’t mess with your style doesn’t cover you. Save yourself time and petty emotions by doing some research.
3) Support outlets that support you
Now when you find those outlets that help promote you, it would be in your best interest to help keep them running. Even the small ones play a big role by getting the word about you out to bigger outlets. Don’t take it for granted. For example, with Welcome to the Neighborhood’s future up in the air, showing support is as simple as tweeting @xrayfm and saying #WTTNtoXRAYFM.
4) Work on your live show
It’s sad when you’ve been bumping the hell out of someone’s song and then you go to see them live and it’s boring. Or worse, the most interesting parts are the screw-ups. Once again, there is way too much music available (much of it for free, but we’ll get to that later). A great way to stand out and make an impression on potential new fans is through the live show. If you’re on stage getting mad at the crowd for not getting more excited about your show, they probably aren’t the problem.
5) Build relationships with promoters
In order to get in the position to do more live shows, these are the people to know. Unless you’re absolutely killing the house party game or have the resources to put together your own venue, it’d be wise to make good with those that can give you performing opportunities.
6) Learn about business
Learn about publishing and copyright. Don’t be afraid to not give away your craft for free. There’s a time for testing the waters and getting exposure. But when you want to know where you really stand as a professional, start charging. Even if you sell a few copies, that still puts more money in your pockets than thousands of free downloads and Facebook likes.
7) Develop a marketing plan
Earlier I discussed building a fan base and reaching out to the media. You may be shocked to find out that people aren’t stopping everything they’re doing to listen to you, just because you make music. A lot of people make music. What’s special about yours? How can you communicate that to people so they’ll want to give you a chance? What can you do to get people talking about your music? Hint: Squabbling on Facebook, at best, will result in people talking about your personality (see: immaturity) and more importantly, make money for Mark Zuckerberg, not you.
Expanding one’s breadth of knowledge has never hurt anyone. And let’s be honest, some people could use new subject matter and more clever (or clever period) punch lines.
One of the biggest selling points of Portland, and Oregon in general, is its laid back atmosphere that gives space for artists to develop their craft. Don’t let the recent growth and Portlandia marketing campaign fool you. Portland will never be New York, L.A., or Atlanta. To get perspective on the business grind that allows artists from these areas to get their music to masses, you have to experience these places. You don’t necessarily have to move, but it never hurts to plant your flag in new places. It’s also important to note that U.S. hip-hop fans, in general, have really short attention spans. Many artists you may have forgot about are making good money touring overseas. Some literally revive their careers that way.
10) Talk with vets
There are plenty of artists who’ve done what you aspire to do. They know what worked along the way and what didn’t. They know the little things that you aren’t going to get from books or 10 Things lists on blogs. If you approach them in a respectful manner, they’ll even share this info with you. Seek these people out (keyword being people since no one person has all the answers) and build relationships. They can help you help yourself and get your foot in doors you previously thought were closed.