by Tef Poe
Editor: Tef Poe is an artist from St. Louis City. Through powerful imagery and complicated honesty, he has earned a reputation as one of the best rappers telling the story of St. Louis, which is about much more than one place. Poe has been featured in music publications such as XXL and Urb Magazine. His next project War Machine 2 was released this Tuesday, June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.
Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.
So I'm on Facebook, and I notice a status from Wally Wallace of Best Out Ent. -- an Indie label with a battalion hip-hop of acts making noise in various regions. The Facebook status from Wally was speaking on how his primary focus for the label in the future would be learning the science of writing a proper press release.
I instantly liked the status and decided this week's blog subject would focus on a few things every indie artist needs to know. I'm not a master of the arts on every level, and I'm constantly focusing on learning tricks to the trade I don't know.
I'm not a marketing genius, so some of these things may be common sense. I invite any and everyone to leave a comment with any type of advice that have been useful in their struggle to make it in the entertainment business. I am not a guru and there's a lot of stuff I don't know. But as a growing artist I am always willing to learn and share info.
I see a bunch of articles like this written by douche bag people in the St. Louis music scene. So let me make this clear: I am not attempting to use this as an opportunity to act like I am Missouri's Lyor Cohen. In the grand scheme of things, I do not know a fraction of the things I should know about the industry. I know of a few age-old music industry remedies that work on some level, so I decided to share them:
1. Give Your Supporters Something to Believe In You need something larger than your music for your fan base to attach themselves to. Aside from your original songs throw out some freestyles over popular records to show your listeners that you have the talent to keep up with whatever is current in the industry. Rap over a popular beat and give them the mental reference of hearing you over music they are familiar with. Remember: No one cares about your songs, so you have to find something that will inspire them to believe in you. Find noteworthy causes you can attach yourself to. Give your career a life outside of your music. You can drop song after song and video after video but it simply won't work if the people do not believe in you.
Take yourself out of the box drop a few freestyles periodically and kick a few freestyles at your live shows. Learn how to book your own shows and become a self-reliant machine. If you perform at a venue you should be the first person there and the last person to leave. Don't be afraid to work the room by shaking hands and having extended conversations with the supporters. Network with venues owners and artists in other cities. You have to sell your story and personality to the public.
If you drop a free mixtape create an exit strategy that will eventually lead you to some form of a currency stream. Promotion works best if you allow it to run its course in phases. This gives the people a chance to learn about you and understand who you are. If they don't believe in you then they won't invest time and money into you. A fanbase that believes in the artist will do anything under the sun to help spread the word. This all basically starts with the artist deciding to become more proactive about their career. You need to take responsibility into your hands. Let your brain come up with comprehensive ideas that make sense and apply these things to your career. The more hands on you become the more you will notice the energy around you start to shift. You'll start believing in yourself on a totally different level than previously, and you'll notice the public doing the same. There is indeed strength in numbers and sometimes you need to dictate to the people what they should believe in. Respect the power of a grassroots campaign. Sometimes you won't understand the logic behind certain moves you need to make. They may seem too small for your persona at the moment. You start believing in yourself other people will follow. This is rap music we're discussing, so if you want to impress people show them you can rap at all costs. The problem is your rap skills and your rap records don't always rely on each other. Initially no one will care about your records hence the goal shouldn't be for you to push a song. You should focus on making a audience embrace your persona beyond the music.
2. Formulate a Realistic Plan Getting signed to Interscope in six months is not realistic on any level whatsoever. Getting signed to any major label, period, is not a realistic first step. As an artist you need to determine what demographic identifies with you. Learn about these people and the places they hang out. Find a way to discover what your core audience is. If you make music that sounds similar Dead Prez, then attempting to push it at clubs that only play trap rap may not work. The same thing applies on the reverse side of the coin. When we recorded "The Redeemer" I took a giant piece of cardboard and wrote out each and every goal the project was supposed to accomplish for me. I actually took this trick from J-Toth. I had realistic goals written on the cardboard. At the time most of my goals a bit more simplistic than they would be today. I wanted to make sure we initially gave away 500 CDs, hand to hand. I didn't have much money so it took me a while to work my way up to 500. Once we got there, I marked it off on the board and beefed up my respective goals. I had about 50 different objectives I wanted to accomplish, and having them organized on this piece of cardboard in my living room served as a reminder of everything I needed to do in order to gain more fans and overall support. I think having a realistic plan is the most important thing on the to do on this list. I saw an instant change in my situation from this activity.
3. You Need A Budget The primary goal of any indie artist should be to eventually find an investor of some sort. In the beginning, this is going to be extremely difficult and honestly for most individuals it may not happen. So you'll need to find different ways to invest in yourself. You also need to discover ways to gain sponsorships. Save money and apply it to your career. I see so many rappers waste money on stupid ish. You are not Dom Kennedy so spending money on the same kicks he has on is a waste when you can take those same ends and apply them to a video, a PR campaign, marketing, graphic design, etc. As a rapper, image is indeed important, so I agree with creating a fashion budget for yourself once you can afford it. But in the long run, what good do those new clothes do you if you don't have a fan base to wear them for. It's important to know that nothing moves in the music industry without cash. You decided to be a rapper so now you're same business as Jay-Z and every other rapper you idolize. Jay-Z has a trillion dollars, so now this is what you are competing against. Rappers who are signed to major labels are increasingly beginning to think like indie artists, since the labels are suffering financially more and more each year. If you are trying to become a rapper with zero money in the bank to invest in yourself, you have already lost the battle. 4. The Team Everyone talks about having a team and this is also a very, very, very important step. More importantly having the right team in place is the ultimate goal concerning this subject. You need to do everything you can to make sure everyone in your circle has the same exact dedication level. Partial dedication will only equate to partial results. I've longed spent time dealing with circles of people that were kind of dedicated to my cause. If you're going to be successful, everyone has to share the vision and be on the same exact mission. We all know the importance of having a team delegating responsibilities to each member. We very seldom discuss the need for everyone on the team to be completely dedicated to the music they are pushing. My music is not just my music -- my music belongs to my team. I don't create the music alone, I may conceptualize it but we all collectively give life to it.
Everyone needs a job or task that should be performed daily. No one should be allowed to take a day off without reasoning. If for whatever reason any individual on your team does not feel that your music if the future of ALL music then do yourself a favor and cut them immediately. You shouldn't be surrounded by "yes men" but you do need to be surrounded by people that value your talent and will do everything they can to push it. According to my management I am the best rapper alive -- not only do they believe this, but they live it and breathe it. This is primarily why I decided to partner/sign with Overdose Ent. As an artist you need these type of believers in your corner fighting for you 24/7. There is absolutely no way you can make it without a team. If the team has dedication issues you are hustling backwards and wasting time.
5. Learn How To Type A Press Release You won't get many looks in the media if you have no clue how to present your music to it. Sometimes you may not have music to actually release at the time but you want to find a creative way to announce that you are currently working on a new project. This is why you need to understand the value of a press release. Professionalism is the key to success and releasing a song via Facebook with zero additional information being sent to hip-hop blogs, web sites, deejays of all sorts or fans on your email list is a complete waste of time. You don't have a record but you need to function and act like you do. Def Jam doesn't drop the new Rozay single via Facebook or Twitter and call it a day. A press release gives you the opportunity to build a campaign and notify the public and media about the things to come from your camp. This is one of the simplest yet most neglected ways gaining attention. I personally don't drop or do anything without attempting to have a press release attached or previously emailed to the proper personal. Compile a list of local media publications and send them a press release when there is noteworthy news about yourself to report. The press release often saves time for them and can be easily copied and published. Remember this is an image based industry and sometimes we focus so much on the image of our physical appearance we forget that the way we present our music also has an image attached to it. The lack of a press release in certain situations simply says your local and you don't have a team of people with special interests investing time into your career.
6. Understanding Your Market We live in Missouri, I know this might be a shocker to you but to the record execs in New York City there is no difference between Helena, Montana and St. Louis Missouri. Do you know anything about Helena, Montana's music scene? What was the last rapper you heard of from Helena? Does anyone in America give a damn about Helena hip-hop besides the people that live there? No. I hate to say it but this is how I view St. Louis. I love the Lou but this is not L.A., Miami, or Atlanta. The majors shut doors on us a while ago but for some reason St. Louis rappers seem to think this is the Bronx in the golden era. A lot of us allowed the success of Nelly and the St.Lunatics to fool us. They had a plan and it worked. God bless them but you are not them. They left the market and came back home shining like champions. You live Nebraska and you're the biggest indie rapper there. Guess what?? Nobody outside of Nebraska will likely give a damn. You have to understand your market and become familiar with how it moves. You need to learn about the type of business your market breeds. Kid Cudi left Ohio and moved to New York because there was no way in hell he would get signed living and dying in Ohio. There are no major labels here. The major labels have absolutely no clue wtf is going out here. The major labels do not care about what is going on out here in the middle of a country bumpkin cornfield. How are you going to maneuver in a market many industry professionals have labeled the dead zone? You need to understand the market you are working and learn how to make it work for you. If you don't understand the market your strategy for getting yourself out there will more than likely fail. You will spend years running around in the same circles, making the same mistakes, assuming that you are gaining ground when you actually are not. Learn about the market and build your strategy from there.
7. Marketing, Branding and Name Recognition The quality of your marketing campaign pretty much dictates the momentum of your career. The quality of your branding can potentially provide new ways for you to make money. Every day of my life I am fighting for a better understanding of how to properly market myself.
These days I fortunately have people in positions higher than myself, responsible for finding creative methods to handle all of the above. Even though this is the case as the artist I am responsible for making sure I do everything humanly possible to spread my name around. I feel like I don't know much about marketing. The best advice I can give you in these regards is pitch your music to the people that identify with it. Originality goes three thousand times further than anything else in most cases. I was told by a person who shall remain nameless, "Nothing is organic in the music industry -- everything that happens is something someone made happen." I believe you have to make it difficult for people to ignore you. On some level you have to find a way to be everywhere at once. Marketing is about creating illusions and steamrolling people into believing in this illusion before they see the man behind the curtain. The power of your branding is in your hands. This can easily start with posters, stickers and mixtapes to hand out. You need to find creative ways to keep your name alive and active in the heart and minds of your demographic. This process helps create more fans. People typically only attach themselves to music that some sorta fire lit behind it. If everyone is talking about you then everyone will eventually start listening to you also. DJ Trackstar and Corey Black are two people I watched and learned from in this area. 8. Learn To Properly Use Social Networks This is about to turn into some sort of rant so follow me. Every day, I log onto to Facebook and Twitter to witness rapper after rapper use it the wrong way. My right to showcase my opinion about famous rappers on Twitter died when I decided to join the industry they are all in control of.
Twitter has a widespread reach and you truthfully have no idea who's watching you. It's cool to follow Lil Wayne and see what he's tweeting about but it's smarter to follow his management, stylist, PR team, etc. There are at least 30 plus people attached to any celebrity you can think of. If you're on Twitter or Facebook acting like a fan boy or tweeting negative things about these people you are an idiot. I mean, if your goal is to stay on your couch tweeting forever then you're good. If you have the balls to live and die with these opinions then you're good. I realized along time ago everyone in the industry is connected. Managers are fired and rehired by different camps. A&R's leave one label and go work for the next. These relationships are all maintained over the course of time. You are not in the club yet, so it's probably not a smart move to say something unsavory about the people that run it.
You're not in the game yet so none of that really matters. Rappers don't blog or say negative ish about other rappers unless they are ready for the problems that will follow. Remember once again, whether you know it or not, you are now officially in the same industry as Jay-Z and Eminem. They run this industry, and you don't. I would never go to work and write a paragraph about how my boss can't dress. I'd never go to work stand up on the break room table and yell out, "F%^k this place." People do these things and expect some sort of promotion to be gifted to them.
By not watching what you say on Twitter this is exactly what you are doing. Spamming your songs and making stats about "doing it big" only make you appear to be an idiot. Who cares if you dropped a song on Facebook today and posted it on everyone's Wall. Spamming will definitely help you lose more potential fans than it will gain you. Social Networking gives you a chance to showcase your personality and give the people something besides the music to attach themselves to. It's cool to use this tool to promote yourself, but do it the right way: start a fan page, read about industry insiders and follow them on Twitter. You can use Twitter to reach out to artists in different cities. Promote your shows creatively by telling the fans what to expect. I let my fans do the spamming for me. If the music is good enough, and the campaign behind it is large enough, the fans will generate energy for you.
9. No One Cares About Your Music A friend of mine told me this ages ago, and it stuck with me. No one in the world cares about your music like you do. As artists, we like to complain, gripe and cry about being slept on. We all feel unappreciated and we think our first free mixtape deserves a Grammy. This feeling isn't unique to you. You're not the first artist that thinks his/her music will change the world, yet no one gets it. Stop crying and do everything under the sun to get your name out there. Work hard, sleep, wake up and work even harder.
10. Street Teaming You need a street team of some sort. If you can't afford to hire one then transform yourself into the street team and handle your business. I have a hired street team, and I also get out in the streets and handle business on my own. You need an army if you want to gain any traction. Ask your friends and family to put in work for you. Pass out flyers, hang up posters, go to club and pass out CDs to people as they leave. If you allow yourself to be ignored then you will indeed remain ignored. You need a crew of individuals who are ready to beat up the pavement and promote your music.
Recruit anyone you can and turn them into a soldier offer them special incentives like free entry to your shows as rewards for being a part of the team. I spent time on regional street teams for Atlantic Records, Interscope and Universal. This taught me how to properly work my own projects. It also helped me build relationships within the music scene that I otherwise would not have formulated. I strongly advise everyone to work for another person's street prior to starting your own. The amount of knowledge you'll gain from this situation will change your life. Paul Wall started out as a street team member and used his experience in this sector to his own benefit. I think every rapper needs to do a bid as a street-team member.
11. Learn about Contracts and Percentages There are 3,000 different types contracts in this business. First of all, you need to have access to a lawyer after your career reaches a certain point. You can download a standardized recording contract from the Internet and read over it. I suggest you study it and learn about the language of the contract.
There are a million rappers, but unfortunately hardly a fraction of them are educated about the makings of the industry. I know this might come as a shocker to you, but uneducated people do not rule the world. Most of the highest paid rappers in the industry are actually college educated. Yeah, your favorite gangster rapper has a college degree. My point is no one is going to give a million dollars to a unapologetic idiot if they don't have to. A&R's don't give a damn about your YouTube views. You're not special to them. They don't care about how many blogs posted your songs. They care about dollars and cents. The bottom line is they work for someone and that someone is not you. The entire industry is designed to protect the interests of everyone except the actual artist. Learn about your publishing rights and take advantage of the incentives offered to you through owning your publishing. Use the Internet to your advantage, by Googling a standardized recording contract. These are the types of things you should study in your spare time.
I'm not filthy rich. I'm not a marketing genius. But I do believe nothing can stop you from deciding to work harder than everyone else. I see the potholes in my personal and grind and it motivates me to do better. We have the opportunity to become whatever we desire. We absolutely have to work at it like we've never worked at anything else. Nothing is guaranteed, but I sincerely believe hard work finds a way to pay off. Everything happens for a reason, the longer we live the more grow and learn.
God bless every artist out there with the hopes of spreading their music to the masses. It's not going to be easy. If you work hard and create a plan that makes sense you can do it. Everything starts with the music but you need to know when to branch out and do other things in the name of the music. I write this blog once week with this very thing on my mind.
It's about going the extra mile and doing what everyone else won't do. It's about going all over St. Louis, putting flyers and posters everywhere you can. It's about putting something unique together and giving it a chance to come alive. People aren't willingly fans of new music. You have to find a way to force yourself on to them without scaring them away. Everything in our lives is moving 300 miles per hour so keep your eyes and ears open. The industry is constantly changing so be aware of this and try to peaceful exist within the madness of the business. Your best bet is to be proactive and plan ahead of time at all cost. You need money to fund your goals. I don't word dreams because dreams don't come true and America's last great African-American dreamer was shot to death on a balcony.
So my motto is forget a dream, set some goals and go for it. Learn everything you can being dumb won't cut it. Wack rappers succeed because they are often smarter than the people with talent.
I read an article from Beanie Sigel a while ago. He said write a thousand raps because you'll need them all when you get signed. I took that advice and kept it with me. You can never read or know too much when it comes to the music industry. Everything you read about the business will have something that you can utilize for the rest of your career if you're smart about it. I research everything I can, including names of managers, studios and label employees. You have to become a machine if you want to win. I don't know it all but I'm willing to learn on a constant basis and this is the key to survival.
Picks of the week
Streetza Ria - Cold World (mixtape) http://www.datpiff.com/mixtapes-detail.php?id=368153 Snipes x BC -19 In My Nina (video) http://youtu.be/qXXIbyloJDo Alley Boy -I Say Nato Caliph -Add On Adultfur - Blazertone , Lonely Love Scriptz N Screwz -On 10, Brick http://youtu.be/8TjXa7EhiNo (dope animated video) Pusha T, Kanye West -New God Flow Indiana Rome feat Bryant Stewart - Hol Up Chief Keef - I Don't Know Dem, Everyday, Sosa Trixie -Little Miss Incredible 2- http://www.datpiff.com/Trixie-Little-Miss-Incredible-2-mixtape.369651.html