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 project The Hero Killer was released on January 21 and was recently followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For the Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get The Hero Killer here.
Being an independent musician is difficult, and when compared to the corporate music-making machine, it can seem like a downright Sisyphean struggle. To ensure artistic and financial success, one must put forth great effort, and even then the odds are still stacked against you.
Please note: I don't do these articles because I care personally about you or your music -- I do them because I'm a music fan in general, and I grow increasingly frustrated with seeing independent artists I follow do stuff the wrong way repeatedly. I'm still learning the game myself, but I've figured out a few important things along my journey. Maybe they will be of some use to you as well.
Pick a Good Release Date
Sometimes, as an indie artist, your release date is the most important thing you have in your corner. In the music business, there is nothing logical about releasing music on your birthday, or other arbitrarily chosen dates. Time and time again I see indie artists make this mistake, and it kills me.
You need a release date that is set on a Monday or Tuesday. In most cases you need to release your music bright and early in the morning. By lunch break on Monday, your fans should be able to spend their 30-minute lunch reading comments about the project or downloading it themselves. This gives bloggers and other forms of media an entire week to notice your project. This also gives you the opportunity to spend the entire week promoting it and servicing the music to people that are interested.
Your birthday is an important day, but it's not a great release date. Please stop doing this immediately. Your marketing and promotion can run with ease and turn into its own living organism if you give your project a sensible release. If your birthday coincides with aforementioned logistics, then fine, go for it. But please be mindful that Monday and Tuesday are absolutely the most important days on the schedule in terms of releasing your project.
Listening Parties, Release Parties, Etc.
I've learned that you should not perform at your listening party. I've also learned that you should not hold a release party within the same month as the release. You should do the listening party prior to or upon the release of the project. These parties have two different purposes. The fans haven't heard the project, and it's all new music to them. This is one of your earliest fan engagement moments for this project.
You should release a few singles and a video or two initially. Allow this to circulate among your current fans and maybe even attract a few new ones. Once a month or two has passed, throw a release party -- by now your fanbase should be totally in love with the project. You want them to be able to sing along with the music as you perform it at the release party -- this creates even further emotional attachment for you as the artist and the music as the product. Throw the listening party first, and then launch the release party at least four weeks after the project has dropped. Do not hold the release party the same day as the project is released. You are not Kanye West, you are not Drake, you are not Boosie. This will not work for you.
Street Teaming Is Key
The Internet is wonderful, and is absolutely the most powerful tool you have at your fingertips. But you should also know that old-fashioned street teaming has never died and will never die. DJ Smallz is responsible for Drake's first mixtape; he also did B.O.B.'s earliest tape. He told me personally that when Rick Ross was underground, he had the most aggressive street team he'd ever witnessed. Street teaming never dies; if anything it evolves into an even more powerful way of gaining fan attention year after year. I'm talking about flyers, postcards, posters and stickers. This is an age-old way of promoting yourself that has withstood the test of time.
People need to see your name in as many places as possible for the sake of branding. You cannot be afraid to get out there and hang up your own posters, or flyer cars in random parking lots through out the city. You have to be relentless and fearless, because this requires you to actually do the footwork other people are not willing to do.
The smart way to go about this is to piece together a small team of soldiers and go out together to ensure everyone's safety. In most cases it's illegal to hang up posters, so you'll have to be mindful of the police when doing so. Smallz also told me Rozay's street team was so aggressive the police began to actively search for them. If you're street team is successful then this will also happen to you.
Be Ready to Spend Some Money on Promotion
Indie artists run from the word "budget." When I first started releasing music, I used to as well. Now I realize the more money I have to put into a project, the better. You may not have a money tree in your back yard, but you should also know that if you're releasing music with zero budgeting behind it, you're probably dead in the water. Most experts say you should be prepared to spend between ten and fifteen grand on promotion for an indie project. Honestly, to get the results the superstars are garnering, you'll need a lot more money than this (close to $30,000 to $40,000).
Obviously these numbers are unrealistic for the average artist, but setting up a small budget of at least $800 to $1,000 will give you more results than you would imagine. Start small by tucking away $50 here and there in a fund for your project. I wouldn't suggest using an Indiegogo format or any other type of fan sponsorship website until you have a fanbase that is alive and active enough to support such a notion. I also would suggest you flesh your idea out completely and make sure it is exceptionally unique if you're asking people to sponsor you.
The eventual goal of any indie artist that's not self-sufficient should be to find a possible investor for the long haul. People spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to become doctors, lawyers, even professional athletes, but for some reason every musician in the world wants to make millions of dollars while investing next to nothing in themselves.
Avoid Leasing Beats
This one applies primarily to hip-hop and R&B acts. Personally, I'm a fan of making sure I own as much of my music as possible prior to releasing it. You never know what can happen, and leasing beats seems a bit like a waste of money. There's enormous potential for a catastrophe on the business front. You should formulate solid relationships with your producers, and actually have a situation set up where both of you have the same exact common goals for the music you are releasing.
The best thing you can do is make sure your business is 100 percent tied up on all ends. If you're leasing beats, make sure your business is squared away. We all hear stories about rappers going through legal battles with producers after they lease a beat and someone else purchases it for their lead single. There's almost no way an artist can win the war once it gets to this point. The cards very seldom will fall in your favor; leave it alone and go another route. Besides, it's best to build a lifelong partnership with your producers, and leasing beats isn't the best way to create this bond.
Don't Use Facebook as Your Primary Tool for Promotion
This is career suicide. Throwing out a few Facebook links and snatching a few hundred downloads is not promotion. Your Facebook page is marginalized by the people you actually know, so there's very little chance of this music reaching people outside your immediate circle. Twitter is less predictable and less restricted, so it's easier for links to circulate among people who have never heard of you. Facebook is likely the best tool to promote shows and performances, but it's not necessarily the greatest for getting the attention of new fans.
Facebook is not a music-sharing website. It never has been, and the founders of the site are committed to making sure it does not resemble Myspace in that regard. The site is also intentionally set up to give your posts a limited reach. I would also suggest that you do not pay to promote or boost your posts through Facebook, because studies indicate that the likes and shares you get as a result are actually from click farms. So when you pay Facebook for promotion, you're paying for fake views, and no one actually looks at your links.
Facebook is a graveyard for mixtapes and indie albums if you don't have other tools set up to push your product. At this time it's better to build a legitimate Twitter following, because Twitter does not limit the range of new people and new interactions. Remember: Dr. Dre initially announced he was a fan of Kendrick Lamar via Twitter, not Facebook.
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