Monday, July 20, 2015
Prisons come in various forms and people can be locked down while seemingly free. Physical prisons are easily identifiable while mental prisons can be tricky to detect, yet just as hard to escape.
As an independent artist, you can find yourself in a type of creative prison that I want to address in this blog. This prison could be a potential life sentence if you allow it. But hopefully this will be your key to creative freedom.
Let's first identify if you are already doing time in this place. Look around and see if almost every other artist you know is consistently locked in to using the same repetitive production. Have you noticed it's hard to escape the same old money, sex, made up street life subject material in their music? It seems like an inescapable black hole sucking the life out of your grind. The big jewelry they are forced to wear in order to be taken serious by people they think they need to impress has started look more like shackles instead of "bling".
I did a long stretch in that particular hell hole. It is the kind of prison that is relatively invisible to the eye. But there it stands as big as Alcatraz, and it's just a menacing. Fortunately you don't have to pull a Shawshank Redemption level escape to be free of it.
All you have to do is make a decision that you don't want to be in that prison anymore. You simply have to decide that the status quo isn't your warden. You have to make the decision to dare to be different. I know I'm making this sound easy as choosing what you want for dinner. It is an easy decision that will be driven by your passion to do you. But executing this has consequences that aren't always easy to handle.
I was born and raised in Florida the first 18 years of my life, and relocated to Atlanta almost 20 years ago. I grew up listening to mostly southern Hip Hop artists, but I've always mixed it up with music from the Midwest, New York, California and other places. For every Poison Clan, Scarface, Outkast or 8Ball & MJG CD I had, there was a Mobb Deep, Snoop Dogg, Nas or Bone Thugs close by too.
That's probably were I got the crazy idea that, when I decided to actually persue a career in music and became an indie artist, I was going to be diverse. Yeah, I was going to have my "own lane". And while even to this day, I stuck to that creed and I encourage other artists to do the same, the realization of that decision escaped me at first. So now I make sure to add this disclaimer to artists who want to follow suite: That will make your journey EXTRA difficult.
Here is where we get to the point and break down the title of this blog. Artists who don't just hop on the latest musical fads and regurgitate whats trending locally or nationally will be "DEMOGRAPHICALLY CHALLENGED".
This is a term I use when artists reside in a region that doesn't normally gravitate to a sound or style of music they create. This in turn makes if far more difficult for the artists to get the local and regional buzz it takes to get to the next level.
It is more difficult to get spins in a local club since a DJs main job is to keep the party popping. It's much easier for them to break a new song that sounds like a song that's already popular. In all fairness to DJs, taking a risk on playing an unfamiliar song that has a familiar sound is the easiest way to blend in new music in a set. No matter how you feel about DJs, you can't deny this simple truth. They all have a job to do.
It makes everything about your path as an independent artist that much harder when you are "Demographically Challenged". Many potential fans that may be into your style of music could live thousands of miles away. You will have to find them, and they may not be at the club.
There are a few ways to make doing time in this demographic prison a little easier though. We can start with the best resource which is money. Having money, or in music industry terms a "budget", is like keeping that commissary up and a steady flow of mail inside a real prison. Money can allow you to promote your style of music to a more targetted group outside of the clubs. You can easily achieve this online with social media ADs (you will need to research how to use these correctly). This may in turn make finding those elusive fans you're seeking possible and help you skirt the challenge.
Another way is to try and make the music that the region and people gravitate to even if its not your style. You could try making it yourself, but even better you could collaborate with other artists or producers who's good at creating that popular sound. It probably won't be your favorite music in your catalog but it serves a purpose.
I know what you are thinking after that last paragraph: that's a fancy way of telling artists to sell out on their artistic integrity! Well, if I had it to do over I would have sold out my artistic integrity a bit about 15 years ago. The often stubborn mentality of making music you like, instead of what DJ's can play in a set has more than likely cost me and a million other dope artists a shot at getting much needed exposure. Decisions, actions, cause and effect... personally I'm still coping with it all.
Being "Demographically Challenged" sucks just like real prison. It's always easier for artists to win over fans if they have a sound that is already familiar. Breaking a new record that also has a different sound is double the work. I'm sick of 808 driven trap beats, lies about money artists don't have and unoriginal ass music in general as much as the next guy. We have seen a lot of artists win without being a clone. But we see far more get a shot quicker by making a status quo record.
This is magnified when most of the music being played on national radio stations and networks are being heavily programed with this all too familiar sound. When people from New York, Philly, California and Chicago are adopting and runnning with the same sound being "Demographically Challenged" begins to look more and more like Alcatraz.
When it's all said and done, targeting your demographic (people who like the kind of music you make) is key. If you plan on sticking to your guns, don't aim for the wrong crowd. I commend your efforts, I just hope you understand the choice you are making. I hope you understand you can no longer call a DJ a "hater" if he can't play your record at 1:00AM in the club with a packed dance floor. Because guess what, YOUR AUDIENCE ISN'T IN THAT CLUB ANYWAY.
Being different will serve as an asset in the long run if you can maintain your lane and you are up for the challenge. The few artists who do make it are generally rewarded with loyal fanbases and longer careers. If you can create a true organic buzz, you can begin your escape from the creative prison imposed on you.
Music blogs, playlists, internet radio, festivals and real social media interaction with people that cater to your style of music should all be on your radar. But if you want to play the short game and just try to get hot fast, please proceed to the nearest YouTube trap producer page, start downloading and have at it. Just don't get offended when your unoriginal material is addressed as such.