Underground or indie hip hop artists are far from the most highly regarded individual in the music community. The stigmas of chaotic promotion, lackluster live performance and low-quality music have led to negative connotation: Indie rappers are often perceived as broke, talentless, and desperate for streams. Of course, that can be true, but their are tools available to improve your skill-set as well.
Truth is that independence can be empowering. Independence does not have to equate to poorly mixed, incoherent songs. Independence does not need to mean blowing up IG DMs for clout or peddling burnt CDs on the corner. Artists like Kemba, Kota the Friend, Russ and Chance the Rapper have built thriving careers with no major label backing, either creating their own labels, or remaining entirely independent. While an important part of being an independent rapper is to be realistic with your goals and intentions, it is important to remember that success on the highest scale is possible.
It would be insincere to mention only mistakes, and not correctable action. However, it is vital that we first highlight the common pitfalls, which will inevitably lead to more success across the board. For the next six weeks, we at Today’s Hip Hop will be revealing one vital mistake a week, frequently made by independent rappers. Use these suggestions as a guide to build a career in music that is fruitful and puts you in the best decision to be discovered.
It takes an incredible amount of confidence to create and present any art, and hip hop is one of the art forms where it seems like all the biggest stars ooze self-belief. It is important to be true to yourself through your music, and it is 100% ok to believe in your music, but humility goes a long, long way, especially in the form of promotion. It is so easy to fall in love with your own creativity; to be blinded by the time, effort, and energy you pour into your craft, to the point where indie artists do not properly frame what they are sharing with the world. It is easy to let the persona you create in your music seep into the way you present your music to others.
This arrogance is one of the fastest ways to turn off blogs, influencers, and potential fans. It is what formed negative connotations for “Soundcloud Rappers”, or for talented acts who do not embrace the culture. Arrogance is the people you see spamming IG accounts, or famous YouTube tracks, or reddit with their links; peep my new song. You will not make it if you do not embrace others, show as much love as you receive, communicate with modesty and clarity. Nothing will turn people off more than you flexing too much before you have any clout. The most hated dude in a room full of musicians is the one who can only talk about his own music. And that is incredibly important to know, as your initial fanbase will most likely be other musicians who think you are talented. If your music is good, at the beginning, let that speak for you. Promote intelligently, and let others speak for your music. A great way to practice this mindset is with your friends. Next time you finish a track, you play it back and think to yourself, “My lord this is HEAT!”, save that thought. Approach your text or email to your team like you are pitching a blog. Something like this:
“What’s up fam just finished a new track – feeling this one a lot! Let me know your thoughts, if there is anything you’d change. Make sure you listen with good speakers or headphones. Still needs to be mixed/mastered but was excited to share with ya’ll and appreciate your feedback and love as always.”
You’ll be surprised how many more of your friends will listen with a message like this. You’d be surprised about the quality of feedback you might get, that will progress and define your sound! Take it all with a grain of salt, but you should be surrounding yourself with people who you trust, and with people who will give you honest feedback. Yes men are not going to do you any good.
Most importantly, you are getting in the mindset of sharing your music the right way. With an open mind. With the thought that there are imperfections, with the realization that you are likely not the next Drake. Even, if by some chance, you are, you will not get to that point through the music alone. You need to get your music out there, and to do that, you will see such better results, if you promote humbly. When you are pitching blogs, venues, or artists to collaborate with, it is vital you maintain this same mentality. It can be the difference between a placement, and a less talented individual than catching your shine.
Finally, when someone hits you up on Instagram with positive messages about your music, (whether a comment or a dm), respond! This is a potential fan, and you need to embrace every single one at first, no matter who they are, where they are from, or where they found your music. YOU ARE NOT ABOVE ANYONE, and nobody is above you. Show love and receive love with grace. It makes a major difference.
It is so tempting as an artist to attempt to tell a full story. You likely feel like you have so much to share, and what better way to present your story to the world than with an album. Why release just one track at a time and not a full-fledged project? The truth is, doing so can do much more harm than good. First, you are putting incredible effort into a plethora of music that next-to-nobody is going to listen to. I hate to be blunt, but that can lead to tremendous disappointment.
Second, the resources necessary to promote a single on a budget, vs. an album are monumental. With a low fan-base, it is much more likely that someone will take the time to listen to a single, than a full-length project, and much more plausible to put your assets behind a strong single. A great song can get buried in the context of an album, and if you get a song playlisted, it can be harder for a would-be-new fan to find.
Finally, from a musical standpoint, early on in your career it is vital that you are a perfectionist. You should be recording many takes of each track, perfecting your craft, listening for your flaws, and growing artistically. Trust me when I say that from the outset, your focus should be on making one perfect song! That is what can change your life and pave the way for a music future. One perfect song outweighs ten mediocre tracks by a landslide.
Check in with us next week for the third tip and be sure to follow and message us on Instagram for the latest opportunities for indie hip hop artists.