There was a point in music history not that long ago when singles had to make a big splash with mainstream America within a very small window of time or they were considered a failure. This was before the internet, of course, and long before anyone thought that every song that was ever created would one day be only a few key strokes away for anyone with an internet connection. Those changes, and the digital revolution they spawned, have completely rewritten the way people consume music. At the same time, it has also changed the way we view singles, or at least those that do not have a major label promoting them.
When Britney Spears chooses to release a new song, press releases are distributed to every music professional on her label’s mailing list, tracks are sent to radio, and guest appearances are booked at influential news outlets. To borrow a term from basketball, this is basically a full court press in terms of promotion. Everyone is made aware of the existence of new music at the same time in hopes of creating enough interest in said material to drive it up the pop charts. More often than not this tactic is a successful one, but it also comes with a high cost, which most independent artists and labels could never shell out for the purposes of promoting a single song.
When independent artists choose to release new material, a press release may be sent out, but it is incredibly rare for tracks to be distributed to radio or for high profile appearances to be booked. Those tactics are part of an aging system of promotion that no longer applies to artists who thrive in the digital age. I’m sure they would love radio play, but any artist with a working knowledge of modern business knows that what you need more than anything is to create conversation around your latest track. You want people to talk about it, even when you’re not participating in the conversation. You want to wake each morning to a slew of Twitter notifications because teens, tweens, and even their parents are quoting your latest material on their social network pages. You want to permeate pop culture, and you want to do it as fast as possible without jeopardizing your brand.
What many independent artists do not realize that labels and the artists they promote often do is that all you really need to be the next big thing in music today is the right placement at the exact right time. If you can get your song added to a popular TV show during its biggest episode, or if you can somehow make an appearance at a high profile event and share you song, everything can change before your eyes. The only thing standing between most hardworking musicians and reaching the kind or national or even international popularity they seek is having one person in a position of influence share their work with the world.
I’m not kidding. Just one person and your entire career can change overnight. I know that sounds like a dream, but there are dozens upon dozens of stories throughout the history of pop music that lead me to believe such occurrences happen far more often than anyone might believe. They cannot be predicted, nor can they really be planned, but when they happen the artist whose work is being shared better be prepared because there will be no stopping the attention that soon comes their way.
The latest example of a song finding the right influential audience long after its initial release, at least as far as I know, is Fetty Wap’s “Trap Queen.” Originally released through Soundcloud in March of 2014, the track was initially intended to be a freestyle that Wap would use to keep his fans excited about whatever material he would release next, and for a very long time that is all that track would become. Rap critics highlighted the song’s hook as proving Fetty’s ability to write catchy music, but for a while it seemed that would be all that anyone ever said about Wap’s ode to a women who is both beautiful and willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead.
Fast forward to February 2015 at Kanye West’s Roc City Classic show in New York City. Every industry insider with any reasonable amount of clout is in attendance, as are a slew of celebrities from every corner of entertainment, along with the numerous guest stars appearing in the show, including Big Sean, Travi$ Scott, Pusha T and 2 Chainz. Amidst all this, Kanye West decides to give a little stage time to 24-year-old Fetty Wap, who at the time is still largely unknown. According to Billboard, Wap’s performance of “Trap Queen" had West beaming onstage, Jay Z and Beyonce dancing along in the audience, and thousands of onlookers at the show and on the live stream asking, “Who is this guy?”
By the next week, Fetty Wap was everywhere. Magazines wanted to profile him, blogs made listicles about his life, and radio stations all over the country began to receive a demand for “Trap Queen” to be added into regular rotation. The song was added not long after, and it quickly began to climb the charts. Right now, “Trap Queen” is the third most played song in America, but at the beginning of April it actually cracked the top spot on Billboard’s hip-hop chart. Whether or not it returns to that position is a question no one can answer, but for a song that was out nearly a full year before a single radio station cared at all, one week atop the chart is certainly nothing to scoff at.
There is no denying that there are many differences between the worlds of rock, rap, pop, country, dance, and every genre in between, but the fact remains that as long as you’re putting your best work into the world and doing as much as you are able to promote it there is always a possibility that someone capable of changing your life will hear it. All you can do is keep pushing, keep writing, and keep telling every person you meet about the art you create. I can’t promise you things will work out in the end, but if you’re doing everything you are able to have your work be as visible as possible then you have a better chance than most at finding success. There is always an element of luck to how things play out in the world of entertainment, but that does not mean you should rely on chance to give you the career you want. You have to build it yourself, and as long as you continue to work on that there will be people who keep an eye on what you’re doing. One day, if you’re lucky, it will all pay off. If not, at least you did your absolute best.