There is a lot of confusion among young artists today over what exactly it is that labels, managers, and everyone else in a position to help their career are looking for when seeking new talent. Most rock and pop bands believe they need to have strong social media skills, decent sales, and as many tour dates under their belt as possible. This is true, but those three elements are not the only things considered when someone is deciding who to work with next. Rappers, for example, rarely tour before being signed, and most give the bulk of their music away for free through mixtape releases or one-off singles. The return on their investment in creativity may not be recuperated as fast as those who sell their every creation, but it does allow for rappers to share part of themselves with a digital audience that many bands and performers from other genres never manage. Still, what is the value of a following if those who believe in you most are not willing to financially back your art?
In 2016, the best way to establish yourself in a way that attracts people who have the power to take your career to the next level is to offer what is often referred to as ‘the complete package.’ The definition for this ‘package’ can vary greatly from genre to genre, but the core elements remain the same. You need a strong online presence, of course, as well as a sizable following from people who are promoting your work without you having to ask them to do so every other day. You need people to hunger for your next move, and when you take that step you should be controlling the development of whatever comes next from the ground up. If you’re making a video, you should develop the idea and find a team to make it a reality. If you’re going on tour, you should design promotional materials to help spread the word. You also need to know how and where your music fits into the greater entertainment industry. Do you know what your audience looks like? Where do they live? Do they buy albums, or just singles? Do they prefer streaming music over purchasing physical products? Knowing this will not only make you more likely to succeed, but it will also enable you to better connect with those who support you most.
To further illustrate this point, let’s take a quick look at one up and coming independent artist who is poised for international stardom solely because of his relentless work ethic. Cousin Stizz is a twenty-four year old rapper from Boston with one mixtape to his name and a recent digital single (“Super Bowl”) that has received coverage all over the hip-hop blogosphere. Though his presence in the rap world has only been known outside his hometown for under two years Stizz has already attracted a large online following thanks to a combination of quality material, free downloads, constant interaction with listeners on social media, live performances, and, perhaps most notably, incredibly high quality music videos that showcase both his talent and his personality in ways simply hearing his art can never achieve. Take a look at his recent video for “No Bells,” which finds Stizz exploring his hometown with his crew while rapping along to the popular Suffolk County mixtape cut:
This is a video created by an artist who has surrounded himself with similarly driven people who understand the value of quality content. For the sake of comparison, here is a video from Future, one of the biggest rappers in music today, which was released around the same time as the clip for “No Bells”:
If I hadn’t already told you Cousin Stizz was an independent artist and that Future was a Billboard hitmaker, could you tell the difference when watching these clips? Probably not.
The same comparison could be made between any track Cousin Stizz has released and any hit from today’s rap heavyweights. Quality control is key to Stizz, and he does everything in his power to ensure he only delivers the best music he is able to create. From there, Stizz promotes his art with high quality visuals, as well as cover art, and a steady, but not overwhelming flow of promotional messaging through social networks. More often than not, fans that hear or see his art tweet about it themselves, and Stizz makes it a point to retweet those promoting his work so that he doesn’t need to sell his art himself. Why should he? Stizz may know his music better than anyone else, but he also understands that word of mouth is perhaps the most powerful tool in new music discovery. It’s far easier for your friend to get you to check out something new than it is for the unknown creator of that thing to get your attention. Stizz puts in his work up front, and the reaction from his audiences dictates how his creations are promoted moving forward.
Any industry pro looking for new artists to work with would be a fool to not consider Cousin Stizz because he, somewhat ironically, doesn’t appear to need help at this point in his career. From an outsider’s point of view, Stizz is able to create quality music and videos, receive coverage from essentially all major music outlets covering his genre, book shows across the US, and have his every move promoted, celebrated, or otherwise discussed by a wide array of rap fans on the internet. Cousin Stizz has found a way to establish himself as a reliable brand in a world of artists who often struggle with consistency, and that speaks volumes to anyone in a position of power. With the industry being as cutthroat as it is, most of the so-called ‘gatekeepers’ of the industry are looking for talent that, if anything, merely need more money to better do what they are already doing on their own. It’s not about changing or improving who an artist is, but rather empowering them to be a better version of who they already are. Cousin Stizz is ready for the big leagues, and his body of work, as well as his promotional strategy, tell us that without him having to open his mouth.
You might be not be a rapper, but there are lessons you can learn from the hustle of Cousin Stizz. First and foremost, quality is everything. You can release singles, an album, or even five albums over the course of a year, but if your quality is not consistent you will quickly see a diminishing return on time spent. The digital age has lead us to believe everyone needs to be making something new all the time, but that isn’t necessarily true in music. The artists who succeed most often are those who put as much time, focus, and effort possible into each new step they take. Be it a tour, recording new material, shooting videos, designing promotional materials, or even writing tweets, quality and honesty are everything. Be real about who you are and what you want, share those ideas with the world in the most creative way you can imagine, and then engage with those who connect with what you’ve released. Leverage their belief in what you’re doing to convert more to your art, and in time you will have an army behind you that every label, manager, publicists, and booking agent cannot deny. You don’t have to accept their offers for help, but at least you’ll know they are available and that you’re on the right path with your career.
James Shotwell is the Digital Marketing Manager for Haulix. He is also a professional entertainment critic, covering both film and music, as well as the co-founder of Antique Records. Feel free to tell him you love or hate the article above by connecting with him onTwitter. Bonus points if you introduce yourself by sharing your favorite Simpsons character.