Eleven Things Every Independent Artist Should Work On

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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 next project War Machine 2 was released this Tuesday, June 5th and will be followed up by a full-length with DJ Burn One entitled Cheer For The Villain. Follow him on twitter @tefpoe. Get War Machine 2 here.

Every week in I'm Just A Rapper Tef discusses modern life, hip-hop, and the deep connection between them.

So I'm on Facebook, and I notice a status from Wally Wallace of Best Out Ent. -- an Indie label with a battalion hip-hop of acts making noise in various regions. The Facebook status from Wally was speaking on how his primary focus for the label in the future would be learning the science of writing a proper press release.

I instantly liked the status and decided this week's blog subject would focus on a few things every indie artist needs to know. I'm not a master of the arts on every level, and I'm constantly focusing on learning tricks to the trade I don't know.

I'm not a marketing genius, so some of these things may be common sense. I invite any and everyone to leave a comment with any type of advice that have been useful in their struggle to make it in the entertainment business. I am not a guru and there's a lot of stuff I don't know. But as a growing artist I am always willing to learn and share info.

I see a bunch of articles like this written by douche bag people in the St. Louis music scene. So let me make this clear: I am not attempting to use this as an opportunity to act like I am Missouri's Lyor Cohen. In the grand scheme of things, I do not know a fraction of the things I should know about the industry. I know of a few age-old music industry remedies that work on some level, so I decided to share them:

1. Give Your Supporters Something to Believe In
You need something larger than your music for your fan base to attach themselves to. Aside from your original songs throw out some freestyles over popular records to show your listeners that you have the talent to keep up with whatever is current in the industry. Rap over a popular beat and give them the mental reference of hearing you over music they are familiar with. Remember: No one cares about your songs, so you have to find something that will inspire them to believe in you. Find noteworthy causes you can attach yourself to. Give your career a life outside of your music. You can drop song after song and video after video but it simply won't work if the people do not believe in you.

Take yourself out of the box drop a few freestyles periodically and kick a few freestyles at your live shows. Learn how to book your own shows and become a self-reliant machine. If you perform at a venue you should be the first person there and the last person to leave. Don't be afraid to work the room by shaking hands and having extended conversations with the supporters. Network with venues owners and artists in other cities. You have to sell your story and personality to the public.

If you drop a free mixtape create an exit strategy that will eventually lead you to some form of a currency stream. Promotion works best if you allow it to run its course in phases. This gives the people a chance to learn about you and understand who you are. If they don't believe in you then they won't invest time and money into you. A fanbase that believes in the artist will do anything under the sun to help spread the word. This all basically starts with the artist deciding to become more proactive about their career. You need to take responsibility into your hands. Let your brain come up with comprehensive ideas that make sense and apply these things to your career. The more hands on you become the more you will notice the energy around you start to shift. You'll start believing in yourself on a totally different level than previously, and you'll notice the public doing the same. There is indeed strength in numbers and sometimes you need to dictate to the people what they should believe in. Respect the power of a grassroots campaign. Sometimes you won't understand the logic behind certain moves you need to make. They may seem too small for your persona at the moment. You start believing in yourself other people will follow. This is rap music we're discussing, so if you want to impress people show them you can rap at all costs. The problem is your rap skills and your rap records don't always rely on each other. Initially no one will care about your records hence the goal shouldn't be for you to push a song. You should focus on making a audience embrace your persona beyond the music.

2. Formulate a Realistic Plan
Getting signed to Interscope in six months is not realistic on any level whatsoever. Getting signed to any major label, period, is not a realistic first step. As an artist you need to determine what demographic identifies with you. Learn about these people and the places they hang out. Find a way to discover what your core audience is. If you make music that sounds similar Dead Prez, then attempting to push it at clubs that only play trap rap may not work. The same thing applies on the reverse side of the coin. When we recorded "The Redeemer" I took a giant piece of cardboard and wrote out each and every goal the project was supposed to accomplish for me. I actually took this trick from J-Toth. I had realistic goals written on the cardboard. At the time most of my goals a bit more simplistic than they would be today. I wanted to make sure we initially gave away 500 CDs, hand to hand. I didn't have much money so it took me a while to work my way up to 500. Once we got there, I marked it off on the board and beefed up my respective goals. I had about 50 different objectives I wanted to accomplish, and having them organized on this piece of cardboard in my living room served as a reminder of everything I needed to do in order to gain more fans and overall support. I think having a realistic plan is the most important thing on the to do on this list. I saw an instant change in my situation from this activity.

3. You Need A Budget
The primary goal of any indie artist should be to eventually find an investor of some sort. In the beginning, this is going to be extremely difficult and honestly for most individuals it may not happen. So you'll need to find different ways to invest in yourself. You also need to discover ways to gain sponsorships. Save money and apply it to your career. I see so many rappers waste money on stupid ish. You are not Dom Kennedy so spending money on the same kicks he has on is a waste when you can take those same ends and apply them to a video, a PR campaign, marketing, graphic design, etc. As a rapper, image is indeed important, so I agree with creating a fashion budget for yourself once you can afford it. But in the long run, what good do those new clothes do you if you don't have a fan base to wear them for. It's important to know that nothing moves in the music industry without cash. You decided to be a rapper so now you're same business as Jay-Z and every other rapper you idolize. Jay-Z has a trillion dollars, so now this is what you are competing against. Rappers who are signed to major labels are increasingly beginning to think like indie artists, since the labels are suffering financially more and more each year. If you are trying to become a rapper with zero money in the bank to invest in yourself, you have already lost the battle.

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7 comments
Kenny DeShields
Kenny DeShields

Dude!! This is GREAT, GREAT, GREAT information!! Wow!!  I'm really encouraged and ready to rock on. You are a great talent to our city and community!  Keep going broski!

L.A.
L.A.

Great article, even better that it comes from an artist who's applied these methods and is getting results.  Keep it Up Tef !

Zamplify
Zamplify

" If the music is good enough, and the campaign behind it is large enough, the fans will generate energy for you." Very true. I just posted about your post on our Facebook wall (http://www.facebook.com/zamplify) as I think every artist should read it. There are lots of players out there but only those who understand the rules of the game win. Greg @ Zamplify (a new site that makes it easier for fans to generate energy for you) http://www.zamplify.com

Evan
Evan

BAM. This is serious writing, to be taken seriously. There's nothing wrong with taking music seriously, nothing wrong with figuring out how to get it where people can hear it, and nothing wrong with earning money from it. Where to direct the energy is the question, and this is a straight-up How To. Some of these words are hard on St. Louis, but that doesn't make em any less true, and props to Tef for keeping it straight.

Byron
Byron

Tef Poe is the reason I read the RFT now. 

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