Marketing yourself as an artist is an ever-changing and challenging effort. Different artists in different genres will take different paths in their promotion, and there truly are no rules.
Some artists make it totally independently and others need a full team working with them. In the hip-hop world, artists like Chance the Rapper are changing the way aspiring rappers and hip-hop artists think about marketing themselves and the path they can take to success.
In all likelihood, you’ve been thinking about how your personal skill set will fit into the local scene and the wider global scene as well. It’s all about how you present yourself and how you market yourself.
These days, there is no reason to market yourself as just one thing. Take it from me – I work in an original band, do freelance keyboard work, mixing work, freelance writing and grant writing, and sometimes build websites too.
I’m not humble-bragging, this is just what it takes to keep me “fun-employed”. Or self-employed, whatever you want to call it.
I can’t tell you how many full-time artists have little side-hustles or even secondary careers. Similarly, there are many side-musicians who play more than one instrument and can be found playing bass, guitar, keys, pedal steel – whatever – on any given day.
So, all this to say, if you’re trying to make it in hip-hop, there is no need to narrow your skill set to either rapping or singing. Or, for that matter, to making beats or producing.
In 2017, you can do it all!
A perfect example of this is Anderson .Paak. He made a name for himself producing and engineering, but his original music broke with his beautiful meld of great singing, great rapping, and incredible production.
Smart music and smart people win the day.
That said, you still need to learn how to market yourself effectively. Here are my tips on marketing your many skills effectively, and retaining your focus on what you really want.
1. Think Ahead 10 Years – Keep Your Priorities In Check
So, you’ve got some natural singing chops and you’ve been working on your rapping for years, while also producing your own beats and releasing music. Basically, you’ve got some serious skills.
Have you ever heard the expression “the grass is greener where you water it”? I’m not a big fan of clichés, but this one is real. Wherever you put the bulk of your effort is what you’ll end up being the best at and what you’ll end up doing the most.
When you are young or just starting out, it feels like there are simply too many things to do. And it’s true, there is a ton to do! Somehow, you need to narrow your resume and focus your time.
The best advice I’ve ever received about this problem was to imagine yourself in 10 years, and imagine what kind of work you want to be doing. This will determine not just what kind of work you’ll focus on now, but also how you should market yourself.
For example, when I imagine myself 10 years in the future, I don’t really want to be touring as much as I do now. Instead, I would rather be doing mixing and studio work. So, I don’t post very often about my touring activities on my personal pages. I mostly post about the studio and mixing work I’m doing.
You’ll become associated with whatever you do, so curate what you’re publishing based on the kind of work you want to be doing in the future.
This relates to any genre and any niche, hip-hop being no exception. If you really want to be doing more singing and rapping in 10 years, that is the face you should be showing the public. It’s a matter of projecting who you want to be until that’s the person you’ve become.
Doing this helps you prioritize your time, let go of projects that aren’t in line with your priorities, and develop a brand doing what you want to be doing.
2. Take Your Music Seriously & Make Great Music
Nothing will help your career like making seriously good music. It helps to take the music you’re making seriously – even if you’re making a fun or goofy song, make it the best it can be.
Every gig, every song, and every moment in the studio is a chance to stretch your abilities and improve yourself. Take these moments to learn as much as you can.
I think it’s important to think deeply and reflect on the art of creating music and consider what it means to you and the world in general. Consider how you view art in the world and how your art adds to that overall body of work.
Taking your music seriously like this helps subconsciously add weight and intention to everything you do. People can tell when artists are truly serious and truly passionate – and again, you can be making fun, goofy, music and still be taking the art of making music seriously.
3. Create Goals & Budgets
Some people are more goal-orientated than others, and this step may be more or less useful based on your personal preferences. Even the science seems to be relatively undecided on the benefits of setting goals and talking about them.
That said, I have always found it helpful to at least have some goals in mind. Particularly in the music industry, I don’t think it’s smart to create systems and structures for achieving goals that are very rigid.
The nature of the industry is that it’s in constant flux, and it may take much longer to achieve something for really no reason at all. Making goals too specific can lead to disappointment when you don’t achieve the goal, and you may have never even had a real chance at achieving the goal in the first place.
Instead, create fluid, general goals that can be moved towards slowly. For success or industry related goals, this will work better.
On the other hand, if you’re concentrating on output, you can make concrete goals for how much music you want to make, and hit them. For my band’s next album, I want to choose from 60 songs. That’s a concrete goal, and I don’t care if I have to write 40 bad songs to get there. I’m going to write 60 songs.
Similarly, creating concrete budgets for the things you’re trying to achieve is just a smart thing to do. Like time, money is finite and you need to use it wisely.
Your budget can be fluid from month to month or quarter to quarter depending on what you’re doing. It doesn’t make sense to spend a bunch of money on promo if you’re in the middle of making a new album.
4. Get Out & Make Friends In Person
There’s always a ton of talk about how to market yourself online, but what of the ancient art of making friends and influencing people? Your best connections will always be cemented in person through real-life experiences.
You must go out to shows, you must go to industry events, you must schedule lunches and breakfasts and dinners, you must go to parties. It’s as much a part of the job as practice and gigging.
Whether you’re rapping or singing or playing or producing, you need to have connections and friends. Sometimes these connections will come directly from your music, but more often, they’ll be made at shows or social events.
Get out there and meet people. It’s not so bad. You might even end up liking it.
5. Have A Social Media Presence, But Be Utilitarian
As I said before, online marketing is totally important, but it’s not the whole of your marketing plan. It’s easy to get very caught up in your online existence, to the point where your real life existence has taken a back seat, or is overshadowed by social media.
Social media is incredibly distracting and for the most part unproductive. You’re not really creating anything by spending time on social media, you’re just building a framework to share your creations.
Lately, I’ve found it helpful to only go on social media when I have something music-related to share and on
ce a day to interact with comments and shares. Being present is important on social media, but it’s even more important to be present in your day to day life.
Remember that without actually creating music, you wouldn’t have a reason to be posting on social media anyways, so make that the priority.
The long-winded point here is: Your body of work is the best marketing strategy. No amount of expertly crafted Facebook posts will get you work if your work has sucked up until this point, and nobody can see any value in it.
Focus on getting better, making more music, making better music, and then focus on marketing your music and yourself. In that order.
Marketing is way easier with a quality product, and if you’re the product, you had better be quality! Music first, then marketing.
Can you be both a singer and a rapper? Absolutely you can!
It it always the smartest idea to wear every hat in your career? No, because whatever you end up doing will be the thing people remember you for. Re-branding yourself later is a possibility, but it can be difficult, and can even alienate your fans.
If you practice long-term thinking and plan ahead, you can develop a career you love. If you only make shortsighted decisions, you’ll end up swinging back and forth like a pendulum, never fully embracing any aspect of what you do. So, market yourself based on the vision you have for yourself.