Bleak-ass February is over. This, as far as I’m concerned, means winter is over. Oh, it might still snow in the next two to three weeks, but it’s such a punk-ass snow. Winter in March is like an abusive alcoholic father you dealt with as a child and then grew up to see as nothing more than a sad old man swiping at the air and falling over. Snow all you want, old man — your time is near.
With that said, it’s getting to be springtime. For an artist, this means (hopefully) it’s time for touring and to release projects you’ve been working on all winter. As a host of Cincinnati artists get set to release their projects this spring, I wanted to give some key advice that I’ve learned over the past few years.
One of the biggest problems that I see keeping local artists from building a strong foundation of fans, a memorable catalog of material and a potential full-time career in music is the lack of push on their record, post-release. I’m writing about this because I’ve made this mistake before and had to learn from it. Some of my Cincy friends have told me just how quickly some of the city’s really talented artists give up on a song if it doesn’t instantly blow the second they drop it.
Newsflash — songs don’t just blow the second you drop them. None of them. You might think they do, but that’s probably because you heard the song a year after it’s been worked in the artist’s local scene, DJ circuits and blogs.
Since I’ve been guilty of quickly moving on after a non-instantly gratifying release, I’m going to assume I know at least a couple of the reasons why it happens so often. Artists are artists.
They love to create. When they’re done creating, they want to create more. When they’re finished with a song, the final “stroke of the brush” for the artist is to release it to the public. As soon as they do that, mission accomplished. On to the next one.
In an artist’s mind, we don’t hear a complete song. We hear the kicks, the snares, the vocals, the mixes, the mastering, the little sound at the three-minute mark we realize we don’t like anymore. We hear where we can grow into the next song, which means that “next” song, that’ll be the one. Meanwhile, you might have a host of local DJs, radio personalities, promoters, bloggers and over-all fans listening to the song you’re already tired of, saying to themselves, “This song could actually do something.”
I’ve seen this problem hit Cincinnati (as well as Columbus, Dayton and every other local scene, not to mention nationally) for so many generations it’s stupid. This applies to genres outside of Hip Hop, too.
So what does an artist do about it?
First off, it comes down to the team of people around you. You’re going to have to have some trustworthy folks around you who are not musicians and artists. You need a business brain to work the way your artist brain works. I used to try to do both and it didn’t really work. I mean, it worked, but it could’ve worked so much better if I had the proper outsiders working against some of my impulsive artistic decisions. You need folks who can see the potential of your music outside of yourself and help mold the song or album into something to be pushed beyond just a week after its release.
Secondly, remember that nobody, not even your friends, have heard these songs as long as you have. No one has been sitting with these songs day in and day out, checking the mixes in a million different systems. There are so many people who haven’t heard your record that it’ll be new to them in three years. I still get folks who just discovered records I dropped four years ago respond like they just came out last month.
You don’t want to go overboard, but if you have a quality record that you feel can make some noise, tour it out for a few months and take it as many places as you can. Get all the honest feedback you can from the scene around you and keep expanding where you take it. A lot of times you’ll find that the second you get absolutely sick of a song is the second it starts catching on.
In my eyes, this is how you build the beginning of a real following. Not a quick-fix following because your song got spun on the Wiz a few times and people want to see you for a summer but then forget about you in the fall. This is the type of following that builds you as an artist and a personality. It builds your story. And it builds your fan base bit by bit over a long period of time.
It’s not always fun. Sometimes it’s straight shitty. But this is the type of thought process that builds you a 401K plan in music. At least I hope it does.
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