Stop The Breaks has written at length about the importance of having a powerful online presence for independent hip-hop artists.
Whether it’s launching your own website, consistently engaging with fans on Twitter or Snapchat, or setting up an online merchandise store, being online these days is crucial for success in the independent rap game.
However, having a strong online brand is only part of the success, you still need to engage with your target audience face to face.
Don’t think of your online fan engagement and your offline fan engagement as separate entities, but rather as two elements of your overall marketing strategy working together.
So let’s take a look at how independent artists can engage with their fanbase offline.
Get out there
The first step to engaging with your fans offline is actually getting off your computer and getting out there. Crazy talk right?
A good way to get our name out there is to go to other gigs. It’s good to be seen in the crowd and to be an actual independent hip-hop artist who cares about music. Take the time to get out and see other artists and you are likely to build a rapport for yourself, enhancing your overall visibility.
This is going to be a challenge for those artists who are used to marketing themselves behind a monitor – you need to actually get out here, face to face with your target audience and build relationships to be successful in this rap game.
Introduce yourself to people
I know it’s hard going up to random strangers and introducing yourself to them, but that’s just part of the game. Look at it as practice for when you have to get on stage and perform in front of hundreds of people – keep that visual in your head and then introducing yourself to someone will be much easier.
It doesn’t have a long, deep and meaningful conversation either, just a quick hello, introduce yourself and what you do. The important thing is that you’re genuine and upbeat, ask the other person questions about themselves to get the conversation going.
Next thing you know, it’ll be a piece of cake for you to walk up to anyone and tell them about your music.
Merchandise = offline success
In an increasingly digital era, one of the few things your fanbase can’t download off a website is your merchandise. As an independent hip-hop artist you want to be getting positive responses from your merchandise.
Give away some t-shirts at your gigs for free. It might cost you money today but is likely to contribute to you making more tomorrow.
At the same time, you could always go along to someone else’s gig and start handing out some of your own goods. So long as they’re OK with this, you could have a “Friends of X” table that gives out freebies.
Another reason why you should be handing out merch and selling it in deals is because visibility creates money. When people keep saying your logo and your merchandise about the streets, they’ll enquire as to who you are. It makes you seem more professional, too, but it also helps to spread the word.
If someone is seen with your gear on enough times, someone else will find out who you are. They’ll research you and eventually decide to give your gigs a chance.
This can, in the right kinds of circumstances, be the catalyst you need to get more advertising. It also lets you engage with fans by handing out freebies, creating a better look for you.
Develop a local persona
Make yourself a bit of a local celebrity – get spotted. Talk to people you know in the streets, hang around and make sure you get noticed.
If you feel comfortable doing so and your local area allows it, a little impromptu performance in the street with a small crowd can get you on the right track.
Hang around local hot spots and make sure people get used to seeing your face. When it comes to the night of a gig, that locality will get you more sales.
Visit record stores
Even if you aren’t really selling in the typical record sense, you can still promote yourself accordingly. Use the time that you have here to come down and reach out to local record stores. If you have one in your city then do a promotional day or something with the store.
Consignments and other ideas can be set up really easily with local record stores if you have even half a following.
It’s a good place to connect with fans you already have, and make some new ones. When a fan who has been going on about you for weeks has a change to get their friends to see you for free, its amazing publicity.
Reach out to local media
A wonderful way to get yourself more hits and better publicity is to use local media to your advantage. How do you do this? You get a local newspaper and invite them to your show with free tickets. Most newspapers have a correspondent for local music and should want to come if you make it sound appealing enough.
When you do this, you also make it easier for the local media to spread the word about you – just make sure you put on the best show that you can.
If there are any blogs or websites that cover your local area specifically, make sure you take the time to develop relationships with the bloggers and writers so they can help in expanding your brand.
Also, before you do any kind of touring reach out to local print media for some more help in advertising. So long as you give them previous examples of your work and come across in the right manner, local media will usually be happy to present you in this manner.
Build relationships with local radio stations
Local radio stations are usually quite popular and you can use that to your advantage as an independent hip-hop artist. If any of the DJs know you or are specifically into hip-hop, they should be into hearing what you have to offer.
It might take some convincing, so attend other local events and see if you can maybe bump into that radio DJ. Try and maybe even run an ad a week or two before the show itself – it gets you spotted by the people of the station and they’ll no doubt do their digging on you.
If they like what you see, you can find that publicity coming in fast. This can be great for helping you get spotted, making your name more memorable to local DJs and maybe even getting you a radio spot one day.
There’s a lot of footwork and hours involved in successfully engaging with your fans offline, but it’s definitely worth the work. Online is easier and provides you with more reach in less time, but an offline relationship – one where you personally introduce yourself to people and shake their hand – is much more valuable.