As an independent hip-hop artist, one of the biggest limitations you have is the size of your marketing budget.
After paying for studio time, mixtape cover designs, recording equipment and all the other things that come with making music, you probably don’t have much money left over for promoting and marketing your work.
Fortunately we live in a time where it’s never been easier to connect with your target audience and engage with your fanbase. With free social media tools like Facebook, YouTube and Twitter as well as website design platforms like WordPress available at your finger tips; the digital marketing playing field has been levelled out for independent hip-hop artists.
For this article, Stop The Breaks is going to take a look at a form of marketing called “content marketing” which can be very useful for independent hip-hop artists to promote their music without blowing up their budget.
So what is content marketing? Well, according to the Content Marketing Institute:
To break that down – content marketing is basically giving away free, high quality content to build an audience and gain their trust so that when the time comes, they will buy your products.
How Lil Wayne used content marketing
The term “content marketing” might be fairly new but the truth is, rappers have been using it for years to cultivate a fanbase. One of the prime artist examples is Lil Wayne.
Before Lil Tunechi was the mega superstar he is today, he was on his grind trying to reach the top of the rap game. After dropping his fifth studio album, Tha Carter II, in 2005, Lil Wayne went on an incredible run of putting out dope music that was unheard of at the time.
Between 2005 and 2008, Weezy appeared on hundreds of guest appearances and released a handful of mixtapes – including the classics Dedication 2 and Da Drought 3. He continued to expand his fanbase by collaborating with a wide range of artists like Devin the Dude, Twista, Kanye West, Fat Joe, Christ Brown and plenty more.
Lil Wayne gained the audience’s trust by making sure that every 16 he spit was fire and that every mixtape he dropped was dope so that when the time came for him to sell his product – Tha Carter III – the fanbase he had cultivated over the years came out to support him.
Just look at the numbers. When released in 2008, Tha Carter III debuted at the top of the charts, selling 1,005,545 copies in its first week of sales. One million copies. Compare that to his previous album, Tha Carter II, which sold 254,000 copies in its first week.
It wasn’t 2003 anymore; rappers weren’t going platinum in a week. It wasn’t the peak era of Eminem, Nelly and 50 Cent where multiplatinum releases were dropping left, right and centre. It was 2008; a wildly different music landscape dominated by one-hit wonders, ringtone rap, singles that went platinum and albums that bombed.
So the fact that Lil Wayne sold over a million units in his first week just speaks to the quality of his music, work ethic, dedication to his craft, ability to build a fanbase as well as the power of content marketing.
Tha Carter III went on to sell millions more copies, launching Lil Wayne to the very top of the hip-hop industry. Together with G-Unit and Dipset – two New York crews who pioneered the mixtape movement – Lil Wayne has influenced a whole new generation of rappers giving away their music for free.
Since then, rappers like Drake, Mac Miller and A$AP Rocky have all used free mixtapes to push their brand into the mainstream spotlight and cement extremely lucrative deals or partnerships with major labels.
How independent hip-hop artists can use content marketing
So while not all independent hip-hop artists can become as successful as Lil Wayne, there are valuable lessons that they can learn from his content marketing techniques.
Firstly, the music has to be high quality – that’s what separated Lil Wayne from other rappers at the time. It’s all good to drop volumes of verses and dozens of mixtape but if they’re all shit, what’s the fucking point? You’re just diluting your brand with shitty music.
Whether it was the legendary “We Takin’ Over” verse, classic “Duffle Bag Boy” hook or epic Da Drought 3 mixtape, Lil Wayne made sure everything he dropped was of the highest quality. Make sure the music you drop is the best that you can make it, otherwise don’t put it out.
Secondly, it doesn’t have to be just music. This form of marketing can involve a wide range of content – news updates, blog posts, tour videos, photoshoots, etc. Just look at Odd Future with their radio show or A$AP Mob using Tumblr to promote their movement. Check out this New York Times interview with A$AP Yams where he discusses how he used Tumblr to push their brand forward.
When Frank Ocean came out, it was an open letter posted on Tumblr; not a press release or statement to major music publications. It was a direct engagement to his fans via a personal piece of content that only helped to strengthen his connection with them.
So how do independent hip-hop artists get started with content marketing? Well, do you have your own website?