Rappers: How To Market Yourselves
By, Wendy Day (2/2013)
Marketing is the overall image and awareness that is put forth by your brand as you advertise, promote, do interviews and basically spread the word about your music (which is your product). One of the keys is to know exactly who will buy your music, and tailor your marketing campaign to them. The best method to draw in fans is “word of mouth,” so therefore your goal should always be to spark positive conversation (word of mouth) about you and your music.
Who Is Your Potential Fan?
Taking it outside of music for a minute, can we all agree that the person who shops at K-Mart is different from the person who shops at Neiman Marcus? The person who drives a Hyundai, may have different interests from the person driving a Bentley? So back to music now—the person who is listening to or buying Justin Bieber’s music is different from the person who supports Trae. Bieber has a younger audience, more pop music, radio, and internet driven, while Trae makes music to ride and/or smoke to—meaning the fan is older and probably more likely to be male. They are also more likely to buy a CD at the local Swap Meet or the Car Wash, while a Bieber fan may be more likely to download his music to an iPod, smartphone, or MP3 player, or buy the CD at the Best Buy next to the Mall for $9.99.
So, if I was marketing a young pop artist, I might try to book him on Nickelodeon shows and set up a high school or Mall tour. With a rapper who doesn’t appeal to a teenage demographic, I’d probably do more of a college tour, and club dates reaching a 21 and older crowd. So, it’s important to know who is buying your music. You need to be able to figure out the demographic for your music or your song, and that will let you know the direction your marketing needs to take. If you are not able to determine who your fan base is yourself, you need to find someone around you who can. But they better be right. If you are making music that appeals to white skateboard twenty-something kids and you market to young inner city teens, you are fucked in the gate!
When I was out on the road with BloodRaw in February of ‘08, I kept dragging him to college campuses because he makes anthem type party raps, and he kept telling me’ “Let’s go to the ‘Hood.“ It’s not that one is right and one is wrong, but that he knows who buys and listens to his music. In this case, we blitzed the ‘hoods first and then grew out to the college and party crowds. He had a perfect understanding of who his market is.
How Will You Reach Them?
Once you know who will buy your music, it becomes pretty clear what your image needs to be to reach your market. In Young Jeezy’s case, he’s that dope boy turned rapper who’s about making money, partying in the clubs, buying material items, and driving expensive cars. In Jay Z’s case, he’s that Billionaire Mogul running his own empire and living the life that this brings. Kanye is the intelligent around-the-way guy who dropped out of college to pursue a dream and feels a need to voice his opinion about everything publicly. Lil Kim and Foxy Brown are the old school ‘hood chicks that every guy knows and loves while Nicki Minaj is the new “Barbie” on the block. Odd Future are the zany “I don’t give a fuck” guys who act a fool and hate everything. Wiz Khalifa is your boy who all he wants to do is smoke weed.
In terms of imaging, Jeezy could rock a suit, but you’d assume he was going to court. He’s much more at home in some high end black jeans and a white or black T shirt with some Gucci or Prada shoes. Jay Z is more likely to be recognized in a button down shirt with cuff links or an expensive Italian suit. Image is a big part of marketing. What is your image? What sentence would a fan use to describe you? Is that description unique or does it fit ten other rappers?
Now, as you promote your image to the masses to gain awareness, it’s important that your message is clear, concise, and easy to understand. A flyer with 20 things crowded on it, and no empty space for the eye to rest, is a waste. Having things mis-spelled or grammatically incorrect is terrible too. Photos that are too low resolution that they look grainy and out of focus make you look cheap and clueless. The look of your promotional materials says a lot about who you are as a person. It would be easier for Yo Gotti to get away with something grimy and street than Jay Z or Puffy. Image is everything, and yours should be consistent.
If you have no understanding of design or aesthetics, find someone who does. If you suck at writing copy, find someone who has that talent to write the words for your flyers, social media pages, website, bio, and CD booklets (liner notes). Find people who are good at what they do and hire them to help you. Know your role and play it. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Teamwork is key here.
When you choose your own lane, try not to bite what has come before you. There is already a Jay Z, already a Lil Wayne, already a Drake. Try not to copy their style or image or sound. Usually the one who does it first, does it best, so be unique.
I suggest to small labels all of the time that they use one image of the artist to have consistency in marketing. First of all, you don’t have the budget of a major label who can afford to market Rick Ross in a suit, a sweatsuit, as well as street clothes. Pick one image and use that for your CD cover, vehicle wrap, website, flyers, posters, etc. It is very rare that a fan recalls a new artist’s name. There are just too many new artists. So very often they will go into the store asking for the kid who is rapping next to a Lamborghini on his posters, or that kid who is into skateboarding, etc. Make it easy for people to figure out who you are. Use one strong image that stands out to market yourself, and sets you apart from everyone else.
When I first started working with TMI Boyz in 2008, our t-shirts were so ugly that I would never wear them. We gave out like 10,000 of those ugly shirts. Finally, we had the logo and shirts redesigned. We had everybody asking for our shirts and wearing them (including me). We even had folks offering to buy them from us (truth is t-shirts are more expensive to print, so we should sell the t-shirts and give out the CDs for free. Ha ha ha ha).
Your marketing mix should consist of whatever you can afford from the following—
Retail store promotion
Social media marketing
Publicity (blog, magazine, and media mentions)
Internet Banner Ads
Videos & Behind-the-scenes footage
Don’t forget to incorporate the internet as part of your campaign. While we still aren’t 100% digital yet in this era, it is a crucial part of your marketing mix. To those of you with no budget who think free internet promotions is enough to build an artist, you are wrong. It is exactly what it is: inexpensive promotions, but just one part of your whole marketing pie. You still need the streets, clubs, and real world promotion.
I can’t stress enough the importance of your imaging and marketing. Make sure your messages are clear, well designed, spelled correctly and grammatically correct. And most of all, make sure you are reaching the people who will buy your music, with your imaging, your design, and your marketing mix. This should put you one step closer to success whether your plan is to stay independent or to attract legitimate deal offers from established record labels.