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Original publish year : 2014

Remember the days when the ultimate goal for an up and coming rapper was to get signed to a major record label? When “making it” meant signing your name on a dotted line and in return you were to be big. Well it seems as though the lust for that goal is fading. Today, DIY (do it yourself) is the motto. Once everyone became a rapper, everyone also bought a camera, studio equipment and joined the industry wave.

Independent. Everyone’s doing it. Let’s face it, it’s not that hard to record an album, it doesn’t take a genius to book a show and it certainly doesn’t take a label to get a buzz. Rappers are out in the streets yelling “fuck a label” and claiming that labels are just money hungry monsters who do nothing more than what you can do for yourself. And even though some of that may be true, how far can being independent really get you?

Yes, when you’re independent you have freedom. You’re able to make the music you want, act how you want and receive all of the revenue. Many are under the impression that there’s no need for a label or a deal to make it “big” anymore with Tech N9ne and Macklemore as their example, but how true is that mindset?

We’re all aware of Tech N9ne and his great independent accomplishments in the music industry but N9ne’s big success came after building a label of his own not just branding his self. Tech N9ne built a business and although that is a great route to take, what about the rapper who just wants to make it big rapping? Every artist has different goals and a different definition of success but if you want to be a house-hold name and leave your mark in the industry, you’re going to need a deal and/or label.

In no way am I knocking anyone’s hustle or saying that it could never be done, I’m saying that today a major backing is still needed. People would counter that statement by saying Macklemore didn’t need a deal to blow up but some aren’t aware that Professor Macklemore still needed a label. Macklemore hired Alternative Distribution Alliance, a part of Warner Music Group, to help his single “Thrift Shop” get radio play which in return went to number one. Radio may not sound like a lot to the rapper dissing the idea of needing a label but when you take into account radio includes iTunes, Pandora, Spotify and many other outlets you realize that Macklemore asked for a lot of help. Not exactly independent is it?

Now don’t go twisting my words or interpreting what I’m saying as discouragement. Every artist should be out doing a lot on their own. Yes, you need a label and/or deal to get radio play and distribution but you certainly can still record your own album, film your own music videos and create your image by yourself. Mac Miller did. Mac Miller made albums, went on tour and got a television show all while being independent but even with all those accomplishments Mac still signed a deal with Warner Bros. Mac wanted to exist outside of the internet. Same goes for G-Eazy, Logic and Tyler, the Creator. All artists were buzz worthy without a deal but knew they could reach a lot more people and gain more opportunities with a helping hand.

Being independent is simply time spent before signing a deal for an up and coming artist. It’s all resume building.  But remember, this applies to up and coming artists and/or artists who’ve never been signed before. If you’ve been in the game under a label before, you had the opportunity to gain some money and/or substantial connections. This doesn’t really apply to you.

You can continue to yell “fuck a label” with pride and insist that you’re going to take over the radio waves without help but in this day and age it’s just not possible. And let’s be honest, most who yell “fuck a label” are just bitter that a label hasn’t showed interest in them.  What independent rapper-friend do you know would pass up on a deal of a lifetime? Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Independent rappers, please realize that not all deals are 360 and not all execs are the devil. This isn’t the 90s and you aren’t apart of TLC. Deals come in all shapes and sizes. Get the stigma of signing your life away out of your head. Grind “independently” and build a team of renaissance men who can do everything but do it with the realization that you can only go so far. And once you get that far it’ll be time to negotiate. Know when to accept help and do so knowing your worth.

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