If you follow hip-hop, you're likely to at least know the name Chance The Rapper and recall how he's become an indie darling of the rap world. Armed with a unique voice and a passionate fanbase cultivated over the past few years, Chance has achieved similar feats as hip-hop’s top heavyweights – and he's done so without a major label record deal.
Chance’s impact on the industry is impressive to say the least, and there are several lessons you can learn from his success. Even with limited resources, here are several strategies based on the Chance The Rapper model that you can effectively incorporate into your own independent music career.
1. There's value in free
One of the more well-known Chance The Rapper tactics is standing firm in the belief that his music should be given away for free. Quick to understand the importance of the streaming model, Chance utilized SoundCloud early on his career, and it proved to be the springboard for him to release album-quality projects for free on iTunes. While there are many other factors that go into possessing such strong authority, the takeaway here is that offering your work for free will pay off in the long run.
Don’t make it difficult for people to access your music just because you want to be "taken seriously" as an artist. There's nothing wrong with giving fans the option to support you, but understanding the value in what’s free is only going to become more valuable as lines in the music industry continue to blur.
2. Leave more to be desired
The balance between quantity vs. quality is a topic we’ve covered before. There is no exact science to releasing music, but leaving more to be desired is an approach that has worked quite well for Chance The Rapper.
Before his recently released Coloring Book, Chance hadn’t released a solo project since 2013, which is a lifetime for most indie artists who normally cannot afford to have minimal output for such a long period of time.
Taking off three years between projects isn’t something we'd necessarily recommend for all artists, but the lesson to be learned is to not oversaturate your market or make it a chore for fans to keep up with a never-ending stream of music. Come up with a strong marketing plan to ensure people are aware of your latest material, but don’t overdo it to the point that people become sick of seeing your same social media posts over and over again.
Give yourself time to grow as a business-minded musician and utilize other approaches to stay active. Once you've progressed to a certain extent, you’ll find that your actions will have a more substantial impact and lead to elevated results in all aspects of your career.
3. Keep a tight circle
Chance The Rapper didn't need a huge staff at his service to reach his level of notoriety. With this in mind, there's something to be said for keeping a tight circle and building with a small but dedicated group of people around you who believe in your talent and vision for the future. From fellow musicians to other types of creatives (writers, photographers, video directors, fashion experts, etc.), working with people who have specialized skill sets differing from your own is the best way to ensure you have all your bases covered.
Mutually beneficial relationships are often the catalyst to your music reaching new listeners. Don’t reach out to every person from your area who has some industry clout. Instead, connect with those who share a common mindset and are willing to work hard in order to achieve a similar set of collective goals. When one person’s accomplishments adds value to your own career, that’s how you know you’re working with the right people!
4. Understand the importance of touring and merchandise
You shouldn’t need to know the details of Chance The Rapper’s career in order to understand the significance of touring and merchandise. However, Chance is perhaps the greatest example of how a memorable live show (often alongside his Social Experiment band) and artistically crafted merchandise can become a primary source of revenue.
It's unrealistic to expect spots at major festivals right off the bat, but you should always be working to book a steady list of your own shows that you can easily label as a mini-tour. And from a merch point of view, don’t just throw your name on a T-shirt just so you can say you have merchandise. Take some time to work on branding and come up with a visual message that aligns with what you stand for as an artist.
Once you put thoughtful care into your live show and merchandise, you'll earn validity as a well-rounded artist who has the full package of what it takes to succeed in today’s competitive indie climate.
5. Give back to your community
Lastly, it's always important to keep home close to heart and give back in whatever way you can. By starting all types of charity-based events in Chicago, Chance The Rapper has become the native son of his city and nationally respected for doing everything in his power to combat the violence and poverty that often plague his community.
Not many of us are in the position to offer our services the way Chance has, but even the little things can go a long way in helping others. For instance, you could try to get involved in youth programs involving the arts and offer to teach kids who want to learn how to make music.
By revisiting your roots and showing you haven’t forgotten where you came from, you'll build a genuine connection with people and be recognized not only as a down-to-earth artist, but more importantly, a great person. If you show respect to your city and offer your talent to inspire others, your hometown will always have your back – and that kind of loyalty is priceless.
Another important lesson for indie artists? Take advantage of any opportunity to get your music out there to people who can help you realize your dreams. ONE Musicfest, whose past performers include Lauryn Hill, The Roots, and A$AP Rocky, is currently looking to book independent artists for its huge hip-hop showcase in Atlanta. Apply now for FREE through July 15. Good luck!
Eric Bernsen is a marketing/public relations professional and music journalist who specializes in the genre of hip-hop. You can find more of his work at HITPmusic.com (where he is an editor/writer) as well as HipHop-N-More.com, where he contributes album reviews. Follow Eric on Twitter @ebernsen.