These days, most artists believe that they have to be signed with a major label so that they can break through the music scene. While all artists aspire for commercial success, indie acts typically have a hard time scoring deals and getting support from the entertainment industry’s big shots. The branding, marketing, and managing that labels offer musicians really help them enjoy great success, but some acts are not meant for these set-ups, which leaves them with no choice but to try and make it on their own. Rarely do indie artists make it to mainstream charts, much less top them.
This doesn’t mean that indie bands should lose hope in ever achieving popularity and commercial success. The story of American hip-hop act Macklemore should inspire acts hoping to break into the mainstream and reach more audiences, even without signing with a major label. The Seattle-based rapper, known as Ben Haggerty in real life, has been around since the early 2000’s. He has been working on and independently releasing EPs and albums until he was joined by his producer and partner, Ryan Lewis, in 2010. It wasn’t until recently that the duo has started receiving the attention and acclaim they are enjoying now, and Macklemore proves that years of experience and perseverance as an independent artist will eventually pay off.
Despite struggling and remaining relatively obscure for nearly 10 years, Macklemore is now gaining a greater fan base and has enjoyed chart-topping success. 2012 was his career’s biggest year. He is credited for being only the second artist without a label to top the Billboard Hot 100, after Lisa Loeb in 1994. His album, “The Heist,” also made its US Billboard 200 debut at number 2 when it was launched. Hours after it was released, it already charted number 1 on US iTunes.
Indie artists can pick up a few things from Macklemore’s journey, and see what they can learn from his long and laborious trip to the top. His life experiences and personal struggles have only helped him become the artist that he is today, and independent acts might find that his story proves that success won’t come easy, but when it does, it will be sweet. Here are a few things indie acts can learn from Macklemore’s success.
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1. Broaden your horizons
If you feel like you are not as in touch with your community or the world as you would like to be, open up. Find inspiration in different things, and get to know more about issues that you think will influence your material. If you have a greater goal as a musician, use your talent to send a message to people. In order to do that, become more aware of things that will help you hone your skills and improve your craft.
2. Keep working and don’t rush it
Success does not simply mean a few hours or days of hard work. It will take years, and everything you have ever worked for before will build you up and help you become the person you want to be in the future. Don’t quit and always make sure you become better at what you do. If you think you need help with your song writing, find a mentor that can help you weave words into masterful lyrics. If you want to try out different sounds, collaborate and work on sonic experimentation. Don’t settle for what you can already do.
3. Send a message
Come up with something substantial that your audience will be able to relate to or empathize with. Articulate feelings and ruminations that they can associate themselves with. Music always makes people feel less alone, and as an independent artist, it would do you good to try and connect with your listeners. If you have a strong message that is also a form of standing up to things like oppression and social constructs, be sure to send it across through your work.
4. Be grateful to your fans
As an independent artist, it’s typically all on you and your listeners. Without them, you would never really enjoy airtime or getting included in the line-ups of shows. Your audience will be influential in your success, and the more warmly they receive your work, the greater you will achieve. Don’t forget to thank them, engage them, and show your appreciation. Once you make it big, find ways to give back to them.
5. Stay firm about your beliefs
If you successfully break into mainstream music, don’t compromise your values or your craft. Don’t do something just because you believe it is what being successful entails. Stand your ground and remain strong. Think about everyone who has helped you get where you are, and consider how they will judge your actions. The only things you should concern yourself with are improving what you do and finding ways to become a better artist.
Macklemore has proven that you don’t have to be signed to a label to become a successful artist. As an independent artist, you have greater control over your work and you will be the one to decide whether any of your material is worth releasing. Use this freedom to explore greater avenues and finding a platform that you will be comfortable with. Once you have gotten the hang of working independently, continue to improve your work and putting it out there, and success will come knocking at your door, too.