Although every couple of years, a major record label decides to invest some money in a homegrown hip hop artist, for most budding talents, the most likely method of getting your records on record shop shelves is to release your music independently. It has become part of rap folklore how artists such as Master P, Too Short and Wu Tang Clan started off on their roads to riches by pressing up their own records and selling them from out of the boot of their cars.
Now, for those of you who are inspired by these tales and fancy going the indie route with your hip hop career, here are a few tips to set you off on the correct path.
(1) KNOW YOUR STUFF
Before you get started, make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Go to your local bookshop or library and try and find out as much as you can about the music business and how independent record labels are run. Will Ashurst’s book ‘Stuff the Music Business – The DIY Guide to making it,’ published by MPG Books Ltd, gives detailed information about the day-to-day issues you will encounter; and the britishhiphop.co.uk website provides a useful breakdown of the process involved in pressing up your own vinyl.
Also, make as many contacts as possible with people involved in the record industry, from DJs and local club promoters to owners of specialist record shops. They will often be full of useful information, so ask them questions and make notes.
(2) LOOK AFTER THE PENNIES
Although it’s unlikely that you will have large sums of cash to play with, you’d be surprised at what can be achieved with a modest amount of money. The key is to make every penny you spend count. The best way of doing this is putting down on paper a plan of what you intend to do. This plan could be the strategy you want to use for a single record release, or it could be a five-year business plan for an independent label that you want to set up. Whichever type of plan it is, it must be an honest and realistic reflection
of what you are trying to achieve, because you are going to have to try and stick to it. Budget carefully and pull in as many favours as you can to help you reach your goal. If you are thinking of starting up quite a large operation, but you are too strapped for cash to launch it, you can always approach your bank for a small business loan.
(3) BE ORGANISED
If you want to be taken seriously with what you are doing, you need to be organised, act businesslike and set up a base from which to operate. Whether you use your mum’s spare room or your girlfriend’s flat as your office, it will need to have a directory-listed telephone and fax line installed exclusively for your business’ use. You will also need to arrange
an email address and a post office box to use for correspondence.
(4) PULL YOUR PROJECT TOGETHER
Set a realistic release date for your record and stick to it. You will need to makes sure that the material you are going to release is marketable and of good quality because you are going to be competing against other rap records from the UK and abroad. If you don’t have all the emcees, producers and DJs that you need for your record, then you’ll need to find them by asking friends, talking to your contacts and putting word out on the street.
When it comes to getting your material recorded, you can get quite a professional-sounding recording in a home studio on relatively cheap equipment. However, if you do not have access to recording facilities, you will need to approach a professional recording studio. Discuss the recording schedule with the studio well in advance to ensure that you can have the amount of recording time you need and when you need it.
You will find it cheaper to work in a pre-production studio until you have a good solid track. Once this is in place, you can then upgrade to a studio that will give you a good mix down and master. Make sure that all the vocal parts of the tracks are well rehearsed beforehand so that when it comes recording, you reduce the amount of studio time you use and subsequently have to pay for.
Once the recording, mixing and mastering have been completed, you will then need to find a record manufacturer who will take your master (usually in the form of DAT) and use it to press up your 12”s. It is best to be conservative and only press-up a small amount of records to begin with. If the initial response to your record is good, you can always do a re-press to meet the demand for your material.
Finally, if you don’t know any artists who can do the design for the record sleeve, try and tap some of the talent at your local art college.
(5) GET YOUR RECORD OUT THERE
Some record manufacturers also deal with record distribution, so it might be cost-effective to have a manufacturing-distribution package deal with one of these companies. However, if your record manufacturer cannot handle the distribution side of things for you, they should be able to point you in the direction of companies that might be able to help. Also, talk with record shop owners and check the record sleeves of artists with a music style that is similar to yours to discover who distributes their material. You will be able to find out the contact details of these companies in the Yellow Pages and in music journals. Send them copies of your material and follow this up with phone calls to see if they are interested in distributing your record.
If you are unable to get a distributor on-board, all is not lost. You can approach record shops directly, and they will usually be happy to take some of your records on a ‘Sale or Return’ basis. Other methods of selling your records include setting up a mail order service and selling records at your live shows. Alternatively, you could take to the streets with a bag full of vinyl and a personal stereo so you can pounce on passers-by, play them your tune and try persuade them to purchase copy right there on the spot.
(6) PROMOTE YOUR PRODUCT
Choose a geographical region (which preferably includes your hometown) and aim to saturate it with your record. Before the release date of your record, you will need to get copies of your tunes to as many influential DJs as possible. This will involve hanging around nightclubs and record shops, plus using your contacts.
Send copies of your material to local and national hip hop magazines, web sites and radio DJs who are most likely to be interested in your music. Make sure you include with your record, a press release, a brief biography, and photos to let them learn a few things about yourself. If you do not receive any response within two weeks of sending your material, follow it up with a phone call. If you do not feel confident about doing this, there are press companies around that can help you to get your records in the right people’s hands and to start creating a buzz on the scene about your act, but these companies do charge for the services they provide.
Approach local rap promoters and try to arrange for some PAs and live shows for you to help build your rep and promote your record. Get flyers, postcards and stickers printed with your act’s name, your record label’s logo, a photo and the record’s release date clearly displayed. You will need to get these all about town: on record shop counters, at bus stops and train stations, at nightclubs and restaurants, and in the reception of beauty and barber salons. If after doing all this, you still have some cash left over, you can always place adverts in hip-hop publications, but doing this is usually quite pricey.
It is also a good idea to use the Internet to help promote your record releases. Set up a web site to provide your fans with useful information about yourself and your material. Your site could be set up so that fans can listen to your tunes, discuss your music and buy it through a mail order service. A web site can also be used as a point of contact for promoters who want to make booking enquiries about you and your act.
By the time you have completed all of your promotional activities, you should have built up database of useful contacts and supporters that you can use in the future, and you also should have created a reasonable level of interest in your record. Hopefully, this interest will transform into record sales.
(7) MAKE IT HAPPEN
Now, this may all sound like a lot of work for you to do, but remember – it’s you who gets to keep all the benefits of all your toil. You get to retain full control of all aspects of your music, and through your actions you are promoting yourself as an artists who is serious about their music career.
If you follow all of the advice provided, hopefully you’ll make your money back on your first release. If you’re lucky, you’ll make a tidy profit you can use to fund a second release and start to build up some momentum. Who knows, a few releases down the line you might get approached by a major label who are impressed by your endeavors and want to sign you. It’s really all up to you to put the effort in and to make your records a success.
So, are you ready to go for self?