I’ve worked in marketing and sales my entire life but I never realized it until this year. When you work in media, you’re essentially selling yourself to the viewer or listener. You may not realize it but the reason someone tunes into what you have to say is because you’ve sold them on why they should be getting their music, information, or entertainment from you. Talent matters, I won’t disagree with that. If that weren’t an element for success then anyone could be more than a viral sensation. That’s not the case.
While talent is important I believe the way you’re branded and marketed as an artist is the most important thing in terms of finding success. You have to make people care enough to press play on your music. How do you accomplish this? There are several ways, one of them being through an emotional connection with your music. This is great but only a few artists are able to do this every decade. Where do you go after this? It turns into your marketing strategy. I’ve covered Atlanta native Michael Aristotle’s music since the infancy of JHMF. Previously he would release music like most artists, going through blogs and sharing Soundcloud links via social media. That changed with the rollout for 2016’s Mega Millions album. I began to notice a shift in his strategy and watched from a distance. Many artists depend on blog coverage to gain fans but in this landscape of hip-hop it doesn’t work like it did in the beginning of the decade. Aristotle still shared posts that featured his music but his main focus was going out and building his fan base one person at a time.
My favorite thing about this project was the creativity put into the marketing. Michael is a good artist but he knew he needed something to draw in new listeners. To market his “Lottery” single, the Atlanta native had a prop check created (like Publisher’s Clearing House from the 90’s) and had his fans take pictures with it to share on social media. I believe building your fan base on social media is important but the best strategy to being a successful artist is getting out into your community and gaining fans in real life. Many of your fans may not post about you on social media but what’s more important: someone posting they like your music or someone purchasing your album/merchandise?
One of the reasons I changed the direction of JHMF is because I want to teach artists there are several ways of attracting fans to your art. I’ve seen both sides of the marketing aspect, good and bad. There’s the artist who releases music and never promotes the song more than sharing the link on Twitter. This could be due to not having a budget or not understanding that it takes more than posting a link on social media to succeed. Aristotle is proof that if you stick to a strategy that it will begin to pay off. What changed for him with this release? I spoke with Michael earlier this year and he said, “I just wanted to do more this time around. I didn’t want to wait on anyone to make moves for me or go by a certain guideline to success. I just wanted to do something that would be fun & interactive for the people and just really dope at the same time. I look at almost everything like, ‘what can I do to not look like this guy’ or ‘how could I make people say oh thats cool as s**t I wish I did that, I wish I was apart of that’, as well as just looking at my favorite artists & their albums saying ‘I wish they would’ve done this’.”
Which came first, the music or the strategy? It’s the music equivalent of the “chicken or the egg” discussion. Do you create the music first and then a strategy to market? Or does the marketing concept come first and you create music around that? There isn’t a wrong answer but it’s interesting to see how artists think in terms of their art. For Aristotle Mega Millions came at a low point and his producer had the idea for the album title:
“I was stuck cause I didn’t know what to call it, and one day on the phone trying to come up with names, Wili was out of town and seen a Mega Millions Billboard and told me to call it that, and I was like “ehhhh”. So I took a nap & for some reason when I woke up I said “Mega Millions”. I immediately knew what I wanted to do for it. I feel like that state of mind was where I was at. I made the music on Mega Millions at my lowest of lows. My heat was off in the winter, I was on verge of eviction, but we were still just creating like there was no tomorrow. As progress went on during the album we were figuring out how we would build a story around it. It just clicked out of nowhere, kid wins a s**tload of money and loses his mind. Everyone would want to hear that story, everyone wants to be rich, everyone asks themselves “what would I do if I won the lottery?”, and then we knew if we could do something interactive it would make people want this project even more. So we created the check to make everyone feel like they won and post to their social media so that everyone would be aware. Then the trailer came out of my ideas to make a movie, as well as a chance for my listeners to see me in a different light.”
Since the release of Mega Millions things have been getting better for Aristotle and his East Chain crew. TONI is the next release for Michael as he targets a September 1st release date. The same marketing tactics from Mega Millions have been implemented for this project as we get closer to its arrival. Going back to the music vs marketing question, Aristotle had this to say: “I feel like if your music is good it will sell itself (laughs). It will market through word of mouth, but I feel like strategy adds to the beauty of it. It creates a moment in time. My mom always tells me stories of how she was late to work so she could buy Thriller early when it came out. The roll out for Because the Internet made me feel like a character in that world. Donald Glover is my idol. He taught me to make worlds instead of just albums.”
If you want to be successful in your music career, strategy matters just as much as talent. Instead of creating music and releasing it without a plan you should begin thinking in terms of how you can market it, who is your target audience, and more. If this is an area that you lack there are marketers who can help create this strategy and help you implement it too. I want to see you win and this is why you’ll begin finding articles like this more often on JHMF. Please let me know your thoughts in the comments or on Twitter: @JoeHovasMF