Lupe almost got it right.
Yesterday, Mr. Fiasco released his new song, "Pick Up the Phone," via his website, and you could only listen to the song in exchange for entering your email address and zip code. In 2016 having to enter an email to listen to a song feels like having to send a fax - people still do that? - but Lupe's really onto something.
I believe that any wall, whether it's a pay wall, a streaming service exclusive or an email address, is generally a bad idea for new artists. At that stage of their career they're all about expansion; no one cares enough about their music yet to push through even the slightest barrier to hear their music. With music from millions of better known artists just a click away, they need to make it insanely easy for anyone and everyone to find them.
And the true 1 percent of superstars, like Adele or Drake, can afford to make fans who would slap their own grandmother to cop their new album sign up for a subscription service - or even, gasp, go to an actual store and buy an actual CD.
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But there's a small number of artists, like Lupe Fiasco, for whom it makes sense not to spend energy dramatically expanding their fan base. They're known quantities, at this point it makes more sense for them to spend more energy capitalizing on their existing fan base than expanding it. Especially without a major label behind him, Lupe's not getting radio play, he's not dropping a platinum album, all his money's coming from touring. And while social media may be great for connecting with everyone, it sucks when you're trying to communicate with just one group (like only the fans who would be interested in seeing you live).
I've heard it from musicians, like Ryan Leslie and Talib Kweli, I've heard it from comedians, like Marc Maron, really anyone who tours constantly. Time after time they'll play a show in a city and immediately after hear, "Oh man, I can't believe I missed you," even though they posted about the show repeatedly on Twitter and Facebook. But even the most hardcore of fans likely aren't checking an artist's social media everyday, maybe not even every week, or every month, and with constant updates and 40 million other daily posts, it's easy for show announcements to go missing.
The main disconnect that I have with streaming services … is that if a fan wants to let me know that they’re my number one fan on streaming — as it stands right now, that data is not passed to me. There’s not much cash being paid out here, so you’re going to make most of your money with a direct relationship.” - Ryan Leslie, Forbes interview
As old school as it may sound, email has come full circle and re-emerged as a powerful tool to communicate directly with people who actively want to hear from you, especially around live events; hence why Lupe also asked for a zip code. I find it hard to believe that even fans are going to enter their email to simply stream a song, and Lupe also putting "Pick Up the Phone" on Apple Music on Friday partially defeats the point, but his core idea is strong. It may sound boring, but if you're an artist you're a business, and any good business needs data on its customers. Control that data, stack those emails, and you control everything, including your career.
By Nathan S, the managing editor of DJBooth and a hip-hop writer. His beard is awesome. This is his Twitter.
Photo Credit: Kollunz