Veteran A&R: "The Game Hasn't Changed Much in the Era of Virality"

Yes, memes are helping push songs to greater success. No, they are not a substitute for quality content and promotion.
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Yes, memes are helping push songs to greater success. No, they are not a substitute for quality content and promotion.

There isn't a day that goes by that I don't receive an e-mail from an independent artist looking for advice or help. I try to respond to as many e-mails as my schedule will allow, but I often have to add them to the back burner an advice folder I created in my Gmail account.

Over the past few months, one topic, in particular, has been fairly popular among inquiries artists: what is the best way to get noticed without the benefit of virality?

Great question.

Considering the chart-topping success of Rae Sremmurd, whose hit single "Black Beatles" rose to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 thanks to the #MannequinChallenge, and Migos, who just reached No. 1 with "Bad and Boujee" after the song's "rain drop drop top" opening line became a viral phenomenon, it isn't surprising that independent artists believe the only way to gain traction in today's cluttered music marketplace is to rely on meme culture and social media. 

According to Jeff Vaughn, Vice President of A&R at Artist Partners/Artist Publishing Group, the music business actually hasn't changed as much as it might seem in the current era of virality.

"Both 'Bad and Boujee' and 'Black Beatles' were streaming hits before memes took them to a new level," said Vaughn. "The best way for an artist to get noticed is to consistently put out great content and promote the content in an organized, creative, and thoughtful way. If you build it, audience and virality will come."

Vaughn, who has held his current position at APG for five years and oversaw the signings of Kevin Gates, Kehlani and Sage The Gemini, to name a few, is right—if you build up a loyal following, both online and offline, labels will take notice. While it's true that memes can certainly help an artist build buzz for an upcoming release or bring more attention to a rising single, they aren't a substitute for quality content. That includes music, videos, vlogs, behind-the-scenes photography, etc.

What is and isn't considered "great content" is, of course, subjective, but for a label to believe in your abilities, it's important for them to see that others already believe in you. Do you have an engaged following on social media? (Engagement is a far more important metric than total following.) Are people streaming your music on Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube? Are you able to bring people out to see you perform live? Do you move merch at your shows? 

For years, artists have paid for exposure on a variety of online platforms, thinking that if they just spent money, they could skip a few steps to stardom. Sure, a few million YouTube videos, obtained through a paid-for campaign on WSHH, might attract an A&R like Jeff Vaughn, but it won't take long for him to find out that you've actually built nothing.

Two million YouTube video views are great, but they won't mean much if every other video you've released has less than 5,000, you have zero traction on social media and you've never even sold out a show in your hometown.


By DJ Z, who loves to argue with you on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Instagram