If hype threads and meme shares paid the bills, every rapper in the country would be cashing checks right now. But in a constantly changing music industry, where earning dollars and cents off actual music sales is extremely difficult, it remains a struggle for most independent and underground artists to make a living off of their craft. Even established indie acts can have a hard time staying afloat, and often it's a battle just to break even.
As a lover of independent hip-hop, that’s where you come in.
Even if you don’t have much time or money to spare, there are a number of quick and effective things you can do to support underground rap in a meaningful way. With just ten minutes of your day (or less), you can support independent art, and walk the walk as a true fan and supporter of the culture. Here’s how...
(Editor's Note: This list was compiled based on the survey answers of a small pool of independent artists, and represents how indie and underground rappers themselves would like their fans to show support.)
1. Follow them online. Everywhere.
It’s the 21st century. Social media has won. Your favorite underground rapper has a Facebook page, and a Twitter account, and an Instagram profile. And a SoundCloud account, and a YouTube channel, and an Audiomack account, and probably a Snapchat and Tumblr and Periscope and whatever else is trending with the kids these days. Follow them everywhere. All of it. Every account.
Even if you never use YouTube anymore and barely remember your password, clicking the “subscribe” button can do a whole lot for underground artists. Social media numbers help artists on the come up establish legitimacy, which in turn helps with everything from press placements to tour bookings.
It only takes a few seconds to follow artists on every platform where they have a profile, and it’s the most fundamental and straightforward way you can show your support.
2. Engage with their social media content more deeply.
Once you’ve joined an indie artist’s social media fan base, it’s key to engage with their posts in the right ways. Commenting on videos helps others to see those videos. Likes and “favorites” can help every post reach more fans.
It’s not just about helping game those pesky social media algorithms. Engaging with your favorite indie rapper's content shows other potential fans that someone else has given a stamp of approval, and also helps to build a relationship with you and the artist.
Every independent artist counts on their fans for survival, so make that connection to show the creator you're enjoying their content.
3. Share and RT always.
Yes, this list is heavy on social media. That’s because platforms like Facebook and Twitter are unquestionably the easiest ways to support independent art in our internet-driven society, and these days, shares and retweets are king.
When you share an artist’s posts, their reach grows immensely. With more and more platforms charging independent artists for exposure, the free and organic publicity that you can pass along with just the tap of a “retweet” button is invaluable.
Chances are, you’ve “liked” an artist’s page on Facebook because you consider yourself a true fan and you’re proud of that fact. Sharing their content consistently is the best way to prove it.
4. Press play when the homies pass the AUX cord.
I get that your party playlist might be Migos or Drake heavy, but throwing a few of your favorite underground artists in the mix is one of the best ways to support their craft. As long as your homies trust your taste, co-signing for an indie artist—remember that thing called word-of-mouth?—and playing some of your favorite tracks in person is an almost guaranteed way to create a new fan.
Independent artists rely on a personal connection with each listener, the kind of spark that’s present at every dope underground hip-hop event when there’s a hot emcee on the mic. You can recreate some of that intimacy by introducing your friends to the indie music you love personally, and it only takes a few minutes of your time.
5. Three words to live by: BUY THE MERCH.
Just about every independent success story in hip-hop over the past decade has one thing in common: a fan base willing and eager to buy and wear branded merchandise. That’s because indie artists usually see 100% of the profits of their merch sales, which means that every t-shirt and snapback sold directly supports everything from tours to studio time.
Take a moment to browse your favorite underground rapper’s online merch store, or catch them at a show next time they come to your area and hit up the merchandise table in the back. Chances are you’ll find something fashionable to rock and, in the process, you'll be putting dollars directly in an artist’s pockets.
6. If you can afford it, buy the album.
These days, albums themselves are starting to feel antiquated, and actually spending hard-earned dollars to own an LP is little more than a blurry memory in the distant past for most listeners. That’s just the shape the industry’s in. But if you want to show your appreciation for independent music, the best way to do so is still buying the music itself.
Creating an album is a huge personal investment for indie artists, who often spend thousands of dollars out of pocket to produce the music you crave. The more albums an artist sells, the more likely they are to continue to invest in the intensive process of creating new music.
Most established indie rappers have their music available in places like iTunes and Amazon, and it only takes a few clicks and a few dollars to put your money where your mouth is.
7. If you can’t afford it, stream the album in the right places.
From an independent artist’s standpoint, not all streaming platforms are created equal. Facebook and SoundCloud don’t pay creators for the content they post, while monetized networks like YouTube and Spotify kick artists a small "thank you" when those songs and videos rack up the plays.
Yes, it’s a very, very small kickback in most cases, with independent artists getting fractions of a penny per play on monetized channels. That being said, it’s better than nothing, and it only takes a few seconds of your time to stream your favorite music in the right places.
8. Open up your digital Rolodex and help make connections.
More often than not, independent artists are constantly struggling to meet new promoters, booking agents, journalists, radio hosts and everyone else that can help them keep their career afloat. Big label machines already have these connections in place for signed artists to take advantage of, but indie rappers need to chase down every contact themselves.
If you’ve got friends or family in any aspect of the business, passing along the names of artists that you’d love to see get put can be a big help. You can even forward the contact information of promoters and other connections you have directly to a rapper or their manager, and most likely your matchmaking will be met with a whole lot of gratitude. After all, booking a tour is very, very hard work.
It only takes a few minutes to draft an email or a direct message if you have the kinds of connections that indie artists need, and it’s the ultimate co-sign that most underground rappers are always hungry for.
9. Engage with their material all over the web.
If your favorite indie rapper was lucky enough to land a placement on a big blog, hit the comment section and congratulate them or chime in with your feedback. If they’ve got a website of their own, go check out everything on the site and jump on the mailing list if they have one. Do some exploring. That rapper you love might have an online home somewhere you’d never expect.
For a lot of fans, engaging with an artist’s content starts and ends on social media. But it’s a big internet out there, and the more places you can show your support, the better.
10. Call your local community radio station and make a request.
It’s no secret that the big airwaves are dominated by big label dollars, but smaller local broadcasts still base a lot of their programming on audience requests. Hit Google to find a station in your area that takes calls, and ask to hear your favorite indie rapper on your FM dial.
At the very least, it’s free exposure and takes seconds of your time. At best, organized grassroots campaigns can help indie artists break into whole new markets and reap the benefits from radio play that usually only come with label backing.
BONUS ROUND: If you have the time and opportunity to do so, there’s no better way to support independent art than by doing so in person. Catch a show. Rock the front row. It’s really important. You’ll probably get the chance to shake your favorite rapper's hand. Buy them a beer, cop some merch, take a selfie with them, get an autograph and help an artist chase their dreams and keep creating, so you can keep listening.
Calling yourself a fan is easy, but in order to succeed, independent artists need you to get involved. The landscape of the music industry is evolving quickly, but one thing remains constant: it’s up to you to support the art you care about. Getting started only takes ten minutes of your time.
By Cassidy Kakin. Follow him on Twitter.