On a daily basis, I receive hundreds of emails. A good portion of this correspondence is from rappers who want me to listen to their new mixtape or publicists who want me to listen to their client's new mixtape or managers who want me to.... you get the point.
Sometimes, however, I receive an email from an artist who isn't in promo mode. No pitch, no mixtape, just an honest-to-goodness inquiry.
On Monday, 27-year-old singer-songwriter and engineer Torres Hodges, a product of Rochester, MN, sent me an email, inquiring about how to create a buzz for his forthcoming album.
I want to release an album, my first album. I'm someone who needs a step-by-step process for creating buzz around it. I know life doesn't follow things step by step, though. Having said that, I do want to make sure that I don't leave any stone unturned.
Can you recommend any guides for getting started in music, with the ultimate goal of successfully releasing an album? I recently read your article about the death of the blog era. Where then should I focus my efforts with regard to getting listeners interested in my freshman effort?
I already know enough about actually making the album (writing, recording, mixing and mastering). Buzz, marketing, and release really are my Achilles heels. There's a lot of advice out there online. Who do you think has the best?
Success for me would be the ability to get a small amount of fans from the release. I want to build a solid fanbase—solid enough to justify writing and focusing more on my music.
Sorry if this question sounds stupid. Generating buzz and interest just isn’t my thing and I know I’m not ready for a publicist. I’m willing to do it myself, I just need guidance. I do have a very small local following, but getting strangers interested in your music is something that eludes me.
Thank you very much and sorry for the lengthy message.
Rather than directly reply to Torres' email, I asked his permission to respond in the form of a "How To" feature on-site.
Like many artists, Torres is in a tough position. The internet has helped countless singers and rappers rise to fame in a seemingly overnight fashion (it's never really overnight), but the barrier to entry into the music business being softened has also created an oversaturated market.
Artists no longer need a label or deep pockets to manufacture and distribute great music, which is liberating and great for creativity, but that freedom has led to a complete loss of quality control across the entire industry. Someone's grandmother is probably uploading a rap record to YouTube as I type this article.
Artists won't find an accurate guide on "how to get started in music" because the industry is literally changing on a daily basis. If we were to publish a "How To" guide tomorrow, it would be outdated by next month. Thanks to on-demand streaming and social media, otherwise known as the modern-day A&R, the way music is being discovered, consumed and discussed has done a 180 in just the past two years. It will likely change more in the days, weeks, months and years to come.
The truth is, for any artist whose career is just beginning, releasing a full-length album—or a project of any kind—isn't actually in your best interest. Rather than releasing eight to 15 songs all at once, which is an overwhelming number of records to expect anyone to consume who has never previously heard of an artist, let alone their music, artists should slowly and methodically release single tracks.
In 2016, "What They Want" hitmaker Russsigned a partnership deal with Columbia Records. Prior to his signing, the Atlanta native had released 11 self-produced albums over a period of 10 years, but it wasn't until he started releasing loosie records on his SoundCloud—87 to be exact—that he was able to start building up a fan base. "It's helping people discover the catalog, which is super important to me," Russ toldBillboard last November.
Artists often get wrapped up in the idea of generating buzz, which is understandable since labels have admitted they currently care more about signing artists with "cultural relevance" than talent, but the best, most effective way to accomplish this goal is to let the music do the work. People gravitate toward greatness so long as it's easy to access and made available everywhere.
Ultimately, great music begets a loyal, dedicated fan base and a loyal, dedicated fan base will, above any other tactic or strategy, help an artist create buzz. And we're talking about real, organic buzz. Not the store-bought kind.
PS. There's no such thing as a stupid question. There are only stupid people who fail to ask the right questions.