Yung Gravy, Mr. Clean himself, went from a meme-ified EP in 2016 to a label deal with Republic Records by 2018. Along the way, the soul-sampling jokester with an undeniable flow used the massive indie resource that is TuneCore to fund his career and keep himself afloat. You might know Gravy best for his humor, but the oddball rapper is also a savvy businessman.
“I was still finishing college, and I had a semester left,” Gravy tells me. “I was getting, I’d say, like, ten thousand a month on TuneCore… It went from zero to 10 quick. Then the song blows up [‘Mr. Clean’], and all of a sudden, I’m like, ‘Wow, my number went way higher.’ My last semester, I could’ve dropped out, but I wanted to get a degree and make my mom happy. That was a good feeling, like, ‘No matter what, I’ll have this.’ It was more motivating to put more time into [music].”
For Gravy, the success of “Mr. Clean” led him to a deal with Republic Records, with whom he’s released two albums: Snow Cougar and Sensational. Focused on music more than ever, Gravy admits that the best part of his career is not the money, but the fan connection.
“I love going on tour and [meeting] hardcore fans,” he tells me. “I hear people say, ‘This music got me through something’ or ‘This music inspired me to do something.’ People show up with really intricate tattoos or crazy gifts to shows. Meeting fans and seeing an impact is my favorite part.”
Someone tried to give Yung Gravy their birth certificate. Someone gave Yung Gravy a Bible. If that doesn’t qualify him as a star, then nothing will. Our conversation about his TuneCore success story, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of building your career?
Yung Gravy: I love going on tour and [meeting] hardcore fans. I hear people say, “This music got me through something” or “This music inspired me to do something.” People show up with really intricate tattoos or crazy gifts to shows. Meeting fans and seeing an impact is my favorite part.
Craziest thing a fan ever gave you?
Someone tried to give me their birth certificate, but I declined it. I’ve been given a Bible and Quran in the same night. I’ve been given a toaster and a GameCube. Cool stuff is like the art people make. I got Heeleys! I got Heeleys.
What are some of the hurdles you’ve faced while building your career from indie to signed artist?
I grew up in Minnesota, went to college in Wisconsin. I never really had a connection to music, like a lot of rappers have a friend who was [making music]. [And I didn’t] live near a major city. I just had to use the internet and learn how to use SoundCloud, YouTube, all that. It took a super long time to finally get a footing and meet people.
Does the Internet level the playing field?
There’s benefits or easier routes for people who have a connection [in the industry] to start, but I think the internet cuts out all barriers to entry. I didn’t know anybody. I just based my brand off watching other artists and being unique. I knew it had the potential to spread, and that was all it was. It took a while, but I didn’t have any help.
Where does TuneCore come into play with your building your career?
I started on SoundCloud and YouTube, maybe May 2016. Later that year, I got more focused and started taking [music] more seriously. I made social media and wanted to put my music up on Spotify. I researched which music distribution was the best, and it was the most respected, most used one. So I ended up picking Tunecore. I immediately put my music up on Spotify, everywhere that I possibly could.
What makes TuneCore such a valuable resource for indie artists?
A lot of people don’t use SoundCloud or YouTube at all, because streaming is more convenient. You have to rely on Spotify, Apple Music, etc. to get your fans.
Did you have a moment with your TuneCore money where you realized you could do music full-time? What did that feel like?
I was still finishing college, and I had a semester left. I was getting, like, ten thousand a month on TuneCore. It went from zero to 10 quick. Then the song blows up [“Mr. Clean”], and all of a sudden, I’m like, “Wow, my number went way higher.” My last semester, I could’ve dropped out, but I wanted to get a degree and make my mom happy. That was a good feeling, like, “No matter what, I’ll have this.” It was more motivating to put more time into [music].
How did your success with TuneCore impact your desire to work with a major label?
Everyone that I knew in music, at the time, was telling me that was the way to go. Everyone was saying, “Oh, you should join a label. You can be playlisted.” Since then, with the label, a lot of my growth has been organic. A lot of my older stuff is still distributed through TuneCore. My fanbase is just the type where I don’t need to use the playlists. Most of the growth comes from word of mouth and fans that are diehard.
Lastly, what’s the best advice you have for indie artists looking to be as beloved as you are?
Be super unique and don’t follow the trends. Create your own lane and don’t follow what everyone else is doing.