Last week marked five years since the release of my first independent studio album, Dreamer’s Poetry. I've been through a lot of ups and downs since then, but I’ve always considered that project a labor of love that paved the way for the rest of my career. As I reflect on that project now, I can see how much I learned about being an indie artist, especially one coming up in that time period. I’m currently a Music Business major and I am now realizing that some of the expert advice around being a professional artist were things I learned organically through trial and error.
2009 is when I really started trying to make a career out of this music thing. It was a very interesting time for indie artists, especially hip-hop artists. We had just come through the Soulja Boy era of '07; an era most likely remembered as a novelty time in hip-hop, but it was also a major shift in how artists could get themselves seen and heard. The internet had clearly redefined artist marketing in a major way, particularly the explosion of the online music magazine/blog. Of course they’d existed in the past, but music blogs were now becoming the ultimate tastemakers.
I had recently changed my name from Young Son to Mike Dreams, hoping it would be more marketable moniker and I would be taken more seriously. I also began having regular recording sessions with my college homie, producer and keyboardist, AJ SOUL, after long shifts working at Subway. We were driven and determined to up the ante. Out of those late night sessions came a song I felt would really began to open doors for me, “Success Is…”
Though I had received moderate love on DJBooth with various releases, it was “Success Is…” that really turned heads to the new era of Mike Dreams, and to my surprise the internet’s biggest blogs began to follow suit. I found myself featured on NahRight, Kevin Nottingham, Illroots and 2Dopeboyz, with 2Dope co-hosting my freshman effort with DJBooth. This was a big thing at a time when the game was making the shift to rap blogs as the go-to place for the culture. I was one of the first artists from Minneapolis to be up on the blog game, before I really even knew I was doing anything special. I was just following some of my favorite peers: QuESt, TreaZon, Ro Ransom and XV. I studied how these guys were attacking the angles, building buzz and a fanbase through the blog network. A lot of the traditional routes of marketing were becoming a way of the past, and it was almost surreal to be part of the shift. This was the “do-it-yourself” era in its truest form. The communication between the artist and the blogger could almost eliminate the roles of a publicist and an A&R. I was being able to go into the studio knowing I’d have a platform to present my material, and that understanding subconsciously shifts the way you create, because now your ideas for marketing are intertwined with the creativity of recording music.
One of the biggest realizations I had then was how internet "success" affected how you’re perceived locally. After I lost my job in '09, I had to figure out how to pay for studio time and finally get this long-awaited debut I had surprisingly built sort of a buzz for out. That’s when a team of producers – Wisdom, Jimmy Easy and Corbett - saved the day, helped me finish the music generally off the strength that I had was one of the few Minnesota artists receiving some national attention at the moment. As the quality of the sound became better by working with these professionals, the reception also continued to grow. I could never thank people like DJ Z, Nathan, Shake, Meka, Nation and many others enough for believing in what I was making. Those co-signs translated to real life gains for me, most notably Mr. Peter Parker, one of the top mainstream hip-hop radio DJs at the time, debuting records from Dreamer’s Poetry.
I didn't fully understand it at the time, but these were huge looks, especially for someone who just a year before was struggling to even be recognized. As an artist, I had almost singlehandedly (of course with help from peers) gone from recording music in my bedroom to making it to prime time radio in my city, learning along the way how to get in front of those in the position to help break you as an artist. At the end of the '09, I had wrapped up the music for Dreamer’s Poetry, designed the artwork with a cracked version of Photoshop, and put together press releases for all the contacts I had accumulated. I had successfully completed a full-length album and launched a marketing campaign and plan without even realizing it.
Dreamer’s Poetry and 2010 was my breakout year. I had album releases parties and magazine features, but the biggest opportunity came when I was asked by Rhymesayers Entertainment to perform at the SOUNDSET Festival 2010 amongst headliners from Method Man to Brother Ali; I was honored. Years later a Rhymesayers rep mentioned I was on their radar and that was one of the main reasons I was given a spot on the festival. People had been listening. This coming from the kid who stayed up all night, fresh out ofhigh school, trying to figure out how to get his art out to the world.
Dreamer’s Poetry was the moment I began believing that I could really do this music career thing for real. I didn't have millions of people knocking down my door, but it was enough to make me feel like my art mattered. I was a 21-year-old kid, still unsure of what this world had to offer. I just knew I had something to say and I wanted people to listen. I wanted to see if people could relate to working late night shifts, dreaming big and staying optimistic and positive through all your endeavors. In some of these past years of depression and dealing, I often go back to that time, and remember the optimism I had, even when things didn’t always seem to be going according to plan. It was in those moments where I was able to confide in hip-hop, that I was able to escape free from anything holding me back and rise to the occasion for the love of the art and the power of self-expression, that I figured out that you don’t have to wait for anyone in this entertainment industry. As we expand, our options and our avenues to be heard as artists continue to get bigger and better, and all you need is ambition and the patience.
Dreamer’s Poetry will always be the defining moment that started this whole Mike Dreams journey. I've come so far, I have so much further to go.
[By Michael Hannah, a.k.a. Mike Dreams, a writer and artist who can be listened to here and tweeted at here. Dreamer's Poetry is available physically and via SoundCloud. Dreams' fourth studio album, Pardon My Vices, is due out later this year.]