If you post a song online, it is like dropping a pebble into the ocean. It makes a tiny plink for a second and unless you look for it hard, you will most likely never see that pebble again. Look at Myspace which at the start of 2008 had over 8 million musical acts (Owyang, 2008). This means that in 2008, there were more bands on Myspace than there are people in all of Israel (The Central Intelligence Agency). Consider the fact that most of those bands might - on average - contain 3 or more people. This means 24 million people are involved in bands -- which is only slightly less than the entire population of North Korea according to The CIA World Factbook. Forget just dropping a pebble into the ocean. That is like looking for a grain of sand in the ocean. If you want to make it as an online musician without a record deal, you are going to need to be out there, branding yourself, making music and being fully dedicated to what you are doing.
Akira the Don is one of many artists who is working on finding a way to make a name for himself online and who has been decently successful as of yet. He had started posting mixtapes and songs on his website in 2004 and caught the attention of Interscope (Narkiewicz, New Subject!).
For those who are unfamiliar with the music industry, Interscope is the corporation are the people behind the start of Snoop Dog, Nine Inch Nails, Beck, Elton John and countless other bands (Wikipedia). This would be a big break for anyone. Akira planned on being the next big hip hop artist and the label had the same belief that he would reach his dream.
Akira had previously come out with a song called “Oh What A Glorious Thing” which sort-of sampled a bit of the guitar intro from the song "These Days" by Nico (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). Akira then turned the sample into semi-poppy ballad about loving life and all of the things that happen in it, both the good and the bad. The label loved the song and gave him the record deal and Akira set to work on putting together a complete album.
Instead of getting crafting a lot of semi-rap songs about loving life and true love and sentimentality, Akira also got political on the album. He discussed AIDS, the World Bank and the media conspiracies, along with his time living with junkies and seeing the world for being the bad place it can be (Narkiewicz, When We Were Young). Unsurprisingly the label was not happy about this turn of events. They wanted happy songs, a full CD of music that would help people ignore the problems in the world. An album where you discuss losing your religion, in the theological way, not rather than the R.E.M. way, might be a hard sell and so the label decided not to release the album. Luckily the song that got the deal for Akira in the first place ended up saving his skin.
Ivan Reitmann, the director of classic films such as the Ghostbusters, had heard the song, “Oh What A Glorious Thing” and loved it (Narkiewicz, New Subject). At the time he was directing My Super Ex-Girlfriend and wanted to license the song for use in the movie. The resulting payment allowed Akira to buy back his entire album from Interscope and then release it on the indie label Something In Construction. Of course this all happened in about a year and Akira soon found himself without the financial security he had been expecting from the deal with Interscope. He was back where he started but he had more fans. Those fans became his saving grace for the rebirth of his career. After losing the record deal and subsequently returning home to London, Akira simply returned to what he loved doing - making music. While he is not yet solely living on his music alone, he is still making music and putting it out there for people to hear which brings us to the first point.
How to brand yourself: or, how to sell out while maintaining your ideals just enough to survive. It can be a hard thing concept to grasp. Few artists who actually love making music would want to be considered sell- outs (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). Still, if you expect to make it online you need to do a few things: make yourself open, produce content, have a schedule and don't be afraid to ask for help. These are things that people who have made it online in the past have done regardless of the creative endeavor: whether it has been for music or comics or blogging.
By making yourself open, you lay the groundwork for keeping your fans around for a long time. Picture if you will for a second being a kid again and having an idol. It could be a cartoon character, a relative or what have you. If you got some form of feedback or encouragement from that idol then you would be set and you would be more likely to keep enjoying your idol’s work. On the other hand if they were mean towards you or unresponsive to your fan letters, you'd more often than not be more likely to thrown them to the wayside. The same idea exists today but it is a lot easier to return contacts.
Pretend you are the idol in question - an artist or actor or singer - for a second and you got a letter from a fan. You read it, you appreciate it but hey, you’re are busy. They wrote out a four page painstaking letter to you and you want to give them something back for their effort. You are in a quandry though, you got the letter weeks ago and you finally read it. You could send them a filler letter with a premade note and they'd be fine but this was a well thought out fan letter. This was not just a sentence or two telling you how wonderful you are. You can write your own letter back but when will you do it? Can you match the level of quality in their letter? One thing leads to another and your fan never hears back. One letter turns to two and then ten and then fifty and a hundred. There was a reason a lot of musicians kept their addresses private (Narkiewicz, Ustream). Now a hundred and fifty unanswered fan letters, in this day and age, could be a hundred and fifty lost fans.
Luckily we live in the age where waiting times are shorter and communication is a lot less formal (for better or worse). If your fan emails you, you can pop back an email and informality is to be expected. If a fan sends you a Tweet on Twitter, you only need 140 characters to return the favor. Even if you just add them as a friend on Facebook gives them the illusion of actually knowing you. Personalizing your response can lead to even more success in building your fan base, as word of mouth spreads about how well you treat your fans.
Akira the Don is aware of making himself socially available and has been doing it for the past 6 years. He worked on associating with his audience through his blog, responding to fanmail and generally being an open person. He has a large base of dedicated fans making him fanart, leaving him remixes of his stuff and reciprocating the love. He even gained enough fan remixes to make a fan remix mixtape in December of 2008 (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). That is a true sign of dedication from the fans but things are still changing for Akira and he is working on new ways to market himself. He declared that 2010 would be an amazing year for being open and out there for the crowd (Narkiewicz, Outage). The first step in this new accessibility would be Ustreaming weekly.
Ustream for the people who are unfamiliar with it is an online website that allows people to broadcast themselves. These people who broadcasting people break down to three main groups: the Corporates, the Artists and the Attention Whores. The Corporates are the people who solely do the Ustreams to reach out and try to get ads advertising, whether it is a local news station rebroadcasting their reports or Capcom, the game company, posting their idea sessions (Ustream). The Artists are the people who draw or make music during the show and respond to their fans. Akira falls into this category of Artists. The Attention Whores are the people who try to market themselves without having any actual talent. The Ustream setup allows a direct feed to the broadcaster or their computer screen accompanied by a chat window where people can chat all that they want.
For his Ustream, Akira has decided to play the part of the a radio DJ playing music from his wide knowledge music base and talking to the fans. The format works because the people in the chat window can make requests, talk to each other and they can talk to Akira. Following the radio DJ theme, he also allows people to dedicate songs and he reads out the dedications. The shows are then recorded and uploaded to his website, www.akirathedon.com, so that the people who missed the show are able to listen in later. Of course, making music in general is an important part of being an online musician.
Every musician got to where they are by making music. To become successful, it is required that they continue to produce material or at the very least continue to perform. Quality rarely even factors into the affair as seen in some mainstream artists who are panned by critics and yet continue to make millions. In fact, nerdy folk musician Jonathan Coulton got a majority of his publicity from a project called Thing-A-Week where he created a song every week. The value of this was, to quote Mr. Coulton:
(a) to push the artist's creative envelope by adopting what Coulton describes as a "forced-march approach to writing and recording";
(b) to prove to himself that he was capable of producing creative output to a deadline; and
(c) to test the viability of the internet and Creative Commons as a platform capable of supporting a professional artist financially. (Box indent this quote, and don’t forget to attribute properly either with quote on at end of paper)
In the end the project garnered a lot of publicity for him and allowed him to become a full time musician. (JoCopedia)
When Akira became aware of the strategy for production working well for Mr. Coulton, he decided to one-up him. From the start Akira has frequently been posting new music in formats ranging from singles to albums to mixtapes and has even offered his services as a producer or guest artist. He had created 19 mixtapes in the 6 years prior to 2010 (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). To continue this tradition, Akira decided to release a mixtape or album every month for all of 2010 (Narkiewicz, Outage).
For Akira the term mixtape is a mixed bag. He might put in two songs that he has created along with a collection of other songs on theme like Shoes (ATD18), a recently deceased artist (ATD 17 and 19) or he might produce an hour of all new music and remixes as with (ATD 15 and 16) (Narkiewicz, Mixtapes). In the past the mixtapes have been well reviewed for their variety of genres, flare and general quality because while anybody can put songs together on a disc but it takes a true talent and knowledge base to make ones mixes that transcend that their components and becoming become their own piece of art. This talent for compiling songs as well as making them is the reason why Akira is called The King of the Mixtapes (Narkiewicz, Ustream).
Of course the mixtape release schedule being solidified will be part of the reason for success itself because it deals with having a schedule. On the Internet, you need a reason for people to come back and helping to know when to return is even more important. The fans to be expecting something upon their returns and the time they need to return for more content needs to be brief.
The same idea applies to most Internet content. If you run a blog where you review movies and only update it once every two months on one movie that you rented, you have a problem. If you have a webcomic that one updates once a month and you only spend 5 minutes making the comic, you have a problem. The problem that you will have is audience retention. As a musician fighting the 8 million other bands out there with an Internet presence, retention is important.
Akira updates his website on an almost daily basis with fresh links and blog posts, not to mention the weekly comic he is now doing. This is in addition to the Ustream recordings and the music that he already is putting out monthly. The point is he is making a lot of content on a schedule to inspire people to visit daily if not more frequently. If anything, it might be too much content but it is out there at least. Of course he has friends to help with this and that leads to the last point.
The artist needs help. Jonathan Coulton did gain publicity through the Thing-A-Week project but he needed links. The big link for him was the webcomic Penny Arcade (Holkins, Prinny Please). On that note, the nerdcore rapper MC Frontalot was also linked by Penny Arcade and then gained more popularity (Holkins, PSO Revisited). MC Frontalot then assisted several smaller webcomics to gain popularity.
In music, collaboration is a major theme. Akira not only writes his own music but he also produces for other artists while guesting on other musician's albums and he invites others to join his musical projects (Narkiewicz, Path of the Nerd). This is in contrast to the majority of mainstream rap which often prefer to "beef" or slander other musicians solely for the sake of selling more albums or if they do collaborate,it most often is only with a few selected members of their labels stable of talent. Akira is expanding what he does and is inviting new people to help. For example, on his 21st mixtape, he invited a fan to play the guitar for a song (Narkiewicz, ATD21 – Love Life).
As of this writing, the 2010 changes are currently in the third month with two mixtapes released, 6 six Ustreams - (2 two of which are saved and recorded) and there are about a dozen comic strips (Narkiewicz, New Subject). The feedback has been positive from the fans (Narkiewicz, New Subject). According to Akira there has been a major boost in the amount of site traffic. Still it is rather difficult to tell when or if it the changes will finally allow Akira to financially succeed but the keys are there. Akira is open with the fans. He is incredibly busy producing tons of content. He is sticking to an update schedule and he is working with people and getting their help. He is doing everything he can do to market himself and build a fan base and only time will tell if he will be as successful as he hopes to be.
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