How underground rappers have "hacked" into the music industry

One of the biggest goals of creatives is to achieve financial freedom through their art. This, however, is also one of the most challenging things to accomplish. Largely because that even in art, there are still existing powers in play that make it difficult for independent acts outside of those circles to gain the market share, that those bigger groups have control over or gate-keep for themselves.

Looking at the music industry, for example, this can be seen when analysing how money is split between the artists (who are the creators) and the labels/companies (who are the benefactors).

Giant names like Universal Music Group, Sony Music Entertainment, and Warner Music Group make up most of streaming numbers (with estimations of 65.5%). The artists in these labels see little of the money distributed across, and streaming services have little payout as well, with each stream earning far less than a dollar.

Because of this, a lot of artists have decided to be independent. Which is probably the right decision, if you ask me.  If you don't believe me, take a look at Jay Z's verse on "Moonlight" on 4:44. Hov speaks of musicians signing deals and sacrificing their creativity and art, creative control and skewed financial dynamics labels and artists. Even going as far as slighting Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, Lucian Grange.

Jay Z - Moonlight (Lyrics / Verse 2)

By staying independent, underground rappers have paved a way to capitalise on their creativity, without compensating their earnings. People like Nipsey Hustle, Roc Marciano, Mach-Hommy, and KA paved the way for this. They did this through the tactics they implemented that abandon the traditional distribution of streaming services and by valuing their work as a rare commodity rather than an easily accessible gift.

Nipsey Hustle did this by founding his own label, following two previously unfavourable label deals. After starting his label, Nipsey Hustle released 1000 copies of his 2013 album, "Crenshaw" which sold out at $100 each. In fact, Hov copped 100 copies. 

Hov & Nip

The likes of Roc Marciano, KA, Mach-Hommy, and many more adopted similar strategies - as they're all known to sell a limited amount of vinyl and CD copies of their projects for high amounts of money. With Mach-Hommy once charging as high as $444 for a copy of his 2020 album, "Mach's Hard Lemonade", while KA and Roc Marciano have sold digital versions of their albums for $30-50 dollars each on their personal websites, before putting them on streaming services only weeks, months or even years later.

While these tactics may sound absurd when compared to the lower cost of paying for a streaming service like Apple Music (which is only $10 dollars a month), these underground artists still manage to sell out their products despite the differences in affordability between their independent goods and the goods being offered by bigger brands.

Why is that? Because artists have managed to establish a fanbase, that is interested in their art as well as identifying the right target market to purchase it. Especially due to how much they value their art and how rare they make it.

This removes the power from streaming services to the artists. Not only does this allow artists to be able to recoup the cost, it takes to create their work without the pressure of returning a loan to a label, but it also allows the artist to be in control of maximising their profits (without a middleman) and therefore their financial freedom.

In fact, because of the success of these artists' business models, they've caught the eye of a lot of major labels, streaming services, and other brands looking to pay them for exclusive rights to release or distribute their music on their platforms. An example of this being when Nipsey Hustle partnered his All Money In imprint with Atlantic Records for the release of his 2018 album, "Victory Lap", or when Tidal paid for the rights to release Mach-Hommy's "Mach's Hard Lemonade" exclusively on Tidal for the first couple of months.

These deals, including several similar deals, whether it be in clothing collaborations, music video exclusives, playlists, interview exclusives, etc, happen on the terms of the artist and they're compensated for selling/sharing their rights more than they would be had they not amassed a backing of their own.

Nowadays, it seems as though more streaming services are following suit on looking for ways to compensate artists fairly. With the existence of Bandcamp allowing consumers to pay for digital albums of artists or even donate money directly, while Soundcloud announced plans to change its current payment system.

So ultimately, while there are a lot of pros to streaming services and labels (especially for bigger/more mainstream artists), such as exposure to a bigger market and access to more resources, it is still important for an artist to realise their own worth and financial value while looking for ways to build towards that better.

Thus, "hacking" into the music industry is better. Showing upcoming and underground artists a blueprint to take and use for themselves.

Written by Ipeleng Thobejane | Twitter @InsightThobe
Edited by Dithekgo Mogadime | Twitter @DithekgoM
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