For this month, I wanted to share the story of Russ for aspiring artists because I believe he really epitomizes the marketing strategy and DIY mindset needed to make it in the music industry, or at least improve your chances.
I had the opportunity to attend the 2018 Forbes Under 30 Summit in Boston where he performed and did a 20 minute talk to entrepreneurs on the factors that contributed to his success. I managed to record the entire thing so this was perfect to share.
Here’s the video of his talk on October 1, 2018:
1) 2:20 – (Save money for taxes, TuneCore)
2) 4:05 – (Leverage)
3) 4:43 – Can you walk us through your creative process?
4) 5:19 – As aritsts get bigger and bigger, they often stop often interacting with fans cause they don’t want their personal life everywhere. How do you feel about fan interaction?
5) 6:24 – Do you see a benefit in hiring a marketing or P.R. team to go through your social media?
6) 7:09 – What’s the one thing you wish you would have known before started your process?
7) 8:56 – How did you strengthen your emotional intelligence?
8) 9:24 – How much of life do you think is transparent on social media? Percentage?
9) 9:50 – So you’re talking about having people invest in you and knowing your song. You’re clearly a celebrity, how can a founder of company, who’s not a celebrity, get people to invest in them?
10) 11:35 – When it comes to your music videos, how much creative ideas are other people bringing to the table versus you? So are you coming up with all of this, do you have a team or is the label coming up with them?
11) 12:34 – It seems like a lot of your brand is about the hustle and putting in what makes you “you” and showing that to the world. Is there an artist or a level of your DIY that you aspire to? In the sense of how much of yourself is involved in that process. When do you step back and let your celebrity live as it is?
12) 13:31 – What’s your favorite skill you possess?
13) 14:29 – As an artist, how do you balance collaboration in buliding up your own platform?
14) 15:23 – (Skill is developed, confidence)
15) 16:52 – How do you find the balance of chasing your dream and having a regular life (going school)?
16) 18:10 – Greatest full circle moment?
I was able to attend because Butterscotch, an artist I work with, performed before Russ for the opening night of the summit. It was actually my first time seeing Russ live so that was really cool.
For those not familiar with Russ
From a marketing perspective, Russ is an Atlanta based rapper known for building his fan base from the ground up by basically releasing a song every week for 2 years. From December 2011 to August 2014, Russ released 11 albums and 87 singles consecutively all for free on Soundcloud. Additionally, Russ produced, mixed, mastered, engineered, written, and perform the songs all by himself.
In 2015, his break out song “What they Want” was released on Soundcloud, which eventually went double platinum. This lead to a partnership (record deal) with Columbia Records in 2016.
His album “There’s Really a Wolf” became the first ever in hip hop to be certified platinum with one artist handling all the production alone, and all the vocals with no features.
The moral of the story is it took him at least 10 years of making music and putting out 70+ songs before one took off. Not only does it take persistence, but you need to have patience.
Key takeaways from his talk
Although I encourage you to watch the entire 20 minute talk, here are key points you should take with you:
- Hard work beats talent. No matter how talented you are, you still need to put in the work. If you’re not that good, it’s possible to get better over time. Russ sucked when he started in 2006, but he had to work hard to get better at everything.
- Put aside money for taxes and stop spending money on stupid shit. Treat your music career like an actual business. This means reporting your income and invest your money back into the business. It’s already difficult to make a sustainable living as an independent artist, so be very mindful of what you spend your money on.
- Consistency. Although Russ doesn’t address it directly, it’s clear from what he’s done that you need to be consistent with the content you produce.
- You have to believe in you first, before others can. A lot of people give up even before they start. It doesn’t mean be arrogant or cocky. It doesn’t mean ignore criticism or constructive feedback. You just need to be able to be persistent and adaptable so failures don’t slow you down. Find ways to build your confidence like developing your skill set.
- Having patience isn’t about waiting. It’s about being able to accept that the road to success is a very long journey of hard work, failures and passion.
- Build leverage. If you want things your way and not have to keep depending on others, you need leverage. In other words, you need to have or create things that others see value in and can benefit for themselves. This is often in the form of building a good social media following or fan base and quality songs.
- Find what works for you. Don’t assume everything that worked for someone else will work for you. Be willing to experiment and try different things that make sense for your circumstances.
- Be careful with who you surround yourself with. Having driven and ambitious people around you is so important for success. You want people on the same page as you to bounce ideas off of and stay motivated. Having the opposite can hinder your career.
- You need to struggle. It’s safe to say that most artist are going to face challenges and obstacles in music. You need to have the mindset that it’s part of the growth process. It’s okay to make mistakes, but learn from them and don’t dwell.
- Find a balance on social media. Fan interaction and engagement is important to build stronger relationships with your supporters, but you have to deal with negativity as well. Don’t let negativity win. Know when to take mental breaks.
- Get people to invest in you. Having good songs people like is obviously important, but you want to get people to invest in you as an individual, artist and brand.
- Don’t let fear paralyze you. Putting yourself out there as an artist can be scary, but you gotta face your fears. Don’t be afraid to do things that are uncomfortable because you know it will make you better. Fear is an opportunity for growth.
“Patience to me is putting out a song, putting out beats, putting out albums, none of it working, and just not losing enthusiasm. I think bouncing from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm is like patience in a nutshell.” – Russ
“Embrace the struggle. It’s fire, embrace it.” – Russ
“If I feel scared of something, I’m going right towards it head first because on the other side of this fear is growth.” – Russ