Indie Rapper Tops Sales Charts By Connecting With Fans, Using Free Music

from the oh-look-at-that... dept

To hear some people tell the story, there's no way to become a super successful musician embracing the internet and what it allows, unless you give in and sign a deal with a major label. Of course, that seems silly. For years, we've pointed to tons of artists who would never have found success in the old "major label" system (or who bounced out of that system after not scoring the massive hit), but who are now able to make a very, very good living thanks to new business models and doing little things like connecting with fans. But still, some keep asking, where are the "chart topping" artists that come out of the internet, without a major label. Well, now there's one. Rapper Mac Miller recently debuted at the top of the Billboard charts with his debut album, despite not working with a major label. I don't think much of the Billboard charts, but if people want those kinds of traditional metrics, there you go.

Miller sold about 150,000 copies of his debut album last week and became the first indie artist to debut at the top of Billboard in well over a decade. And he did so without having a single playing on the radio (another thing that old-timers insist is a "must.") While he had some help from truly indie label Rostrum, he also worked with INgrooves and Fontana for distribution, and apparently it all worked well enough. But, of course, the real key was the internet. The NY Times points out that Miller is one of a generation of hip hop artists recognizing that "free music is an investment that pays off." Shocking. If only there had been sites arguing that for the better part of a decade... But I digress.

But the driving force behind Miller's success on the sales charts is that he's really connecting with fans. His Twitter feed has 1.2 million followers and his Facebook feed has 1.5 million fans. His YouTube channel apparently has something crazy like 176 million views. But it's not just about the numbers, but the connection. Miller has continued to tour and perform live as a way of building up his fanbase, but also interacts with them online in a variety of ways.

I'm sure, as with every artist success story we highlight around here, our usual critics will come up with all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." But one by one, all of the "must haves" that the old guard insists are necessary are being shown to be total myths. Embracing the internet works. Treating the internet as a problem, doesn't.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:12pm

    but, but, but.... where's the middleman taking 80% of what the artist is making

    I disagree, there is no way this artist is a success, it doesn't matter where he is at on the charts, unless he is supporting the leeches, I mean RIAA by handing over 80% of his revenue, he's a worthless content stealing wannabe...

    Am I doing it right?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:14pm

    I think saying that he did it without radio is a bit much, the did it without the old radio the new radio(P2P) was all he needed.

     

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  3.  
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    E. Zachary Knight (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:15pm

    Re: but, but, but.... where's the middleman taking 80% of what the artist is making

    20% for the artist? I think you are being a little too generous there.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:16pm

    But nobody knows who he is and wont buy his albums! Hell most people don't even know the names of the artists in their music. They just say "Did you hear that UMG track?" Or "I can't wait for the next Sony Music album".

    Come on!

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:18pm

    So how long till Gema try to collect royalties for him?

     

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  6.  
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    PRMan, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:30pm

    Beware of legislation changes in 3, 2, 1...

    I was talking to my wife (who used to be a moderately successful Christian rock artist) on Sunday and was talking about SOPA and she said that nobody would ever vote for that.

    Then I asked her, "If you were going to play live now, where would you do it?" All the places where she used to play live don't allow live music anymore. (Many of these venues required signatures that all music must be written by the artist themself and not under record label control, and forbid any songs that were not in the public domain at Christmas.)

    I said, "Why do you think that they don't play live music anymore? It's because the collection agencies pushed through legislation making it impossible for anyone to have live music because the law now assumes they MUST be violating copyright and have to pay anyway."

    So, it's nice to see that people are still able to make it without some of the venues they used to have available to them.

     

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  7.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:33pm

    God of the Gaps

    Free music may work for no-name artists and big-name stars, but what about the people in the middle? It'll never work for them!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8.  
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    gorehound (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:40pm

    Re: Beware of legislation changes in 3, 2, 1...

    I am well aware of this issue as I have been playing in rock bands since 1972.Clubs in Portland, Maine were hit by big ass fines.The Empire had to pay a ten grand fine.They all say no covers or your out.Of course if you are in a Punk Band and never give any support to any Artist who ever would sign with those dicks then you are OK.So go ahead and cover your obscure 60's fuzzy guitar garage and obscure punk and hey do a GG Allin Cover for the brave ones.

    And I also share all my music and am currently seeding 6 albums on public trackers.See
    Big Meat Hammer
    The Lynn Rebels
    The GoreHounds
    The Transplants (boston punk rock 1976-80)
    Enjoy my tones if interested.Always free all the time.And for all of this and more direct downloads at
    www.bigmeathammer.com

    To Big Content:
    TWO BIG FINGERS IN THE AIR............cause one is not enough for how low you have sunk to.SOPA,PROTECT-IP ACT,suing grandmas,suing clubs,suing bands, payola,and more and more and more.

     

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  9.  
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    weneedhelp (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:43pm

    Oh, oh, can I do it?

    Rapper Mac Miller = freetard with friends
    truly indie label Rostrum = truly freetards
    His Twitter feed has 1.2 million followers = 1.2million freetards
    his Facebook feed has 1.5 million fans = 1.5million freetards
    His YouTube channel apparently has something crazy like 176 million views. = 176million freetards(Look Ma, I used RIAA math)
    Lets see Freetard Mike, Pie-rate Mike, freetard pirate blah blah blah blah blah.

    /How did I do?

     

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  10.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:44pm

    This is exactly what the RIAA is worried about. Their worst fear is successful artists outside the RIAA cartel.

    Even their virtual lock on terrestrial radio is not as valuable as it used to be. As the situation with Mac Miller illustrates,lots of young people use the Internet as their main source for finding music they like. An artist no longer needs radio plays to be popular.

     

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  11.  
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    :Lobo Santo (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:51pm

    Re: Oh, oh, can I do it?

    It's a sad, sad day when we become a self trolling community.
    ;-P


    That being said, not bad!

    You need a little more conviction and outright lies; like this:
    Obviously this "rapper" is in league with Satan!
    He's connected to the record labels, we just don't see the threads!
    He must be selling crack to be that popular!


    Etcetera, etcetera, blah blah. You get the idea.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:52pm

    Re: God of the Gaps

    Jonathan Coulton.

     

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  13.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 1:59pm

    Re:

    An artist no longer needs radio plays to be popular.


    Exactly. A LOT of younger people don't listen to terrestrial radio of their own free will. They plug in their phones/iPods/mp3 players/8tracks to their radio using an FM transmitter or an AUX port and hit a playlist. When their friends are with them, they listen to their friends' music to find new things. At home they surf YouTube or a million other sites to find new music. Slightly older ones go to the club and listen to the music there, find the tracks, and listen.

    I'm too old for that crap, but I still don't listen to terrestrial radio. If I turn on the radio, it's XM and it's always music older than 10 years old. If I want to hear something new, I do basically the same thing as the younger people minus the club. I surf YouTube, talk to friends, check websites of people that I know I like (Amanda F'ing Palmer!) and look for mentions of other folks along those lines.

    I'd venture a guess that in the next 10 years, no one will care about terrestrial radio, especially as a means of finding new music.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14.  
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    Chris Rhodes (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 2:05pm

    Re: Oh, oh, can I do it?

    Not bad, but "freetard" has been replaced by "grifter". Didn't you get the memo?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 2:18pm

    Where are the shills?

    *pin drop*

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16.  
    identicon
    out_of_the_blue, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 2:30pm

    'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    It's a fact, we don't have to come up with "reasons".

    Your definition of "debut" is... a new one. Guess you mean on Billboard charts. At first glance, that seems a bit rigged, but never mind, not worth quibbling over.

    I've just downloaded and skimmed through 3 "albums", if you call that music, it's just as I've said: music is a hundred times cheaper to make than movies -- it shows here. Yeesh. Those skilled enough can churn that -- content, to be neutral -- out at an "album" a day.

    Anyway, you're still pretending that a "loss leader until noticed" technique is somehow new because /on the Internet/. You've kicked the stuffing out of that strawman for so long that it can't be propped up. Many bands have been out playing, building up repertoire, making acquaintance, and in every way trying to get noticed for years. But that still seems pretty much random. You don't even have a strategy for that spelled out.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17.  
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    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased) (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re: God of the Gaps

    people in the middle (aka. middle-men)

     

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  18.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 3:41pm

    Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is

    Blue its even getting boring to make fun of you at this point. Go to your local community college and take a class on logical fallicies and english as a second language, then come back and maybe we can have a real discussion.

    Also please post your album by next week, I wanna see just how easy it is.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19.  
    icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 3:44pm

    Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    >>I've just downloaded and skimmed through 3 "albums", if you call that music, it's just as I've said: music is a hundred times cheaper to make than movies -- it shows here. Yeesh. Those skilled enough can churn that -- content, to be neutral -- out at an "album" a day.

    But yet this piece of junk (in your mind) beat out all of the label artists backed by all the producers, musical directors, equipment, and other benefits provided by the studios. What does that say about the quality of music produced by the traditional labels?

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20.  
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    Jeremy2020 (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 3:57pm

    Re: Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    If you're trying to reason with someone who's band either failed or his income is rooted in a legacy industry, you're fighting an uphill battle.

    Just ignore him and move on which is the best way to get rid of those who can't adapt.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21.  
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    Marcel de Jong (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 4:46pm

    Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    So, by your reasoning, you just stole his music?
    After all you downloaded 3 of his albums and listened to it.

    Shame on you, blue. Shame on you.

    /s

    btw... Mike never said that the idea is new. Those were your people's words, not Mike's. He's actually said that it was an old idea, on numerous occassions.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22.  
    identicon
    bob, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 6:07pm

    PAYWALL!

    He's not an exception at all-- he's the rule. The major and minor labels have given away free music for years. Then they turned to a paywall to make a profit and pay it off. That's exactly what's going on here.

    There are zip-zero-zilch tracks from "Blue Slide Park" available on MySpace. If you want them, you can PAY to get through the PAYWALL. As Pete Townshend sang, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

    Wake me when some unknown sells 150,000 copies with a tip jar while giving away all of the tracks for free.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23.  
    identicon
    bob, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 6:29pm

    Re:

    Yup. It's not like he's giving away the tracks for free. MySPACE and YouTube are the new radio.

     

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  24.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 6:32pm

    "And he did so without having a single playing on the radio"

    and why should a hand full of corporations have exclusive privileges over broadcasting spectra in such a way that allows them to choose what gets broadcasted and what doesn't? Why should some artists have an artificial disadvantage just because some corporations don't want their content broadcasted. Why should creative commons and permissibly licensed content have the disadvantage of not being broadcasted over public airwaves just because some monopolist gatekeeper chooses so.

    The government has no business granting monopoly privileges on both content (through copy protection laws) and distribution (through cableco and broadcasting monopolies and through laws that dissuade restaurants and other venues from hosting independent performers).

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 8:37pm

    Re: PAYWALL!

    There are zip-zero-zilch tracks from "Blue Slide Park" available on MySpace. If you want them, you can PAY to get through the PAYWALL. As Pete Townshend sang, "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

    Heh. Perhaps that's because no one goes to MySpace any more. His tracks are available free on YouTube and Spotify and I imagine many other sources as well.

    And, again, no one has said that you should never charge for content. Just know when to charge and when not to charge. And I don't know for sure, but I'd guess that (unlike you) Mac isn't crying about "Big Search" stealing his lunch. He actually went out and did something to make a shitload of money.

    You should try it someday.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26.  
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    Bob Webster (profile), Nov 22nd, 2011 @ 9:10pm

    Not Bad...

    That guy is pretty good for a rapper!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:14am

    Re: Re: but, but, but.... where's the middleman taking 80% of what the artist is making

    Well, that's before they have recouped all the real and all the imaginary expenses of course. Afterwards it's usually a negative number, as it should be. Can't let those crazy artsy types have to much money, can we!? Think of the children!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:15am

    Re:

    I don't know. There's a huge difference between the passiveness of listening to radio and actively seeking the music out on the internet I think.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:18am

    Re: Re: God of the Gaps

    But he's a GOD!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30.  
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    WysiWyg (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:24am

    Re: PAYWALL!

    Show me someone "unknown" selling 150 000 copies using the "old system".

    Pro tip; if you sell 150 000 copies you are by definition no longer "unknown". Duh.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:31am

    Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    "I've just downloaded and skimmed through 3 "albums", if you call that music"

    Yes, your personal tastes have to be the arbiter of success. It doesn't matter that well over a million people are interested in what he has to say and that 150,000 people like the music enough to pay for it - *OOTB* doesn't like it, therefore any success is invalid.

    You can't even accept qualified success if it goes in a direction you dislike. This is part of the reason why you fail, and regularly.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32.  
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    PaulT (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 12:33am

    Re: PAYWALL!

    "There are zip-zero-zilch tracks from "Blue Slide Park" available on MySpace. If you want them, you can PAY to get through the PAYWALL."

    The entire album is available for free on Spotify, among other places. Are you just deliberately stupid, or does it come naturally.

    "Wake me when some unknown sells 150,000 copies with a tip jar while giving away all of the tracks for free."

    I'd never heard of him before this article, does that count?

    Oh, and I like the idiocy spewed again. Oh THIS success doesn't count because of (random factors X Y and Z)? Pathetic.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 4:23am

    Re: PAYWALL!

    If he's selling copies and giving away the tracks for free he's effectively selling them at the price of $0, which means that based on the infinite replicability of costless copies, he's already made that quota. Anyone can make that quota.

    ...Well, aside from you, I suppose.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34.  
    identicon
    Michael, Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 5:25am

    The internet wins

    I hadn't heard of this guy before reading this article, but then I don't follow the rap music scene.

    This is setting a precedent which the major labels are not fond of: an independent success through self-promotion, word-of-mouth and internet exposure. The fact that a 'random nobody' can come along and take the top spot on the Billboard charts is akin to an indy arthouse film maker's movie taking the top spot away from Hollywood -- it's unthinkable to them. Couple that with the fact that Mac Miller owns all of his own art and generates REAL profit instead of debt... This will further embolden aspiring artists to take after him and bypass the bank, err, major labels and go directly to the music listeners.

    Who still listens to the radio? I don't.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35.  
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    Hephaestus (profile), Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 6:12am

    "Shocking. If only there had been sites arguing that for the better part of a decade... But I digress."

    Hey mike, I am sending you a horn, toot it for me will ya. ;)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36.  
    identicon
    Colin, Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 6:51am

    Re: Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    Yes, your personal tastes have to be the arbiter of success.

    I've noticed a few ACs coming in with this logic, too. Apparently they've exhausted all objective roads and realized they are wrong so they're just going with their gut now.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37.  
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 7:17am

    Re: Re: Re: 'all sorts of reasons why Miller is "an exception." '

    It's like infringement and 'knowing it when they see it'

    Content is only 'good' when it fits their personal tastes (ie. produced by corporate puppets)

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
    identicon
    bob, Nov 23rd, 2011 @ 7:19am

    Re: Re: PAYWALL!

    Hey, dude, don't be so clueless. Spotify is a PAYWALL system. Do you want to listen on your mobile device? The PAYWALL collects $9.99 and if you don't pay each and every month, your music goes away. Do you want to skip the annoying ads on your desktop? Putting $4.99 into the PAYWALL each month gets rid of them.

    If you want to listen for free, you get to deal with all of the AD-driven madness of their desktop app. If you don't listen to the advertisements, the DRM gets in the way. And you get to be part of the advertising too because Spotify will SPAM your friends with the songs you listen to. Okay, it's not the same privacy nightmare as sharing your medical records, but there's a reason that people fought to keep video rental records private. Spotify asks you to give up those privacy rights and help them advertise their product.

    And YouTube is just another ad-driven version of MTV. And what's the biggest part of their game plan? A PAYWALL if you don't want to look at the ads.

    You act like this is new, but it isn't. The major labels have been playing this game for YEARS. They give away some music on the radio or MTV and then they charge you for the version you put in your iPod. That's the same thing this guy is doing.

    He's not adopting any of your dreamy tip-jar, t-shirt-selling ideas. He's emulating the smart, copyright-driven music majors and more power to him.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39.  
    identicon
    Your Mother, Dec 3rd, 2011 @ 3:59am

    Re: Oh, oh, can I do it?

    Facebook users = FACETARDS!

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  40.  
    identicon
    Albert Parker, Mar 12th, 2012 @ 4:31am

    After study a few of the blog posts on your website now, and I truly like your way of blogging. I bookmarked it to my bookmark website list and will be checking back soon.

    My page : Rock and Roll Interview

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  41.  
    identicon
    Albert Parker, Mar 16th, 2012 @ 12:15am

    Rock and Roll Artists

    If the artist is good then he/she don't need a radio to get popularity. Thanks for this great post.

    My page : Rock and Roll Interview

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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