Macklemore Explains Why Not Being On A Label Helped Him Succeed

from the looking-for-a-come-up dept

Unless you’ve been totally under a pop-culture/music rock for the past few months, you’ve probably heard of Macklemore and his hit song (and video) Thrift Shop. Now at well over 200 million views, the song itself has been at the top of the charts and has sold over 4 million copies. In case you somehow have missed it, or in case you just want to watch it again, here’s the video:

The song itself was released last year, and built up a lot of buzz throughout the fall, but completely exploded at the beginning of this year. While I became aware of the song a while back, I didn’t realize until recently that Macklemore is actually yet another story of a totally independent artist who found success not by signing with a label and having them throw a ton of money into promoting him, but by carving his own independent path (and using YouTube to connect with fans). In many ways, his story reminds me of Alex Day’s.

A few weeks ago, Macklemore sat down with Chris Hardwick on the Nerdist podcast and it’s great. Beyond some interesting discussions about sudden fame (and then doing laundry in the communal laundry room of your apartment building days after appearing on SNL), he does talk a little about being a successful musician without a label. Chris asks him about the no label part and mentions what a great story it is:

Chris: To see you and Ryan Lewis come out of Seattle just making stuff you like making, with no label, and oh you’re at the top of the charts, and all these people are talking about the song… that’s just a great story.

Macklemore: Yeah, I appreciate it. It is a very cool story. It’s what you always hope for in terms of picking the independent path. It’s cool to see that that’s been a focal point. It’s not just “Thrift Shop”; it’s this kind of do-it-yourself attitude behind the music we’ve made — that is also within the midst of this thrift shop song. That these two dudes chose to go independently, to turn down the labels. That the music industry is changing. That it’s evolving. And to be at any sort of place where we’re at the forefront of that, at the moment, is exciting.

Chris: It’s so inspiring to so many young people who maybe — and I think people are more and more used to the fact that they can just make stuff in their bedrooms and it can turn out to be huge. But every time it happens, it’s that much more inspiring to a younger generation of people who go… ‘there’s no excuse any more to not go out and make stuff that you want.’

Macklemore: Absolutely. And that’s what we watched people that came before us that have done it independently, whether it’s Sub Pop, or whether it’s… Mac Miller did it independently. And he had every major label hollering at him with huge seven figure offers and turned it down and still went number one on Billboard. There’s examples of it that came before us, that had us say ‘I think that it can work — I’m not sure that it can work.” But, at the end of the day, what’s most important, and creative control is number one for Ryan and I. It’s a no brainer.

Chris I’m sure you’ve been approached a million times at this point, but you still don’t want the infrastructure of a label?

Macklemore: Yeah, there’s no reason to do it. With the power of the internet and with the real personal relationship that you can have via social media with your fans… I mean everyone talks about MTV and the music industry, and how MTV doesn’t play videos any more — YouTube has obviously completely replaced that. It doesn’t matter that MTV doesn’t play videos. It matters that we have YouTube and that has been our greatest resource in terms of connecting, having our identity, creating a brand, showing the world who we are via YouTube. That has been our label. Labels will go in and spend a million dollar or hundreds of thousands of dollars and try to “brand” these artists and they have no idea how to do it. There’s no authenticity. They’re trying to follow a formula that’s dead. And Ryan and I, out of anything, that we’re good at making music, but we’re great at branding. We’re great at figuring out what our target audience is. How we’re going to reach them and how we’re going to do that in a way that’s real and true to who we are as people. Because that’s where the substance is. That’s where the people actually feel the real connection.

And labels don’t have that.

So you sign up for a label. There’s not some magic button they’re now going to push and it means that people are going to like who you are. Or that they’re identify with your vision or your songs. It actually comes from sitting down, staring at a piece of paper for months or years on end, trying to figure out who you are as a person, and hoping that it comes through in the end. But a label’s not going to do that for you.

Uh huh. Once again, it makes you wonder what people are thinking when they claim that YouTube is putting artists out of work.

The whole episode is worth listening to as Macklemore has a great perspective on all of this, and it’s interesting to hear him discuss the oddity of his sudden increase in fame and how he’s dealing with it, without letting it go to his head. But considering how often we’ve had similar discussions about artists who choose to go independent, I thought some would enjoy that particular snippet especially.

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Comments on “Macklemore Explains Why Not Being On A Label Helped Him Succeed”

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29 Comments
anonymouse says:

Re: Re:

I suspect they will be trying to find the formula used by these artists and using that to take over youtube, maybe even hiding the fact that the artist is signed by a label for a while.
If you look at the way the music industry has worked over the years they have been restricting the release of music to push new “stars” and this with youtube will hopefully stop.

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re: WMG

Nah, in terms of indie, Macklemore’s still independent.

Instead of signing with WMG, Macklemore hired ADA to help him and Ryan Lewis distribute The Heist/promote Thrift Shop on the radio waves. This is also (according to Ryan Lewis) a The Heist-only deal.

In other words, the record label (WMG’s subsidiary ADA) is doing what record labels should have been doing from the beginning: offering their services out to artists on a project by project basis, doing distribution and promotion for one album at a time.

Here’s why:

-the artist wouldn’t get locked into a contract that forced them into a deal with a record label 1)that takes a 93% cut of the profit, 2) be pressured by their labels to start churning out new albums and exhaust all their creativity on the earlier ones, and 3) take away the artist’s right to select the record label that will treat the artist better than the others.

It would also benefit the record labels, because they wouldn’t have to waste time and resources on artists they get in multi-album contracts who turn out to be nothing more than one-hit wonders, and can turn those resources toward promoting new artists or creating more productive ways to provide content……

Who am I kidding, the cash flow would probably go toward the exec’s salaries.

AdamR (profile) says:

Well that’s weird was listening to his album on the way home. Heard one song on a commercial and then saw him on SNL. Decide to buy his album, happy to hear that all is working out well for him

Here are some lyrics from his song title jimmy iovine

“I made past security, the secretary, the cubicles
But it?s weird, it?s like this room I?ve walked into is unusual
Thought it would be shiny and beautiful
Thought it would be alive and like musical
But it feels like someone died, it?s got the vibe of a funeral
There?s numbers on a chalkboard
CDs boxed in cardboard
Artists that flopped, that got dropped and never got to be sophomores

Graphic designers are sitting around
Waiting for albums that never come out
Complainin? that they have nobody in house
Wonderin? what they make art for
I start thinking, am I in the right place?
Just walk forward, see plaques on the wall
Oh yea, in a second those will be all yours

Finally see an office with a mounted sign, heaven sent
Big block silver letters, read it out loud: President (nice!)
This was my chance to grab that contract and turn and jet
Right then felt a cold hand grab on the back of my neck

He said: we?ve been watching you, so glad you could make it
Your music, it?s so impressive in this whole brand you created
You’re one hell of a band, we here think you?re destined for greatness
And with that right song we all know that you?re next to be famous

Now I?m sorry. I?ve had a long day remind me now what your name is?
That?s right, Macklemore, of course, today has been crazy
Anyway, you ready? We?ll give you a hundred thousand dollars.
After your album comes out we?ll need back that money that you borrowed (mm-hm)
? So it?s really like a loan.
? A loan? Come on, no!
We’re a team, 360 degrees, we will reach your goals!
You?ll get a third of the merch that you sell out on the road
Along with a third of the money you make when you?re out doing your shows
Manager gets 20, booking agent gets 10
So shit, after taxes you and Ryan have 7% to split
That?s not bad, I?ve seen a lot worse,
No one will give you a better offer than us (mm-hm)
I replied I appreciate the offer, thought that this is what I wanted
Rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting fucked “

Internet Zen Master (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Can’t believe someone else beat me to posting this (that’s what I get for being a slacker on this kind of thing).

Anyway, Macklemore is the kind of artist that other aspiring artists should aspire to be, and not sell their souls to the RIAA.

That said, I’m a Seattle native born & raised so I’m kinda biased. God I feel hipster when I say this, but I was a fan of “Thrift Shop” and made a huge effort to go and buy physical version of The Heist album. [Found it for $12.99 at Fred Meyer’s.]

And I confess that I downloaded the “Thrift Shop” single without paying for it, but I deleted the single version as soon as I got bought the full album.

And it is by far the best album I’ve listened to in a long, long time.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Surprising only because they usually switch to some crap about “this only works because he’s not already famous” or “this will never work for anyone else” or some variation thereof.

Don’t worry, they’ll conveniently ignore this story, as they ignore every other example, next time it’s more convenient to attack Mike rather than defend the despicable actions of their copyright obsessed peers.

FreeCultureForFreePeople says:

“…totally independent artist…”

Well, here in Germany the video cannot be viewed, because Macklemore is probably a member of the GEMA (our super greedy collectors’ society) which still haven’t reached an agreement with Youtube. But then again, they are well known to often just CLAIM that an artist falls under their “protection” (birds’ twittering in the background of a video come to mind). Bastards. Thank you, GEMA, for basically killing Youtube in Germany. I often don’t even click the links any more, it’s so frustrating to always see this stupid message starting with “This video is not available in Germany…”

Tony says:

independent deals

Mackle Moore only has a deal to distribute his music into retail stores. It doesn’t manner how independent you are, you gotta sign a deal to manufacture and ship the cds to Walmart, target, etc.. That doesn’t give ownership to the label, only the right to sell and make profit per sale. For example Itunes make 30% off the sale of every album, so the label raises the cost to make up for that which is why most deluxe albums cost nearly $20 these days. Amazon has a lower fee at 17%.

Catina sanford says:

Anti bullying

I am desperatly trying to get a hold of macklemore and or Ryan Lewis!
My daughter used parts of same love but rewrote
The words to suit a bullying situation at her school! It has become so popular that the
School wants to submit it to a national contest.
There is no monetary compensation.
Just helping a young girl build some self asteem
And possibly win a trophy for her efforts.
818 515 0069! We love ur music

Cronic beats (user link) says:

Good for him! I predict that the Record labels will be out of business in 20 years. If you know how to market yourself online, you will make it in this profession as an independent. It really takes a lot of hard-work, passion and dedication in order to make it on youtube. It is a lot more then just uploading a video like many people think. If you don’t know what you are doing, you will not get people to watch your videos.

obudo says:

This is my life story.I was once a poor youth leader in a church at Ruiru Nairobi.I would pray god to help me get money but I ended in vain.During my high school times,I was forced to become a thug due to the hard life to survive.One day my friend who was known as Makelele was shot dead at Buruburu when we were tryn to still from an indian hardware shop.I was then posted on the kenyan magazines as a villain.I was jailed at kamiti prison fo 3 yrs.5 years later I met a certain bishop in Thika who introduced be to the dark arts.I became a member of the free masons and my life changed instantly.I now make mone like shit.Thank you Satan.
If at all you want to expirience the same,Call me on +2348144631509 or whatsapp me now
Jokers will be ignored.

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