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.

Filed Under: connect with fans, labels, macklemore, music, thrift shop, videos, youtube


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  1. icon
    AdamR (profile), 4 Apr 2013 @ 2:29pm

    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 itís weird, itís like this room Iíve 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, itís got the vibe of a funeral
    Thereís 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
    Complaininí that they have nobody in house
    Wonderiní 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: weíve been watching you, so glad you could make it
    Your music, itís so impressive in this whole brand you created
    You're one hell of a band, we here think youíre destined for greatness
    And with that right song we all know that youíre next to be famous

    Now Iím sorry. Iíve had a long day remind me now what your name is?
    Thatís right, Macklemore, of course, today has been crazy
    Anyway, you ready? Weíll give you a hundred thousand dollars.
    After your album comes out weíll need back that money that you borrowed (mm-hm)
    Ė So itís really like a loan.
    Ė A loan? Come on, no!
    We're a team, 360 degrees, we will reach your goals!
    Youíll get a third of the merch that you sell out on the road
    Along with a third of the money you make when youíre out doing your shows
    Manager gets 20, booking agent gets 10
    So shit, after taxes you and Ryan have 7% to split
    Thatís not bad, Iíve 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 "

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