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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.

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

    Ninja (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 11:45am

    They're trying to follow a formula that's dead.

    Most obvious and yet most insightful statement ever. While they do have deep pockets to sustain this they'll eventually fail. We'll see the smarter labels acting as they should. As enablers.


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

    Jen G., Apr 4th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

    Chris Hardwick*


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

    Lurk-a-lot (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 1:23pm

    'This video contains content from WMG...'

    What's with that?


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

    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2013 @ 1:25pm


    Or the legacy gatekeepers will cry bloody murder and demand some of the spotlight from Youtube. I could see them trying to have Youtube charge to upload a video (which of course they get some of the proceeds). Just like the newpapers vs Google News, or Britian's MAFIAA vs DJs.


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

    ahow628 (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 1:32pm

    This only works...

    This approach only works for people named Macklemore.


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

    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2013 @ 1:59pm

    Re: WMG

    An interesting question. Macklemore's records are distributed by AMA who are owned by WMG.

    I'm not sure how that gives them rights to block his videos in various countries. Might be that WMG are overreaching (wouldn't be the first time). Might be that Macklemore isn't as independent as he makes out.


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

    jupiterkansas (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 2:07pm


    Their plan seems to be hang on as long as they can until someone else figures out how to make money, and then buy them with whatever cash they have left.


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

    jupiterkansas (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 2:09pm

    Re: This only works...

    1. Change name
    2. Profit.


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

    AdamR (profile), Apr 4th, 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 "


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

    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2013 @ 2:38pm


    Did you just commit copyright infringement? Did you ask for permission to copy those lyrics and post them on the Internet? They're copyrighted.


    For justice's sake.


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

    AdamR (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 2:49pm

    Re: Re:

    Does it count against one of my six strikes!


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

    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2013 @ 3:46pm

    Re: Re: Re:


    No... Each paragraph counts as one so... that's 5 right there.

    On second thought why stop there? 6 second snippets of videos count as infringement so that's about every 10 words...

    Needless to say your internet privileges have been revoked


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

    Anonymous Coward, Apr 4th, 2013 @ 6:44pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    And just to be sure, we'll forward your IP address to Malibu Media so they can sue you for pornography you may have downloaded. After all, John Steele's gotta eat too you know!


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

    That Anonymous Coward (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 7:42pm

    And here I knew him more for this song first...


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

    JP Jones (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 7:55pm

    Anyone else notice the lack of ACs calling out Mike for never saying anything good about copyright or artists making money?



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

    Internet Zen Master (profile), Apr 4th, 2013 @ 11:47pm


    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.


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

    PaulT (profile), Apr 5th, 2013 @ 12:41am


    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.


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

    FreeCultureForFreePeople, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 5:17am

    "...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..."


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

    anonymouse, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 5:36am


    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.


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

    Tony, Apr 5th, 2013 @ 12:05pm

    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%.


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

    Internet Zen Master (profile), Apr 11th, 2013 @ 1:21pm

    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.


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

    Catina sanford, May 24th, 2013 @ 11:43am

    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


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

    Harold, Jun 21st, 2013 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: WMG

    He doesn't says it in the way of distribiution but in the freedom of the artist on being a product. Labels design artist but he designed himself as an artist by who he is


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

    Cronic beats, Nov 12th, 2013 @ 2:47pm

    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.


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

    Phillip, May 7th, 2014 @ 2:20pm

    Good music


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

    Anonymous, May 7th, 2014 @ 3:15pm

    Re: Re: Re: WMG

    So are you saying that Macklemore is the one investing into ADA and Warner Brothers for their services? If so, is this just a rumor or what source did you find that in? Do you know how much he invested into them or how much they invested into him?


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

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