Industry Exposure: The importance of mixtapes and hand to hand sales.
New York has been the centre of the hip hop world for decades, but over the past 5 years, many executives, labels, artists etc have relocated their offices or homes to Atlanta. Artists outside of New York and California had issues with reaching a larger audience, mainly because the majority of the labels, magazines, large hip hop radio stations etc were based here.
This led to a DIY ethic and entrepreneurial spirit being created, as a response to this barrier to entry. Some regions are more prolific in others at this method.
Before MC Hammer was a Diamond selling artist, he formed a small indie label in Oakland that he funded by selling records from his basement./ He would then sell and promote the records in indie stores, shows or just anywhere there was a large gathering of people. This large following he had gained, made labels enter a bidding war for his music, resulting in of the biggest selling singles and albums in the last 30 years!
There are rappers who did this and in turn created loyal fanbases (who still buy the music today). Some were signed to majors,(E-40, Too Short) others to independents. As a result, there are rappers here who many may not have heard outside of the Bay Area who have a string of Platinum and Gold plaques. The Luniz, Yukmouth, Baby Bash, Spice 1, Digital Underground are some examples.
Master P distributed his artists through a record store in the Bay Area. He created a large following by collaborating with Bay Area artists who also had a strong fanbase.
Master P was able to ink a large distribution deal with Priority due to his impressive indie sales. Once No Limit Records had that distribution deal, there was no stopping them. That blueprint of being amongst your fans and their DIY ethic created a strong sense of brand loyalty ,something rappers who solely exist on the internet or are force fed to the audience lack.
Although,The Game was signed to Bay Area label Get Low Recordz. Just like No Limit, they had a distribution deal with Priority. The Game had a good work ethic, releasing many mixtapes, making hand to hand sales. This helped increase his fanbase, enabling him to sell over 80’000 units in the 1st 3 months of release. His debut album, Untold Story, showed that with major label backing he could become a superstar. And the rest was history.
A similar situation exists in Louisiana. Some artists are able to secure deals because they have a proven track record of selling music , hand to hand, mixing with their fans. Birdman sold a minimum of 200’000 records on the street, before he was known outside of Louisiana. This made Universal throw $30 million at his Cash Money Records label. Rappers such as Webbie,Lil Boosie, Hurricane Chris, continue to make respectable sales on independent labels.
Rappers such as Lil Flip, Chamillionaire, Mike Jones, UGK and Chingo Bling are examples of artists who instilled this ethic. Once labels picked up on this they were offered several deals. Last year, out of over 1500 independent releases, T.M.I Boyz had the 2nd highest selling release in any genre. There are many big name artists in all genres of music who released independent albums.
One problem that exists with this method is oversaturation. Everybody is doing this in Atlanta and Texas in particular,mainly because of the success stories of Young Jeezy, Gucci Mane, T.I etc.
This ethic exists in NY, but more in the form of street mixtapes and dvd’s which are sold on street corners, bodegas, etc. This method is what made Akon give French Montana an $1 millon deal to sign to Konvict Muzik. His Cocaine City, street DVD series was very popular amongst NY, which has been proven to be a difficult market to crack. His income was over $1 million over the course of 5 years, often tax free due to hand to hand sales.
However,the problem that exists in New York is its Hip Hop Police Unit is much more heavily staffed and ready to prosecute the DVD makers, mixtape dj’s etc. But this approach continues to create ready made stars and labels, with loyal fanbases before they’re signed to a major label.