Three Sure Ways to Make an Impact with Your Music

July 10, 2011

Our man Jahi has some thoughts for aspiring rappers on how succeed in the music industry, none of which involve some sort of police action. Here are three ways to make a positive and lasting impression.

Get involved in the community

No, I don’t mean a street team. I don’t mean get 100 girls to pass out your flyers and stand outside of every club. And no, I do not mean buy a book with all the record labels, agents, radio stations, and media outlets, and send an e-mail to everyone of them.

What I do mean is volunteer at a school, community center, university, library, church, or even your local corner store. Why? Well these are the perfect places to meet people in your community, survey musical tastes, and define your demographic. It also introduces you to the community while doing something of service instead of standing outside a store harassing people to listen to, or buy, a CD that they have no connection to. Put your head down, be humble and do something of community service in your community, and mention that you do music later, after you’ve read a book to a child, cleaned up a neighborhood, or stocked books on shelves.

What I’ve learned (and I have a lot more to learn) is when I was in the classroom introducing my students to hip-hop from a life affirming, positive, having fun perspective from the era I grew up in, the first thing I would always hear is “my momma listens to that,” or “my uncle plays that song.” After working with students for a period of time, I realized I was able to gain them as fans, and their family as well, which helped to expand my demographic. Trust me, if you get involved in your community, it will turn into something positive for your music career.

Create a catalog—not just an album or mixtape

If you have been doing any serious study in the music industry, you’ll come to the realization that publishing and licensing is where the real meat and longevity is in this game. I know rappers who can spit 1000 bars, has mixtapes full of songs that can’t be cleared to actually be considered for the opportunities mentioned above, and maybe has one album done. If you are looking at the music business as a marathon, not a sprint, you have to think long term. If you own the copyrights to your musical creations, you’ll have extended legs in the game.

More importantly, it is not necessary to just write songs for an album, just write. Think of 100 topics, and write songs about those topics, and stack it like a library. Why am I saying this? Well, there are two sides to the licensing game. The entry level is when a music supervisor for television, film, or video games picks one of your songs, you get a check, see your name in the credits—Huraayyy! The advanced level is when you make a come up like Pastor Troy, and ESPN takes a whole catalog of your music and works it into their programming. Think about it&emdash;if you don’t have a catalog, but just loose songs, you don’t give yourself a chance to get the lion share of opportunities. Take it from me, it works.

Find a cause

Hip-hop unfortunately is so egotistical and everyone wants to say, “look at me.” There’s only so many songs where you can talk about yourself. There’s only so many times people want to hear you consider yourself the best, timeless, classic, and all these other words that people like Quincy Jones, Smokey Robinson and Stevie Wonder never have to say, because they just are.

Write an EP about what’s going in Haiti today. Write a project to support South Sudan’s independence. Visit an autistic child in your neighborhood and write a song that brings awareness. I guarantee you this will make you stand out. Write about the political race for president in 2012 and write a verse a day about the issues.

Overall, believe in yourself, be honest in your craft, mature, refine, and shine.

Jahi, a hip-hop artist and educator, writes bi-weekly column on the music industry, politics, technology and education for He is the CEO of Microphone Mechanics, and an avid reader, chess player, and birdwatcher.

posted: July 10th, 2011, 10:21pm


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