How Russ Used Leverage As An Independent Artist
The reality of music is that you can go two routes with it: you can either sign to a label or go the independent route. The dream for every artist is to become world-famous, tour arenas, have a luxurious lifestyle and forget the idea of having a “normal” job.
More famous musicians are making their way in the business without the aid of a label, but independent artists are the fastest growing segment of global recorded music business.
A report by MIDia Research says independent artists generated more than $643 million in 2018, a jump from the year before.
Musicians are now less adherent to labels. There are new ways of doing business in music with fewer managers and more short term contracts.
For artists, the technological advancements that exist today allow them to share their work with the world in a heartbeat. It allows them to produce more music and build their career at their own pace & with their own lifestyle.
There are more emerging independent artists who are thriving today than they were over the past decade. But the grim reality is that according to the MIDia report, 59% of independent artists said they are frequently worried about their financial position, compared to 48% of label artists.
A breakthrough star who made a fortune from going the independent route is Russ. Russ took a different approach with his music. He does everything himself and keeps 100% of his earnings. He raps, writes, sings, produces, mixes, and masters his own music.
Other artists would have individuals do their mixing, producing, and mastering & this would eat into their profits once their music is released. Russ mastered the skill set to do everything himself independently which gave him a competitive advantage on how much he could earn early on.
After releasing 11 mixtapes in a two and a half-year span, he built enough leverage to land a multi-million dollar advance from Columbia with a rare 50/50 profit split on future releases.
This move paid off for Russ. From 2018 to 2019, he pulled in $15 million from his music to earn a spot in the 2019 Forbes hip-hop’s top earners.
As an independent artist, Russ used the power of leverage to his advantage. He built a large catalog of work and grew a passionate fan base from his socials & Soundcloud.
When he approached labels or when they came to him, he held all the cards. He could walk-away from a deal he didn’t like because he was living comfortably by doing shows with his own team. He could negotiate a great deal with a label instead of getting a raw deal as a new artist.
Russ’ leverage worked so well that he negotiated with Columbia to allow him to keep his catalog and they gave him a multi-million dollar advance before even signing.
Russ built his own brand and grew an audience without the backing of a label to market his music. He used Soundcloud and consistently put out great music and his fans always kept coming back. Like in business, if you offer a great product; people will talk about it and return to you.
Takeaway: For artists on the come up, being independent is the dream. Making a career out of it will take time as you grow your fanbase. To expedite the process, you can grow a fan base to where you can negotiate a deal with a label that is more of a partnership than a normal artist deal. A lot of artists lack the leverage when they’re in the room with music executives. Artists are excited just to get a deal they don’t think of the profit splits, their catalogue, and the scope of the deal if it doesn’t materialize. Coming into the room with your own assets gives you room to steer your career into the direction you want.