Can Instrumental Hip-Hop Producers Use Newsletters to Take Back Control of Their Art?
An unexpected tool might help artists grow their audience and interest in their work.
(Credit: Petar Milošević)
After penning Monday’s newsletter that addressed some of the mistreatment and erasure of Black producers in the world of instrumental hip-hop, I’ve been thinking about how artists take can take back control of their creativity, their catalogs, and their hard work.
One of the difficulties I see for producers and a lot of modern creators is it’s so hard to cut through the noise when you’re trying to get people to listen online. Even if you build a massive following on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc., that doesn’t necessarily translate to support for your new album or EP.
All of those platforms are so saturated and crowded that it’s easy for your posts—no matter how clever and/or creative—to get drowned out by algorithms and other people using the platforms. It’s also easy for valuable art and ideas that creators spontaneously share in these spaces (album artwork, beatmaking videos, photos, etc.) to get lost in the shuffle with no real mechanism for capturing and curating the posts long-term.
The playlist ecosystem is also flawed and, from what I’ve seen over the past four years, not very democratic. It’s dominated by a few giant curating entities and is only truly beneficial for a select few.
So, how can instrumental hip-hop producers take back some control from billion dollar tech sociopaths, streaming services, and playlist curators while using their words and their work to their own advantage?
Starting a newsletter could be an important and largely uncharted form of audience connection for artists/producers/musicians. Social media companies come and go, but everyone still checks their email.
Podcasts are already using newsletters to grow their audience and there’s no reason that instrumental producers can’t also use this tool to their advantage.
Many producers that I follow closely on social media already share enough great writing on their Instagram and Twitter feeds to justify a newsletter. Why not copy and paste those words from those tweets into an article that goes straight to your subscriber’s inboxes? You can even embed you IG posts and tweets, something Substack writers do all the time.
The true beauty of newsletters is there’s no set format. You have no word quota or rules. You have no editor setting parameters around what you can and can’t do and you have no giant corporate entity controlling what you say or share. And you don’t rely on some anonymous curating entity to care about your work and amplify it.
You, the producer, are in complete control. Whether your newsletter articles are 50 words or 500 or 5000, you decide what works best for you and your audience and how to present your art. There’s real beauty and power in that kind of creative control—even if your list starts off with 10 or 15 subscribers and grows slowly.
Starting a newsletter, whether you use Substack or a different platform, helps you build a direct connection with your listeners. This means you can build a captive network of subscribers to share your new artwork, music, sample packs, videos, and anything else you can think of with.
And it gives you the opportunity to pair these creations with the words and stories you’re already sharing in other ways on social media.
Before overthinking this, I would just get started and do it.
I recommend using Substack. It’s simple, easy to use, easy for readers to share your stories, and effective. They also have great customer support for new writers.
Each piece of Substack writing is published as a hybrid email/unique article URL and you can also write article posts without sending it as an email. The publishing process is pretty user friendly.
Once you create an account, create an about page and post a link for people to subscribe on your social media channels. Here’s an example of my about page.
After you’ve created an about page, start writing.
Remember, short newsletters are effective so don’t stress a particular word count or quota. Always remember that storytelling is key—people are much more likely to pay attention if there’s an interesting story to accompany what you’re sharing in your newsletter.
Here are some recommendations and ideas to try:
Start by setting a manageable goal for your newsletter. One article per week is a good starting point, but you can certainly do more than that if two or three articles per week feels right.
With Substack, you can also turn on a paid subscription option at any time, which could become another valuable tool in generating income from your work. This also gives you a chance to share exclusive, “subscriber only” material with you biggest fans.
Try sharing captivating stories about your existing work in your newsletters. Do you have a Bandcamp project with an interesting backstory? Can you write a few sentences, a short paragraph, or a page about each song once a week and share it with the song’s Bandcamp link? This kind of storytelling gives the listener extra incentive to support your music.
It also gives you an opportunity to back-link to the earlier newsletters about other songs on the album each time you send out a new newsletter. Imagine the power of doing this with multiple projects over a series of weeks and months.
Every time you publish and tell your listeners an interesting backstory to a song, you can share the newsletter/article on your social feeds and your audience has the ability to do the same. This leads to more visibility, new subscribers, and it generates interest in your work.
Here’s a great Medium post eu-IV wrote a few years back about his project SHINELIKETHESUN. This kind of piece would work perfectly as a Substack newsletter about one of your projects. Granted, it’s about a full album not one song, but you get the idea.
So many producers already share indispensable information about their creative process, their studio setup, their trials and tribulations as an artist, shady industry tactics, and their interests outside of music on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. All of these posts and tweets can also work as newsletters.
Beyond the song/album storytelling idea, use your newsletter to curate the best beatmaking videos you share on Instagram or Twitter. Having a collection of videos you curate all in one place is and easy way to share your work widely without depending on a website to do it for you.
You can also use your newsletter to collect a thread or series of tweets about an important topic. Remember, it’s your newsletter. Write what you feel.
Try out new music, ideas, and experiment with your newsletter audience. People love feeling like they’re getting a peak behind the curtain and an intimate look at the creative process.
I’ll refrain from adding more for now, but I honestly feel that a Substack newsletter is a powerful tool for producers looking to grow their audience and gain more control of their work.
Many people reading this are already doing newsletter level writing spread out over multiple platforms and posts. Now is the time to bring it to one centralized place—a place that is yours and yours alone.
If you have questions about starting a newsletter or want to bounce ideas off of me, please email me any time at email@example.com.
Thanks for reading, see you on Saturday!