Seattle rapper Ben Haggerty aka Macklemore and his producer and creative collaborator Ryan Lewis released their album The Heist in late 2012. It reached number one in the US Billboard Charts and has sold 440,000 copies in the US alone. Single Thrift Shop has reached number one in numerous countries around the world including the UK, US and Australia. Other than a distribution deal with ADA (Alternative Distribution Alliance), signed out of necessity to keep up with global demand, the entire album campaign from inception to release has been entirely independent and of the artists own making. By cutting out the middlemen and achieving huge success has Macklemore just written the blueprint for the future of the music industry? Here is his five point plan to world domination.
Stick to your guns
Google 'Macklemore' and you will find numerous articles triumphing his DIY journey to the top. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis famously turned down offers from just about every major label and on album track 'Jimmy Lovine' they tell the story of a fictional meeting at the office of the Interscope president of the same name, in which they suggest that the majors are losing both relevance and power."Thought it would be shiny and beautiful, Thought it would be alive and like musical, But it feels like someone died, it's got the vibe of a funeral". It's life imitating art, as the act of not signing with a major and consequently finding this level of success independently suggests they are right.
Macklemore is a hugely lucrative artist for a hip hop focused label like Interscope to let slip through the net and one is left thinking should the labels have taken a risk on him earlier in his career (he has been independently releasing material for 10 years) and been more involved in the development process, rather than trying to join the party later and over relying on a big cheque and traditional routes to market? Haggerty and Lewis resisted the short term financial windfall of a major label advance and thus showed supreme confidence in their art and their own campaign plan in the process. "You can't buy this type of fanbase", Macklemore posted to Facebook in 2012, a simple observation but a powerful kick in the teeth for the major labels that he shunned.
Tell a story
The DIY ethos is Macklemore's story and his fans fully embraced it. In fact the fans became a crucial part of the story because, in the absence of publicists and radio promoters, it was they who were required to spread the word from the ground up. This is the artist empowering the fan with spectacular results. Everybody loves a David v Goliath story and this is the concept that Macklemore has pitched since day one of The Heist campaign - the artist and fans versus the music industry beast. When enough fans had bought into this idea the snowball effect began and critical mass followed. Of course how you tell the story is important too and from a marketing perspective it was seamless, with Macklemore's message being planted across every available medium - social media, videos, merchandise, interviews and of course the songs themselves. "Labels out here, Nah they can't tell me nothing. We give that to the people, Spread it across the country", he sings on Can't Hold Us. His story is at the core of the entire campaign and it's a story that comes from the heart, which is marketing gold if you tell it right.
It all comes back to the songs. You can have all the ideas, charisma and enthusiasm in the world but, if you want to make music for a living, it needs to be good. Macklemore is a hip hop artist but The Heist transcends the genre continually and at times brilliantly. There are pure pop moments (Gold), euphoric house backing tracks (Can't Hold Us), country ho-downs (Cowboy Boots), unlikely collaborations (Starting Over features Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses) and one huge, spine tingling ballad in the form of Same Love. With this last track Macklemore hits stereotypical, hip hop homophobia out of the park by celebrating same sex love. The lyrics are passionate, genuine and so politically charged it makes you wonder if the song could actually make a difference on a macro level and when is the last time you could say that about a pop song? With his breakthrough hit Thrift Shop, Macklemore makes a mockery of hip hop's super wealthy, super slick image by shopping in a thrift shop with his last $20. It's a celebration of second hand clothes shopping - it's a party song - but it's also a wonderfully original inversion of his own genre's stereotype.
Haggerty and his creative tour de force Ryan Lewis also understand the power of video in today's web obsessed world. Your music video is the best marketing content you have - it is free to upload, it will stay on YouTube forever, it can be discovered by any of the 800 million unique users every month with some gentle browsing, it can be shared with a mouse click and it can go viral overnight (not to mention the royalties to be earned if you do reach the viral promised land). In Thrift Shop, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have made one of the most humorous, original and stylish videos of the past year and 144,000,000 people is proof of that. It doesn't need to be expensive, it just needs to be good.
Talk to your fans
Macklemore does social media well. Allowing your record label to take control of your Facebook page is missing the point, this is about talking to your fans not at them. On Facebook you get to know the real Ben Haggerty and this open and honest style is what has helped to hook hardcore fans. These hardcore fans, mostly early adopters, have been invaluable in helping him reach critical mass. He lets you into his personal life by posting photos of family members - a recent Facebook post of him announcing his engagement to his long-term girlfriend received a staggering 129,000 likes. He takes photos and posts shout outs to the passionate few who turn up at his shows 12 hours early, he asks for feedback on his songs and videos, hosts Q&As regularly and heaps genuine praise on his fans for helping him get where he is. He calls his fans the Shark Face gang and makes them feel like they belong to something. In February 2011 he raised over $18,000 on a Kickstarter campaign to make a video for his new single. At that point he was marketing to 20,000 Facebook fans which is an impressive yield if you consider the per head. If you take your fans with you they will be happy to share you.
Don't stop believing
I am loathe to use the painfully overused war time slogan but Macklemore did indeed keep calm and carry on. He had a vision and didn't lose sight of it, even when the cheque waving labels came calling. The brand that he and his small team have created is entirely consistent with the artist's core beliefs and is as slick and as polished as any major label marketing campaign you will see. He accepted the serious hard work, the numerous all night studio sessions, the trips to the post office to send out merch orders and the early shows playing to 20 people as part of the process and what's more he publicised this struggle and it became his story. He understands that the fans you recruit at the start of your career are the best marketeers you have and will stay with you for the long term when radio stations will not. One year ago Macklemore cancelled his trip to SXSW Music Festival to stay indoors and finish writing a song. That song was Thrift Shop. Don't lose sight of the big picture.