Lil B and Other Forward-Thinking Artists Do It Themselves
Last week, the New York Post reported that Spotify, the streaming-music service that came Stateside from Sweden to much fanfare last year, had accumulated 3 million users and 600,000 paid subscribers since its launch last July. Some saw these numbers as disappointing, given the service's splashy rollout and integration with the social-networking behemoth Facebook; others took a more measured stance, noting that old habits die hard, especially when it comes to music consumption.
One quirk of Spotify's launch at this moment is how tied to the old methods of distribution this supposedly forward-thinking service is. Most of its offerings are attached to labels of some sort, whether ultra-major ones like Universal Music Group or tiny indies. And it certainly isn't hurting for music, though it can be frustrating to navigate a list of recorded-30-years-later alternate takes or karaoke versions of big hits only to find that the originals aren't present.
The question, though, lies in how complete any streaming-music service can be without heavy augmentation from its user base—and that's with leaving aside the thousands upon thousands of out-of-print albums that have been flushed down the memory hole with only the occasional MediaFire link to serve as a reminder of their existence. In the past six months especially, artists of all sorts, from established chart acts to hungry up-and-comers, are releasing their wares through alternate conduits that aren't yet integrated with Spotify's streams. What this means is that despite its millions of tracks, Spotify not only doesn't have a lot of music in existence, but it's also crucially lacking music by artists who are innovating both musically and distribution-wise—so in a way, it's serving as the cloud-based equivalent of the big-box store's focused-on-the-most-major-acts racks.
Take Bandcamp (bandcamp.com). A staggeringly elegant white-label service, Bandcamp allows musicians to upload their material directly to their servers, then release downloads of the music for whatever price they wish. (Bandcamp takes a 15 percent cut of revenue, which drops to 10 percent once an artist hits $5,000 in sales.) Listeners who might be interested in the artists in question can browse offerings fairly easily; the stream-before-you-download approach allows people to sample albums in full before deciding whether they should pay up or even devote hard-drive space. It's being used by countless up-and-coming bands who don't yet have a deal with a label, but it's not solely for those people looking to take the idea of "tape" out of making a demo tape; the Williamsburg streetwear boutique Mishka is also using it to distribute albums by acts it co-signs, including Queens . . . Revisited, the recent-ish mixtape by the Mets-saluting local hip-hop trio Children of the Night.
And it's not just hungry new acts that are rolling up their sleeves and taking charge of their distribution; artists that are already established in the pop marketplace are going this route as well. The r&b singer Miguel, who last year topped the Billboard r&b charts with his woozy, sinuous "Sure Thing," is self-releasing a trilogy of EPs called Art Dealer Chic—should you choose to snag it from his official site (artdealerchic.com), the only asking price for each three-song set is a name, an e-mail address, a zip code, and a list of personal hopes and dreams. The producer-singer The-Dream, whose credits include Rihanna's "Umbrella," Beyoncé's "Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)," and Justin Bieber's "Baby," self-released the album 1977 last year as a stopgap between his 2010 major-label full-length Love King and albums slated for release later this year. And earlier this week, Al Shipley wrote about self-releases by two ex-members of Diddy's former hip-hop n' b group Diddy Dirty Money, Dawn Richard and Kalenna, on the Voice's music blog, Sound of the City.
Which brings us to Lil B, the former member of the Bay Area rap group the Pack, who has probably used the new methods of distribution in a way that takes fuller advantage of their infinite space than anyone, letting the Internet fuel what can best be referred to as his graphomania in a way that few others can fathom, let alone keep up with. In 2011, he self-released at least 11 mixtapes as well as the album I'm Gay, which was made available through both traditional retail channels and for free. He has more than 400,000 followers on Twitter, which seems like a drop in the bucket when compared to Bieber and Lady Gaga's eight-figure counts, but what he lacks in breadth, his followers more than make up for in devotion; he rebroadcasts breathless messages from them multiple times a day.
Wednesday night, Lil B will lecture at NYU's Kimmel Center; the lecture sold out quickly after its announcement, which caused exclamation-point-filled social-networking missives from both his fans and those people who aren't as into his music as they are the idea of him being this constant torrent of content, whether they're particularly skewed lyrics, or tweets, or interviews where he talks about being "the hip-hop Madonna." He's keeping the lecture's exact contents mum—"I specialize in the progression of humans," he told the music-video network Fuse, adding, "It's gonna be a real progressive talk, and when everybody leaves, their lives will be changed."
Monday afternoon, Lil B released a new mixtape called The Basedprint 2—his fourth self-release this year. (He pointed to the site datpiff.com, an online clearinghouse for mixtapes and other gray-market releases, as part of the album's launch.) It consists of 20 tracks, including songs where he raps over the adult-contempo stalwarts the Fray and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs; it starts off with a track called "NYU." "NYU STUDENTS MUST DOWNLOAD BEFORE LECTURE!" he tweeted upon the tape's release. It is not yet on Spotify; his other releases from 2012 aren't there, either. Perhaps on Wednesday, he'll offer up his feelings on the matter.
Lil B speaks at NYU's Kimmel Center on Wednesday, April 11, and performs at the New Museum on Thursday, April 12.
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