LA based rapper Nipsey Hussle’s latest album, Mailbox Money is on SoundCloud and Spotify. It’s available for free download from the mixtape site, datpiff.com and has been downloaded over 200,000 times. On iTunes it’s $9.99. But if you want a physical copy of the album, that’ll cost you $1,000. And he’s only printed 100 copies.
Hussle believes digital music should be free. He explains in an interview he gave with The Guardian, “Digital music is abundant and it’s going against the laws of nature to charge for something that is ubiquitous. It would be like charging for air.”
The $1,000 album gets you the secret package (Hussle will not reveal what’s inside) and access to a private advance listening session for his forthcoming album, Victory Lap. On the purchase page at Iamproud2pay.com (the site he setup specifically for the physical sales of his albums) he writes: “Ain’t no money like Mailbox Money. This project is about ownership. It’s about archiving what I set out to achive (sic). In my first single “Hussle In The house” I said, “fresh of the bloc I sold dope to buy groceries/now it’s rap money no advances all royalties”. This project is about seeing that vision thru.”
Every time Hussle gets a transaction he receives a text message. Hussle responds and starts a conversation with each buyer. He says “The feedback and the connection I have with these people help me understand the psychology of the person paying $1,000 for some songs that, realistically, you could download for free.”
He sold his previous album, Crenshaw, in a similar manner. He printed 1,000 and sold them each for $100. All 1,000 sold out (with help from Jay-Z who bought 100).
Hussle, now completely independent, was once a major label artist. He left Epic Records in 2010 and believes he is now much better off. He protests:
“The labels aren’t letting us live. They’re not letting artists own anything! We’re going to end up 60 years old without a pot to piss in – no catalogue, no mailbox money, no residuals.”
He found a creative way to make $100,000 off of his recorded music for his past two releases by selling to a very small, dedicated portion of his fan base. The new music economy is going to look a lot more like this. More and more midsize acts sustaining themselves, independently, with the help of a dedicated fanbase willing to support the acts they love.
What does it matter if an artist sells 10,000 albums at $10, 1,000 at $100 or 100 at $1,000? Or more commonly, selling no music at all, but getting fans to support you in different ways (netting the same amount of income). The music industry has been so obsessed with quantity and defining success solely by reaching the Billboard charts or selling out arenas. No wonder the major labels have been in a free fall. They lack the understanding of the new music economy. They lack the ability to try creative endeavors like this.
Nipsey Hussle is living proof that if you have the fan base, you can find creative ways to monetize it. Hussle isn’t guilting his fans into buying a digital file on iTunes. He’s not ripping his music off of Spotify in a hissy fit. On the contrary, he openly promotes his free album while asking his fans to support him if they’d like. And he’s pulling in well over $100,000 a year (before touring – which he does extensively).
Getting the fan base is step one. Figuring out how to monetize this base is step two. There’s no magic number of fans you need to ask them for support. And there’s no one way (or one platform) to ask your fans for support. Whether you have 10 fans or 10,000,000, find a creative way to ask them to pay you in a manner that’s personal and meaningful.
Don’t force your fans to buy. Ask them to pay. This is the new model of the music industry.
It’s why Patreon, Kickstarter, PledgeMusic and BandCamp are taking over the industry. Asking is not begging. On the contrary, fans feel great supporting their favorite artists directly. They feel much better paying $10 directly through BandCamp or PledgeMusic (knowing that most of it is going straight to the artist with a deeper connection made) than through iTunes – which feels cold, detached and stale.
Spotify has started to bridge the fan-artist gap by enabling fans to follow artists and allowing artists to send out messages to their followers via the Activity stream. It’s definitely not there yet, but moving in the right direction.
Music companies that realize the importance of helping artists facilitate these relationships are the ones that are succeeding. The companies that are attempting to cram the old model of paywalls and fan-artist detachment will fail.
“The highest human act is to inspire. Money is a tool – it’s the means, not the end. [Inspiration is] the metric that dictates whether or not a project is a success. It’s more realistic than trying to aim for radio play, or trying to satisfy an A&R, or the other gatekeepers on these platforms. I don’t even know how to create with those things in mind. But if you tell me the goal is to inspire? That makes my job a lot easier.” – Nipsey Hussle