Chief KeefOne of the best examples of non-traditional marketing and promotions is Chicago rapper, Chief Keef, who is also one of the youngest and steadily rising artists on set and clearly a visionary when it comes to marketing strategies. For example, in 2012, Keef released several mixtapes, with tracks that which became local hits in Chicago and later branched out nationally. At that time, he was under house arrest, thereby forcing him to find alternate ways of promoting his music outside of the usual artist performances and appearances.

Necessity did birth innovation and Chief Keef decided to post YouTube videos of him and fellow artists “performing” his most popular track and connecting with fans. The videos went viral and got the attention of major record labels across the country. Keef ultimately signed with and was ultimately dropped from Interscope records for a variety of reasons too long to list.

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To his credit, Chief Keef is one of a handful of rappers to use text messaging to connect with his fan base. By texting CHIEFKEEF to 88202, fans receive notifications regarding concert dates, album releases, guest appearances, and more. It’s the perfect way to engage his young, tech savvy and tech reliant audience. Market research indicates text messages have an open rate estimated at 98 percent and 90 percent of texts are read within 3 minutes of being received.

chief keef mixtape coverAnother alternative method of engaging new fans and reaching current fans remains effective. Artists ranging from Lil Wayne and T.I.  to Raheem DeVaughn and Chrisette Michele released free mixtapes to build buzz and maintain their brands before and after signing to major labels. While they don’t profit immediately or directly from mixtapes, they do increase their fan base significantly with visibility and awareness. This approach to grassroots marketing, which some may still call old school clearly works and continues to pave the way for the kinds of direct artist to fan communication facilitated by present day social media outlets. In fact, the music industry now relies heavily on social media to promote directly to fans. The question now becomes; will the suits acquiesce to how much of that “old school grassroots” approach that’s been shunned is actually valid in the rapidly changing landscape of this business of music?

For many years after corporate suits shunned and discounted hip-hop as a fad that could never generate revenue or become a worldwide cultural institution and financial powerhouse, hip-hop was well primed to deal with having to operate one step removed and two steps ahead of the rest of the industry.  Hip hop artists, labels and entrepreneurs had little choice but to identify alternative methods of promotion when mainstream record labels wouldn’t entertain them. By the time the music industry realized how much revenue could be gained from hip-hop artists, they were ten minutes too late to the party and the tide was already turning away from overpriced hard formats (cassettes and CD’s) they were accustomed to and toward the electronic format, be it legit or illegal.  The record industry has clearly been more reactive than proactive with exhibitions ranging from desperation and bravado to outright head in the sand denial.   Presently, labels are beginning to read the handwriting that has been on the wall for years……you cannot beat them so you may as well join them!




*B2BM and CallFire contributed information for this story