Getting Social Series: Astronautalis Talks Channeling Creativity on Social

Welcome to the latest installment of our “Getting Social” Series, wherein we showcase TuneCore Artists and music marketing pros who offer insight on social strategy for independents. Because after all, there’s more to social media than sharing tour dates and funny pictures!

Today we’re sharing an interview with indie MC Astronautalis (AKA Andy Bothwell). Hailing from Minneapolis, Astronautalis has been releasing albums since 2003, blending hip hop with elements of indie rock and electronic music, (among other genres). His songwriting is a force to be reckoned with – no obscure subject is off limits, and few MCs possess the topic bank and flow to make things your high school history teacher forgot about captivate an audience.  Astronautalis has built his fan base in sync with the progression of social media in mainstream culture, and was named a top Instagram follow by Pigeons and Planes. We discuss his interest in photography, using social to promote new releases and more below:

You recently released The Very Unfortunate Affairs of Mary & Earl – tell us about this ‘historical fiction’ album and how your fans have been reacting to it.

Astronautalis: Technically, it is a re-release of a very old EP I made for a vinyl only release on a small label in Germany several years ago. It was my first foray into working “historical-fiction” into rap music, and based on the rather star-crossed love affair between Mary Queen of Scots and James Hepburn, the Fourth Earl of Bothwell, Scotland.   Hepburn is actually a VERY distant relative, and the story, (which involves murder, kidnapping, black magic, and more), has always been a point of great fascination for me. The process of writing creatively from history was such a thrill for me on this project, it became a bit of a hallmark for my next two full-length records.

Has the amount of time you dedicate to social media changed as your fan base has grown?

Yes, several times, actually. Initially, back in the MySpace era, I used social media to book tours, talk to the few fans I had, and lay the meager little foundation that I would later build my career upon. MySpace messages made things a lot more long form then they are now in the world of Twitter and communicating through the comments section. Back then, I wrote back EVERYONE who wrote me, in a true and full response. Even with my small fan base, it became quite the undertaking, and as things expanded, I found that I didn’t have the time to write so extensively to fans.

Twitter couldn’t have come along at a better time. It was quite the revolution to be able to communicate with anyone and everyone, but within the inherent limitations of the format it became less like letter writing, and more like text messaging, and thusly, more manageable. Lately, I find myself focusing less on Twitter, and even less on Facebook still. They are still both important tools for my business, but I get little reward from them personally. And while I am still engaging with fans on both sites, and using both as business tools, the only social media I engage in with any great passion is Instagram. I, personally, find it much more rewarding to scroll through an endless stream of beautiful photos, as opposed to people being outraged over Beyonce’s Grammy snub, you know?

Do you feel your fan base is one that is very plugged in?

Certainly! Isn’t everyone of a certain age, or younger? I think people are so plugged in at this point, they do not have an understanding of what it means to be NOT plugged in, you know? When the revolution in the Ukraine started last year, it was insane to be able to not just talk directly to people who were on the ground in Kiev, but people who knew my music? Everything about that is so bizarre to me. The reach of all things in the modern age, even weirdo rap music, is nothing short of mind blowing.

What do you like (and/or dislike?) about the process of building excitement and dropping a new release on social?

The things I dislike about the process are really only the things I dislike about social media in general, and the level of laziness it fosters in people at times. People using social media to ask questions that could be solved with a short Google search, and what not. (Which is pretty much the main annoyance faced by any artist who is really connected and involved with their social media).

Aside from sometimes feeling like a butler, pretty much every other aspect of releasing and promoting through social media is fantastic! Working on a record is arduous and exhausting work; totally mentally and emotionally draining. You spend the better part of the entire process second-guessing everything from your lyrics to your album art, to your choice to start rapping when you were 12. When the album comes out, your social media is the thing that builds you back up. It is like having every person, from every show you are about to play, all in one room at once, cheering you on; and you would have to be a total asshole to not love and appreciate that support/ego stroking.

Between Facebook and Twitter, you boast over 69K followers/fans – which of these two comes most into play during a touring stretch?

Facebook has become all about business for me at this point. I use it to post the brass tacks about shows and tours and releases, especially on and around said tours and releases. Twitter really gets the most use in my life once I hit the road, partially because it becomes a great way to interact with folks before, during, and after shows. Also there is A LOT of time to kill on those van rides, and once you have run out of podcasts and you can’t play Mario Kart anymore, Twitter is always there for you with some excellent diversion.

Similarly, how do you feel you interact with your fans differently in general when it comes to those two channels?

As I said above, Facebook is become so about business and promotion, with little personal flair, that most of the fan interaction has turned that way as well. Even though it is host to my largest number of followers, I found pretty early on that people don’t like it when you use the Facebook page like Twitter. They get annoyed if you post a lot through the Facebook page. So, I try to keep it short, sweet, and down to business. As a result, much of the folks writing me on Facebook keep to that tone as well, (i.e. asking for show/tour details). On Twitter is where the interaction becomes much more personal, and I’ll find myself discussing everything from sports, to rap, to Target’s line of “50 Shades of Grey” sex toys. Facebook is where you go for stuff about “Astronautalis”. Twitter is where you go to talk to Andy, if that makes sense?

You were named one of the top 25 indie artists to follow on Instagram – and for a good reason. Has photography/visual art always been an interest of yours?

My mother was a photographer and a photography teacher, so I grew up in a dark room. And while I have always owned cameras, and taken photos, for me, it was always a hobby. Honestly, till Instagram.

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Where/when do you find yourself getting inspired to share photos most often? Or do you feel it’s more of a random happening?

One of the reasons I have latched onto Instagram was the creativity it fosters IN me. While it is a great creative outlet, and a nice distraction from music for me, the thing I enjoy the most is having an endless stream of great photos to look through all day. Seeing the world though all of those people’s eyes has pushed me to see photos everywhere and made me think more like a photographer. While the most popular photos I post are certainly the ones taken on tour in exotic locales, showing things most people have never seen, some of my favorites are the ones I take just strolling through my neighborhood in Minneapolis.

What tips do you have for an independent artist who’s trying to tighten their Instagram game up?

I think it starts with what is in your feed. If you just follow your friends posting pictures of themselves at parties, or shots of food they eat, chances are that is what your feed will end up looking like as well. Think of Instagram differently then other social media. Use Twitter and Facebook for socializing, but use Instagram for inspiration. If you follow great photographers, you’ll start thinking more like a photographer, just by osmosis. But, take it from me, when you start unfollowing your friends because their pictures suck…you better think of a nice way to explain it to them. People take this stuff SERIOUS!

Your career has really progressed almost parallel to that of social media’s presence in mainstream culture. Do you feel this gave you a leg up in terms of how you engage fans now?

I think so. For myself, and a lot of artists who adopted social media early, we were already sharp on a lot of the ins and outs, while most of the big guys and major label artists were still scrambling to figure out what the hell a tweet was, you know? Social media is not the real world: there is a whole different set of social morals to live by online, and a lot of which are still being written. I think the early adopters have proven to be more nimble in adapting to change, and more innovative when it came to making change in how this relatively new set of tools can be used.

What newer opportunities do you see for independents in hip hop when it comes to marketing their music online?

Rap music is going through a really exciting stratification right now. Rap has replaced rock as the language of pop music, and as you see rap coming out of all these strange places and faces, it is producing an infinite amount of sub-genres within the framework of “rap”. From a creative standpoint, I think this is astoundingly exciting. Thankfully, we live in a technological environment that allows artists to use the pinpoint marketing power of social media to find fans for their version of rap, no matter what obscure sub-genre of a sub-genre they occupy. And as the technology grows and improves, our power in that realm will only grow and improve as well. It is in exciting time for democratization of the business of art.

What’s in store for Astronautalis in 2015?

Well, I finished a new record (shopping that to labels now). I am re-releasing my entire back catalogue of rarities (about 8 EPs or so?) in the coming weeks. I have been working on a performance art piece with some British artists at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Starting on a couple of rad musical side projects. Sketching some ground plans for a top-secret non-musical project this summer. Touring a bunch in the states and Europe. And hopefully riding the hell out of my motorcycles as soon as the snow thaws…if not sooner.

Top 10 Keys to Success For Independent Hip Hop Artists

[Editors NoteThis blog was written by Hao Nguyen and it originally appeared on Stop The Breaks, a digital marketing and promotion platform focused on showcasing independent hip-hop artists.]

The independent route is a tough, long grind, no doubt about it.

People look at the top independent hip hop artists in the game today like Tech N9ne, Nipsey Hussle and Currensy and see how they’re balling out of control, but they don’t understand just how much work these artists put into building their lifestyle.

Tech and his business partner Travis O’Guin have been building Strange Music, Inc. from the ground up for close to 20 years. Nipsey got dropped by Epic Records before starting his independent grind. Spitta was hustling and learning about the rap game from No Limit and Cash Money since 2002.

It’s never easy and takes a special type of person to succeed in the independent music industry. Someone who has the entrepreneurial spirit combined with the gritty fortitude to keep going no matter how hard it gets.

As a digital platform focused on showcasing independent hip-hop artists from all over the world, Stop The Breaks has had the opportunity to talk with hundreds of artists about their grind and really get an understanding of what creates success in this industry.

Here are our top 10 keys to success for independent artists. Or as Future would put it “I got the keys, the keys, the keys.”

1. Understand effective marketing

In its simplest form, marketing is raising the profile of a brand and its products or services in the public’s mind. So in that case, I would say all independent artists understand the basics of marketing their music – yes, even those rappers spamming SoundCloud links are doing some form of marketing.

But notice that I wrote “understand effective marketing,” which makes all the difference in the world between success and failure.

You can market your music by hitting up everyone on your Twitter feed with a link to your new single, or, you can effectively market your music by creating a solid marketing strategy and executing it regularly.

2. Relentless work ethic

There’s a saying: “Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard.” You’re not going to be successful at anything in this world without hard work and dedication, shout out to Money Mayweather.

Look at all our case studies on successful artists – whether it’s superstars like Kanye West and Drake or independent grinders like Yo Gotti – and the one constant factor is that they put in the long hours above everything else.

How do you think Curren$y drops some many projects in one year (8 so far in 2016 and counting)? How do you think Gucci manages to flood the streets even when locked up? How do you think Fetty Wap scored a number one album and five top 40 hit singles?

It’s all about hard work guys. But not just about the music.

In addition to putting in the long hours working on your craft; you also have to put in the hours distributing and promoting the music, fine-tuning your live performances, engaging with fans online and offline, and constantly educating yourself on the business side of things.

Which brings us to…

3. Music industry knowledge

Like Rap Coalition founder and music industry veteran, Wendy Day, said: “I think the most important trait is seeking out the knowledge and experience to do this properly. You either hire the right people who have the knowledge and connections to help you succeed as an artist or you learn how to do this yourself.”

Educating yourself thoroughly on the music business will make a huge difference in your success as an artist. Make sure you understand the fundamentals of music publishing and licensing your content, especially if you’re looking to set up your own independent record label.

4. Strong team around you

To Wendy’s point above, if you don’t have the experience or time to learn about the music business, then you need to make sure you build yourself a strong team to address your weaknesses.

Just because you’re an independent artist doesn’t mean you have to do everything alone. There are only so many hours in the day and you have to be smart on which tasks you dedicate your time to and which tasks you delegate.

Depending on what you’re missing in your arsenal, consider hiring a manager, marketing director or promoter, tour manager, graphic designer, lawyer and accountant. It doesn’t have to be right away, but you should definitely have a plan to slowly build up your team as you hit new levels in your recording career.

5. Effective social media presence

How many rappers do you know who are really active on Twitter or Facebook, but all they’re doing is spamming their followers with music links? There’s no genuine engagement with fans, no real interaction with followers, just blindly spamming link after link hoping they’re going to be the next big thing.

Don’t do this. Trust me, it’ll do more harm than good.

It’s good to be active on as many social media networks as possible, but only if you can manage them properly and engage with the fans regularly, otherwise don’t spread yourself too thin. It’s better to be active and effective on 3 platforms, rather than on all them and not using them properly.

6. Produce regular content for fans

We’re currently living in a super connected world where consumers are conditioned for instant gratification and trained to get everything, right away. As an artist, you have to try your best to fulfill these consumer needs.

There are only a few major artists out there who can get away with disappearing for months on end and coming back to commercial success. Kanye, Eminem, Drake and Kendrick, just to name a few.

Everybody else needs to be continually creating and distributing content to stay in touch with fans. When I say content, I don’t just mean music. It can be social media updates, email newsletters, tour videos, blog posts, guest articles, whatever you need to engage with your fans.

7. Investing in building their brand

Investing the time and money to build up your brand now is the most important thing you can do for a long-term career in the rap game. Other artists can copy your ideas, fashion, music, and believe me, they will. The only thing they can’t copy is your brand.

Think about the most successful independent artists in the game and how they communicate their brand to their fans. Currensy has his Jet Life movement, Tech N9ne with his insane live shows and Technicians following, Chance The Rapper and his positive, Chicago music.

Everything you put out contributes to building your brand, whether it’s positive or negative. Your new logo has just as much impact on your overall brand as how you perform on tour. It’s a long term investment but it’ll definitely pay dividends if you put in the effort now.

8. Focused promotion campaigns

Marketing is your overall strategy of raising awareness of your music and brand to your target audience; promotion campaigns are more tactical and focused.

For example, releasing an album would be one promo campaign. To ensure you get the most out of your promotion budget, your campaigns need to be planned out and precise. Consider the best distribution channels for this project – will it be online, offline or both? Which platform will you be using – Bandcamp, SoundCloud, iTunes, etc.?

Which publications and blogs are you going to be targeting? It’s better to pick out 10 to 15 to send out personalized press releases rather than spamming 1,000 people with a generic message.

Once you have everything in order, hit the launch button.

9. High quality product

Let’s keep this one short and sweet. To be a successful independent hip-hop artist, you need to have dope music. I don’t mean Grammy-award winning, critically acclaimed music – I just mean music that will build you a fanbase. You need to make music that people want to listen to, otherwise, it’s not going to work, period.

10. Create realistic goals

Being ambitious is one thing, having realistic goals is another. It’s great if you have ambitions to be the biggest rapper in the world, making the most money, winning awards, selling out stadiums, but having pragmatic, achievable goals is a much better way to approach your recording career.

Let’s take a look at J. Cole. He went from posting songs online to standing outside JAY Z’s building, wanting to produce for the legend. Cole dropped mixtape after mixtape and it was only after Hov heard “Lights Please” that he decided to sign the rapper to Roc Nation.

From there, he released a number one album, went platinum just last year, and is now selling out stadiums across the world with his very own HBO documentary and record label, Dreamville Records, financed by Interscope.

Having goals is the best way to not drive yourself crazy, thinking that your career is going nowhere. Start off small – e.g. you want to perform in front of 25 people for the first time in your career, you want to drop a mixtape, you want to collaborate with an artist you like, etc.

Create a list of realistic, achievable goals, then tick them off as you accomplish them. Keep grinding, keep working, keep putting out dope product, keep engaging with your fans and your dreams will come.

Music Sampling: Breaking Down the Basics

[Editors NoteThis is a guest blog written by Justin M. Jacobson, Esq. Justin is an entertainment and media attorney in New York City. He also runs Label 55 and teaches music business at the Institute of Audio Research.]

With advancing technology and the development of new digital musical techniques, it has become even easier for an artist to “sample” and integrate another’s finished recording or sound bite into a new, altered and derivate work created by a new artist.

In today’s evolving marketplace, commercial DJs such as Girl Talk and many of today’s top hip hop, dance and pop music producers are all mixing and weaving together different “samples” (a portion of another’s recording) into their new “music.”  With this practice becoming even more prevalent, a proper understanding of what sampling is and how to obtain proper clearance to legally utilize the sample becomes an essential factor in a song’s potential profitability as well as marketability.

“Sampling” is best described as reusing a specific portion of another’s sound recording. The amount used varies; from as little as merely integrating another’s unique drum combinations or guitar rift into a song, to utilizing the entire chorus or a complete verse from a song.  This action, in simplest terms, can be viewed as merely “copying” and “pasting” a portion of another’s existing sound recording into your new work.

Unlicensed instances of this practice can subject a creator to potential liability for copyright infringement; however, there are ways to avoid potential liability and obtain proper permission to utilize a “sample” of another’s work.

In order to properly and legally “sample” another musician’s work in an artist’s track, the sampling artist must obtain a “sample clearance” from the appropriate owner(s) of the original recording.  Since there are two copyrights in every song — the sound recording (typically administered by a record label, e.g., Interscope Records) and the underlying musical composition (typically administered by a publishing company, e.g., Sony/ATV) — a party must obtain permission from both copyright owners and enter into a licensing agreement with each owner in order to legitimately utilize a “sample.”

There may be situations where a use is determined to be “de minimis” and too small to require licensing; but, that is a complicated situation which requires serious analysis.

Generally, in order to ascertain who the proper owners of each respective copyright are, you can start by accessing and searching through the U.S. performing rights society databases (i.e. ASCAP or BMI).  These databases generally list all the relevant writers, producers and appropriate publisher information for a particular track.  Typically, there is also direct contact information listed in the database; and if not, it is advisable to look for a department that handles “licensing” or “sample” and/or “clearance” at the specific company as those are the individuals who generally handle third-party licensing of the finished recordings.

Once you determine the appropriate licensor contacts, an individual should request a “sampling” license.  This licensee request should generally include:

  • How long the sample is (minutes? seconds?),
  • What part of the song you are planning to use the sample (i.e., the whole chorus, a drum loop, etc.),
  • How you are planning to use the sample (solely replacing a chorus, distorted in the background, continuously looped, etc.), the number of units you plan to create or distribute,
  • What types of media you will use (CD, ringtones, streaming, etc.).

Some licensors may also require you to provide an actual copy of the new recording for the licensors to listen to prior to granting any license.

A typical sample license may include an up-front license fee as well as a royalty on each recording sold and/or may include an actual ownership interest in the new recording for the original artist, especially when a substantial portion of the original track is utilized or when the artist is extremely well-known.

Sometimes deals are made on a “flat-fee” buy-out basis.  There are a variety of factors that may determine a licensing fee, including the success of the original song, the success and notoriety of the original artist, the success and notoriety of the sampling artist, the length of the sample, how it will be distributed and how the sample will be used in the new recording.

Generally, the more famous the original track is and the longer the sample used is, the larger the license fee may be. Thus, each artist’s bargaining power comes into play because the alternative (not licensing the “sample”) could end up in litigation with more significant costs, especially if the sampled song ends up being a commercial success.  Sometimes, they will even request an ownership interest in publishing on the new composition.

Alternatively, since a copyright infringement claim is based on substantial similarity and access, an artist can attempt to independently create a desired recording and utilize this new recording for its own track.  Since the artist is not technically “sampling” the exact existing sound recording, the subsequent similar track might not subject the sampling artist to any liability for copyright infringement of the sound recording.

The policy behind this is that if an individual creates his own recording, even if it sounds identical to the untrained ear, there will still inherently be enough variation that this subsequent recording should not be considered an infringement. Thus, the sampling artist would then only need to obtain permission from the publisher who owns the underlying musical composition.  There, no permission from the record label who owns the sound recording would be needed.

However, there is always potential for a lawsuit, as a long-time British colleague once said, “where there’s a hit, there’s a writ (lawsuit).”


This article is not intended as legal advice, as an attorney specializing in the field should be consulted.

Recap: TuneCore at the 2016 Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival

The borough of Brooklyn and the genre of hip hop are two things that we here at TuneCore have a whole lot of love for. So when we were invited to participate in the 2016 Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival, you can bet we were all over it.

Celebrating it’s 12th year in a row, the multi-faceted festival takes place over four days, with the daily events being The Hip Hop Institute, The Dummy Clap Film Festival, The Juice Hip Hop Exhibition, and closes out with a big bang at the Finale Concert. This year’s Finale included Nas (featuring the Soul Rebels), Rhapsody, Fabolous, Talib Kweli and others.

Brooklyn Hip Hop Fest

Our Senior Director of Artist Relations Chris Mooney was invited to sit on the panel alongside Ibrahim H. ( Dreamville Records) and Hovain (Troy Ave’s Manager) to talk “Independence in Hip Hop” at Medgar Evers College. Moderated by Wes Jackson (Brooklyn Bodega – presenters of the festival), the panelists discussed and  answered questions about music career foundations, getting your music featured in stores and placed on playlists, and at times, TuneCore.

It was an honor to be able to connect with a crowd full of talented up-and-coming artists, producers and entrepreneurs right in our backyard.

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To make the music distribution circle complete, we went from hanging with artists to hanging with one of our awesome digital store partners. On Saturday, TuneCore staff were helping to hold down the Tidal Tent at Brooklyn Bridge Park from 11am through the last song performed onstage.

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Despite a brief rain scare, the day was gorgeous and hip hop fans were everywhere. TuneCore Artist Taylor Bennett was rocking in the St. Ann’s Warehouse and the main stage was bringing the heat, showcasing artists like Rhapsody and Rob Swift. By the time Talib was set to perform, a good sized crowd had packed the fest.

Native Fabolous was showing love the Brooklyn way, bringing up guests like Smiff n Wessun, and Nas capped off the evening perfectly with the amazing Soul Rebels backing him up. To top it off, Tidal was streaming the whole thing live online.

Positive vibes, great food, and amazing hip hop – classic and fresh – made for a pretty epic blowout. A big thanks to the festival’s organizers and Brooklyn Bodega, as well as our friends at Tidal – it was definitely a highlight of our summer.

We’re already excited for next year. Take a look at some pics snapped by TuneCore staffers below.

Interview: Xolisa Talks Debut Full Length, Indie Hip Hop & More

Toronto-based MC Xolisa (pronounced “koh-lee-sah”) just dropped her debut full length album, And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges, and is getting ready to hit her first international tour.

With an inherent ability to spit cool, thoughtful lyrics over dusty boom gap production, Xolisa has used this release as a way of touching on personal, social and global topics such as race and oppression in a new way for her. With a flow like Bahamadia and a sound that truly pays a nod to the earlier days of hip hop, she’s garnering more listeners in her hometown and abroad. Xolisa was kind enough to answer some questions about navigating the Toronto scene, tapping into the masses, and the new album before she takes off for tour:

When did you first start writing songs? How long before you were performing?

Xolisa: I believe the very first song I wrote was when I was about 13 years old – it wasn’t a song per se with verses and hooks, but more so a poem or a free flow of thoughts. I was writing quite a bit of poetry at that age. At that time I had no conscious idea that I wanted to rap, much less produce – or that I would go on to do both as my full time career. At that time, I just knew that music was the end goal for me however, the question had always been, “Xolisa, how do you want to contribute to music? What is the legacy you want to leave in music history?”

Fast-forward to the age of 20 – I wrote what would become my very first single entitled, “Until Then”. About a year after that, which would bring us to 2011, I began to slowly approach the world of live performance. Being on stage was not a new concept for me at that time as I’ve found myself on several stages during my elementary, middle school and high school years for talent shows where I would sing and dance and later on, play the piano. However, the year of 2011 was my debut to preforming as an MC who produces her own tracks – a whole world within itself.

How has it been to navigate Toronto’s music scene as a female MC?

All in all – navigating Toronto’s music scene as a female who is an MC has been a beautiful experience. I say that with all of the highs, lows and in between moments considered. As an MC within Toronto, you’re navigating within a city that does not have a strong infrastructure for hip hop. Throw in the fact that it is a genre that is in itself predominately male based – it simply means that the hard work I pour into my music and business needs to go even further.

My reality however, is that I do not wake up thinking to myself, “Xolisa, you are a woman in a male based industry- work harder!” I just get up and do what I need to do in order to have a productive day and get a step closer to achieving my goals – the thought of my sex is just not something that is on my mind when I’m working.

Yes, I am aware of all the categories, roles and images that women in hip hop are expected to fall into and yes, I am quick to catch on to any B.S. that is thrown my way that indicates any sort of discrimination due to my sex; and I’m just as quick to cut it down, but the truth is none of that phases me. None of that is on my mind when I’m writing or composing music, when I’m rocking a stage, when I’m sending emails, fulfilling merch orders, etc. There is nothing that I can complain about or that I have encountered that has been enough to stop me from moving forward. I believe the fact that I am able to navigate without any major hurdles due to me being a woman is highly due to the paths that the women in hip hop before me, in and out of Toronto, have carved out – Michie Mee, MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, Bahamadia, Queen Latifah and the list goes on.

I’ve been blessed to have my music very well received by individuals of all walks of life, of all levels within the industry who genuinely respect and believe in the music I create, whether they know me personally or not.

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What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as an indie hip hop artist over the past few years? What is some underrated advice you’ve received?

I’ve been able to learn lessons within my career that I will take with me for a lifetime, lessons that have come to help me grow within my career and within my personal life. One of those lessons have been learning how to open up and allow those who truly love, appreciate, believe and support me – help me. I’ve gone the first three years of my career without a team. I’ve had trusted individuals who have been and still are my go to’s for advice, feedback and to be sounding boards when I need an ear, however, this is the first year that I am working with a solid team of individuals who sacrifice much to help me build my career and reach my vision. For me it’s always been a matter of not trusting. I have not trusted that I could find another person, much less two other persons, who would believe in me enough to give as much energy as I do into my dreams. The reality is that I have always been surrounded by individuals who have believed in me and have always been ready to help, it’s just taken more belief in myself and more belief and trust in my loved ones to recognize that.

The advice I’ve received through that lesson is that as an independent artist, you truly have to learn to trust yourself and your internal compass, all the while learning how to trust others. It’s this ebb and flow of allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to lean on another when in need, while still being able to have confidence in your own ability to make great decisions and choices.

What kind of an impact do you think access to streaming older and more ‘underground’ hip hop has had recently in terms of reaching younger, super active music listeners?

Considering that underground hip hop artists of the past and the present have the ability to easily get their music on major streaming outlets, I do believe that today’s access to streaming underground hip hop has been extremely impactful when coming to reaching a younger market. The transition from downloading music on outlets such as iTunes to streaming music on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify has definitely increased and to add to that, there is no longer this obscure way of accessing older hip hop.

For underground and independent hip hop artists like myself, it’s just another plus. There are more and more tools being developed and made available (such as TuneCore) that allow independent/underground artists to be a part of these major online digital music outlets, without the muscle of a major label – allowing us to be a apart of that accessibility to a younger market who are turning to streaming to listen to the latest music of some of the most underground acts.

That being said, it is also up to those underground acts to choose to use these platforms to get their music in a place that can be accessed by a younger crowd through streaming because if the music is not there, how will that younger audience find it through those means? Companies are recognizing that more artists are going the independent route and creating these platforms that make DIY look professional, clean and full of quality so for me – as long as those platforms are available and accessible for underground hip hop artists, then there is a way for us to be accessed by the masses.

Your latest album speaks of transcendence and loss, among other things – what kind of personal and social topics are you exploring on And Gaps Do Lead to Bridges?

And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges is my open letter to humanity – touching on the surface of my thoughts, emotions, frustrations, amazements, inspirations, fears, hopes and confusions of human actions, motives, resilience, truths, goods and evils. I’ve always been one that has for some time, internalized my observations and feelings when it comes to racism, discrimination, oppression, loss, corrupt systems, government dealings and the politics that follow suit. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been that way, but I felt it was time to use my outlet and my contribution to this world to speak on the many issues I’ve internalized for some time, the issues that are still as real, relevant and destructive as they were decades ago.

I can make music, I can tour, I can live my life and do whatever I want but at the end of the day, the fact remains that I am a young black woman who has to accept that there exists a very long history of people who look like her being treated in unfair and indescribable ways. At the end of the day, the fact remains that I am a part of a society that as a whole regardless of race, is working to overcome obstacles because we truly are all just one. Hip hop was intended to bring to the surface the topics that people were not speaking about openly. It was intended to bring the rawest of truths out in the open to be examined, discussed, changed and I believe I would be doing myself and my love for hip hop a disservice if I did not use my voice to do just the same and these are the raw truths that I feel comfortable expressing openly at this point of my life.

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Hip hop as a genre continues to be such an important platform for artists to align themselves with causes and movements. How do you hope to connect with your fans via lyrics?

With this album in particular, I’ve chosen to maintain my familiar style of songwriting and delivery which tends to be very honest, abstract, metaphoric,complex and contains layers and layers of meanings. However, while writing the songs of this album, I’ve also found it very important for me to be able to deliver direct, straightforward and concise messages to my audience. It was important for me to be able to get certain observations and emotions across in a more conversational tone, in a way that could be easily digested.

My hope is that listeners take their time with the lyrics of this album and that they really allow themselves to be guided by the words that I’ve weaved together, as there are many intricacies to the songs of this project, regardless of how simple or complex the delivery and song structure may be. There are lyrics in this album that are directed to people of colour, there are lyrics that are directed to black men and women specifically, there are lyrics directed to anyone who has ever chosen to oppress a person of colour or treat them unfairly whether in thought or in action, there are lyrics directed to our leaders, to followers. There are lyrics directed to myself, to my listeners and most importantly, there are lyrics that are directed to human kind period.

I’ve always been a huge fan of being able to read through the lyric booklets of albums, so in that same fashion I’ve provided the lyrics of this new album (as well as my past EP’s) to listeners through a dedicated lyric page on my website which allows listeners to stream through all of my songs while reading through the lyrics word for word at their own pace.

With a debut full length under your belt, what are your plans for marketing, engaging with fans and riding the momentum through 2016?

Creating And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges has allowed me to venture into many new areas within my songwriting, my production and the ways in which I use my voice.  I’ll be embarking on my very first tour, bringing this album to Melbourne (Australia), Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Montreal and New York.

The “Gaps To Bridges Tour” will be running from July to September and will serve as my major introduction to international markets. I’ve spent about four years now building and nurturing a listening base here in Toronto, and although I am nowhere finished with the investment into the Toronto market, I am ready to begin building and nurturing listening bases in international cities with the aim of seeing those roots continue to grow larger, grow stronger and spread.

Aside from the tour, I have some incredible music videos on the way for these songs that will allow listeners to receive yet another way of experiencing this album. I knew at a very early stage that both the sound and the visuals of this project were important factors and that hasn’t changed. I’m just looking forward to executing all of the visions and ideas I have for this project and allowing my listeners to continue to explore and delve deeper into these songs through the different opportunities I offer them to do just that.

Interview: Docman On NYC Independent Hip Hop & More

Maurice “Docman” Robinson is  a 22-year old MC who has moved around the United States throughout his lifetime. One location where he spent the majority of life and where he calls home today is Queens – a borough of New York City that is responsible for breeding hip hop talent like Nas, Mobb Deep, and plenty of others.

While he spent his youth avoiding the streets under the guidance of his close cousin, LG, it was he who inspired Docman to take up rapping more seriously in 2007. Docman cut his teeth releasing 20 mix tapes of the course of a few years, and as he readies his debut full length, he took the time to answer a few questions for us:

You’ve attributed your love of rhyming to the influence of your late cousin. Tell us a bit more about how this came about.

Docman: Growing up in the area of New York I came from, there are three types of people. You have the drug dealers – these guys have a certain itch for quick cash. Whether it is to imitate rappers on television or to provide for their wellbeing, those guys are trapped in their minds. They have no way out.

The second person is the athlete. This is usually the person that isn’t tough at all. They are usually the class clown at school or very studious. When they come back to the neighborhood, they are quiet with their head down. Their way out is a scholarship to a Division 1 college out of town.

Then you have the third person, the artist. This is me. This person is studious on the low, but doesn’t show it. He is influenced by the people around him. These people create his story. This is where my cousin, LG, falls into place. He was the drug dealer. He did what he had to do to make sure we were OK. He would never let me get into drug dealing.

On the corner he would freestyle all day, so I freestyled. When he died I felt empty. So I credit my ability to him. I feel like it’s my way to connect with his soul. I had the little brother syndrome bad.

Who do you consider some of your biggest influences in hip hop?

My biggest influences come from Tupac, Kendrick Lamar, Redman, and Method Man. Tupac influences me to stay true to myself. Kendrick influences my creativity. Redman and Method Man influence my goofy side.

When I start to work on a new album, I don’t really talk about how I feel at the moment. The reason is because once the music is released, that feeling may be different. So I create something that could live on its own. Tupac created music that complemented a situation any person could relate to.

When I first heard Kendrick Lamar, I immediately fell in love with his creativity. It’s like a painting from Picasso, every time you look at the piece, you get something different. That influences me to create different meanings within the music.

Redman and Method Man were my first favorite rappers. That is where I got the idea to change my name from Doc to Docman. One thing that stuck with me from them is that they are silly, but still true to who they are. They aren’t afraid to be that ‘funny guy’ around a bunch of smileless thugs.

Queensbridge is a household name for hip hop fans. How has the time you spent growing up there impact your lyrics?

When it comes to Queensbridge music, people expect for you to be gangster. When Nas came out it was different. Instead of talking about killing people and selling drugs, he told stories of people that did it and how it affected their lives. Mobb Deep, Tragedgy, Cormega, and Nature were the typical QB rappers.

I wanted to be different from that. I want to be the mainstream guy out of Queensbridge and be accepted for it. There are a lot of artists ‘going commercial’ with their sound, but their first break isn’t that. My first shot at commercial will be a commercial sound. Of course, while staying true to myself – my edge will be there. When I say commercial I mean more a neo soul sound. Like Erykah Badu and Common.

What do you hope to convey to young fans and aspiring MCs living in similar conditions?

The best thing an upcoming artist can do is to focus on monetizing their music. Free mixtapes are cool for marketing and promotion, but if you don’t have a follow-up plan to monetize your moves, you are wasting time.

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What do you consider to be some of the opportunities and challenges when it comes to making independent hip hop in NYC?

An opportunity to independent hip hop in NYC is the ability to influence the culture. NYC is the hardest place to get on, because there are so many styles. This mix of styles is a good thing because you put it all in your sound.

The challenge is also the fact that there are so many styles. Creating something new and refreshing isn’t an easy task.

I love it all because if you do break, those are the artists that have long, healthy careers.

In what ways have you been able to craft your live performance? What has your touring experience been like so far?

Live performing, in my eyes, is separate from the music. It is an art in itself. Understanding what makes people feel good about themselves is a power the artist has to possess.

Performing in your hometown is different from performing in another city, because every region has a different type of people. That is one thing I have mastered. I am such a people person, not to get along with everyone, but to understand people in different regions. It’s a study.

Touring is wonderful. Being at this stage in my career has showed me to take constructive criticism, disrespectful criticism, and planning criticism. Touring has actually made it hard for me to properly receive good feedback. I’m so used to people throwing dirt at my name. So when someone comes along and gives me positive feedback it’s like, “Maybe they’re just saying this because they’re in my face”.

Me and touring have a love/hate relationship.

You’ve dropped a whopping 20 mixtapes from 2008-2012! How has your style evolved, and how have you used the feedback you’ve received on this music?

Those 20 mixtapes were practice to me. Those were records that helped me mold my signature sound. The music I made back then was gangster, neo soul, underground, and pop. It was like trying out different foods from a sampler plate to see which one I like and which one will work.

My style has matured a lot more. All of my music back then was full of raw talent and ideas. Nothing was organized into complete ideas. My music now is very focused on a theme or idea. Making music now is creating a moment for someone to live by, not just to showcase my rapping ability. When people hear my music now it’s like pulling a section from their heart and putting it in sonic format.

What prompted you to start your Empier Entertainment label? What are your goals for the business venture?

Empier Entertainment was originally called Junior Hustle Click (JHC). It was me, TBronz, JK, Babyboy, and DJ Roybass. This was the period of 2008-2012. In 2013 we decided we need a change. We got together and thought of names. We came to a conclusion to name it ‘Empire’, because of the amount of people that were in the group. We felt like Empire was too common. So we decided to switch the letters around.

My plans for Empier Entertainment is to make it more than just music. I would like to get into motion pictures, technology, and photography. Anything dealing with entertainment, I want my company to have its hand in it.

Go into detail about your upcoming full length. What are you hoping to achieve as an artist with this release?

I’m Leaving: A Story Narrated by Ilunaee is a film in the form of music. The story line of the album starts off with lust. I have relations with the girl in the story (Marrisa Ayala) and fall for her based off of the sex. It then leads to her meeting my woman friend (music).

She doesn’t understand the relationship that we have, so she goes off and messes around on me. I find out, then start to question whether I love her or hate her. After contemplating, I decide I hate her. So at this point I’m having thoughts of killing her. I finally calm down and understand that I am better off with my friend (music).

Throughout the entire album, Marissa leaves various messages pleading to get back with me.

Another thing with the album is the poems recited by my girlfriend, Tenae Johnson. When I first met Tenae I read her handle name as “ill-a-nay” when really it is “I-luv-u-ney”. It is something I’ve always teased her about.

The way I wanted to do the album is have her tell my story through her poetry.