I respect any artist who embraces the entrepreneurial spirit and puts effort into promoting themselves. Recently I had the chance to check out the catchy “Chuck Sheen Swag” by Green Thumb Project and was surprised at the number of Youtube views it had gained (over 100,000). Read my article on controversy in music marketing for some ideas. These guys struck at the right time when the Charlie Sheen debacle was a serious public fascination, and it paid off. The track is head-bob worthy to boot.
Today I (virtually) sat down with the hip hop mastermind behind that track and a whole ton of others, Rick Rollin (AKA Born Rich). He’s a hard working musician and treats the industry like a business, so this interview should be valuable reading for aspiring musicians, producers, and hip hop fans alike. Let’s hear what he has to say.
Please introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do.
The name’s Rick Rollin aka Born Rich- but my friends call me Rich. I started writing when I was about 13 but never really got serious until I was a few years older. Today I’m a self-taught producer, engineer, and recording artist. I started Raised Broke Entertainment, an independent record label and recording studio back in 2009 following my second solo project release titled “Self Made the mixtape.” Today I have 5 other artists on the label (MysterZ, Stu-Bayga G, Garret Lee, Kyle Vest, The Pride and a part timer named Gentleman Script who is not only a part of Green Thumb Project but also a part of Black Mask). In addition, I have a metal/punk band (Apocalyptic Dream Machine) that I collaborate with. I am currently working on our second GTP album entitled “Chapter 2 – Water Daily” and the first ADM album to be released on the label entitled “Strings Attached.” In addition, I’m finishing my final solo project as Born Rich entitled “To Be Determined” as well as my first solo project as Rick Rollin produced by Black Mask’s own Maulskull and a side project on High Poet Records with my good friend and musical brother Mic-B.
What do you feel are some of the ways that indie artists should adapt and change in today’s music industry? What qualities should a successful artist have?
First of all let me speak on the current state of mainstream music before I answer your questions: Today’s industry is by far the hardest nutshell to crack. There are more people trying to break into the business than ever before and a lot of talent is being wasted and over run by the soulless watered down sound of our already fading genre. People hear the radio and think that hip-hop is dying because everybody is saying the same things, the same choruses, the same rhymes, the same sound, etc. But, on the bright side, hip-hop is still very much alive, just not in the mainstream. Fortunately the underground still beats with real talent and real music, with real stories and real people talking about real life experiences. The underground is making music about the kind of thing that 99% of the nation can relate to rather than what some persona a label tells you is “marketable” making tracks that in reality only a few percent of the nation can relate to such as “big money” and “making it rain”. They want it to seem like nothing is wrong with our country today and they want us to put on a facade because our music is one of the only exports we have left. They don’t want America to have a tarnished image. Only a handful of people are really making money as hip-hop artists, and by that I mean making millions of dollars, because they go along with it and do what they are told. There are a few artists that go against the grain and have grabbed mass media attention like Eminem, but even he has his “mainstream” hits that run parallel with what I’m talking about. But today, Independent music is bigger and stronger than it ever has been and it will continue to grow as long as we stay true to ourselves.
Now to answer those questions: The best way to “adapt” to the ever changing market is to stay ahead of the times; know the current fads and write about current events and true raw emotion. Leave “big money” out of it. Our nation is so far in debt but people still write songs about “making it rain” and “new whips” and “new chains” but they never get in touch with the human side of their fans, who those fans really are. Everyone’s trying to act “hard” or act “wealthy” when in actual reality we are all struggling to survive and pay bills. Address the problems of society and keep your head in the social network game, use sites like headliner, an awesome cross promotion website, to reach a larger audience by referrals instead of telling people “Hey I’m dope” let someone else tell them and you will reap the benefits.
As for the qualities a successful artist should have, they should: 1) Never lose touch with their fans- just because you are making a little extra money doesn’t mean your fans are. They are putting up their hard earned cashed to show their support for you by buying your albums and paying to see your live shows, they deserve something they can relate to; 2) Keep an open mind to all genres and be able to adapt to many different styles- ADD and ADHD are at an all-time high, our goals is to keep someone’s attention for longer than thirty seconds and if you keep saying the same thing over and over the same way the last guy did with just a little twist on it, you won’t last a minute in the CD deck; and 3) Stay hungry, respect your elders, remember where you came from and never look down on people. The more you want it, the better you will sound but as soon as you think you’re the “best” or “greatest ever” you will lose your edge and lose focus on where you came from and why you ever even got to the position you are in. If you get lazy and lose your fans to a more talented, hungrier artist than only you are to blame. As the book title puts it, “What got you here, won’t get you there.”
What have you found works well for you as far as promotion goes?
Don’t get me wrong; Facebook, Myspace, Digg, google+1, twitter, YouTube, reverbnation, soundclick, soundcloud, adwords and the rest of the social media sites are awesome tools when used correctly but most people don’t know how to use them. It’s not about trying to make a million new contacts and forcing your music down people’s unsuspecting throats. It’s about strengthening your relationships with the people you already know. You would be surprised how fast word of mouth travels and when you build stronger relationships with people you already know, you would be baffled by the extent of their resources. Odds are at least one or two of them know someone in a powerful promotional position (i.e. bloggers, local newspaper/event calendar writers, club owners, DJ’s, etc) and if they don’t, their friends probably do. Strengthen your relationships with the people around you and they will feel more like they are on your team than just another face in the crowd, thus they will be more willing to help you in your quest for success. With your success, those people with whom you built strong relationships will feel successful and become successful too. And who doesn’t want to be successful?
Another great tool is FREE MUSIC! Right now, mixtapes are a dominating form of promotion. Site’s like DatPiff and BandCamp offer great services in making your music readily available to the public via download and are a tremendous help when trying to win over new fans. The best way to make a new fan and keep a new fan is directly handing them a physical CD and a flyer or a poster at one of your live shows that you signed with a personal message, i.e. “John you ROCK! If only there were more people like you!” The goal behind this is to turn your fans into fanatics. I was told “one fanatic is equal to 100 fans.” If you can build this kind of relationship with your fan base, it will grow faster than you could ever imagine.
Being a hip-hop artist for over 12 years now, I very rarely listen to my own genre. As I said before, it’s very watered down and soulless. So, unless it is original and someone I can relate to and feel their passion for the music they make, I don’t even bother. I hate to say it but Good artists are hard to come by in my opinion. Creating hip hop every day kind of burns you out on it and it’s always good to get a different perspective. All that aside, I would have to say my favorite independent artists in my genre are:
#1. DZK- because of his impeccable drive and flawless, melodious delivery mixed with some of the most intelligent lyrics on the planet. He offers all of his previous songs free of charge on soundclick if you want to take a peak.
#2. K-Rino- He has mastered the art of storytelling as well as punch lines, double time, and songs that ask questions and tell both sides of a story leaving you to decide what is right or wrong. He keeps you entertained and actually makes you think even after 21 albums, 2 ep’s, 7 collaboration albums and countless features. Search facebook for more info.
#3. All my local/independent favorites – Mic-B, (High Poet Records) Maulskull, Raph, America Smith, Gentleman Script, (Black Mask) Mr.Jvo & Jerzey Lee (Skye Bigg Nation), Dumb Luck and Pig Pen (out of salt lake City) and the list goes on (I know I’m missing a few). To me, these guys are the epitome of REAL artists, always hungry, always on the grind, always putting their heart into what they do.
As for what I’ve been listening to lately, Frank Bell is becoming one of my favorite musicians. The more I play his music videos off YouTube, the more I find myself loving his work. This guy has more soul in his little finger than half of the musicians in the music industry combined. You can tell he loves what he does and feel his passion in every song as he takes you on a journey with him and his guitar. His latest album, “Everything falls into place” is on itunes and I highly recommend you get a copy or at least check him out.
Do you have any advice for independent musicians who may feel disillusioned or discouraged at times?
I had to learn this the hard way- Never put all your eggs in one basket- we all want to “make it big” but in reality less than 1% of us will ever “make it” or even make enough to handle our bills every month, so make sure you have something else going on for you at all times. I mean, be sure that you have a nine-to-five job or “alternate source of income” because even if you have a hit tomorrow you can’t rely on another one the day after that. If life was a giant college I would tell you to make music your minor and any other career choice your major. And stay true to who you are and never, ever give up on your dreams. Some people will do everything they can to stop you from doing what you love and it’s not always for the same reasons. Sometimes the people closest to you will cast the most doubt and will want to see you fail the fastest. But if music is in your heart and your soul, follow your passion until your last day for music keeps us young. It’s by far the best therapy money can buy!
How can music fans keep tabs on Rick Rollin and all of your projects?
We are linked to so many social sites and blogs I am probably going to forget a few, but here’s a good start:
and for FREE full length album downloads (except the recent GTP album that will cost you;) visit:
Thank you for your time and energy- I hope this helps and inspires many artists to come.