It was February 2013, it was unseasonably warm in Toronto. I didn’t even need to wear a jacket outside. I had just dropped my album a few months earlier on a label and things weren’t going as I expected. I knew that I couldn’t depend on the label to promote me (pro tip: never depend on your label to promote you..in fact never depend on a company to do anything nice for you) so I started doing these parody rap videos, which my label really hated.
I had just dropped one of these videos two months earlier in December and it had done reasonably well (over 35,000 views) since I last checked. It’s obviously very poorly made, I borrowed my friend Dj Andre 905’s camera. But what I wanted to do was see if my warped sense of humour could shine through despite the low production value as up until that point I had been doing videos with pretty high production values, but felt like I wasn’t connecting with the audience the way I wanted to.
I had been working on a song that I would release later in the year. This song was a completely different direction for me as it tackled much more serious and weighty subject matter but still had elements of my sense of humour. I produced the song and had re-written my verses many times and felt like I was putting a ton of work into this one song, I even started coming up with video concepts (I usually imagine the video while making a song).
As faith would have it, it was a Monday and I randomly downloaded A$AP Rocky’s “Fuckin’ Problem” beat. As as I played the beat, I immediately heard the now infamous line, “I like brown girls that’s my fuckin’ problem” in my head. It was funny. But I rap funny lines like that all day, simply for my own amusement. So anyway, around that time I had just started ADG and had some time in between sessions to chill and I got into doing all my creative work before lunch on an empty stomach, instead of late at night (which is probably because I had a 7 month old at the time and wasn’t sleeping much anyway). By the way, I still like doing all my creative work on an empty stomach, you’ll be way more hungrier (both literally and figuratively).
Anyway, I wrote and recorded the song in literally less than 15 minutes. I think I started at 11:15 and finished by 11:30. I then mixed and mastered it in half an hour. (I basically half-assed it). So the whole song was done by noon. I didn’t think it was anything special and wasn’t even going to release it. Maybe, I’d send it to my friends to make them laugh but that’s about it.
That night I ended up sending it to my friends and they went crazy! I had never seen my friends go that crazy over my music. Usually, like all friends do, they would try to be supportive but not really care one way or another. This time was different. My friend Shotty basically forced me to shoot the video the next day. And since I had just bought a camera, he said he would he film it. I just couldn’t say no. Even though I had no idea what the video concept would be.
We ended up shooting the video around the condo I was staying at, which was in downtown Mississauga. It wasn’t that cold outside, but it still was freezing and it was hard for me to be my energetic self when my hands were freezing (hard to do all those cliche rap hand movements) so most of the stuff we shot didn’t end up in the video. It was only when I got home and was more comfortable that we were able to catch some of the magic you see in the video. Another pro tip, shoot your videos in places that you are really comfortable in because it will show through on video (there’s a treasure trove of nervous looking indie artists on youtube).
Anyway, I spent two days editing the video, which if you’re following the timeline at home, was Wednesday and Thursday. I thought the video was okay. But nothing ground breaking. I uploaded the video to Youtube on Friday and literally within the first 5 minutes of uploading it, I was getting a reaction, a bad reaction. I had never gotten this many dislikes on anything I’d ever done. I was shocked. As the hour passed, cause I was literally refreshing the page every 5 minutes, I noticed the likes and dislikes start to become equal and eventually surpass the dislikes.
Everything was happening so fast, and I was surprised because I had done no promotion of it whatsoever (not even sure if I posted it on my social media). So this was completely organic viral growth that was pushing my video up. I had my friends tell me that people they knew were posting the video on their Facebook wall, I had people telling me they were playing the song in clubs in England, I had people telling me that they were having sing-a-longs to the song at house parties. It was crazy. So what did I learn from going viral on Youtube?
I probably learned more from going viral on Youtube than I did getting a degree from the University of Toronto. I mean there’s way more people with a degree than there are with over a 100,000 views on Youtube. And the less of something there is the more valuable it is right?
The Yet Principle
The first thing I learned was that you never know when your hit will come. You can spend all the time in the world making the perfect song or perfect business or waiting for the perfect opportunity and someone could come along and with 15 minutes of work do what you’ve been trying to do your whole life. In fact, the next song I released a few months later, in which I put a whole lot of time into, has less than 5000 views on Youtube (though is one of my most loved songs).
Now I don’t want you to feel like the future isn’t predictable so you just leave everything up to chance. This isn’t an inspiring way to live and as creatives we have to develop a relentless optimism because the world is basically going to tell us “no” everyday (or at least every other comment on Youtube is). The thing you should take away when I say that you can’t predict your hit, is to not get down on yourself for not having a hit, because as long as you have breath in your lungs, you don’t have a hit…YET. This “yet” is my driving force in everything I do. You may not be considered successful…yet! See how good it feels to just add “yet”?
Another thing I should add is that this wasn’t my first rodeo. I had been making funny rap songs since I was 13. I was damn near 30 years old by this point. I’ve had 17 years of making funny rap songs! I would write that on my resume if I had to ever had to give out a resume. So you should always be refining your craft, no matter how old you are. I just mixed this rock album by this guy who I’m guessing is in his 40s and it honestly killed any rock music I’ve heard from people much younger. You young rockers need step your game up!
Show Don’t Tell
The second thing I learned was I shouldn’t tell people how amazing I am, I should instead show them. Something. I was learning about music and comedy is that most people are not going to get your vision (or the joke) especially online. And I see this problem with a lot of artists, they think that everyone gets their vision. I know I suffered from this and probably still do, but I’ve gotten a lot better by showing instead of saying or implying. We all have to remember that nobody has the exact same experiences or points of reference as you and not everyone is going to get the joke so to speak. So the best way to connect with more people is to “show them the joke”.
For example, in the song I say something about working at The Brick, which is this huge furniture chain up here that sells really middle of the road furniture to middle of the road people. Instead of just saying that I actually showed the protagonist (who is my friend Suri) outside of The Brick getting all mad. Now people all over the world, who never heard of The Brick, could get the joke and connect with what I was saying. Remember it’s all about building a connection.
Thirdly, I learned that the best art has an element of danger in it. People are tired of boring and safe stuff. Everyone is trying to not upset anyone. I have nothing against being politically correct (I am a minority afterall), because usually the people that are anti-pc use it as guise to be racist or just their dumbass self. But when it comes to art, all art should have an element of danger in it or else what’s the point? You might as well be making elevator music. Sure a lot of people didn’t like the song, because they felt it disrespected women. But from my point of view, it was mostly dumbassess from places like India who felt holier than thou telling me to go kill myself even though in India women are actually being raped and killed everyday (I know I’m sounding like a host on Fox News).
One of the principles I’ve always tried to live by in my art is to try and not say anything that’s been said before. I always felt that if you could take my lyrics and have another artist say them than what’s the point of my existence as an artist? I’m learning to take the same approach with these blogs, which is why they’re getting progressively dangerous (next week I’ll be writing about fighting trannys in India).
When You Really Have a Hit, You Really Have a Hit
Up until that point, I would have these philosophical debates with people in the music industry where I would ask this question: are hits manufactured or are they totally random? When I started my music career, I thought all it took to make a song that people liked was good marketing. Most people who don’t know anything about music or business, usually ascribe something’s success to being just marketing, they like to say, “oh it’s just marketing!”. I was more or less one of those dumbassess.
So prior to that song, I would try all the “in” tactics to become a popular musician. I’d have an email list and would email all the music blogs my songs. I’d post my music on all the social networks. I’d add all these keywords to my Youtube tags. None of those things worked. I got so fed up with emailing blogs to post my music that I decided I would completely stop and let the music speak for itself. I also suspected that no one was reading the blogs I was submitting to anyway.
It’s only when I had a song that normal human beings wanted to listen to that I realized I didn’t have to market my music or do any tactics or strategies to build a fanbase. Sure it’s fun to hack the game, but the truth is the thing that’s going to get you noticed is the music, that’s it. You can have the best story in the world, you can be the best looking in the world, you can have the biggest booty in the world, you can have Drake co-sign your booty and none of it will matter if you don’t have what you’re selling, in this case amazing music.
Every artist that’s trying to get their Instagram followers up or Soundcloud followers up, before they actually have a song that people want to hear are fooling themselves. I’m not saying you shouldn’t promote yourself, because lord knows there’s a whole heap of artists that under market themselves. What I’m saying is don’t make marketing your music the priority, make it 20% of what you do. If you know exactly how many followers or subscribers you have right now, you are focusing too much on it. What should be your priority is getting the music right. You’ll know that your music is connecting with people when even after weeks, people are still hitting you up and saying something good or bad about it. I still get comments on my viral video and I released it almost four years ago.
Let Me Know
In conclusion, I learned more from going viral than I did from spending 4 years at UFT. Don’t get me wrong, school is awesome for meeting people but the experience of going viral is something you can’t pay or plan or apply to. There’s no Youtube University where you send in your application and that gets approved in the hopes you’ll go viral. And it isn’t like winning the lottery either, in other words up to chance. In order to go viral, you’ve got to have a mix of luck, timing and of course talent (or no talent like that It’s Friday chick).
In the comment section, if you’ve gone viral, let me know what you learned from it. And has it changed how you made music going forward (it did for me)?