Producers should always strive to innovate, whether it's through fusing multiple sounds, playing with beats per minute, creating new styles, or following wherever your creativity takes you. As Herman Melville said, "It's better to fail in originality than succeed in imitation". However, if you accomplish that goal of creating original styles, sounds, and pushing the boundaries of the norm, as a producer, you also have the potential to inspire a ton of copycats. Riding the popular wave is a natural result of today's music industry, primarily because infectious sounds and styles can easily be mirrored by everyone, from striving up-and-coming artists and wannabes, to massive superstars who are leeching off of the underground in search of a new sound. But believe me, that is not the way for getting anywhere good. There waves are always temporary, and they will die in a short time. Guess what doesn’t die over time? Originality!
With technology destroying the barriers of entry to production and shifts in business practices making it harder for producers to create a long-lasting career, producers have to strategically brand themselves in order to be original and one-of-a-kind.
So here are just a few tactics producers can employ to give them an edge in creating an independent foundation, financially and status-wise:
1. Tags that are unique and catchy. A tag is a short phrase or noise a producer or DJ attaches to a beat in order for listeners to know who made the beat and to gain recognition. Typically, they are used on mix-tapes, but in recent years have begun appearing on album tracks as well.
On a practical level a tag is a watermark for your work, so no one else can claim it but it also is an essential part of your overall brand and can have a huge effect beyond just getting your name out there and receiving credit. Use it as a statement, an announcement to the world that this is your beat, your sound, and that they should be checking for you. In fact, some artists like the fact that producers put a tag at the beginning of a track, because if it's a hot producer, when fans hear the tag as the beat starts up they get hyped up for the performance. Tags get listeners to begin associating the sounds they hear with the producer, without having to research the credits which the average listener probably won't do anyway.
Drive demand let listeners know who is creating the sound behind their favourite artist, and make sure you get your credit. That way, both artists and listeners will check for you as a producer. Just make sure your tags aren't annoying or overbearing, but rather add a dynamic or value to the song. Don't go throwing your tag throughout the entire song. Good examples are Mike Will, Young Metro, and Harry Fraud, to name a few producers who are smart with their use of tags. Or one of very creative tags I ever heard is the way Pharrell Williams samples his own beat, for four counts on one extra beat before his beats start. You never hear him saying his name or whatsoever but the moment you hear that four counts repeating, you know its Pharrell William who is responsible for this awesome beat!
However, use tags tastefully. Don't be the producer who becomes known for littering their beats with tags and annoying artists and fans.
2. Associated acts. Think MJ and Pippen, Stockton and Malone, Magic and Kareem, or Shaq and Kobe. The artist-producer relationship is one that can be symbiotic and extremely valuable to both parties. I once heard as a piece of advice, "A producer should pick an up-and-coming artist they believe in and produce for them." That's a great way to break into the industry as a producer on the off-chance you can find the right artist to work with. Think 40 and Drake in this situation, a standout producer paired with a standout artist, who now are able to stand alone from each other, but are still easily coupled in the minds of fans.
Just as an artist can propel a producer from the background to the forefront, a producer can also do a lot for a new artist. How many artists blow up and are propelled into a new stratosphere because the beat hits perfectly and has an undeniable energy that a rapper is able to ride? A great example was Chief Keef and Young Chop with songs like "Don't Like" or "Love Sosa"; the sound and energy it created was undeniable. While Chief Keef didn't offer much from a technical rapping perspective when you consider his cadence or lyrical depth on the song, he was able to provide the energy, unique image, and a catchy hook to further enhance the song. While it was Keef who was initially propelled to stardom off the work of his producer, Chop also leveraged the opportunity and was able to become a recognizable force in the hip hop circles and is still producing for big artist today.
As producers and rappers or singers work together, they can craft a product that enhances each other's products and in doing so they are then able to achieve standalone success to go along with their success as a tandem. And as an artist becomes more successful, the demand for the producer rises as well, as seen with Young Metro, DJ Esco, MikeWill, and others. As a producer, being associated with a particular act can have a substantial positive impact on your brand, while requiring less legwork, except for making exceptional beats.
You don't have to chain yourself to one artist after you become a recognizable producer. Take advantage of opportunities to work with other artists. Having relationships with a number of artists can allow a producer to put out their own albums with various artists on each track, rapping or singing to their recognizably iconic sounds and new sounds they've been developing in order to show their complete range. But as a producer, don't neglect the opportunity to make something special with that one artist with which you have an undeniable chemistry.
3. Having a public and recognizable image. We understand that some producers would like to hide behind the scenes, which you can do and still be very popular. However, it's important to recognize the importance of imagery in today's social media-driven and visual-based world of consumption. The plethora of super producers in Atlanta have done this. TM88 has distinctively big, spiky blue hair that makes him look like a rock star. Whether you know him as a producer or not, his look makes you wonder who he is when he's standing next to Young Thug.
Keep in mind that you don't always have to go with a unique hairstyle or clothing item to become recognizable. You can also make consistent appearances alongside the associated artists you produce for. Be the hype man in music videos. Discuss the production process in interviews. Or if you're opinionated, leverage Twitter and Snapchat to share your thoughts with the world. Be seen or heard but remember to always associate yourself with the hits that all the fans love.
DJ Khaled is the perfect example of leveraging all of these tactics. His "We The Best" tag tells people exactly who is behind the upcoming track. When you hear it, DJ Khaled pops into your head. DJ Khaled does not have only one associated act, as he works with an abundance of artists, but he does have many recurring artists he works with. For instance, Rick Ross has been on every DJ Khaled album, Lil Wayne has been on all but one. Khaled never forgets who he has great chemistry with and makes the most of it while also being comfortable expanding his palette working with plenty of other artists. Finally, his public image is stronger than ever thanks to his brilliant use of snapchat. Snapchat has allowed him to share an exclusive sneak-peak into his creative process, his "major keys" to success, and his views of the world, ultimately building him into a brand influencer and expanding his fanbase. It didn't require crazy clothes or hair style, but rather authentically sharing himself and his life with the world.
Don't think these are the only things producers can do to strengthen their careers. These are just a few marketing tactics that producers can leverage. Producers should always sharpen their craft and expand their technical skills by learning how to mix, master, and engineer a track. Additionally, they can share wisdom and help artists with song writing, or they can give guidance and direction to help an artist improve a track similar to Rick Rubin. Figure out what's the best path for you as a producer and then get your name out there and strengthen your career.