The music industry has warped the definition of success for artists, especially in the ultra-competitive hip hop genre.
From Billboard hits to Grammy awards; number one albums to platinum plaques. Drake’s 50 billion streams. Kendrick’s Pulitzer Prize for Music. Dr. Dre’s $3.2 billion Apple deal. Success and competition is a different level in hip hop.
Those success stories are incredible achievements, and should be rightly celebrated as they are. However, they’re not the only success stories worth celebrating. For every Drake or Kendrick winning Grammy awards and setting streaming records, there’s a Curren$y or Oddisee taking the independent path: making the music they want, on their own terms.
For artists like Oddisee, an independent producer-rapper from Prince George’s County, Maryland, they’ve spent their whole career figuring out their goals and designing a lifestyle to achieve them.
Even as someone as far removed from the music industry as I am, there are plenty of valuable lessons around success, goal-setting and taking control of your own narrative that I’ve learnt from watching Oddisee’s independent grind over the past decade.
Not every rapper want to have their own private jet or sneaker line or branded headphones. Some rappers just want to design a lifestyle around what they love doing — making music.
I was trying to take control of my narrative. I’ve been trying to take control of my narrative for years and it has been the most difficult part of my battle.I Was Trying to Take Control of My Narrative” — An Oddisee Interview | Micro-Chop
Lesson 1: Success depends on your personal values
Kevin Kelly, founding executive editor of Wired magazine, wrote a very influential essay back in 2008 on the notion of 1,000 true fans.
“To be a successful creator you don’t need millions. You don’t need millions of dollars or millions of customers, millions of clients or millions of fans. To make a living as a craftsperson, photographer, musician, designer, author, animator, app maker, entrepreneur, or inventor you need only thousands of true fans.”
Success in music for Oddisee doesn’t mean number one Billboard hits or Grammy awards. Success for Oddisee means he’s able to earn a living by making music. Based on this idea of successs, he doesn’t need millions of people to stream to his music, he just needs his core fanbase. Oddisee’s ‘1,000 true fans’ will support him in more ways than just stream his music. These fans will buy tickets to his live shows, cop merchandise, and spread the word to their friends.
These rhymes were written in economy class seats, these beats were produced on long bus trips & these songs were recorded in Airbnb apartments. All I want to do is make music for a living so that I can live to make music.Oddisee – Tangible Dream, 2013
Lesson 2: Dreams are the strategy, goals are the tactics
Once he established his dream for a success as a musician, Oddisee made sure he took the necessary steps to work towards that dream.
In an interview with DJBooth, Oddisee talked about booking his first tour in Europe, getting $700 a show, travelling around country to country using his Europass, sleeping on the floor of promoters, rocking parties where nobody knew his name.
“I don’t want to make a living doing anything but music, and every year I take steps to keep that in place: creating albums, licensing, touring, etc., to make a living. And I don’t necessarily just mean generating money, but living. Eating what and when I want, sleeping when I want, traveling where I want whenever I feel like it. I want music to provide that freedom for me.”“I Want to Make a Living From Music so I Can Live to Make Music”: An Interview with Oddisee | Passion of the Weiss
Having a vision in mind, helped get him through tougher situations — because he knew those were steps he was taking towards his dream. Having dreams are the lofty ambitions that you keep in your head and revisit regularly, goals are what you work on every day towards that dream. For Oddisee, his goals — tour Europe, release an album, license his music — all worked towards his dream, making a living from his music.
Lesson 3: Design your lifestyle around your goals and personal values
Oddisee has been very deliberate about designing his lifestyle around what’s important to him, and what makes him happy. There’s no doubt that someone as smart, creative and hard-working as Oddisee, can find ways to get more fans, make more money, but this might cost him independence — something that he values over everything else.
I live in a gentrified part of Brooklyn, I eat out several times a week, I travel the world sampling the best that cities across the globe have to offer. Do I live in a penthouse loft? Am I dinning in five stars restaurants? Can you only find me in the most exclusive areas? Do I own a jet? The answer to all the above is most certainly no. I’m just a regular man from Prince George’s county, Maryland that figured shit out.ODDISEE – TANGIBLE DREAM, 2013
It’s a very similar mindset to the folks at Basecamp. With their brand and history of success, Basecamp could easily go out to get VC funding and grow the company to hundreds or even thousands of employees, make hundreds of millions more, but at what cost? They’ll definitely lose their independence and maybe even control of their own company – it’s just not worth it.
You have to ask yourself, what makes you happy? Whenever I ask myself that question, the answer usually isn’t more money. The answer usually revolves around writing, travelling, building new things, spending quality time with my family, being around my friends; which is why I’m working hard on designing my lifestyle around those things.
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