What up, Smart Rapper Gang? Today, we are going to talk about the twelve mistakes I made in my first year as a rapper. Now don’t forget, the first mixtape I released; I got 50,000 downloads on DatPiff. I blew up. Five million views on a video. So I did my thing.
In that process of blowing up (almost too extremely quick because it was my first project, so it was basically a curse), I learned a lot. I’m going to share those things with you so you can utilize them, not make those same mistakes, and know what to do better.
If I could go back and do these things, I would’ve progressed so much faster. I would’ve been a lot smarter, and I would’ve gone a lot further. I’m teaching you these things so that you can go further faster.
1) I didn’t have a writing schedule
Very often, you hear me talking about time management; CEO things, the way that CEOs and millionaires think; and really the way to build yourself as a person. You as a person spiritually, mentally, physically: these things matter first before you can excel here. If you’re stable in those areas of your well-being, you’ll be unstoppable.
Oftentimes, as artists, we come in the middle. When we’re in the middle, we lose balance. “I don’t feel like writing. I’m unmotivated. I’m tired. I don’t know when to write. I don’t know how to start.”
The primary key that fixed this is having a GUARANTEED time, every single day, that I know I am going to work on music. If you know that that’s the time to write music, and your whole day is cleared except for this 30 minutes or one hour each day, then you know once that time hits, you need to sit down and write. Even if you have writer’s block, you sit down and try. You will write something.
If you only write four bars, that’s fine. You’re going to feel good about yourself as a music artist. Making a time to write every day is what’s going to allow you to actually work on music.
2) I relied on too many people.
I thought that everyone cared about me and my success. Not to be negative, but most people are fake and/or don’t want to hurt your feelings. You have to understand from the very beginning of your music career that you are the only person responsible for your success. The minute you think it’s somebody else’s fault that something didn’t happen, or the moment that you don’t take responsibility that you didn’t teach yourself how to do it or put the work in is the moment you’re going to feel helpless.
When you count on other people, you give them power over yourself. One thing that I’ve learned through my career is that I want to hold the power, so I taught myself every possible skill set: shooting my music videos, editing my music videos, writing movie scripts, color correction, graphic work, recording myself, mixing and mastering my own music. I taught myself everything I had to do.
Yes, it took time, but it was worth it. Why? Because now, I have all the power. I can have a team of people, they all quit, and I’ll be like, “Okay, well that sucks. This is going to take a lot of my time, but I’ll do it.” And I’m confident in that. That’s the type of confidence that’ll let you know that you’ll be a successful artist.
We always hit these road bumps. “Aw man, who’s going to mix this song? This sounds like poop,” or “Who’s going to record this song? My boy’s going to let me borrow his studio, but he keeps changing the time up. He ain’t letting me come over.” That’s because he doesn’t want to help you. He doesn’t need to help you. He’s doing you a favor.
You’re relying on other people. You have to help yourself, and the sooner you understand that, the faster you’re going to grow, and you’re going to make it.
3) I didn’t understand deliberate practice to excel myself.
When you’re learning a skill set, such as writing lyrics or developing a rap flow, if you only spend 30 minutes working on this skill, it doesn’t really do anything for you. You’ve done something, but you haven’t deliberately focused on one essential aspect of that skill set. Deliberate practice is where you choose one specific piece of a skill set that you wanna learn, and you hone in and focus on that one specific desired goal for growth.
For example, when you’re writing lyrics…there’s a lot of elements and aspects to writing lyrics. You have multis, you have punchlines, real-talk lyrics, storytelling. Generally, if you’re writing lyrics, you’re writing an amalgamation of all those skills. Maybe you get 1% better at each one every time you write.
So what if you sat down and told yourself, “I’m only going to write punchlines.” And not for just an hour, but the entire day. Go into deep work, which means working on something for 4+ hours, only focusing on writing punchlines.
That one day of you trying to get better at writing punchlines will result in you getting 20% better, as opposed to spending 20 days at random to get anywhere close to that. After you’ve mastered that, you move to storytelling. You learn how to tell stories: from other people’s perspective, from YOUR perspective, and creating and designing an environment visually so people can SEE what they’re hearing. Then you move onto the next one and focus on multis.
When you do it like that, you’ll grow insanely fast. Now, when I learn any new skill set, I focus on one specific thing, and I go into deep work with that one specific thing to get better at it. I don’t scramble things. I spend 1-2 weeks focusing on one specific skill set to get better at it and hardwire it. When you do that, you’re going to get better extremely fast.
4) I didn’t have someone hold me accountable for my growth.
This is one of the hardest things to find. I said you don’t want to rely on people, right? Well, this isn’t really relying on somebody. This is you relying on yourself to get better, and then having somebody be there to discipline you if you’re not doing what you need to do to get better.
You have to have somebody hold you accountable. I’m my own boss, so I had to train myself that; self-discipline to continue working. The people that work for me – they’re like my accountability partners. If I let myself down, I let them down. If you have a kid, that’s your accountability partner. You have a reason beyond yourself and your self-belief to push further.
Try to find that accountability partner; someone who’s going to be honest with you. It took me a very long time to find those people with all these yes men around me. No one would be honest with me once I blew up. You need to find somebody that will tell you the straight-up truth. That’s someone you need to keep around.
5) I didn’t understand that music is a business.
Anything you do in life is business-related. Everything is a business, and once you start looking at it like that, you’ll understand that you’re not just a rapper – you’re a business owner. You’re a brand owner. You’re a CEO. You’re the President of a company, and that company is YOU LLC. It may sound corny, but it’s true.
Check out my video on how to start a record label: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qpABqmUvBcM
The only difference between you being a rapper, and you being a business owner is that you haven’t taken the 30 minutes to create a label. Then, you become a literal CEO of a company.
Your mind needs to shift to the perspective of, “Damn, I’m not just a rapper. I’m a boss.” I had to change that mindset for myself. I am a businessman and a superstar music artist. I am not a thug. I want you to stop thinking of yourself as a rapper, and I want you to think of yourself as a businessman/rapper.
There’s a reason Jay-Z is Jay-Z. It’s not just the music. The music is what got him to that point, but had he not ascertained that level of finances and Beyonce (who was basically a brand co-sign if you look at it as a business) he would not be the Jay-Z we know today. He would be Nas’ level. Fans would love the music, but he wouldn’t blow up to superstardom. That’s the difference. Jay-Z is smart as hell because he’s a businessman.
You’re a businessman who is a rapper. That’s how you need to look at it.
6) I did not realize that marketing was so important.
Marketing is more important than any other aspect of your music. Lucky for me, I spent two years (before I released my first mixtape or had the studio equipment to record) learning how to market my music – even the songs that I know sucked. That’s why, when my first mixtape was finally released, I already had tons of fans. It dropped, I marketed the hell out of it using my tactics with 0 marketing dollars, and I blew up. That came down to the fact that I had fantastic songs and amazing marketing.
But I didn’t understand how powerful that marketing was or what it really meant. I didn’t understand how consistent you need to stay. If nobody is listening to your music, no matter how great of a song it is, it’s as if you never created it. You just released something that nobody’s listening to, and that’s the most painful feeling as a music artist, and I know you’ve felt it.
You only get 100 views on a song, and you’re like, “Man, this song is amazing. Why isn’t anybody listening to it?” Because you don’t know how to market it, or you’re not taking the time to market it. Artists spend more time in the studio than they do marketing a song, and that’s what screws them. They’ll have this whole mixtape they spent a month making, but they won’t even spend a month promoting it? They’ll spend all this money buying the beat leases, mixing and mastering, but they won’t spend any money marketing?
Marketing is essential. Check out this article and learn more about marketing: https://www.smartrapper.com/3-proven-ways-to-sell-more-albums-and-gain-fans/
7) I did not realize the difference between “star” and “superstar”.
There’s a massive difference. Let’s look at an artist who is capable of star level: they make good music, they have a good brand, they’re entertaining, their fans love them. They’re a star – a B or a C-grade artist. This artist does not move further into a form of music that is more commercialized, or more accepted by a wider audience of people.
As rappers, we want to spit bars. We don’t want to sing or do melodies. That took me a long time to get over. If you’re a rapper, and you’re JUST rapping, you will never be an A-list artist. That type of rapping keeps you underground. It’s not commercialized enough.
You have to do a blend of rapping and melodies. When you understand how to be more melodic, that will allow you to grow faster. Why? Because people like melodies more than they like lyrics.
8) I focused too much on lyricism, and not enough on flow and melodies.
It’s so much simpler to focus on something you know, like rhyming. You can get better at that faster than something that’s unknown to you, like flowing. I would’ve started learning melodies, flows, etc. wayyy sooner, maybe even first. Sure, I wouldn’t be as exceptional at lyrics, but I would gain more fans and be able to share my message with them. Even if it wasn’t as lyrical, I would still be able to tell my story.
If you’re an artist JUST focusing on lyrics, try to pass that phase as soon as you can. That will help you get to superstar level. Melodies and flows matter more than lyrics.
9) I did not network AT ALL.
Early in my career, I did not reach out to anybody, talk to anybody. I would be nice, but if they tried to offer me this or that, I would say no thanks. I don’t like handouts, and I don’t trust anyone. Those were my excuses for not networking, but looking back, I should’ve networked more. The reason I network now is that I’ve built myself up to be self-made. I got here with no one’s help. I didn’t even have parents.
Now, everybody comes to me. I don’t have to reach out to anybody, because they see that I have value. If you have no value, and you’re reaching out to people bigger than you, they don’t pay attention to you. You do not have value to them (unless you offer them money), but oftentimes, you don’t have any money at that level. For me, I never had money to offer. I was making $15,000-$20,000/year.
You have to network with people on your level. Everyone on your level and below are just clawing around, confused about what to do next. Nobody knows what to make the next move as an artist. You can only network together because nobody above is going to mess with you. If you build yourself to a certain level and really work your butt off, you’ll gain a little value, and you can start reaching out to other people.
10) I made excuses not to record.
I spent a long time telling myself, “I’m not going to record this until I get the better microphone.” “Now I can’t record this until I get the better preamp.” “I’m not going to record until I build a booth.” “I’m not going to record until I have the acoustic treatment.” I made all of these excuses, telling myself, “I can’t record because it’s not the highest quality. It doesn’t sound as good as it CAN sound. It’ll sound better then, so why not just do it then?”
You don’t need a booth. You can record in the middle of the room. Sure, there’s some reverb, but you’re getting the practice in and you’re making music. Stop making excuses that you have to wait.
Think about it. If you’re building your skill set with the crappy equipment, and it doesn’t sound as good…when you finally get the good equipment, you’re going to be way better at making music. The music is going to sound better and fit the level of the gear. If you suck, and you get a better microphone, you still sound like you suck. It just sounds more clear.
I made those excuses. I wasted about four years of my life in total saving up for equipment. Of course, I was writing, but I wasn’t really recording myself. I was learning marketing and how to mix and master myself as well, but I could’ve been recording myself. I could’ve excelled faster.
11) I wasted time on things that don’t matter in a music career.
When you start out as a music artist, you don’t know what matters and what doesn’t matter. Why are you sitting there worrying about how to get the masters to your song, how to market your song, or how to get signed to a label before you’ve started making GOOD music? No label is going to sign you if your music sucks, and there’s no point in starting a label if your music sucks.
We’re always thinking too far ahead. That stuff doesn’t matter. What matters is you get good at your craft. Once you’ve mastered that, get good at branding, then marketing, etc. instead of scatterbraining yourself. You waste so much time on things that don’t matter when you don’t know what order to do them in.
12) I spent most of my money on my music…but not enough of it.
I spent money on food, nice clothes, nice shoes, and frivolous things. That money could’ve been invested in my music. The problem is, I didn’t know where or how to invest money. I didn’t know how to save money, allocate funds, etc.
The more money you have for your marketing, especially if you know how to market, the faster you’re going to grow.
If I spent $50 and got 100 fans, cool. If instead, I spent $50 on dinner with my girlfriend, I just lost 100 fans. That $50 could’ve gone to furthering my career. If I spent $150 on a new outfit, yeah I’d look fly, but who cares. You could’ve grown your fan base. If I would’ve realized that sooner, I wouldn’t have spent my money on a lot of stupid things.
Keep hustlin’, Gang. I’ll see you at the top.