How this entertainer makes whatever music he wants however he wants and still makes money. And people love it.
I remember the moment that I heard about LimeWire. I got my first hand-me-down iPod Nano from my older brother in middle school and was buzzing to fill it with music from my favorite CDs (particularly Lou Bega’s, which, in my case, had two plays of “Mambo No. 5” and one play of the lesser-known “Tricky, Tricky”, the three tunes comprising the entire track-listing, for some reason). However, I had heard whisperings of a new way to get music online, just by searching and downloading! It didn’t feel illegal; I was just getting the music. I wasn’t walking into a store, grabbing a CD, and walking out without paying. THAT was stealing. What I was doing was not stealing… I was also 11. So give me break.
And that’s probably how it started for a lot of us: alternate, technically illegal ways to download music for free that created the idea that music should be without payment. And if we had to pay, because we, for some reason, couldn’t find a Torrent of our favorite Avril Lavigne song, it was an inconvenience. That’s how consumers viewed and still view the music industry in the modern world. Artists are finally catching on.
You want free music? Chance the Rapper is going to give it to you.
In December of last year, Chance the Rapper made history as the first unsigned artist to perform on Saturday Night Live. Though Acid Rapid came out and blew up in 2013, this kind of notoriety really put him on the map. And then along came Coloring Book, and his work on Kanye’s Life of Pablo, and various other projects. And it didn’t hurt that he was rubbing elbows with the likes of Justin Bieber, Jay-Z, Beyonce, and other huge names. Here’s a dude who comes along and restricts himself to no label. He can make the music he wants when he wants with whomever he wants (unless they’re attached to a label that restricts them…).
So he has no label. That means he can do what he wants. He wants to upload his mixtapes to be downloaded for free? You bet your ass that’s what’s going to happen. Why? Because he can.
But realistically… what the hell is a mixtape? Over decades of hip-hop, this term has changed hands and meanings so much that we’re all left wondering how it’s actually different than an album. For now, here’s what it feels like: “album” means you’re on a label. “Mixtape” means you’re not. “Album” means “let’s make money”. “Mixtape” means “let’s make music.” It’s mostly about the aesthetic of the thing, at this point. However, that makes a difference, especially in the way independent artists market themselves.
So how’s he do it? How does this make him money and push him to stardom? Lil Chano from 79th, rapper born Chancelor Bennett from Chicago, relies on the fans. Chance definitely has what one would call a “cult following”. People live and breathe and die for him because they know he’s just a guy out here trying to make music and work for his fans. And people eat that up. The days post-release of his 2016 mixtape Coloring Book, @chancetherapper was retweeting fans that shared photos of hanging his posters around their towns and cities. The guy’s got a street team that will more or less do the marketing work for him. They want to spread the word and get him the success he deserves.
They give him their time, but they also want to give him their money, even if it’s not directly for his music. They buy up concert tickets, as he plays sold-out shows domestically and internationally, and clamor for his merchandise. After much anticipation, Chance released his iconic “Chance 3 New Era Cap” for sale and it sold out almost instantly (and it ain’t cheap either, going for $45 through his website’s store).
Realistically, the industry can’t shun him anymore for basically doing whatever the hell he wants. He’s gotten spots on everything from Ellen to the ESPY’s. He’s on the radio. He even, after protesting and petitioning, has a shot at a Grammy (unprecedented for an artist whose music is free). He’s in our heads. We want Chance and we’re going to fight for him.
Some artists resist the way music is going. Taylor Swift (comically) fights Spotify. They’ll sue everybody in a streaming whack-a-mole: push one down and another pops up. Chance embraces the modern music industry and understands his audience. There is still money to be made. People are going to download your music for free. You might as well make it easier on them. Gain their trust and they’ll go to the ends of the earth for you. And that’s how he has revolutionized the industry.
“The whole point of Acid Rap was just to ask people a question: does the music business side of this dictate what type of project this is? If it’s all original music and it’s got this much emotion around it and it connects this way with this many people, is it a mixtape? What’s an album these days, anyways? Cause I didn’t sell it, does that mean it’s not an official release? So I might not ever drop a for-sale project. Maybe I’ll just make my money touring.”