“I'll be fully transparent: I honestly, I spend way too much time on social media.”
Over the course of an hour-long, mile-a-minute Zoom call with the Houston Press, Garrett Brown, known to Houston and beyond as hip hop producer Trakksounds, drops the name Honesty more than any of the high profile acts he’s collaborated with. (Wiz Khalifa, Z-Ro, Starlito, Maxo Kream, to name a few.) Well at least for the first half hour.
Since last Fall, the multifaceted artist, producer, and musician added social media guru to his evolving repertoire of roles, striking success on Instagram and TikTok along the way with his educational music industry videos.
Ever wondered how to market your music? Do you know where to submit your songs for TV and film placement? What about how to spot a scam in your DMs? Trakksounds’ music business tutorial videos - bite-sized, digestible, entertaining nuggets of knowledge - can help you there. Think of them as mini-chapters of the umpteenth edition of Donald S. Passman’s All You Need to Know About The Music Business, catering to a Tik Tok generation and its dreams of 15 second stardom.
“I [needed] to give more value to artists, to try to bring them on more, and try to show them a few things. Then once I started doing it, I started realizing how many people actually didn't know these things that I thought were simple, but I'd realized they're simple to me just because I've been doing music for so long,” says Brown, who won the Houston Press Music Award for Best Producer in 2014, on deciding to use his Instagram and Tik Tok pages as an educational resource for independent artists.
“I kind of wanted to find that medium balance to where I can be more practical for the everyday person that's on social media and they can't seem to figure out how to get their song to more than the 10 people that they know without spamming everybody in the world.”
Brown, who previously went viral in 2017 after tweeting screenshots of racist emails from the owner of the
newly sprouted parking lot now deceased concert venue Fitzgerald's, stresses that posting consistent, quality, valuable, content is key when engaging and growing your fanbase. But one umbrella of truth reigns above all:
“You need to be honest with yourself, with your music, and figure out what you want to do.”
And that starts with a marketing plan to accompany your song. A hit song serviced to radio, licensed for TV and film placements, or pushed for virality on social media platforms is a product promoted by marketers, delivered to consumers. Though top tier artists may have access to a stronger arm in that process, independent artists can model their own music release strategies after those of major labels and still find tangible strides of success.
Brown says that planning a simple one month campaign for a new single with scheduled social media posts, consistent emojis, funny videos, and thinking outside of the box makes all the difference in your music gaining traction.
“Sometimes you have to think bigger with the music. Like, okay, is there a message or an instance in this song that we can see being blown up to a bigger, more marketable thing that people want to watch?” says Brown, citing Lil Nas X’s ubiquitous “Old Town Road” as a hallmark viral moment.
When Lil Nas X first released “Old Town Road,” he probably didn't imagine breaking Mariah Carey's record for longest running number one hit on the Billboard Hot 100 chart (a record she briefly shared with Luis Fonsi's “Despacito”); Trent Reznor, probably didn't foresee being credited as a songwriter on it (“Old Town Road” samples Nine Inch Nails’ track “34 Ghosts IV”); perhaps no one predicted the Twitter star, a bedazzled leather cowboy of the night, saddling a Grammy Awards performance to the tune of six Grammy nominations. But there he was, riding his viral moment into the sunset, all the way to the bank.
“[Lil Nas X] realizes the pillars of content being: You gotta engage people, you gotta be educational, or you gotta get some kind of emotion out of them. If you get all three then it's even better,” says Brown.
Though that equation may sound like a recipe for viral success, Brown says that “not everybody knows what exactly is going to be viral. But for the most part, people can have a general sense of where their music kind of fits in that pocket.”
He notes that long term, more organic approaches work for artists who may not adhere to the mode of online virality, but with a music industry leaning platform like TikTok, viral success feels more attainable than ever.
“I have not seen a platform in a long time that ... wants you to go viral. They actually push your content out, they encourage other people to view your content.”
That attention grip might just be Tik Tok hacking your brain into the platform's void of potato cake recipes, home office microaggressions, and dance challenges that make their way to SNL. But TikTok’s influence on music is undeniable.
When radio was a primary method of consuming music, every section of a song, particularly the chorus, needed to be well crafted - and well promoted and politicked, of course - for chart success. Now, the way music consumers once obliterated the album format by cherry picking single songs off of iTunes, social media users create content, to varying degrees of virality, by appropriating just one moment within one song.
As a trend, streaming economics have made songs' length shorter. Spotify considers a song streamed once if a listener streams it for only 30 seconds, so there’s no monetary value in bloated songwriting. Combine that with viral TikTok snippets becoming a song’s identifiable moment, like the chorus once was, and songwriters are faced with a creative complex: do they write for the song’s sake or for the platform?
“[Writing for the platform] may take away from your artistry,” says Brown.
“I don't think you should chase those moments; I think you need to make music. And it comes back to being honest with yourself, working on your product. You don't need to be worrying about doing these big viral Tik Tok campaigns if you don't really have anything that you feel fits that way. If you're just making music just to go viral, I feel like you're going to be chasing that dragon basically the whole time. Make music you're comfortable with. Make music that you like.”
The truth will set you free; a marketing plan will make your music seen. And heard. Follow Trakksounds on TikTok and Instagram for tips and tricks on making it in this business. Stream his catalog on Spotify and Apple Music.
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