Independent artists face opportunities and challenges

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Being the first artist ever to win the gramophone trophies with streaming-only albums, Chicago’s  harvested three awards at the 59th Grammys.

“It was a very cool moment,” said Ricky Villarreal, a hip-hop artist from Chicago who watched the Grammy’s live at that night.

“I felt like I was seeing history being made in front of the TV.”

The Grammys have not considered streaming-only albums until last year. Before, only traditionally released physical albums could be nominated. The rule changes of the Grammys pave the way for Chance’s success, as well as give more chances for talented independent artists to be under the spotlight.

The web 2.0 environment enables the surge of streaming-only albums. In such an environment, people can disseminate their own music and Chance the Rapper is a product of that environment, according to Dr. Daniel Makagon, associate professor of communication. Music awards and music charts gradually started to track downloads to gage some level of success and interests.

Sharing music through the streaming-only approach signifies that artists can compose liberally and run their own business. Those productions may reach a wider range of audiences around the world via the disseminations of the Internet. It is the audiences rather than record labels that decide who should be the top artists.

Chance’s success at the Grammys motivates independent artists to insist on their dreams and manage their own career. DePaul senior and hip-hop artist Michael Brookins with stage name Mike Fulahope expressed the encouragements for artists who are making efforts without any industry backing.

“If I would give advice to upcoming artists, that is watching Chance, be Chance now,” Brookins said. “Everybody has the potential to market themselves, just like Chance marketing himself and become a big artist. That’s what Chance’s showing everybody. You don’t have to go through a record label to put your music out. You don’t have to have a manager to make your music be know and have a decent fan base. You can literally start from your house, build your network and put your music out and have a decent fan base. And be your own manager, be your own boss.”

Unlike physical albums, streaming-only ones are mostly free of charge, so artists can hardly rely on their online releases. But some artists like Villarreal don’t emphasize the commercial results of the online releases. Villarreal has released three full-length projects and multiple EPs so far, and all of them are free on soundcloud.com.

“At least for my music, I don’t mind it being free,” Villarreal said. “Because I just want it to be accessible to everyone.”

Chance the Rapper shows the possibility that releasing streaming-only albums may not stop artists becoming famous, and artists can market their own productions without the assistance from record labels. Chance’s “No Problem” implies the artist’s attitude of opposing the fetters from record labels. He remains independent, even though some major label records are willing to offer him up to $10 million for record contracts, according to New York Post.

Meanwhile, however, getting rewards directly from their works is what many artists expect for. Local hip-hop artist Deon Morrissette, with stage name Wolfman D, has released streaming-only albums on soundcloud.com as well, but he desires to sign contracts with a record label one day.

“I still want to become a part of a record label and make my money, because you make more money that way,” said Morrissette. “When you are releasing streaming-only albums, the best thing you can do is, tell everybody you know then tell everybody they know, the stuff is coming out. It’s very difficult to market.”

Chance the Rapper is one of a kind to some degree. His music conveys relatability, talking about something that many people would have experienced, which raises resonations. Besides, His music makes him the cultural symbol of Chicago.

“A lot of people wouldn’t associate Kanye or Common with Chicago anymore,” Dr. Makagon said, “But Chance has deeply integrated into Chicago and music. That’s good for the city.”

Not every independent artist has the same level of exposure as him. On the radio charts, the percentage of artists under independent record labels is already small, and Chance is the only one without any record labels, according to Dr. Makagon.

“That level of success, to be honest, is more likely to not repeat itself,” Dr. Makagon said. “You have to be able to make enough money early on, to sustain a level of promotion for yourself, and most people can’t do that. They need some support system to be able to make a career for themselves.”