Rapping can be an exciting and financially rewarding career; however, it is often difficult to break into the industry, build a fan base, and generate a steady stream of income. It will take more than the ability to string a clever verse together to become popular and make a living. To succeed, you need to form a strategy that will allow you to navigate the challenges from start to finish; fortunately, guides like this exist to help you.
If you want to become a rapper, you must first understand that music is an industry and think like an entrepreneur from the start. Aside from developing your personal skills as an artist, you need to hire the right team members, network with other artists, and market yourself strategically.
This article will break down each of these success tips step-by-step. By the time you finish working through this guide, you will have the necessary tools to work towards your dreams, whether to do rapping as a side gig or to make this your full-time career.
Think Like an Entrepreneur: Program Your Mind for Success
This point may seem irrelevant, but most of the famous artists you look up to are not just rappers; they are businessmen and women who think and act like entrepreneurs. There is an infinite number of talented rappers and musicians, but most of them fail within the first few years of launching. One of the biggest reasons is that they focus solely on their music and ignore other aspects of their career development.
Unless you plan on doing this as a hobby, the first thing you need to understand is that music is a business. This means that from the beginning, you must adopt the mindset of a business person. Changing your attitude about what you are trying to accomplish will automatically program you for success, boost your determination, and empower you to make instrumental decisions.
Early on, having an entrepreneurial mindset will allow you to be more strategic about things such as how you use your time, where you spend your money, and the kinds of connections you build. While the responsibility of running and developing your rapping business will largely be up to your manager and other team members (more on that later), it is still up to you to drive your own career.
If you struggle with thinking this way, don’t worry. Mindsets can be developed over time, and there are plenty of helpful resources that don’t cost much. For example, you can talk to friends or family members that own businesses and ask them how they got started. Such information is priceless, even if they are not in the music industry.
You can also read or listen to audiobooks like How to Think Like an Entrepreneur by Philip Delves Broughton. This book aims to inspire your passion and teach you what it takes to develop an idea into a tangible reality. Also, check out Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, which demonstrates how limited beliefs can hinder your success in any endeavor.
Many in society would consider rapping to be an “unconventional” career choice. When you branch out and do something non-mainstream, your personal mindset can make or break you.
Choose Your Rap Style and Message
Next, you need to determine what kind of rap style you want to focus on. There are many different types of rap styles, including cloud rap, crunk, emo rap, grime, frat rap, and so on. While you certainly can do a mixture of all these styles, it helps to focus so that you can create a premise for your music and channel your creative efforts better. Also, each rap style uses different techniques, so it is easier to master a few styles first and then develop from there.
You should also start to think about what topic or subject matter you want to convey through your music. Decide whether you want to rap about a variety of subjects or maintain a centralized theme throughout most of your songs.
If you have trouble deciding or aren’t sure what’s out there, listen to different tracks, and figure out what resonates with you. Begin by drawing inspiration from existing artists and then work on creating your own individual voice.
Do not put too much pressure on yourself when you first start out. Your style and message will most likely change over time as you progress in your career and as you go through different life experiences.
Practice to Develop a Unique Sound
What do artists like Eminem, J. Cole, Cardi B, Kendrick Lamar, and Nicki Minaj all have in common? It doesn’t matter whether you love or hate them; when their songs come on the radio, you have no doubt who you are listening to. Each of them has managed to carve out unrivaled platforms for themselves in the music industry by developing distinct vocal styles and lyrical qualities.
Even if you don’t aspire to be on billboards or perform at the Super Bowl, you still need to develop an individual delivery, rhyme scheme, and rap flow that will help you stand out and land performance opportunities. Take inspiration from the music you enjoy (which doesn’t only have to be rap music) and incorporate your own personality and experiences.
One of the best ways to improve and diversify your rap voice is to work one-on-one with a vocal coach. While this can often cost thousands of dollars, it certainly doesn’t have to. For example, TakeLessons offers hip hop and rap lessons that cost approximately $80 on average for a 60-minute lesson. Many of the instructors have decades of experience, and you can work with them online.
If you are not in a position to work one-on-one with a coach, take courses instead. Platforms like Udemy also provide courses at relatively low costs, and they regularly have sales where prices are slashed by as much as 90%.
If you aren’t in a position to spend any kind of money, you can always get a lot of free information from YouTube. For instance, follow people like Drew Morisey from How to Rap for practical advice and inspiration. He has experience doing music full-time in various parts of the world and has taught over one thousand people (one-on-one) how to become a rapper. Also, while Eric Arceneaux is not a rapper, he has plenty of advice on how to improve your vocals in general.
No matter what route you choose, this step will take a lot of practice and dedication. It takes years to evolve as an artist, so don’t let an imperfect style hold you back, or you will never get started.
Choose Your Rap Name
Belcalis Marlenis Almanzar.
Nayvadius Demun Wilburn.
Dwayne Michael Carter, Jr.
Amethyst Amelia Kelly.
At this point, you have started to become acquainted with your identity as a rapper. Along with a unique sound, you also need to come up with a distinctive name that fits your rap persona. While this should not be your most critical focus at this stage, you should put a decent amount of thought into it. A good rap name will distinguish you from other artists, help you establish your brand, and inspire you to live up to it.
If you’re lucky, your birth name will do the trick. If not, think about your interests and what motivates you. Think back to nicknames that people called you in school. Recall a memorable experience. Do you have any family members or historical figures that really inspire you? You can even try out a rapper name generator online (fun fact: Childish Gambino and Post Malone both came up with their names this way).
If it helps, research how other rappers got their names. You’ll find that many of their methods were simple and non-intimidating.
Do your best to choose a name that suits and means something to you. It should make sense for your personality, ideology, or style of music. For example, Machine Gun Kelly (whose birth name is Richard Colson Baker) got his name largely because he is known for his rapid-fire rapping style.
Also, don’t choose something that you might regret later. A name that you come up with on the fly to register for a rap battle could haunt you for the rest of your career.
While your name choice is no insignificant matter, do not get overly hung up on this step. Many artists make this mistake and never have the confidence to forge ahead. Mull over a few ideas, pick something, and then move on. No matter what name you choose, remember that you are the one that makes the name great, not the other way around.
Create Your Music
Once you have spent some time working on your style and identity as an artist, create some of your own music. A collection of original music will help you to:
- Have beats to share with others and grow a fan base
- Have a portfolio to show when you want to work with managers and agents
- Be prepared for sudden performance opportunities
One way to go about this is to download apps that will help you record quality vocals on your phone. This is the easiest and cheapest method to create great music, but it has its limits. Eventually, you may want to work with a producer to generate studio-quality music.
Another option is to purchase equipment and software, create a home studio, and record your own music there. This YouTube video will show you how to do this on a budget, and provides a full product list. Recording your own music at a home studio is a skill that can be just as difficult as learning to rap itself. However, perhaps the greatest perk is the ability to control your sound and take full credit for your creations.
Look for Performance Opportunities
Once you feel confident enough, it’s time to start performing and sharing your music. You can do this in a couple of ways:
- Attend rap battles and open mic events to gain some exposure and find other artists that you can learn from.
- Book performances at local talent shows, bars, and other venues. Ask a friend to record you and share the video online.
These are all easy and accessible ways to draw attention to your music, but eventually, you may need to work with an agent to get better opportunities (see below).
Start a Marketing Campaign
One of the beauties of today’s world is that you don’t necessarily need to sign a record deal to be a successful artist. While that certainly helps, your dream can also be achieved through the powers of the internet.
Start a Website
A website is a perfect place to display your portfolio and show off your unique style. It can also distinguish you from hobby artists and make you stand out as a professional. You don’t need to have a degree in coding to do this either. Platforms like Wix and Squarespace have made website creation accessible even to those with barely any tech skills.
Create a Social Media Following
Social media is an easy, inexpensive way to spread awareness about yourself as a blossoming artist. Whether it’s Instagram, YouTube, or Tik Tok, choose a couple of social media platforms and update them regularly with your music, business updates, and upcoming events.
Collaborate With Others
Collaborating with other artists will help you to learn new rapping and other technical skills. You can also leverage their platforms to increase your popularity. When you attend rap battles and open mic events, go with the purpose of finding people to work with in the future. It doesn’t hurt to bring a few business cards. You can also reach out to YouTubers.
Don’t limit yourself to only working with fellow rappers, though. Collaborate with photographers, musicians, singers, songwriters, or even social media marketers.
Where can you find all these people? Although it is traditionally considered a platform for white-collar workers, do not underestimate the power of LinkedIn to expand your network of professional artists and other beneficial connections.
Decide Whether You Want to Be a Signed or Independent Artist
Everything that has been discussed so far is applicable for any aspiring rapper, especially in the early days of your journey. At this point, you need to have a more solid idea of where you want your career to end up. Being a signed artist is the ultimate dream for many artists, and it’s no wonder with all the glitz and glamour portrayed on TV. However, there are some critical advantages and disadvantages to both routes that you need to consider carefully.
Hire a Professional Team
Once you start to see some success, you need to hire a team to help you shoulder the responsibility of growing your business. Here are some of the people you should consider adding to your team.
There are generally two types of managers you should hire, although the roles can certainly be combined into one person.
A business manager handles the day to day aspects of your business. Their responsibilities include taking care of contracts and financial agreements, record keeping, and supervising any support staff.
A personal manager is like a career coach. This person guides you along your path by helping you develop your ideas and counsel you about the best career moves to take. For many artists, this person is a close friend or family member who has been with them for a long time. Consider looking to your inner circle when choosing one.
A manager will work with you on a long term basis and have the most control over your career development.
An agent works on behalf of a rapper to find and negotiate gigs and performances, promotional stunts like commercials, collaborations with other artists, and other career opportunities. For example, if there is a music festival coming up, they will pitch your profile to the organizers of the event and hopefully land you a spot on stage. They will help you organize tours and any other performance appearances that you make.
Furthermore, they review contracts, flesh out the details, and in some cases, even have the authority to sign them on your behalf. They also help to expand your network by linking you with other artists.
Should You Hire an Agent or a Manager First?
Artists who decide to work with both often wonder whether they should first hire an agent or a manager. Many would argue that it is better to work with a manager first because they typically concentrate on your long term career interests. An agent is often more focused on the here and now, and the next best deal.
You don’t need to be a well-known artist to work with a manager; as mentioned previously, they can be family members or friends. Even if you don’t know the person you want to hire as your manager, you often just need to show them that you have talent. The experience can be different when hiring an agent, as you sometimes need to demonstrate some measure of success before they will agree to work with you.
Be aware that in both cases, these individuals will take a commission (for example, 10% to 15%) off of your earnings. When you are first starting out, make sure that you factor this in, especially if you choose to work with both at the same time.
Unless you have a business manager who is also a trained accountant, this role is non-negotiable if you want to avoid financial trouble. You need someone to prepare budgets, track income and expenses, handle business documents, prepare tax returns, and so many more tasks.
Even if you are in a position to outsource this role right away, it is better to do so further down the road. When you first start, you should practice managing your own money to understand how it works. That way, when you eventually hire an accountant, you will be able to spot who is a professional and who isn’t. You will also be able to understand financial data and make informed decisions as a business owner.
The role of a publicist is to represent you in the media. They will help you set up interviews, radio and television appearances, handle the press, and work on media releases.
The ideal candidate for this position has excellent public relations skills, a large network that you can use to leverage your own career, and an expert understanding of the current media landscape. They must also display exemplary professionalism; remember that they will be representing you.
The number and types of people you need will depend on what stage you are in your career and the extent to which you intend to scale your business. It will also depend on your long term goals, including whether you want to be a signed or an independent artist.
Continue to Pursue Further Career Advancement
Once your career has kicked off and you have added people to your team, the time will come when you just need to focus on marketing your music, pursuing bigger and better opportunities, and evolving as an artist. You also need to stay connected with your fans to remain relevant instead of fading into obscurity. For example:
- Remain aware of your demographic and their shifting life stages and tastes
- Stay up to date with technology and appeal to your audience through modern platforms
- Keep abreast of the social and political climate around the world and tread carefully in how you address it
Avoid Common Pitfalls
Choose Who You Work With Carefully
The rapping industry is booming and is only projected to grow in the future. Unfortunately, this means that there are scammers out there that prey on young hopefuls.
For example, some coaches will promise to teach you the “secrets” of how to accelerate your career. While many of these people are legitimate, many of them only want to sell you monthly memberships that will provide piece-meal information, which means that you will never gather enough knowledge from them that you can actually work with.
Make sure you conduct extensive research on anyone that you are considering entering a long term professional relationship with.
Manage Money Wisely
It’s no secret that many rappers who once had promising careers have gone bankrupt because of excessive spending. At some point, fame and societal pressures went to their heads and led them to make unwise financial decisions.
Regardless of whether you make hundreds, thousands, or millions from your rapping, don’t make the same mistakes. Some simple rules to follow are to religiously set aside money for taxes, avoid hiring more people than you can afford to, and always spend less than you make on your personal expenses.
This goes back to the entrepreneurial mindset discussed at the very beginning of this article. And to reiterate: hiring an accountant (and listening to their advice) is the best way to avoid financial pitfalls.
Show No Fear and Keep Moving Forward
Jay-Z put it this way:
“Those who are successful overcome their fears and take action. Those who aren’t (successful) submit to their fears and live with regrets.”
This last part is not a tangible step, but it is critical that you practice this throughout your journey. Almost everything that has been discussed so far has dealt with the practical factors for success, but this one highlights the importance of keeping your mind and heart strong through the process. You can follow all the previous steps down to the last detail, but if you shrink back in fear or give up when things get difficult, you won’t make it very far.
One of the biggest favors you can do for yourself as you kickstart your rapping career is to remember that music is an industry like any other, which means you have to think like an entrepreneur. You need to grow a mindset that will help you think strategically about your business and navigate the challenges ahead. If this type of thinking does not come naturally to you, read books that can train you.
Decide what kind of rap style you want to master, and what story you want to tell the world. As you garner success, hire the right people to help you manage the business aspect of your career so that you can focus on working on your skills as an artist.
As you go through this journey, remember to remain true to who you are. You are not rapping for everybody on the planet; you are making music for yourself and for people who like your style. Above all else, remember to believe in your abilities. Rapping is a multi-billion dollar industry that is predicted to experience continual growth in the future; there is no reason why you can’t take part in this exciting profession.
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