Ask any established artist a career highlight, and they’ll tell a tale of a gig in a dive pub. Only five people turned up, and their trainers stuck to the floor. But they gush it was their happiest time, full of promise. Maybe it’s easy to say when you’ve made it. But when you’re starting in that moment and trying to get your name out there, it’s a different reality. There’s music just bursting to get out of you and into your ears. What’s the plan?
Luvvy Blaze is from Nigeria and produces Afrobeat, reggae and dancehall sounds. It brings him fulfilment and happiness, and that’s all that matters to him. However, he struggles with an age-old demon: funding. “For independent artists building a fanbase, it’s difficult financing music production.” Emerging musicians need a side hustle or second job to support their dreams. It’s never easy balancing music and duties in day-to-day life. “We do everything, from composing, recording and managing our career.”
Music was R&B singer Sade Fatima’s friend growing up. The New Yorker navigated difficult situations with it by her side, so she wants to help others. She adds, “It’s hard to get someone to discover you and to navigate the industry with no team and no investors.”
Art is boundaryless. Why else would London Afro-pop artist Thandi Blues do it? That said, it needs time; it needs manpower. She confirms, “It’s important for me to find the right team. It takes a village.” But say you do manage to afford studio time.
Rap and hip-hop musician Julius is from Washington, D.C. It causes frustration to find time in the day that fits his other responsibilities. “Sometimes the studio engineer’s schedule just doesn’t match.”
Ever heard the saying it’s not what you know, but who you know? You’ve eventually made it into the studio recording out-of-this-world sounds; what happens next? Independent and upcoming artists rely on streaming platforms and social media, but A-listers ordinarily get the heat. “They’re overhyped,” Luvvy Blaze says. “I’ve seen upcomers with great music, but curators prefer the wack song by a big artist instead of the better song by an upcomer.”
Califonia-based and world musician Jumbok Jay loves the vibrational frequencies of music and wants others to feel it with him. He wonders how to get more exposure. “Finding live shows, getting someone to book you, and appearing on TV or a podcast is complex.” Khlow, a French pop and soul artist who creates music to uplift listeners, adds, “Although there’s more visibility now of emerging artists, there’s no easy way to get in touch with people in the industry.”
It’s hard to know how exactly to get the attention of A&Rs and what they’re truly after. No artist is demanding a signing; they only want a voice. Thandi Blues says, “Labels can’t just invest in anyone, especially unknowns, but they could listen and help us develop where they can.” Sade adds, “We are out here, authentically creating and looking for opportunities to share our gifts with the world.”
Modern technology could play an even bigger part in changing things, and Khlow would like to see more apps developed to create links between new artists and record labels. Jumbok Jay agrees it should be easier to submit music online for consideration of performing at gigs and festivals.
Alongside the struggle, there seems to be more room than ever for everybody to follow their musical heart or at least give it a good go. Creators saturate platforms, but there’s scope to get going. Sade says, “So many women, so much diversity, and so much inclusion. There’s always someone you can identify with.”:
With more connectivity than we’ve known before, Jumbok Jay states there are a lot of musicians popping up right now from different places. African and Caribbean music is shining. “It’s a thing of joy seeing Afrobeats from Africa on the rise with the likes of Burna Boy, Wizkid and Davido taking the lead,” says Luvvy BLaze. So keep at it, folks. Don’t fall at the first hurdle. And some parting advice from Thandi Blues, “Enjoy the journey. You can make it even if you weren’t born with a silver spoon in your mouth.”