Recently, The Guardian published an article headlined, “Why are so many rappers on LinkedIn?” In a world of sensational, 14-minute news cycles, it was almost refreshing that a title could still make me do a digital double-take.
Ah, LinkedIn. Our favorite tool to connect with colleagues, slap a resume online, and unintentionally learn everyone’s birthday. Home of the coy “someone from industry X viewed your profile” notifications that make you run through a register of everyone you’ve ever worked with, and gone to school with, before realizing it’s as pointless an exercise as trying to wrack your memory for old dreams. Every minute of my life spent on LinkedIn is followed by a funeral for the minute of my life spent on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is the opposite of a watering hole for cool people. When you send a gif on Slack, you feel like you’re at a destination. LinkedIn feels more like a web app’s interpretation of airport baggage claim. You’re just trying to find your suitcase (maybe a job?) surrounded by the misery of everyone else trying to find their suitcase. Somebody else almost takes your suitcase. Sometimes the carousel doesn’t have your suitcase.
But if LinkedIn is so uncool, why do the likes of Drake, Jay-Z, Gucci Mane and Rick Ross (among 29,996 others) have accounts? According to the article, artists have been slouching to LinkedIn in an effort to pursue their dreams via a professional approach. As opposed to Soundcloud, Instagram and Youtube, where maintaining a fanbase requires, well, fanfare — and sometimes artifice — LinkedIn provides connection in an arguably more meaningful way. Artists aren’t trying to just craft their material, but also their careers. They’re seeking a platform to reach peers as well as individuals and organizations who can help them climb ahead. One rapper witnessed mentionably better results from a LinkedIn ad campaign to targeted companies/publications than from emails to those same parties.
I became interested, not just because the headline’s funny, but because of that old piece of startup advice: when people are misusing a product to serve some other need, go build for that need.
I feel way too cool for LinkedIn, and I’m not even actually cool. So there must have been some kind of need, maybe real exasperation, that drove 30k rappers (cool!) to the site, which suggested to me that there aren’t adequate tools out there already. At first, that seemed ridiculous to me. Everyone’s trying to support creatives, right? It seems like a millennial commandment.
I first thought of Patreon. I’d had friends who’d casually played with the platform. The general sense I had, in terms of the tech community’s consensus, was that the app’s a cold brew. They’ve been around since 2013, raised over $100 million and kept a fresh, fringe, colorful appearance. Patreon emphasizes personability: it wants creators to derive one-to-many, intimate and behind-the-scenes relationships with their patrons. It’s motto is to vitalize a creative class. While it’s creators number somewhere around 50,000, a fraction of the creative class, it seems to be growing nicely — half of those users were generated in 2017 alone.
With all this said, discovery hasn’t been a focus for Patreon, and creators must exhaust their own social media networks to gather audience and notice. In some ways, Patreon serves mainly as a vehicle for transaction, a cash till. And importantly, Patreon’s mission seems to center around strengthening an individual creator’s connection to her fans. It’s usefulness does not extend to creators trying to establish connections with fellow creator-peers, or with bigwigs and medium-wigs of their industry, nor does it help creators seeking other opportunities (creative roles) that match their talents. Patreon operates on the Z-axis: the creator looks at you, the patron, the consumer. But as the Guardian piece evidences, creatives also seek movement along the lateral and vertical X and Z axes.
There hasn’t been a tremendous amount of attention extended to this “no-collar” class, which isn’t too surprising given that the “collars” of most tech workers are white. That said, there’s some promising startups that are at least starting the conversation. In my research I learned about:
UnitedMasters, a New York-based company that raised its Series A a year ago to build a platform to enable musicians to connect directly to streaming and outlet services, bypassing exploitative labels and producers. The service, backed by a16z and Alphabet, allows artists to retain the rights to their music, and provides a layer of data-analytics to identify listeners and target ads for tickets and merchandise.
JammCard, which raised its seed round in September, is trying to provide LinkedIn type networking specifically for the music industry. The founder, Elmo Lovano, would hop on AOL messenger back in the day to find gigs as a drummer for bands he admired; now he’s designed an app to facilitate musicians to get hired for touring groups, open venues, etc. JammCard’s approach is to grow top-down — to start by hooking up seasoned professionals, and eventually work toward supporting amateurs.
Then there’s the Dots, a website that touts an implicit byline of ‘LinkedIn for creatives,’ but which operates primarily in the UK. Launched in 2014 and having raised 4 million GBP, the Dots aims to serve the 80 million creative millennial professionals, who can be “tricky to recruit.” The company passionately enforces a conviction that creatives — who aren’t so easily shimmied out of cubicles by computer intelligence — are the future workforce. And as such, they deserve direct and intentional support. The Dots’ founder, Pip Jamieson, has said to Forbes that her “mission is to kill LinkedIn.” I think I’ve found my best friend.
I really wish these guys success, and hope there are more interesting solutions in the future, so some 30,000 rappers (and writers, and comedians, and designers, etc.) can get the frick off LinkedIn and back to the studio. In the meantime, I can’t wait to receive the LinkedIn notification when Gucci drops his new album. I’ll be sure to click the auto-generated message button to say “Congratulations!”