Not By Chance

The Grammys are always a big deal in my house. I take that back, all major awards shows are a big deal in my house. My wife always insists on putting on the red carpet pre-show so that we can see “all the pretty dresses,” and see how the biggest artists in the world style their hair. Of course, being the good, *clears throat*, I mean GREAT husband that I am, I always oblige. For some reason, this year’s Grammys were different, at least it felt that way to me. As I was watching the show, I couldn’t put my finger on why it was different…until, it happened.

That Grammy night, Chance the Rapper won three awards for Best New Artist, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance. Now, for those of you who have never heard of Chance the Rapper before this past Sunday’s Grammys, here’s a little context.

Chancellor Bennett (aka Chance the Rapper) is originally from Chicago. He’s 23 years old, born in 1993 (which happens to be the same year I graduated from high school). Chance became the first artist in history to win a Grammy without having released a physical album. His music is only available via streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music. Now, this next phrase may come as a shock — this artist is also NOT signed to any record label of any kind. In fact, he is adamantly against signing with a record label. Basically, this means Chance the Rapper had no marketing money to leverage and no major support in getting his songs played on traditional radio or putting his albums and songs up for sale. Let that sink in for a minute.

This year was the first year the Grammys made streaming-only albums eligible for award consideration. This is important because every year, music is released by independent artists, and up until now, they had not even been given a second look or listen by the Grammy Academy’s voting members. Chance’s win represents an up-and-coming trend in media overall — the shifting of power and influence. It is fluctuating from the “traditional” and “corporate” bodies, to the artists, talent, and creators. This power and influence is why online creators like Jenna Marbles can make their own deals with major brands and be compensated as they see fit. It’s why online video series’ like Insecure and High Maintenance have seen expansive success. It’s why artists like Frank Ocean and Chance the Rapper don’t have to have record labels. These creators are reinventing the path to success and writing their own rulebook.

In the music industry, the labels traditionally hold the money. Once upon a time, getting signed meant that you made it, which meant — yes “meant” — that they held all the power to dictate terms to artists. Now it means, at least in the artist community, that you may have to compromise some creative control, you will not fully own the things that you created. Oh, and by the way, labels can take a portion of your sales and streaming proceeds too. For context, Chance the Rapper makes his money touring and on merchandise sales, basically giving his art away for free.

We are now in a world where putting out compelling content and growing a following of your own is just as or even more important than marketing dollars. Becoming “the next Chance the Rapper” obviously doesn’t happen overnight, it took him years to build to the Grammy moment. But break that down; that is years of working to perfect his brand and improving his skills. Years of releasing hit songs digitally, years of putting on show after show and continually building a relationship with his fans on social media. Years of consistency. If I take away one thing from Chance the Rapper’s Grammy wins, it’s that the power is moving to the people who create.