(Photo Credit: Bandcamp)

How Rapper/Producer Oddisee Is Quietly Building A Dominant Online Presence

In a Facebook post celebrating the runaway success of Madeintyo’s “Uber Everywhere”, Private Club Records tour manager Steve Capo Newland did an expert job of synthesizing a recipe for success for the modern musician. “You don’t need a major label, you don’t need these fraud ass promoters,” he explained. “Build your team, work with the best producers you can afford, drop visuals for every song you make, put all that shit on the net, force everyone to go to 1 place to find your music/videos, STOP GIVING AWAY MUSIC FOR FREE, FORCE PEOPLE TO STREAM IT ONLY SO YOUR VIEWS/PLAYS ARE COUNTED.”

Newland’s declaration was a powerful statement for artists struggling to make it work in the ever-changing landscape of today’s music industry. Physical albums sales are not dead, and we’ve certainly seen a resurgence in boutique/limited edition physical releases on cassette and vinyl, but it’s been clear for some time that artists have to be savvy and generate revenue on multiple digital and streaming platforms.

Although Newland’s Facebook declaration makes for good motivational Monday material, it’s important to ask if it holds up to closer scrutiny. Every year we see new artists with breakout hits like “Uber Everywhere” and established presences like Drake drop new material that skyrockets up the charts, but can a streaming-heavy approach work for an artist with less commercial visibility, or is Newland’s formula only worthwhile for someone with a massive, runaway hit?

“Stop giving away music for free, force people to stream it only so your views/plays are counted.”- Steve Capo Newland

If we take a moment to examine someone like Mello Music Group’s rapper/producer Oddisee, it seems that Newland’s theory holds up. Oddisee, who’s been putting out material on a regular basis since the mid 2000s, has weathered several industry peaks and valleys during his extensive career. He stayed the course during the mid and late 2000s when Divshare, Hulkshare, Rapidshare, and every other kind of share made it difficult for below-the-radar artists to generate a respectable profit through album and single sales. Releasing albums at a remarkable click regardless of the turbulent times, he now has 12 albums available on Bandcamp, 21 on iTunes/Apple Music, and 24 on Spotify. And during that time he never once forced it, strayed from his sound, or tried to follow trends. He made beautiful instrumentals and penned thoughtful rhymes that in no way tried to emulate a crossover hit.

How has he converted his endless stream of high-quality releases into a dominant online presence? Just as Newland rightly emphasized the importance of having a visual presence on YouTube, Oddisee has several stunning videos with impressive view counts. “Own Appeal” is steadily climbing to five million views, “Back of My Mind” will hit two million soon, and Mello Music Group further adds to his YouTube numbers by uploading official audio for his albums, a growing trend among today’s artists.

In addition to his stats on YouTube, Oddisee satisfies the streaming needs of other casual fans by making all of his material available across all playforms. “After Thoughts” is closing in on eight million Spotify spins, a remarkable number for an instrumental song. And he goes beyond streaming by giving his most dedicated fans beautiful, eye-catching colored vinyl that sells out in matter of days/weeks. We can only speculate on the actual profit generated by these records, but every little bit helps contribute to the ultimate bottom line.

“I’ll license a song to them and nobody will ever hear it, but the money I make from that is someone’s salary. Everyone thinks I’m underrated, but I just made someone’s salary from one song.”- Oddisee

Mello Music Group and Oddisee also have a strong grasp on the power of Bandcamp. While some musicians may view Bandcamp as small potatoes due to its reputation for working with non-majors, it integrates buying and streaming better than any other online platform. Artists can control how much of their catalog fans can stream for free and experiment with different price points for their albums. Bandcamp pays artists a better rate than most and also allows artists to bundle their albums into discounted discography packages. (You can buy Oddisee’s entire discography right now for $69.47.)

While other music hubs struggle to find a balance between buying and subscription streaming that is fair to both artists and fans, Bandcamp’s numbers blossomed in 2016. According to a self-study posted on their site, “Digital album sales grew 20%, tracks 23%, and merch 34%. Growth in physical sales was led by vinyl, which was up 48%, and further boosted by CDs (up 14%) and cassettes (up 58%).” All of these numbers point to another record year for artist-friendly service. Oddisee’s success on Bandcamp mirrors the sites growing user base, as many of his projects are leading Bandcamp rap albums in total paid downloads. Maybe Bandcamp alone couldn’t sustain an artist, but it deserves more consideration as a serious revenue source and a valuable tool for building a dedicated fan base.

His impressive Bandcamp stats and Spotify/YouTube numbers are encouraging, but Oddisee also understands that the value of his vast reach goes beyond sales and streams — it also puts his music in front of countless people who might want to use his music for additional creative opportunities. With a massive back catalog of songs at his disposal, licensing opportunities for commercials, film, and TV provide an underrated and sometimes lucrative way to make additional money. “I just got two messages for two separate licensing opportunities. One from ESPN and one from a premiere league in Ireland,” he explained in a 2016 interview with DJBooth. “I’ll license a song to them and nobody will ever hear it, but the money I make from that is someone’s salary. Everyone thinks I’m underrated, but I just made someone’s salary from one song. People think I need to be on the radio. People think I need to win a Grammy.”

“I plan to do this ’til I’m toothless and dyin’.”- Oddisee

Oddisee doesn’t need a Grammy or radio play to make a living as a musician. Through 15 years of relentless hard work and an evolving business savvy, he built an incredible online library of work that will only increase in scope and reach over time. His career stands as a testament to staying true to your craft, making the art you want to make, and utilizing every single tool at your disposal to get your music heard. Whether Oddisee continues to be a low-key powerhouse or he gains more mainstream visibility, he laid out an effective and unique blueprint for artists who want to make a living with their craft. On “Back of My Mind” he tells us, “I plan to do this ’til I’m toothless and dyin’.” If that’s the case, he’s well on his way.

Connect with Oddisee on Facebook, Instagram, his website, and on Twitter @ODDISEE.

If you enjoyed this piece, please consider following my Bookshelf Beats and Micro-Chop publications or donating to the Micro-Chop Patreon page. You can also read my work at Cuepoint and HipHopDX.