Why Macklemore is a Success and What We Can Learn From It.

Macklemore is blowing up the music scene. He is one of the first DIY artists to achieve top #1 spots in multiple areas while being completely unsigned.


1). He is really fucking good.

The best art does one thing extremely well — it makes you feel. Macklemore is one of the most emotionally engaging artists I’ve seen in years.

You must be thinking, “WTF dude — he’s singing about a thrift shop?”

If I was Macklemore, I’d be disappointed that people are responding to Thrift Shop more-so than Same Love or Otherside… but then again, it doesn’t surprise me either.

The truth is that he communicates the emotional content of his music so well, it’s scary.

I want you to watch this video before you keep reading. I want you to know that Macklemore is more than Thrift Shop.

Unless you’re a comatose sociopath, you probably felt something while watching that.

Me? I teared up. I found it incredibly touching.

Not only is the material incredibly emotional and touching, but Macklemore kicks ass when it comes to performance.

Watch a bit of this live performance of Macklemore from NPR’s Tiny Desk concert.

His live is as good as his recorded. His performance is intense when it needs to be, drawn and reserved when it needs to be.

I could sit here and describe in some flowery prose as to how good he is but watching him says enough.

The man is really, really good at what he does.

–What we can learn from #1: Emotion Triumphs

Tell a story.

Emotional content trumps non-emotional content in terms of audience attachment. Getting a person to feel your music is a tried-and-true method of hooking them for more.

How do you increase the emotional aspect of your music?

  • Live life. Draw creative inspiration from literal emotional events in your life. If you sit in your bedroom all day, what do you have to talk about?
  • Be real. Macklemore’s lyrics are simple yet poignant and definitely not poetic. There’s no Shakespearean dialect here or wordiness for the sake of wordiness. The lyrics are tight and clear and authentic.
  • Be vulnerable. Let yourself speak through. Don’t be afraid to offend people. Don’t be apologetic. Allow your voice to come through in your music — errors and all. Humans connect with humans and humans are not perfect.
  • Use Human Elements. They have the most literal and easily understood emotional impact. I’m tempted to say it’s necessary to have a singer/rapper if your goal is to make the widest emotional impact. I’m a sucker for great instrumentals… but humans connect with humans.

2). Videos Rock

Macklemore’s Thrift Shop video is very entertaining. From the giant furry coats to the batman one-sie there’s a ton of engaging and hilarious material that begs to be shared.

In 2013, if you want to be an incredibly successful indie artist you need to embrace video. It’s not a surprise that the most popular songs of 2012 all blew up with a video intact. Psy and Gotye come to mind.

You rarely hear the word “viral” without the word “video.”

–What we can learn from #2: Embrace Video

This is straightforward — add video into your arsenal. You’ll be left behind if you don’t.

3). Ten Thousand Hours

The first song on Macklemore’s breakthrough album is called “Ten Thousand Hours.”

The ten-thousand hour concept, proposed by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers, is that it takes about ten-thousand hours to become an expert in something (I actually disagree with this… but that’s completely unrelated)!

The point is that Macklemore has put in the time, his “ten-thousand hours,” to get where he is. It doesn’t surprise me that he’s so good live — he’s been doing it for nearly ten years.

After that kind of time, it’d be difficult to not carve a voice for yourself and become a badass at what you do.

Furthermore, he is no overnight success in this regard.

In start-up culture, there’s the concept of the hockey stick growth. Your business does pretty meh for a while, growing slowly until a certain point is hit (the inflection point) where you begin to exponentially grow.

When you hear of an overnight success, that artist is hitting an inflection point.

They’ve been at it for some time — you just didn’t know.

–What we can learn from #3: Work at it

The most reliable way of getting better at anything in life is by doing it. This stands true for music and for performing.

This means you need to finish songs.

This means you can’t give up when no one seems to care about your first album. Maybe it’ll be your third.

Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying you’ll be successful simply by grinding, but it’s a near guaranteed way to get good.

4). Give Your Fans Value (and Connect With Them).

Watch this video:

I’m willing to bet this sort of thing happened more than once.

(Quick summary for those who can’t watch: Macklemore goes on craigslist to give extra tickets to a fan).

–What we can learn from #4: Give and Connect

It’s common advice in the blog world that you need to give away an incredibly large amount of value compared to the content you’re looking to sell.

I think, as musicians, we need to look into this as well. It doesn’t necessarily have to be free — but give to your fans. Go out of your way to show people that you want them to engage with you.

Jacob Rosati of the New Complainers put their album download-codes on unique polaroid-like photos. Fans come up to the merch table and pick a picture they connect with.

Moreover, there are no doubles so each picture is unique.

[Note: I have a conversation with Jacob coming within a week — stay tuned if you want to hear more about this.]

5). Artistic Depth

Macklemore is not one dimensional — and that is a selling point.

I showed my brother Jason, who had heard Thrift Shop previously, some of Macklemore’s other tracks like Same Love. My brother was impressed. The fact that Macklemore can jump from Thrift Shop, a goofy song, to a serious social commentary in a matter of seconds is incredibly impressive and interesting.

The question “what else can he do?” is asked.

And, as a result, a person digs, trying to uncover the artist for who they are and after hours of watching all the YouTube videos for that artist, suddenly, a new fan is born.

–What we can learn from #5: One Trick Pony

My point here is to avoid being a one trick pony. Have some variety and spice between your songs. If you do nothing but churn out the same thing over and over, people will get tired. They know who you are after a single song.

You have to be interesting for people to be interested.

I think the most important take-away here is the Macklemore proved a DIY artist can do it big.

There’s a story about a man named Roger Bannister who broke the 4-minute mile in 1954, when everyone thought it was impossible to do… and suddenly, after shattering that negative belief, other people began completing the 4 minute mile.

Macklemore broke the 4 minute mile. He shattered the belief that you need to be signed to win. He’s taken that factor out of the equation.

As a result, I think we will see many more DIY artists achieving similar levels of success (and probably this year).



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