When it comes to writing, recording and releasing music, promoting it, booking shows, and then driving across the country in a van, no one is going to do it for you. You have to learn how to do this yourself, but eventually you can surround yourself with professionals who’ll get the job done for you. While there may not be a blueprint to follow, there are an abundance of resources at your fingertips. This is your opportunity to create something out of nothing.
Be a Self-Starter
“Even if your mentality is that you want to find a record label or booking agent, you still have to be a self-starter,” says Krist Krueger of Self Group, the Portland label that also provides booking, marketing and tour support. With years of experience onstage as an artist (Yardsss, Southerly) and behind the scenes working with regional promoter Monqui Presents and the Wonder Ballroom, “You still have to go out and actually make a recording, book your own shows, and show people in these positions that you have something to offer them,” he says.
Educate Yourself First
There are innumerable resources online and Portland has no shortage of contributors. You could be listening to The Future of What, the excellent industry podcast hosted by Kill Rock Stars’ Portia Sabin, or reading CD Baby’s blog. But your situation and experience is going to differ from everyone else’s. The best way to learn is through trying—and failing. “It’s always going to be the school of hard knocks,” Krueger says. “There’s always more to learn. And you’ll always be surprised about what you missed or hadn’t learned along the way.”
Then Hire Someone Else!
You’ve tried it all, and hopefully established yourself in the process. You know what you’re good at and where you need help. Now’s the time to reach out to others, ideally pros who can help with booking, distribution, PR, recording and more. This allows you to focus on your songwriting and performance. From doing it all at home, “now I go into the studio and I can just be an artist—not the engineer, producer, mixing engineer,” says local hip-hop veteran Cool Nutz. “I don’t want to do all that. I just want to listen, record and write raps—make music.”
Go on Tour
This is a seriously integral component! And it’s largely about building community. “Most bands, other than those rare Cinderella moments, are going out on their own tours and playing bars, small clubs and, hopefully, DIY spaces,” Krueger says. “Those are the spots where I feel like the community really comes together. They’re real listening rooms where people are actually connected—and enjoying and appreciating—versus playing in a bar where” you’re competing with crowd noise from less engaged audience members.
“No one show makes your career,” Cool Nutz says. Between founding Jus Family Records in 1992, releasing a dozen albums over the years, performing with Bay Area legends E-40 and Too $hort, and opening for the likes of Wu-Tang Clan, Ice Cube and Tech N9ne, the decades of repping Portland hip-hop have helped him build a solid foundation and community—one that he also supports on the radio airwaves (The Breakout Show on JAM’N 107.5 FM) and stages with the return of the Portland Oregon Hip-Hop Festival for its 13th year.
A positive attitude goes a long way. Cool Nutz and Krueger’s longevity in the music biz is largely associated with their community-minded ethos and a desire to be a part of the scene. Superstardom wasn’t the goal, being an artist was. “I don’t care about being in the front,” Cool Nutz says, “what I care about is being in the car. If I’m in the car or on the bus in the capacity of my involvement in music got me here, I’m happy to be there.”
That’s what it’s all about: making music, finding an audience and then having the opportunity to keep going.