Does The Taylor Gang Buy Records?
If there is one thing that I learned from being at SXSW last week, it’s that nobody really has any answers as far as making money in the music business is concerned. I sat through panels with marketing experts, label heads, musicians, producers, creatives, you name the music related profession and they were there scratching their heads, throwing out old models and asking the same questions of, ‘where do we go from here?’ It was a pretty profound experience considering I was sitting in many of these panels just days after the release of our first official release, Closed Sessions: ATX, from our newly minted Closed Sessions label… It’s not exactly the steak and champagne I was expecting. But, venturing into the streets of Austin and it’s a slightly different outlook as buzzing artists are all smiles as packed crowds go from venue to venue to see their favorite stars. In fact, Hip Hop wise, the artists with the most buzz were all ones either without any product for sale (Odd Future, Big Sean, Lil’ B, Big K.R.I.T., Mac Miller, The Cool Kids), or plenty of free releases to bookend their for-profit material (Curren$y, Wiz Khalifa, Slaughterhouse, Freddie Gibbs, Yelawolf).
So while the convention center offers one picture of the music biz, the Internet and artists offer another. It’s not that the demand for music has dwindled, or people are onto the next thing… There is no next thing. The music is here, and will always be here. The thing is, nobody really wants to pay for it. If it took “X” amount of effort to sell a single ten years ago, it probably takes “X” times a thousand to do that now. And let’s not even talk about now vs. 20 years ago. Really, the artists with the most success are those that stopped selling music a long time ago, gave away quality material for free, invested their fans via twitter and social networks, and hit the road… hard. The poster child for this is Wiz Khalifa, who has lived on the road since the release of his critically acclaimed Kush and Orange Juice Mixtape. He toured all over the country, packing venues, and initiating thousands and thousands into his “Taylor Gang”, a name reserved for his most diehard fans. Wiz then captured the attention of the whole country when his “Black and Yellow” struck a chord with Steelers nation, hit the Superbowl, and made the underdog pothead from Pittsburgh a household name. This is something not lost on Wiz, who recognizes the great opportunity that comes with still being considered “Hip Hop’s Rookie of The Year” (Rolling Stone) to a mainstream audience. He now must balance the new fans, and those diehards, those chanting “Taylor Gang”. The question is, does Wiz’s Taylor Gang buy albums? With one week until the release of his major label debut, Rolling Papers, Wiz and everyone at Atlantic is hoping that his fans are willing to put their money where their mouth is.
Sure, Wiz can pack The Metro, but he is now going to change his relationship with his fans as he asks them to do something he has rarely asked before, actually buy the music. I say rarely because while Wiz commercially released Deal or No Deal, it happened at a totally different time, and was an independent release. This album is a major label release, with the whole world watching… But anyway, it seems like a fair trade. After all, Wiz has supplied his fanbase, and anyone else breathing, with tons of content from songs, music videos, even gossip via his relationships with Amber Rose and Natalie Nunn. He’s got a movie coming out with Snoop Dogg, as well as a soundtrack. Further, Wiz cares enough about people’s well-being to be a staunch opponent of smoking blunts, even halting his Chicago listening session at the first whiff of grape cigarillos. As of now, Wiz has 1,297,870 Twitter followers. I don’t think anyone has ever done a Twitter Followers to Sales Ratio, but in the era of the new music business and new music marketing, Wiz presents a great opportunity to do so. Why not? As execs scratch their heads to project sales numbers in order to craft budgets, Wiz is a perfect place to start.
One might look at Wiz’s twitter stats and think, absolutely he’ll sell records. The dude has over a million people that choose to “follow him”. But, numbers don’t always translate to actual purchases, just ask Soulja Boy who has over 2 million followers on Twitter, yet only moved 14K albums last release. On the other hand you have Lupe Fiasco who is modest compared to both Wiz and Soulja Boy with roughly 500,000 followers. Yet, Chicago Lu moved an estimated 250,000 copies of his new album LASERS, despite it being widely panned by critics and fans.
What does Lupe have that Soulja Boy doesn’t? I think the answer lies in the fanbase, and the unique story that Lupe created around his new LP. It was shelved pretty much indefinitely until his fans protested, literally took to the streets, for its release. Lupe Fiasco also has a tremendous amount of substance in his music, connecting to many people on a personal level. Fans are invested in Lupe the artist, and his music has become tangible. He has been able to put himself in the category of artists who’s fans will truly “follow” their creative expressions. I know many people who planned to buy Lupe’s album even after it leaked, even after it got bad reviews, even after they heard a majority of songs they didn’t like. But they wanted to support Lupe. S**t, I was one of those people.
When March 29th hits, and Rolling Papers is finally available to buy, I expect Wiz’s sales sheet to look more like Lupe’s than Soulja Boy’s. I’ve never been to a SB concert, but I have seen Wiz headline multiple times. The first time I saw him was at Chicago’s Sub-T, where he completely sold out the venue to the point where I could barely even catch a glimpse of the lanky rapper. I saw him again just a few months ago at Chicago’s Metro, a much larger and storied venue. Wiz repeated the sell-out, this time with a full house shouting “Taylor Gang or Die”. Wiz has invested his fans, and has given them something to belong to. They may purchase his album because that is their membership fee, and that is what they need to do to help his career. Wiz is on the verge of creating a new protocol, one in which artists rise on free music and material, supplying fans with whatever they need when they need it. When it’s time to buy, they ante up… If not, Wiz may need to rethink the Taylor Gang as well as the initiation process.