Lincoln hip-hop group envisions bright musical future as independent artists

Story by Snera Riley, NewsNetNebraska

Bright lights, screaming fans, sold-out tours. The life of a rock star.

But, can a rock star be created from scratch without the help of record labels, radio, paparazzi, and money?

According to Music & Copyright, independent artists are on the rise, and in Lincoln, more artists are opting to guide their own careers as well. John W. Richmond, Ph.D., professor and director of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s School of Music , said artists are choosing to become independent so they can self-regulate their music.

“For example, this fall, Bonnie Raitt, has announced that she’s launched her own label,” Richmond said. “I think that the label is going to market her CDs, but it’s also going to be way for her following and fans to follow her and what she does.”

Richmond said artists who choose to be separate from major labels are more than musicians; they are entrepreneurs that are creating “different business models to promote their music.” He said social media has given independent artists a way to promote themselves.

“It’s enabling them,” Richmond said. “Before there was social media there simply wasn’t another option.”

He said before social media, artists could sell “CDs and LPs out of the trunk of their cars,” but they couldn’t reach the masses.

The power of YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter are just a few of the major ways independent artists are getting their music out to listeners. Because independent artists self-govern themselves, they control how and when their music is promoted.


B.O.S.S. formed in Lincoln of three UN-L students. (Photo courtesy B.O.S.S.)

In 2011, B.O.S.S. was formed by its three members Chris Phipps, Tim Thompson, Nate Gillen. B.O.S.S. is a hip-hop group that started in Lincoln, Neb. The group’s videos have been viewed more than 60,000 times and its Facebook fan page continues to grow. Phipps, 22, started his rapping career in a New Jersey high school. He later moved to Nebraska as a track athlete for UNL, but continued his music. Phipps said right now B.O.S.S. isn’t looking for a label because they want to do things on their own.

“If they search for us then that’ll be great,” he said. “But right now, this is the fun part, like when you’re trying to make a name for yourself. And when it’s said and done we can say ‘We put in that hard work to get to where we are now.’”

Phipps said they rely heavily on social media and the Internet to promote B.O.S.S.’s music.

“[Social media] has played a huge role in people hearing our music,” Phipps said.

He said it’s a place to put up their music and update their fans on where they will be next.

“Whether they’re from Germany, Jamaica, or New York, or anywhere they can just log onto the Internet and listen to us,” Phipps said.

But it’s not just unknown artists that are selecting to produce independent music. On July 6, rapper 50 Cent released a free mixtape to his fans. In May 2012, he announced that he would release an album without knowing whether his label would back him. The mixtape titled “Five (Murder by numbers)” will be an independent release. A first for the rapper.

50 Cent told MTV news “this free mixtape is the ‘appetizer’ for his full album out sometime in November.”

But, how does providing free music to listeners pay-off for the artists?


Chris Phipps started his rapping career in high school. (Photo by Snera Riley)

Phipps said it’s just about getting their music out to people.

“It’s a process,” he said. “Once they realize what we’re saying; they hear the beat; they hear the hook everything will start sinking in. We’re just trying to get people to hear us.”

It’s not only providing free music, but Richmond also says streaming music plays a large role in the success of independent artists.

“Today most consumers of music are not interested in CDs. They’re really interested in direct downloads,” Richmond said.

According to Spotify, the revenue paid in the United States for independent artists is now at .001 cent. In previous years, the revenue paid for these artists weren’t high enough to create readable statistics.

There is proof that independent artists can compete on the same level as signed artists. Maria Schneider was the first independent artist to ever win a Grammy in 2007 for an album that was never on a label. Mac Miller was the first unsigned artists to go No. 1 on Billboard’s 200 without the help of a label or radio. What these two artists have in common was their involvement in social media.

Of course, Justin Bieber found his success because of YouTube. Before he signed with Usher, he was just another unknown, Youtube singer uploading videos so his family could see him perform. Although Bieber originated as an independent artist, he opted for the backing of a label to help support him in his music.

But even with the success of Bieber, Richmond said it’s difficult for independent musicians to be heard over the thousands who are out in the world.

“It’s not clear how one becomes the next Justin Bieber,” Richmond said. “Figuring that out is a big challenge not only for our [student musicians], but for everybody.”

So what’s next for Chris Phipps and B.O.S.S.?

Phipps said he’s not sure what the next level is for the group.

“But I feel like we have BIG things ahead of us,” he said. “There’s nothing but space, time, and opportunity to grow.”