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Making It in the Biz: Mississippians and the Music Business in the Digital Age

SUMNER, Miss.–Making it in the music business can be tough, or easy, depending on your approach. Some Mississippians are doing it these days without a record company and sometimes without downloads.

The digital age of music has enraged some old school artists who have traditionally depended on record sales, be it CDs, LPs or even digital downloads, because there’s an entire generation of people who have come to expect to get their music for free.

That is thanks in large part to piracy, downloading without paying, which started with services like Napster in the 1990s.

Since then, making a successful career out of music has taken on an entirely new dynamic. The days where you have a record company that pays for your album and you pay them back with sales, may be coming to a slow end.

KB is a Mississippi rapper from Sumner, a town about 25 miles to the southeast of Clarksdale. He makes his music in a studio, pays for that himself, then publishes the tracks to Youtube. That’s one way he has built his following.

“Right now, it’s a lot of social media, with Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, but I’m also fixing to go into promoting and marketing with A&R representatives,” said KB.

His biggest video is called “North Memphis Phone Call”, and has 1,800 views, but KB said his hope is to use social media, combined with personal appearances, to make that number go up.

And, if you didn’t think Youtube was a way to get your music heard, take the example of Kina Grannis, who had her song “Message From Your Heart” featured in the Super Bowl broadcast in 2008. She landed a major label deal, but the label wanted her to co-write her albujm with their writers. She refused and left the label.

Grannis had enough faith in her music that she decided YouTube was the way she wanted to go to market her songs. One of her videos got over 11 million views.

The outcome is increased demand for concerts, hence increased concert fees.

KB said getting a major label deal is not necessarily what he’s after either.

“Get the fan base up. Get the mix tape out there, promote it right, then maybe go from there to shows and show money.”

Learning how to promote records and make them is happened just a few miles to the west of Sumner in Cleveland at Delta State’s Delta Music Institute.

“You can spot talent, and then you’ve got to have that work ethic to go with it,” said Tricia Walker, a Grammy-winning songwriter who heads the Institute. “That’s what we’re trying to teach here in our entertainment industry program, is around the business of music.”

The business is an ever-changing dynamic, which right now makes the sky the limit for anyone with some talent and whatever it takes to make a YouTube video go viral.

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