Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Giving Up A Year To The Algorithm: The Artists Releasing Extreme Amounts of Content to Build a Buzz
What is it like for an artist to run a year-long campaign centered on extreme content releases? We asked four artists who have taken the plunge to give us a more rounded understanding of their journeys.
This article has been handpicked from the Okayplayer editorial archives and included in our Hip Hop 50 collection as a noteworthy inclusion to the genre's rich and diverse narrative. The article has been edited for context to ensure its accuracy and relevance.
For upcoming artists, content is king. Making it and releasing it frequently and consistently is the understood formula for building momentum and a fanbase.
That said, an extreme release style is nothing new. Before the true social media video content boom, artists mostly presented this tactic in official music releases. In 2008, Philadelphia MC Freeway launched the Month of Madness campagin where he released a song a day for a month. In 2010, rapper Gorilla Zoe upped the month-long release ante by dropping a whopping 28 mixtapes in 28 days. Two years later, prolific Bay Area rapper Lil B released a single mixtape with 855 songs and continued this onslaught of songs per tape for years to come. (Lil B has released multiple 100 song mixtapes.)
In recent years, artists like Russ, Flee Lord, and even legacy acts like Papoose have pursued their own versions of an extreme release style by pushing themselves to execute consistent drops for even longer periods of time. Russ released 11 mixtapes before pivoting to a song a week drops on Soundcloud for over two years. Flee Lord released an album a month in 2020, while, in 2021, Papoose released an album a month on DSPs. Fighting for relevance and listeners is linked to quantity now more than ever.
Many rising artists searching for their initial core audience have taken the approach of extreme output for a year's time and even at times linked it to a campaign. Some use social media algorithms and DSPs in duality and some focus solely on social media engagement and growth. We spoke to four artists who have chosen this path to get a more behind-the-scenes look at their stories and how they handle the workload.
Campaign: Project 52
Description: Release a song a week on DSPs for a year and periodically update campaign progress on social media.
With is campagin, Ogranya upped his Spotify listeners by 60,000 and went from 1 Million total streams to 4.4 Million. Photo Credit: Ogranya
In March of 2020, Nigerian Amapiano singer Ogranya garnered a wider-ranging international fan base with the releaase of his Imperfect Ep. At the end of the year, when questions arose about how to hold onto these new listeners, management suggested the tactic of releasing a song a week for an extended period of time as Ogranya had already stashed about two months worth of material. “Like how Kanye [West] did Good Fridays, we just wanted to do something novel,” Ogranya said. “So it made a lot of sense to do a song a week for the whole year.” Project 52 was born.
The first two to three months of the experiment were relatively easygoing. The previously stashed singles were prepped and ready to go but coming up on the third month the pressure became palatable. “Towards the middle of the year I had to finish a lot of songs,” Ogranya said. “During the week, it was more or less a thing of finalizing with engineers while trying to finish a verse or two, and at the same time finalizing with producers.”
\u201cI know I haven\u2019t been really active on here with the music so this is me making up for lost time. At the beginning of 2021, we embarked on a project where we release a song every week throughout the year. It\u2019s a different thrill \n\nThis is the journey thus far \n\nTHREAD #project52\u201d— o g r a n y a (@o g r a n y a) 1616271803
Ogranya’s main producers and engineers were based in Lagos, Nigeria. Thus most of the communication had to either be done remotely or, in a pinch, he’d have to travel. This made each week, at times, come down to the wire. That said, Ogranya and his team felt less of a need for a traditional rollout strategy. “The project in itself was a marketing plan,” Ogranya said. “The machine in itself was doing the work already. I just had to be consistent in showing up with the product.”
This ideology proved fruitful. By the end of the year, Ogranya upped his Spotify listeners by 60,000 and went from 1 Million total streams to 4.4 Million. He held onto the fans he’d previously secured and heavily expanded beyond what was even anticipated. “It's simple math, the more songs you have the more streams you get,” Ogranya said. “I got comments saying, 'I discovered your work and after I pressed play on the first song, I got stuck for four or five hours.' Now with the discography, you drown in it.”
The project also garnered more industry exposure for Ogranya to distributors and labels and even resulted in his first headlining billing at Nigeria’s Vibes At Bay festival. “It was the befitting end to a year of hustle and work,” Ogranya said. “It was nice to come and see in front of you, hundreds of people who sing your songs word for word and demand for you to sing their favorites from the stretch of 52 weeks of releases.”
All of this success said, there were still songs Ogranya wasn’t completely content with. He says at times he “sacrificed on the original vision just to satisfy the consistent releases.” However, Ogranya thinks completing the task overall did wonders for his self-belief. “If you say you are good at doing something, the ability to do it over and over again is necessary to put you in a place where you're really confident about your craft,”Ogranya said.
Artist: Connor Musarra
Campaign: 365 songs in 365 days
Description: Release a mini music video of a song written in one day, every day on Instagram, Tik Tok, Twitter, & Youtube for an entire year.
Connor Musarra went from 100 monthly listeners on Spotify to now hovering around 30,000. Photo Credit: Connor Musarra
For LA-based singer, rapper, and producer Connor Musarra, making a song a day for a year developed organically from a quest to solidify his identity on social media as a true musician. “I'd been releasing music for a while and doing stuff on social media. But I noticed there was a disconnect,” he said. “I was just making goofy random content and people thought that I was trying to be a comedian. So I was like, “I need to be a musician on the internet, not just in real life.” Musarra saw other musicians doing short videos of songs on TikTok and on February 15, 2021, attempted his own version.
“I didn't have any sort of master plan. I didn't intend on going for any particular amount of time,” Musarra said. “Just randomly, I was like, “I'm gonna do one video.” Then all of a sudden, it just snowballed into, “I'm the guy that does a song every day.”
Doing these raw versions of songs (which Musarra said he would create in less than three hours) led to a lot of online vitriol from some who watched the videos. Musarra claims people would critique him constantly for what they viewed as not full songs or not polished enough work to be released to the public. “It was a process of just surrendering and being okay with the fact that there are going to be thousands of strangers judging me and my entire existence,” Musarra said. “It was necessary to get a thicker skin.”
\u201con Feb 15th 2021 i randomly made the video that would spark the 365 song a day process. This is what i wrote to myself on that day\u201d— Connor Musarra (@Connor Musarra) 1645128435
Musarra, while having to adjust to the harsh criticism, did have a learned affinity for that level of commitment. “I've run marathons and stuff,” he said. “So I come from this mentality of grinding and doing these long training processes.” One of the elements of training for a marathon is increasing the amount that you run each day over time, which carried over to Musarra’s challenge. He went from doing a song a day to adding live-streaming the process on Twitch, and eventually self-directing behind-the-scenes footage which he hopes to turn into a documentary.
At its most demanding, Musarra was opening himself up to be the most exposed. “It got to a point where I was considering it almost as like an extended performance art piece,” he said. “Where I'm just giving up an entire year of my life to the fucking algorithm. All of the vulnerability, everything.”
Each day, at the peak of the process, Musarra was making a full song, recording the process while interacting with his twitch following, recording a performance of that song, editing that footage for social media, posting on all of his platforms, engaging with the comments, as well as crafting a side documentary of all the things previously listed.
“It was incredibly chaotic and everything was going wrong all the time,” Musarra said. “But that was kind of the beauty of it. Just finding a way to squeeze the time in and be at peace. It didn't need to be the best thing of all time every single day. It just needed to be the best that I could do.”
Musarra got encouragement in the form of virality from some work he didn’t even feel confident in. “My biggest song by a longshot is this song called “Mercury,” he said. “I thought that no one was going to fuck with it when I made it. It was a lesson in just finishing it anyway and letting people hear it so they can decide.”
However, this type of reaction can have two sides to its impact. It can be freeing to let go of your ego and see an unpolished and unconfident self-expression become something others are drawn to. But, once you get a taste of a quick rise in approval, searching for it again can become part of an addictive pattern.
“The high of the gambling aspect of it where any day I could accidentally make a song that does crazy numbers was very central to the process,” Musarra said. “But it was also just a process of me letting go and building an actual audience. A small, but really dedicated audience.”
Musarra went from 100 monthly listeners on Spotify to now hovering around 30,000. Off of this established following he was able to secure features from rappers with growing indie fan bases like Rxk Nephew and Zelooperz.
Artist: Danny G
Description: Post 10,000 pieces of content on social media in a year.
Danny G is planning on releasing a grand total of 10,000 pieces of content in 2022. Photo Credit: Danny G
Nashville-based rapper and singer Danny G is four months in on flooding his social media pages for all of 2022. His goal? To release a grand total of 10,000 pieces of content. He is, thus far, on pace to do just that. For such an intense effort Danny has a relatively simple goal. “My objective for this year is to build as massive a platform as possible,” he said.
In just four months on TikTok, Danny has gained over 600,000 followers on his two pages. Danny has one page dedicated to music and one dedicated to entertainment. The entertainment page ranges from content of him comparing fast food fries like a sportscaster deciding who would win in a playoff series to him attempting to shoot a half-court shot on his local court every day. While some may think it could distract from the goal at hand, Danny has found the crossover pretty fruitful thus far. “I have started to leak the music on my entertainment page,” he said. “I noticed the Instagram DMs have gone from, 'Hey, love your Tik Tok content' to 'Love your content. Also, your music is awesome.' It's all just creation and art. It doesn't have to be one or the other. Also, I do a lot of sports, and sports people like rap music. If I was doing folk music it might be tougher.”
The organic correlation between the two worlds is something Danny sees as essential to even take on a task like this. “Ultimately, with the content, you have to love it,” he said. “I feel like I'm being myself in all my videos. So it's not really hard to do it every day.”
However, there was a definite sacrifice and shift that had to be made to set out to do something like this. Danny spends two to three days a week for 8 hours a day shooting content, then spends two days a week for 8 hours editing all of the videos. So he treats his social media content creation like a 40-hour-a-week full-time job. Previous to this year, his full-time job was doing music. These main focuses have essentially changed roles.
For Danny, sustainability is the most important thing. “From 2019 to 2021 things were going well, but I didn't feel like I had real dedicated fans. Like if I went on tour, I didn’t know if people would pull up,” he said. “So this year, the focus had to shift to building that. At this point in my career, I think the content is what's going to benefit me most. This is my come-up hustle as a creator-artist. Once I have that platform, I can take the foot off the gas a little bit.”
Going this route is draining. Danny has to reserve at least some time each week to take his foot entirely off the gas with everything. “Sundays I try to take a bit of time off just hanging out with my girlfriend and playing basketball,” he said. “Then within the days, I try to give myself little 20 to 30-minute breaks as a reward.”
To further avoid burnout, Danny also had to hire a team for help. “I have three guys on retainer,” he said. “I'm paying one guy to shoot my Tik Tok content, one guy to do higher-end content, and one guy to help me post.”
For a fully independent artist funding his own career, having three people on retainer may seem difficult to maintain, and it is. However, Danny views it as more of a necessity. “It's a pretty big monthly cost you have to take into account because you have to get consistent with it,” he said. “But now I have ads that I've started to land. I did McDonalds and Dairy Queen in the same month and those companies are huge and pay well. Those months where you're not seeing the return yet, it's hard to stay locked in. But you have to keep paying your people, lose money, and just trust it. I look at it more as an investment.”
Artist: Rxk Nephew
Description: Released over 400 songs on Youtube in 2021 and has already released over 200 in 2022
“I did six years in prison and it didn't make me shit but 75 cents an hour inside the mess hall,” Rxk Nephew said. “I came home and did one year and about six months straight in the studio every day and it started making me way more money back.” Photo Credit: Rxk Nephew
When Rochester, NY rapper Rxk Nephew was released from a six-year prison bid in 2020 he was faced with a decision: find something new to make money from or go back to the high-risk life he previously knew. “Back then I definitely had a lot of time on my hands,” he said. “I was just still in my city trying to get out of the street. So rapping was a better option than what I was doing. Back then, I'd record three days straight and I'd be sitting in the same spot. People would go to work, come back, eat breakfast, dinner, and lunch and I'm sitting in the same exact spot as they had seen me in, recording. I'd be releasing all of it and I'd go crazy every day.”
This, relatively quickly, would lead to thousands of views on Nephew’s Youtube page and producers offering to send him beats either for free or even paying him to rap on them. Since then calling Nephew a workhorse would be an undersell. He has recorded and released over 600 songs between the end of 2020 and now. His biggest song, “American Tterrorist,” has amassed over 100,000 views YouTube. Nephew says that song opened his music up to “different races and different people of all different ages” and since then he has kept holding their attention because he never let up on the output.
“I don’t know if I’m going to die tonight, man and I got all that music that wasn't out. All that for what?," Rxk Nephew said. "I'm in heaven or hell like, 'Man I had so much I hadn’t released!'"
You could say Nephew gave up his life to the Youtube algorithm in 2021, but that would indicate a sort of sacrifice. In Nephew’s mind, repeating this process is a mode of survival. Of course monetarily, but maybe more importantly, mentally. “I was able to vent. That helped me to make songs every day,” he said. “It was like a big stress ball.” Nephew didn’t mold a year-long marketing campaign to run his numbers up, he made as much music as he could to therapeutically process his life in and out of the carceral system and stay busy.
This ritual had monetary benefits that Nephew hopes to keep capitalizing on and expanding. “I did six years in prison and it didn't make me shit but 75 cents an hour inside the mess hall,” he said. “I came home and did one year and about six months straight in the studio every day and it started making me way more money back.”
Nephew has seen the fruits of his labor but wants to be more strategic moving forward to garner the most return out of each release. Due to his self-driven success, he now has funding to deliver more planned rollout strategies with consistent visuals that he hopes will make sure each drop reaches the ears of more fans so they won’t miss “certain hits.” “I was always the one-man army,” he said. “Always invested in myself, but I never really spread my wings with other people. Now I’m not just dumping it out, I'm trying to learn how to dump it out. The money I'm making now, I know I can quadruple it times 1000.”
Asking Nephew if it all was worth it is sort of a silly question. Though as he rises more, he does half to balance his time differently. Instead of staying locked in at the crib, he has an entirely mobile studio setup that he takes with him everywhere. He calls it his “cloud studio” which includes a miniature mic he can pick up and pace with as he records, a MacBook Pro, a desktop interface, and speakers. Even with new support and a new lens on how to expand Nephew must still be able to lean on the healing constant creating provides him. “I fucking broke out of that shit. I'm a legit business now,” he explains. “But this music really saved my life. It came through like Superman bruh.”
Graphic: @popephoenix for Okayplayer
Miki Hellerbach is a freelance music and culture journalist from Baltimore, whose work can also be found on CentralSauce, Euphoria Magazine, Notion Magazine, GUAP Magazine, and Complex. He also regularly co-hosts the In Search of Sauce music journalism podcast highlighting the top tier work of other writers.