The Heist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Take DIY Route To iTunes #1

The-heistMacklemore & Ryan Lewis, the rapper and dj duo from Seattle, released their debut album The Heist last week. Having already reached #1 on the iTunes album chart, the release is set for a possible #2 debut on the Billboard 200. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis epitomize the small to medium-sized DIY business route, keeping things in-house as they gradually build a team and a fanbase while maintaining control of their careers.

The duo is an example of DIY as Decide It Yourself rather than Do It [All] Yourself.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Thrift Shop ft. Wanz

Macklemore was a rising rapper in Seattle when he took an extended drug-fueled vacation. After multiple years of absence, Mackmore returned and began working with producer and artist Ryan Lewis as Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Last week they released The Heist and seized the top spot on the iTunes album chart with a possible no. 2 spot on the Billboard 200.

In the process the pair have taken a DIY route that doesn't require the artists to do all the work but does require the willingness to build a team, evaluate each deal on its own merits and to carefully nurture a direct connection to a supportive fanbase. That doesn't mean they won't end up on a label but The Heist is their own release distributed by the Alternative Distribution Alliance.

Speaking on their DIY path:

"We are perfectly fine putting it out ourselves…We are a small business that's becoming a medium-sized business. With that, there is a learning curve and there are times when you feel like you don't quite have the manpower to operate the business to the best of your ability. But we're growing and we're adapting to the best of our abilities."

An important part of their team is manager Zach Quillen who first began booking them via The Agency Group. He was a crucial element in taking Macklemore & Ryan Lewis beyond Seattle, "never put[ting] them in venues that they can't sell out" and growing their online audience via creative music videos.

Though they've gotten to this point via DIY, while supposedly turning down major label offers, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are open to label deals and Macklemore has even talked about starting their own label:

"There’s so many people who are extremely talented that just don’t have the right resources behind them here in Seattle and really anywhere. You have people with great skill level and one thing but have no idea how to brand themselves or have no idea what the packaging should look like. All these different things artists get wrong like the aesthetics. I think Ryan and I have been successful with that and are both passionate about doing that. "

But it's not just art and business savvy that's gotten Macklemore & Ryan Lewis to this stage. They also had to build a loyal fanbase called The Shark Face Gang:

"That’s just really our fanbase and we have some of the most loyal and devoted fans in the world. The people that ride and see the show now five, six, seven, eight times. Have every single piece of merch. People that just really ride and believe in what we are doing. It’s really just a way to squad up and put a label on the music that we make and the people that are part of our family."

Solveig Whittle feels that part of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' success can be attributed to Macklemore's branding and communication including:

  • Savvy Social Media Marketing
  • Positive, Transparent, Diverse, and Socially Conscious Messaging
  • A Strong DIY, Anti-Label, Anti-Authority Message
  • Unique Personal Image

Many elements combine to break a new act. Putting in the work, building a solid team and maintaining focus as their fanbase grew and deals became possible has given Macklemore & Ryan Lewis the ability to sign themselves.

Hypebot Senior Contributor Clyde Smith (Twitter/App.net) blogs about music crowdfunding at Crowdfunding For Musicians (@CrowdfundingM). To suggest topics for Hypebot, contact: clyde(at)fluxresearch(dot)com.

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  1. Interesting that no one involved mentioned the music itself as a factor…the videos, the savvy social media, the art, the fan club but not the music. Says a lot without saying anything.

  2. The music is a given. There are tons of freat artists that never make it. This article highlights what makes Mack and Ryan stand out and what brought them to the forefront of the game: the videos, the savvy social media, the art, the fan club.

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