It’s always exciting when an artist or musician thinks a bit outside the box. Album cycles can either be flashes in a really big pan, long, drawn out, labyrinthine quests to find the hype, or well-crafted and layered experiences that feel organic and, well, real.
Ill Poetic is on his own quest to figure out the best, most practical, and most creative ways artists can make their efforts count. He’s slowly but surely figuring out how to make it work on his own terms.
Music is no longer just music - it’s a statement, it’s a culture, it’s a movement, an emotion, a way of life. It’s about figuring out what you want to say, how to say it, and, most importantly, how to get people to listen. Arguably, it’s always been this way, but with the democratization of music thanks to the World Wide Web, the kind of impact an artist has, the ways an artist can reach their audience, and how much an artist can make from their art has shifted in increasingly drastic ways.
This September, Ill Poetic returns to Cincinnati to speak about the power of taking control of your art from every angle, and finding creative, organic ways to do it. We get into a lot of really great details about what he has in store next month, so I’ll let him take it from here. Thanks to Ill Poetic for taking the time to answer my questions.
It’s been a while since we’ve checked in with you- you’ve had an album release, you’ve been working on new music for yourself and in collaboration with others through Definition Music, a new music video/short film dropped… Can you talk a bit about what’s been going on this last year or so?
Sure. The last time I really made rounds in Cincinnati was in late 2017 for the release of my last album“An Idiot’s Guide to Anarchy”. At the time, I had just returned to college here in San Diego as a full-time student to further pursue studying in all things music production: theory, audio engineering, recording, and sound-designing.
About a year ago I began discussing the specifics of our“Idiot’s Guide to Anarchy” release campaign with my music program’s department head, Bob Kostlan. As we released this album completely by ourselves, I was playing with ideas on how to present all the aspects of planning and executing this release in a way that could be of value to other independent artists. Bob recommended fleshing these ideas into a curriculum. I was surprised to see how quickly the entire structure of the curriculum poured out of me. With Bob’s mentorship and assistance, I booked a string of lectures and workshops through various San Diego colleges. The student response was extremely positive and let me know this was something I should continue exploring. This led to these Ohio festival workshops such as 2x2 and my upcoming event in Cincinnati.
You recently performed at the 2x2 Festival in Columbus, and gave a workshop - which we’ll talk more about in a minute. How was the fest?
I had a ball at the festival. My manager Micshon Harper was brought in this year to handle booking and logistics, so I spent a couple days in lead up helping him to get behind-the-scenes festival needs tied up. From there, my guy HuntorPrey came down from Toledo to get some rehearsal time in for our joint set that Saturday. Though we’ve been friends and collaborators for nearly 20 years, we haven’t rocked a stage together in 10 years at least. I was super relieved to see that our chemistry as friends carried right back over to the stage. The set went fantastic. Started with a thin crowd but ended with a larger gathering, sold more merch than I’d expected. Great feedback. Led to some future festival bookings.
The festival gave me Scribble Jam vibes in a really good way: it felt original and unique but had that same organic feel Scribble had in its early years. Saw a lot of old friends from the Scribble days and met a ton of new amazing artists and fans. I really hope the organizers come back for another round next year, I feel like they really found a groove to catapult them from local to regional festival.
After “An Idiot’s Guide to Anarchy” came out, you’ve done a few shows here and there, but it’s been some time since you’ve been in Cincy, but you’re coming back in about a month for a workshop on a few things that are near and dear to you, and a show at Top Cat’s. With part of your trip back to Cincinnati centered around the workshop you’ll be giving, let’s talk about that for a minute. What’s the workshop and where is it happening?
The workshop is on Tuesday September 17 @ 6pm at Elementz Youth Center. It’s free admission, all ages, and refreshments will be served. Ideally, this workshop is designed for independent songwriters, producers and engineers of all ages looking to make a practical living off of their art or craft. We'll be discussing basic concepts of ownership, passive/active income and how to create revenue streams from the various stages of album creation and release. We’ll then analyze every step of the album creation and release process and show real examples of the numerous ways artists can make money at each of these stages as they feel it best fits them.
Why are these kinds of workshops important? Not just for you, of course, but for those in attendance?
When I was a younger artist in Cincinnati, we didn’t know shit. Though we definitely had some great elders in the scene to lean on for advice, we didn’t have a clear archetype in the local scene for genuine independent success. As a result, we looked to regional examples of practical success. In the 2000s, I came up studying indie artists and labels like Rhymesayers and Weightless because I could tangibly see these artists legitimately succeeding outside of the given ‘system’ we call the music industry. Their paths weren’t always flashy or recognized by mainstream platforms, but they were real enough for bills to get paid and jobs to be left. Not only that, they achieved these goals with their ethics and morals intact, which is a really big deal for me. They taught me success could be reachedbecauseyou’re a good person, not in spite of it.
Though my path is different than the artists I aspired to emulate, I eventually learned from them that there are no templates to your path, only resources at your disposal. We are only as successful as the choices we’re presented with. If we don’t know resources exist, we’ll never take advantage of them. My hope in offering this workshop is to offer resources, therefore choices and routing options to young independent artists and freelancers that allow them to build a career path based squarely on the art they truly want to release.
As the saying goes, “content is king,” and as a musician, it’s often not enough to just put out an album, book some performances or a tour, and leave it at that. If someone wants to make this a career now, it requires so much more. How has that impacted your career? Are you surprised by the directions you’ve had to take to keep up with everything?
I’d initially titled my album and workshop “An Idiot’s Guide to Anarchy” because I slowly began to realize there were no rules out here toward reaching your own success. That goes for any industry, but especially music. I don’t think there’s a boilerplate guarantee toward how any music artist finds financial freedom in their art. For me, booking tours didn’t bring a tangible income stream, even after years of attempts. My music just may not be built for that market on the scale it needed to be to generate sustainable income.
Though I still love performing, I found it better for me to use shows and albums as tent poles to harness momentum that I then point toward my merchandise (product) and services (music production, engineering, graphic design). This forces me to still push and grow as hard as I can both as a recording and performing artist to deliver the best possible product I can. If you were to tell me 20 years ago that this would be my path, I would’ve initially been frustrated that I wasn’t touring huge arenas but deep down I’d probably know this route made the most sense for me.
When it comes to releasing an album, like we’ve discussed, it’s not something you can just release into the wild and let it do it’s thing. With streaming, digital, physical releases, interviews and previews and other press - there’s just a lot to take into account. The idea, with all of it, is to make the most out of the release. What are some ways you feel like musicians and artists can tap into and engage with audiences, new or old?
This is actually the purpose of the workshop; figuring out how to kill an animal and use every part of it. So here goes:
As it relates to fan engagement, the ability to tell your story effectively will never go out of style. With platforms like Instagram dominating, now is a fantastic time to build that connection with potential fans. Ideally your story is your album’s story. Presenting your music to an audience is as much an art as creating the music itself. Social Media platforms can be fantastic creative spaces if your artist mind is open to use them as such; they can be extensions of your release. I’m definitely a super-cynical dude as it relates to data rights, algorithms and all the other bullshit, but at heart I’m an artist looking for a space to create.
As it relates to the album itself as a product, it helps to know what platform your music fits best on and what platform your fans want from you. I released AIGTAon vinyl because it made sense for the sound and experience of the record, both for myself and my fanbase. I tried to integrate the album experience into my story so that every Instagram post and press interview was tied directly to the project.
Can you talk about the fest you’ll be performing at on September 21 at Top Cat’s?
I came up in the Top Cats era. I can’t overstate the importance of the people, specifically those who passed away, and memories that came from that venue and our scene. I was in Ohio for the grand re-opening last year and got to perform on opening night with The Animal Crackers, Dibbs and many more from the OG scene. The night was a picture perfect presentation of our old scene retrofitted for the present day. Bobby and Vikki would be proud.
With that said, I’d dug the idea and presentation of Overcast when it debuted. When I found they were booking at Top Cats this year, I was all for it. I’m a huge fan of the current Cincinnati hip-hop scene; my favorite generation since our Top Cats/Scribble Jam era (I’m probably biased to my own era). I’m excited to be apart of a festival with names I’ve only been able to view or listen to from afar out here in San Diego. Cincinnati will always be my heart and beyond any other music scene, I’ll always care about my place, contribution and legacy in Cincinnati more than anywhere else. As someone who started rocking shows almost 20 years ago, I’m excited to have even made it this long as to be a relevant name on a Cincinnati Festival in 2019.
Is there anything else you want to add or mention?
This past July we ran a really fun campaign for me and Keenan Parry’s “Idiot’s Guide to Anarchy”short animated film, specifically via my Instagram (@illpoetic513) and our label Instagram (@definition_music_llc). We’ve been having fun turning our project roll-outs into part of the art. We’re currently in the midst of another fun roll-out for my guy HuntorPrey’s new album “HyDef” (@huntorprey) so I’d advise following us all if interested. I handled the bulk of production on that album and it’s one of the greatest projects I’ve ever been apart of.
I still have a ton of music in the pipeline, you can find me on your favorite streaming platform via this link. Anyone interested in services can view my portfolio at SoundRzn.com or catch up with me via my main site www.illpoetic.com. Lastly, if in San Diego, swing out to Beat Box Records in Barrio Logan, of which I’m usually there a couple days a week helping to run the shop with my guy DJ Inform.
Thanks Cincinnati for the constant support and inspiration. Looking forward to seeing everyone this September.
Sincere thanks to Ill Poetic for taking the time to chat. Catch him in Cincinnati next month, and all over the internet, at all times, everywhere.