Being a rapper or singer in the pre-internet age involved being acquainted with a real life record producer to engineer your sound and realize your vision. Today, this is no longer the case.
In 2016 the beat for Desiigner’s “Panda” was found on YouTube, purchased for $200 and quickly climbed the top of the charts. Previously, buying beats online was seen as a cheap alternative to studio time, causing artists not to be taken seriously. But when a YouTube beat became the foundation for the No. 1 song in North America everything changed. Fast-forward to 2019, where artists and producers know that licensing instrumental beats, vocal hooks, and sample packs online is a great way to connect with other creatives without geographical limitations.
One of the most interesting examples of online collaboration is the production process behind Old Town Road by Lil Nas X. The song is a bizarre patchwork Frankenstein. First of all, the beat from YoungKio, a teenage producer from the Netherlands, was purchased for $29.95 on music licensing site BeatStars. Although it’s counterintuitive that YoungKio only made enough money from this hit song to buy about four Starbucks lattes, he became a certified No. 1, multi-platinum Billboard Producer overnight. He now makes his entire living selling beats online, which is any young producer’s dream come true.
The guitar track of Old Town Road has an even weirder history. In 2008, Nine Inch Nails released their first independent record following their split from Interscope Records, titled Ghosts I-IV. It is ambient and instrumental, and described by front man Trent Renzor as “a soundtrack for daydreams”. Although it was initially intended to be a five-track EP, it grew into four nine-track EPs, totalling thirty-six tracks. They were released under a Creative Commons license; meaning anyone could use them for a grand total of $0. The famous intro to Old Town Road comes from Ghosts IV – 34, one of the final songs on the fourth EP. The craziest part is that this is the first time a Nine Inch Nails track has reached #1.
This is an excellent example of the kind of incredible genre blending that happens when artists, license music online. There is no way Nine Inch Nails, YoungKio, and Lil Nas X would have found each other without it. It’s ludicrous, that somehow rock band + laptop producer + comedy rapper = an amazing country song, but it worked and would never had been possible 20 years ago.
Although many producers have found an audience online, it is now a very competitive and oversaturated marketplace. Most musicians struggle to make a living on and offline. However, there is no way Nine Inch Nails could have predicted their work would lay the foundation of a Billboard chart-topper 11 years after they recorded it. So if you’re an artist, keep producing and keep posting! You never know where it could go, and if you never try, you’ll never know.
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