A couple of weeks ago, a Coventry, U.K.-based rapper connected with me on LinkedIn. In his bio, Skatta (aka 23-year-old Nathan Hunter) describes himself as a “Grime Artist” and has been “endorsed” by other LinkedIn members for his skills in music production and entertainment. His work experience details his time as a manager, before becoming a full-time rapper working on an upcoming album. Skatta has profiles on all the major social media networks and even a Spotify page, but he tells me he invests most of his efforts into LinkedIn. “It’s helped me understand how important reaching out to the music industry is,” he explains.
When you think of the online hip-hop scene in 2018, Soundcloud is probably the first thing that comes to mind. The audio streaming platform, now 175 million users strong, is the go-to destination for any up-and-coming rapper who hasn’t amassed the clout to pass Spotify’s criteria. Post Malone, Juice Wrld, Lil Xan and Lil Uzi Vert all cite Soundcloud as the place that propelled them into the mainstream. Complex even has verticals dedicated to the who’s who of Soundcloud rap, while on Twitter, “plugging my soundcloud” is a popular meme, referencing wannabe rappers who link out to their mixtapes whenever their tweets go viral.
But with popularity also comes oversaturation. The hip hop and rap category on Soundcloud is filled with hundreds of unsigned rappers who music journalist Issac Munoz thinks are “more interested in their branding and online aesthetic, than the music they’re making.” That certainly was Skatta’s experience. On Soundcloud, Twitter and Instagram, he wasn’t receiving much attention outside his circle of friends, finding it difficult to distinguish himself from the “tens, or hundreds” of new rappers who would pop up there every week.
Now, most social media natives will tell you that LinkedIn sucks — for numerous reasons:
- It might have more than 500 million profiles, but only a quarter of those users actively use the platform.
- It’s boring, with feeds that largely consist of ads for jobs you don’t want, or earnest business people writing blogs about mundane industry trends.
- It’s clunky, hard to use and just plain weird, straddling the line between e-commerce and social media. As The Guardian’s Elle Hunt puts it, “LinkedIn feels like a bizarro Facebook, where instead of births and engagements people publicize their ‘micro actions’ and ‘thought leadership.’”
- It’s audience is old. The most recent data from LinkedIn suggests that 18 to 34 year olds only make up 15 percent of its total users, compared to 27 percent of 30 to 45 year olds and 24 percent of 50 to 64 year olds. Compare that to Soundcloud, where 38 percent of users are between 18 and 35, and 12 percent are below the age of 18.
All of which is to say, LinkedIn isn’t seemingly a natural home for the next generation of hip-hop stars. Still, for Skatta at least, the appeal of LinkedIn is on the commercial side of things — it allows him to approach producers, event managers and music executives in a direct way, without the need to be “discovered,” or as is now more often the case, having one of his tracks go viral. “In some ways, it’s similar to Twitter, because you’re still sharing your music, but to business professionals,” he explains. “Professionals are looking for content, and content makers are looking for professionals to help them get their work out there. The advantage LinkedIn has over Facebook is that while fans on Facebook might like your work, that’s all they’ll do. With LinkedIn, the people who like your work can give you connections to music venues and studios.”
Through LinkedIn, Skatta says he’s been able to promote his EP, called “Flavourz,” to record labels and agents, get on radio stations, play regional festivals and finance his first music video. More importantly, it was through his LinkedIn connections that he was able to sign with the music licensing agency I’m Not a Machine.
“Music is a business, so it doesn’t make sense not to promote your music in places which are designed for that,” agrees William James Ray III, a musician from Centreville, Illinois, who goes by Lil Will. “Through LinkedIn, I’ve been able to connect and build my brand to people all over the world.” Lil Will started putting out music in 2016 with his self-published album, The World Is Mines, and last year, he formed his own record label, Dream Team Empire. He tells me that there isn’t much point investing all your resources into mainstream social networks — particularly Soundcloud — where “as a musician it’s easy to be forgotten instantly.” On the flip side, he proudly lists more than 100 people in his network who have endorsed him on LinkedIn for “music.”
Similarly, with LinkedIn, he’s been able to take courses in singing and songwriting, as well as in e-commerce, which he’s used to promote his websiteand find manufacturers to make merchandise. And while Lil Will isn’t sure how much of his fanbase comes from LinkedIn, he does believe that it’s been instrumental in how he promotes himself. “I used LinkedIn to start a mailing list that keeps people updated with music, touring, merch and everything else I’m doing. It’s definitely helped to spread the word.”
Admittedly, it’s probably unlikely that LinkedIn will ever be responsible for the kind of mumble-rap revivalism of Soundcloud, or the ability to showcase new talent the way Myspace did. But for most of the rappers I spoke to, that wasn’t necessarily the point. “[LinkedIn is unique in that] it’s the most authentic social media platform. You know that when you put out your music, you’ll get honest feedback,” says Kent-based MC Rowl-E (he didn’t want to publish his real name). He adds that because of the platform’s formal nature, “as a musician, you’ll be taken more seriously, and the connections you make with people are going to be more genuine than on Facebook, YouTube or Soundcloud.” Also, for older rappers like the thirtysomething Rowl-E, LinkedIn provides a social network of more mature hip-hop fans.
That said, Rowl-E reminds me that LinkedIn isn’t perfect. “There’s some fishing that goes on there,” he says. “People can see your connections, so they speculate who you’re talking to and what opportunities you’re getting. It can be competitive, too, meaning people can give out false impressions of how well they are doing.”
But more than anything else, he considers this the price of doing business there. In fact, his next album, which he hopes to release early next year, is inextricably linked to the professional network — i.e., it features artists he’s met exclusively through LinkedIn.