SXSW is where the music industry year starts, full of big announcements from tech companies unveiling new gadgets, streaming services offering new features, and of course record labels and their artists setting the tone for their new releases and asserting their position in the game.
On night three of SXSW Music, in an attempt at the latter, Mike Will Made-It rocked ACL Live at Moody Theatre in Austin, TX with a showcase aimed at putting the spotlight on his Ear Drummers Records lineup and unveiling a marketing campaign called “Year of the Ear.”
Sound corny? Given that Disneyland had a campaign in 2012 of the same name, it probably should. However, Mike Will Made-It has never been one to duck away from making corny marketing techniques work in his favor.
He was the creative force behind Mylie Cyrus’ exploitation of hip hop culture in her double platinum selling Bangerz. He brought the laughably childish Rae Sremmurd – who he named after his record label (Rae Sremmurd is Ear Drummers spelled backward) -- to the top of the charts in 2015, and has kept them there for the past three years, developing them into a credible act in the realm of club friendly rap music.
He’s leaning the full weight of his hit making abilities into his lineup with solo releases from Swae Lee and Slim Jxmmy, as well as his emerging signees Lil Rico, Shotta Spence, Eearz, and Trouble, all scheduled for 2018 releases.
Friday night’s event put Mike’s grand scheme in front of a crowd of almost 3,000 potential customers and the reception was great. What Mike Will has provided with the power of his brand is an opportunity for his new artists to rock a crowd of people unfamiliar with them individually, but have heard their singles somewhere along the line via recommended search engines on YouTube, Pandora, etc while listening to his more well-known artists.
Showmanship was front and center however, especially with Eearz and Shotta Spence. Both are lesser known rappers with a more underground sound than the rest of Ear Drummers’ roster, and they utilized the tried and true trick of getting in the crowd with the people to get them hyped and keep them engaged. Shotta Spence even threw a stack of dollar bills into the crowd, which surprisingly didn’t turn into a riot.
If Mike Will can consistently make a hit is not up for debate, but what time will tell is whether the memory of flying dollar bills and mosh pits will make “The Year of the Ear” as epic as its showcase did. He’s casting a large net hoping to reel in loyal fans based on Rae Sremmurd’s success. This strategy is as old as Def Jam, and honestly disappointing to see in 2018, but if anyone can use kitsch to turn a profit in modern hip hop it’s Mike Will Made-It, so it’s a story worth keeping track of.