2020 has been a tough year for independent artists. With no touring in sight – save for a few one-off virtual performances – underground bands and solo acts have had to be creative in finding new sources of revenue and staying relevant to their fans. For Cincinnati rapper/producer Kelby Savage, this has meant focusing instead on the business side of his artistry, like designing a brand new website, writing press releases and creating an electronic press kit (EPK).
“Since we didn’t have any, like, traditional live shows lined up, it allowed me to take more time to do all the other back-end stuff,” Savage tells me on a quiet afternoon at Dive Bar. “I guess my goal at the end of the day is to kind of formulate a team, but until I can get that team, I’ve got to do everything myself.”
Since independent artists often have to juggle many of the music industry roles supporting their art – publicist included – Savage’s strides in bolstering his digital footprint (as well as that of his band, IN2ITIV3) is an effective way to push his career forward without touring. It’s also important, Savage says, in keeping his business self-sufficient.
Although the independent path is challenging, Savage says, “I’m not worried about somebody who’s got my masters.” Self-ownership was a big talking point of Nipsey Hussle’s and recently came back into the mainstream discussion during Kanye West’s latest tweet-storm.
“I was surprised to hear about these bigger artists, that are legendary, that are mad about their masters,” Savage reflects on ‘Ye. “That kind of makes me glad that I ain’t blown up yet, ’cause a lot of these artists that are huge – like Trippie Redd and stuff – they all signed to labels that got their masters. I’m trying to figure out how I can get my shit going viral like them, but I ain’t signing to no labels.”
“Russ is a prime example,” he continues. “I’ve been studying people like him on how to do that. I always wanted to be that artist to take the long road. I’ve taken this time to learn how to do all the other stuff, like the videos, designing my own album covers and being self-sufficient.”
Along with building an impressive press portfolio and getting serious about self-ownership, K. Savage is also using quarantine to strengthen his and IN2ITIV3’s video catalogue. The artist just recently unveiled his “Danny DeVITO” video and plans to continue releasing his vault of self-produced singles with accompanying visuals.
“I have enough music to release [a project], but I don’t really wanna do that right now, with the way things are looking,” he explains. “Since I can’t perform these projects live, I think it’s just a singles climate for now.”
As for IN2ITIV3, Savage revealed that the genre-fluid band is gearing up to release their live EP, which will feature live recordings of new material and one track from their self-titled debut project. The EP, due this fall, was recorded at Urban Artifact. The “punkadelic” rock band recently premiered their music video for “Moon,” a loosie they dropped this summer.
Besides one live-streamed performance earlier this year, the band also performed at a Black Lives Matter rally in Milford, Ohio.
“I kinda grew up there and spent a lot of time in Milford, so I’ve experienced – just from being a minority out there – a lot of racial tension,” Savage says of the experience. “So, coming back and doing a whole rally and speaking my side of things out there, that made things come full circle for me.”
Savage also attended another protest organized by Patterns of Chaos alum Jay Hill in Cincinnati this June.
“I shot a lot of video at that one, masked up. It was my first protest experience and I didn’t know what to expect,” he remembers. “I was already hearing about people getting pepper-sprayed and stuff.”
“And I didn’t even have like a traditional mask; I had a t-shirt, Taliban-looking thing on,” he adds with a laugh.
Unfortunately, between the emotional weight of continued racial injustices and not being able to perform music with his friends, Savage says the past few months have taken a toll on his mental health – a sobering reality for many people this year.
“Being locked-down, this shit has had a really big impact on everybody’s morale right now,” he confesses. “I went through like a depression episode. I was still making music, despite how bad I felt. It became a positive way to channel those feelings.”
Although Savage, and other independent artists like him, continue to grapple with the uncertain future of touring, he’s making the most out of this time by working on his web presence, expanding his already multi-faceted skillset and recording live sessions.