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Barry “Hefner” Johnson’s Guide to Digital Marketing

If you love JID and EARTHGANG, you love Barry “Hefner” Johnson’s work. Co-Founder and President of Since the 80s, a record label and artist management firm responsible for the development of some of the most beloved and artistically defined acts in hip-hop and R&B, Johnson turned his passion for music into a fruitful business. From breaking acts to helping artists stay the course and have lasting careers, Barry Johnson knows a thing or two about marketing and working all the tools at an artist’s disposal to build life-long connections with fans.

With Johnson, everything comes back to purpose. “You gotta understand the process and what you’re doing it for,” he says. “If you’re doing it to stroke your ego, the industry and fame give you a long rope to hang yourself with. I know my purpose and never lose sight of that. But everybody’s not the same, so I’m not judging nobody’s process or what they doing it for. You continue on the path that’s going to fulfill you.”

Anyone can be a “moment” artist, but to become a star, you must keep your head down and never lose sight of your vision and your art. “The industry has hidden the process of what it is to be a star,” Johnson concludes. “We look at everything in such short intervals. It is a process that is forgotten because we are so glued to our devices. We are doing more watching than actual doing.”

Below, Barry Johnson breaks down his nine keys to digital marketing, all rooted in purpose and vision.

Find your purpose. “What’s your purpose? Anything you’re trying to be great at, you have to apply the rules of discipline. Growing trees is the same process: you have to water the seeds, have to have sunlight and food to grow. It’s the same thing as a career. You have to give it the proper attention needed.”

Kill your ego. “The ego part of this shit is a huge component to why a lot of people don’t get to where they need to [in their career]. Social media makes you feel like you’re lame by doing the complete opposite of what you really need to be doing. We’re in a time in life where the perception of reality is greater than reality.”

Use failure as fuel. “I remind [artists] that working at the grocery store is right around the corner. That’s how I get people excited. You either want this, or you don’t.”

Cut through the noise. “The music business has gone through so many different phases, and we’re in the noisiest phase of them all. We’re in an information overload. Now, the reason you see a lot of people focusing on social media is because they don’t know where to be heard. Everyone’s searching to be heard.”

Stick to your path. “It’s hard for artists to know what’s real and what they really need to do because there is no plan. A lot of these kids can’t stick to a plan because they’re too busy watching what somebody else is doing. That takes them away from their plan. We know everybody’s journey is not the same—what works for you is not the same as for someone else.”

Use social media to your advantage. “Reality stars get built! You can take your persona and make yourself a character that people follow. I think 6ix9ine did a good job of that—that takes a lot of charisma, but with that particular person, he was so willing to do whatever for the attention. He was willing to risk his life. It’s becoming more and more extreme, to get people’s attention.”

Think beyond a single viral moment. “The internet buries talent. If you can’t find your way to the top of the streaming crowd, you may never get discovered. Artists are being built all the time on the internet, but very few superstars. That’s the difference. You can have a moment. We’re going into a place where everybody’s going to have 15 minutes of fame—more like two or three minutes of fame. There’s a lot of “moment” artists, but not a lot of superstars. Capsule artists, here today and gone tomorrow.”  

Be a career artist. “[Our artists] have been taught to follow the process and stay on path. When you start losing sight of your vision and purpose—purpose is very important to me—you lose sight of your journey. It’s disrespectful to your dream [to lose sight of your journey]. There’s no artist I’ve seen that got to the next level that didn’t put in the time, and it took years. It was a bunch of moments that made them stars.”

The art will do the work, but you have to work, too. “Too many artists think people are supposed to gravitate to them. Nah! What are you selling? Not everybody’s gon’ like you. You will never get everybody on the same page. True art, it will do the work if you do the work for it.”

Photo by Neri.