As a musician or even someone interested in the music industry, you may have been curious about Lil Nas X and his recent success in the industry.
Some of you may think of him as a 'One Hit Wonder' yet 'Old Town Road' has broken many records while remaining on a small budget. His story is quite unlike what I see from a lot of artists nowadays, Montero spent months pushing 'Old Town Road' specifically. I see too many artists focusing on their best track for just a few weeks to a month and moving on.
First, here is some general information around Lil Nas X.
Where did his name come from?
Lil: Commonly used in Rap "And I kind of got stuck with it"
Nas: Internet Alias, here he talks about using 'Nas' in his name.
X: Added when he got serious, x = 10. Where he wants to be in 10 years. Even beyond music "something that I can't even imagine right now."
'Old Town Road' was initially released independently on December 3, 2018. After purchasing the instrumental from YoungKio.
Here is a brief timeline of events:
- Dec 2nd: Viral Tweet about Country Music evolving Ft. teaser.
- Dec 3rd: A 1:53min version of Old Town Road is independently released.
- Dec 16th: Promo Tweet for worldwide release.
- Dec 17th: Old Town Road available everywhere.
- Dec 19th: The release is featured in the top 50 Country on Soundcloud.
- Dec 23rd: Viral Tweet featuring Old Town Road.
- Dec 31st: Lil Nas X featured on 'Bleacher Report' by using this tweet.
- Jan 8th: 'Old Town Road' reaches 1 Million Overall plays.
- March: Old Town Road enters the Billboard Charts.
- March 22nd: Lil Nas X signs with Columbia Records.
- March 24th: Justin Bieber mentioned Old Town Road on Instagram.
- March 26th: Old Town Road is taken out of the Billboard Charts.
- April 13th: Hits #1 on billboard 100.
- April 29th: First performance with Billy Ray Cyrus.
- April 22nd: When the interview we discuss took place.
- August 16th: Writing day of this article, still #1 on Billboard.
Below are some of the posts mentioned above. You can find a lot more at the end of this article.
How you asked?
What did Lil Nas X do to make this record the longest-running #1 (19 weeks thus far) on Billboard? He recently had a 43 min appearance on the Zach Sang Show, which will make it helpful to break down everything coming from him directly.
Some may be thinking it is luck, however, in many ways the hard work he was putting in is what brought this luck to him.
I am not writing this to put words in his mouth, but simply to help you get some information and somewhat actionable advice. We know that listening to a podcast is not always the best way to retain information.
Where the release came from:
It started with a beat produced by YoungKio, which Lil Nas X purchased from his store on BeatStars for somewhere around $40 - $50. At the time, Montero was already making music for a few months. He knew he was not going to go back to school, but for it to work with his parents he took the year off. 12 Months ago, he said he would have not seen himself doing music. He moved in with his sister while promoting himself on the internet until she got fed up. As he did not want to go back to his parents house, this is when he started to think about the lyrics. He said, "the horse would be the little things you have, and the old town road would be the path to success". "The song is a manifestation of itself, that's the most insane part".
Now that you have a little bit of a background, let's try to break it down:
Click on the titles, or hyperlinks listed below to watch that part of the interview.
Understand the internet trends and join the ride.
"I kind of grew up off the internet," said Montero he later added 'That definitely gave me an advantage". As he started as a meme page he said: "To do that, you have to know what's going on in the world".
As an example, here is a Reddit post created by him. It asks 'What’s the name of the song that goes “take my horse to the old town road” this was to help people find the song when searching for it.
2nd example: Red Dead Redemption had just come out and it was an inspiration for the music video.
3rd example: He was pushing the song through memes, 'I started as a meme page' and people started making TikTok's which is when things really started taking off. It all happened organically at first, followed by a challenge. A catchphrase from the meme's turned out to be a big help.
Don't put yourself in a box.
"My newer music, it sounds nothing like my older music. At all."
One song before Old Town Road is when he decided to stop caring so much about being genre-specific and putting himself in a box. "I consider myself a Rapper, a country singer, you know, an artist overall. I am not just a rapper, basically." As you can tell, he does not want to be labeled as a Rapper only.
"I listen to so many different kinds of music and artists, I have influence coming from all over the place."
You should be open to listening to other genres, it will always benefit you in the long term.
The Creative Process.
"If I don't love it, it's not coming out, ever."
He is now making his releases from scratch instead, and he doesn't want to force songs if he is not feeling it. While before, he would have been open to it.
Bad press, is not always bad press.
"Thank you for helping me get even more support."
It is quite obvious that Old Town Road being taken down from the charts was actually a big help in the end. A lot of people had not heard of it until then. This brought him countless new listeners.
Keep creative control.
If you ever have the chance of finally getting some success (at this point he signed with Columbia), this would probably be one of the biggest recommendations from artists who have gone through this. Make sure you keep as much creative control as possible while remaining reasonable. Remember that you got here without them and you do bring something valuable to the table. However, he still re-negotiated the terms for the instrumental with YoungKio when it was not required.
Trust your gut.
"I know this is gonna work, I am going to make it work."
Some of his fans were not exactly taking him seriously anymore. However, Montero trusted his gut and you should too.
Trust your ear.
"You ruin this, you just ruined everything."
There is an advantage with making music for some time and paying attention to the industry, you will eventually build an ear for it. A bit like someone starting companies and knowing when it is working. When you know, you know. It feels different, and in this case, it just sounds right. If you ever have the chance to get to this, now may be the time to go all in. This doesn't mean 'quit your job', but to fully focus on this release for some time instead of dozens of projects.
Embrace the pressure and stress.
"Once I get rid of something that's so important to me, you are on your own. You have to run and you have to run fast before you fall behind."
At the time, he was sleeping in his sisters' couch/floor. This is quite common when you are at what you consider an all-time low you have nowhere else to go but up. It tends to drive you and make you work harder than you ever have. He had also dropped out of school, so he was really able to focus on his goal with few distractions.
Money is not always what you are missing.
If you are thinking to yourself you could make a hit but you need someone like Dr. Dre to make an instrumental for you, you are wrong. The 'Old Town Road' instrumental was purchased for $40-$50. It is now the longest-running #1 on Billboard. If this doesn't prove it to you, I am not sure what will. The same applies to your equipment, when Skrillex's album first blew up he definitely didn't have a fancy studio.
Don't be afraid to milk it if your time comes.
"I am definitely going to milk the f*** out of old town road, the video is not even out yet." and of course it has already been quite a few months that Montero has been pushing this track. I am confident we will still be hearing it next summer. Something artist's don't seem to realize is when making music you should aim for the long term. Your releases are not old until 'everyone' has heard it. If your song was released 6 months ago, but someone hears it for the first time now it doesn't make it 'an old or outdated record'. If it's a banger, now may be the time to focus on this release.
Be proud of yourself.
"I am extremely proud of me, I tell myself this every morning."
Enough said here. You should be proud of yourself.
Make your first appearances memorable.
If you happen to have a quick rise to success and have not really performed a live event yet, try to find ways to make it a unique experience. Countless artists do this even between new albums. Madeon is a very good example, or Porter Robinson doing his first show at Ultra Music Festival. The list goes on.
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Links, Statistics & Additional Digging.
Future interviewers, you are welcome. Part of the info below is not 100% verified.
- 'Lil Nas X' on Google in December 2018.
- Original Soundcloud Upload.
- Promo Tweet: Official worldwide release the next day.
- Reddit Post #1 (Likely Lil Nas X).
- Reddit Post #2 (Likely Lil Nas X).
- Lil Nas X - No Love (IG Post - Nov 11th, 2018).
- Lil Nas X - Sonic Sh!t (IG Post - Aug 15th, 2018).
- Lil Nas X - Old Town Road (IG Video - Dec 12nd).
- Old Town Road Release date (IG Post - Dec 17th).
- Instagram Post Dec. 4th (Teaser style).
- Youtube Video from Bleach Report IG Post (Likely Lil Nas X).
- Youtube Channel with Meme versions (Likely Lil Nas X).
- Lil Nas X - Doing You (With Video - Unconfirmed).
- His 2nd Twitter Account.
- Most likely one of his fake Twitter accounts.
- Social Blade Twitter stats.
- Social Blade Instagram stats.
- @NasMaraj on Twitter (10k followers, Feb, 21 2017 - Web Archives).
- @NasMaraj on Twitter (148k followers, Oct, 2017 - Web Archives).
- @NasMaraj on Twitter (Suspended, May, 2019 - Web Archives).
- @LilNasX on Twitter (50.7k followers, Jan 15th, 2019 - Web Archives).
- @LilNasX on Instagram (656k Followers, April 10th, 2019 - Web Archives).
- @LilNasX on Instagram (1M Followers, April 21st, 2019 - Web Archives).
- Lil Nas X on Linktr.ee (March 28th, 2019 - Web Archives).
- Old Town Road (Official Movie) (14M Views, #1 Trending May 17 2019).
- The first version of LilNasX.com (Web Archives).
On a quick final note, you can tell a lot more people were searching for lyrics instead of his name. Indexing the song the way he did (Reddit, Youtube, etc.), made it easy for everyone to find it. I am quite sure these people were very likely to share it as well, and not a lot of people would have spent an hour digging for it around the net.
Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you found some useful information. I apologize if the grammar was not up to your standards, I am far from a good writer.
If you found the above article interesting, you may like the following as well:
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