There are only a few hours out of any given day when I’m not listening to music and while I think my personal playlists are pretty legit, I’m always open to checking out something or someone new.
On Mondays, it’s all about Spotify’s ‘Discover Weekly‘ channel, a curated playlist based on music you’re already listening to, and on Fridays I might tune into Beats1 radio on Apple Music to hear a themed-mix show or the latest album release from artists like Drake and Future. For every day in-between, I’ve found myself increasingly turning to a lesser known music source: ArtisticManifesto.com.
The six year old music discovery site was created by Michell C. Clark, initially as a creative outlet to share music that he found and liked online with his immediate network while in military school. Over time, it grew and evolved into a much more focused and credible source for finding the best music from both independent and well known hip hop artists.
I recently caught up with Michell to learn more about Artistic Manifesto’s humble beginnings, how he balances the site with a full-time job in a completely different industry and what he’s learned along the way.
Hashtags+Stilettos (H+S): You started Artistic Manifesto in 2009 with the goal of finding, uplifting and exposing the best music on the planet to selective hip hop lovers. In the 6 years since you started the site, do you feel like you’ve accomplished that goal?
Michell C. Clark (MCC): I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job so far, but it’s on going and I can always do more. I can dig deeper in finding new music and being able to make it spread. Once you start to dig, it’s like the tip of the iceberg for real, but I look forward to being able to devote more time to exploring more music from all over the world. I definitely want to break into the global scene to be able reach a bigger audience.
H+S: How is Artistic Manifesto different today versus when you launched in 2009?
MCC: Wow. It’s different in every possible way. When I started the website it was cool for what it was. I went to a military school and was looking for a creative outlet. I found a blogger template in like 5 minutes but there was no real direction to it. Over time I’ve managed to observe and figure certain things out in terms of presentation, marketing, etc.
H+S: You have a full-time job in a completely different industry and yet you (and your team) still manage to keep the site updated with fresh content throughout the day. How do you balance your day between the two?
MCC: The crazy thing is is that there is no one set way that I accomplish it because I work in two different fields where you can’t predict what’s going to happen throughout the day. I could have an event that I need to work or Kanye can drop his album and there’s really no way to predict any of it so I have multiple ways that I can keep track of what’s happening in both areas.
Lots of google calendar scheduling, I get text notifications when big artists drop something. Plus, I have a team so someone is going to see it and will be able to post it.
H+S: What’s been the biggest challenge or obstacle to running the site?
MCC: Everything that I’ve done for Artistic Manifesto, writing, branding and marketing, has been self-taught up until a few months back. Now I have a strategy team with people who work for different marketing teams and brands. So the hardest thing has been gradual improvement and sharpening my skills over time.
H+S: Biggest lesson?
MCC: That I’m never going to know everything. I do the best that I can with the knowledge and tools that I have. And when you get folks who are more aware of the best ways and practices to accomplish certain things, don’t be afraid to step aside and let them handle it so you can move forward.
H+S: Biggest reward?
MCC: When you do the things you love you meet people who are into what you’re into. People who will push you and people who you enjoy being around. One of the best things has been to see someone who is blogging for the first time end up flourishing and become an amazing writer or consistent blogger.
H+S: How does it feel to know that both independent and major label music artists are paying attention to Artistic Manifesto?
MCC: Crazy. It feels absolutely insane some days. The realest moment for me was when I got to interview Phife Dawg, who is one of my favorite artists, so being able to speak to him was a big deal and definitely inspired me.
H+S: I saw a stat this week that said that 5.6 million new blogs were created on Tumblr in January 2016. What advice would you give to anyone who may be thinking about launching a music-based business or website tomorrow?
MCC: If you’re going to launch a blog do it first and foremost because you love it, because it’s going to take hella hours and effort, adjustments and struggle and you may not get the attention you want right away. So definitely make sure it’s what you love and that you’re clear on what your purpose is. Don’t just start a blog because you want to start a blog. Be able to tell someone why that purpose makes your website or brand distinct.
Also, don’t beat yourself up if progress is slow, because a lot of people are taking shortcuts and half the people who we think are doing good are just blowing smoke.
H+S: How do you prefer to be pitched and receive new music for review? Are you open to people tweeting their music at you?
MCC:I prefer not to [to have music tweeted to me] or texted (yes, this happens), because it’s not time efficient in terms of actually being able to really help someone. Email is still the best route, but our internal focus is on building the writing team and making them more independent and also being able to find and discover music on my own. The music that usually gets pitched is from people who can afford exposure or PR and it doesn’t always mean that that’s the best music that’s out there. So, I try to find other ways [outside of traditional pitches] to keep up with what I think is the best sound.
H+S: Aside from the straight music announcements, what types of stories or content do you and your team generally look for or are open to receiving?
MCC: We currently have opinion pieces, playlists like ‘The Highlight Reel,’ album reviews, DJ and producer mixes and interviews. We are looking to expand our ability to do more things in the future with a lot of it being getting our writers to talk more about their musical passions, discovering and sharing more music from outside of the United States and more.
H+S: Where do you go or turn for inspiration?
MCC: Typically I think of where I was a year or two ago and all of the opportunities that I’ve been blessed with and how I’ve been able to progress individually. I try to avoid the highlight reel of looking at other people’s success stories and just get re-centered.
I also read the ‘The Science of Getting Rich‘ by Wallace D. Wattles because it talks about having a focus on creation over competition. Creating the brand, audience and the tangible things you want to see versus trying to compete with others.
H+S: What’s the best piece of business or life advice that you’ve received?
MCC: My father’s email signature says “Make it a great day” and that’s what I go by.
You might have a bad morning, you might wake up late or eat a bad breakfast, but do not let that define your day because you can always turn it around and keep moving and focus on that next step. Be proactive and optimistic whether you’re feeling your best or not.
H+S: What’s one major goal you haven’t accomplished yet?
MCC: I feel like I’ve been blessed to have a great team of people working on AM, but I can’t pay them a full-time salary yet. The fact that people have brought into my vision really means the world to me and it affirms that what I’m doing matters, but I want to be able to employ the people who have been working with me on this project and give them that full time job or platform so they can get paid to do what they love so we can keep building.
Rapid Fire Round:
Favorite artist? Kendrick Lamar.
Last 3 artists you listened to on repeat? Outkast, Stevie and Erykah Badu.
Dream interview? Jay Z.
Favorite book or one you’re currently reading? Unlabel Me by Marc Ecko because I’m able to apply a lot of the lessons to how he started his brand(s) to what I’m trying to do with ArtisticManifesto.com.
Thing you’re most proud of? Going through tough times and still coming out on top.
Top 3 mobile apps? Twitter, Slack and Waze.
How many unread emails do you have in your inbox right now? Over 5,000.
Fun fact about you? I’m goofy as hell. Besides that, I went to military academy for 4 years but didn’t graduate. If I hadn’t gotten thrown out I probably would’ve quit ArtisticManifesto.com back in 2012 and joined the army.