Tag Archives: independent

Interview: Xolisa Talks Debut Full Length, Indie Hip Hop & More

Toronto-based MC Xolisa (pronounced “koh-lee-sah”) just dropped her debut full length album, And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges, and is getting ready to hit her first international tour.

With an inherent ability to spit cool, thoughtful lyrics over dusty boom gap production, Xolisa has used this release as a way of touching on personal, social and global topics such as race and oppression in a new way for her. With a flow like Bahamadia and a sound that truly pays a nod to the earlier days of hip hop, she’s garnering more listeners in her hometown and abroad. Xolisa was kind enough to answer some questions about navigating the Toronto scene, tapping into the masses, and the new album before she takes off for tour:

When did you first start writing songs? How long before you were performing?

Xolisa: I believe the very first song I wrote was when I was about 13 years old – it wasn’t a song per se with verses and hooks, but more so a poem or a free flow of thoughts. I was writing quite a bit of poetry at that age. At that time I had no conscious idea that I wanted to rap, much less produce – or that I would go on to do both as my full time career. At that time, I just knew that music was the end goal for me however, the question had always been, “Xolisa, how do you want to contribute to music? What is the legacy you want to leave in music history?”

Fast-forward to the age of 20 – I wrote what would become my very first single entitled, “Until Then”. About a year after that, which would bring us to 2011, I began to slowly approach the world of live performance. Being on stage was not a new concept for me at that time as I’ve found myself on several stages during my elementary, middle school and high school years for talent shows where I would sing and dance and later on, play the piano. However, the year of 2011 was my debut to preforming as an MC who produces her own tracks – a whole world within itself.

How has it been to navigate Toronto’s music scene as a female MC?

All in all – navigating Toronto’s music scene as a female who is an MC has been a beautiful experience. I say that with all of the highs, lows and in between moments considered. As an MC within Toronto, you’re navigating within a city that does not have a strong infrastructure for hip hop. Throw in the fact that it is a genre that is in itself predominately male based – it simply means that the hard work I pour into my music and business needs to go even further.

My reality however, is that I do not wake up thinking to myself, “Xolisa, you are a woman in a male based industry- work harder!” I just get up and do what I need to do in order to have a productive day and get a step closer to achieving my goals – the thought of my sex is just not something that is on my mind when I’m working.

Yes, I am aware of all the categories, roles and images that women in hip hop are expected to fall into and yes, I am quick to catch on to any B.S. that is thrown my way that indicates any sort of discrimination due to my sex; and I’m just as quick to cut it down, but the truth is none of that phases me. None of that is on my mind when I’m writing or composing music, when I’m rocking a stage, when I’m sending emails, fulfilling merch orders, etc. There is nothing that I can complain about or that I have encountered that has been enough to stop me from moving forward. I believe the fact that I am able to navigate without any major hurdles due to me being a woman is highly due to the paths that the women in hip hop before me, in and out of Toronto, have carved out – Michie Mee, MC Lyte, Lauryn Hill, Bahamadia, Queen Latifah and the list goes on.

I’ve been blessed to have my music very well received by individuals of all walks of life, of all levels within the industry who genuinely respect and believe in the music I create, whether they know me personally or not.

xolisa 2 tunecore blog

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as an indie hip hop artist over the past few years? What is some underrated advice you’ve received?

I’ve been able to learn lessons within my career that I will take with me for a lifetime, lessons that have come to help me grow within my career and within my personal life. One of those lessons have been learning how to open up and allow those who truly love, appreciate, believe and support me – help me. I’ve gone the first three years of my career without a team. I’ve had trusted individuals who have been and still are my go to’s for advice, feedback and to be sounding boards when I need an ear, however, this is the first year that I am working with a solid team of individuals who sacrifice much to help me build my career and reach my vision. For me it’s always been a matter of not trusting. I have not trusted that I could find another person, much less two other persons, who would believe in me enough to give as much energy as I do into my dreams. The reality is that I have always been surrounded by individuals who have believed in me and have always been ready to help, it’s just taken more belief in myself and more belief and trust in my loved ones to recognize that.

The advice I’ve received through that lesson is that as an independent artist, you truly have to learn to trust yourself and your internal compass, all the while learning how to trust others. It’s this ebb and flow of allowing yourself to be vulnerable enough to lean on another when in need, while still being able to have confidence in your own ability to make great decisions and choices.

What kind of an impact do you think access to streaming older and more ‘underground’ hip hop has had recently in terms of reaching younger, super active music listeners?

Considering that underground hip hop artists of the past and the present have the ability to easily get their music on major streaming outlets, I do believe that today’s access to streaming underground hip hop has been extremely impactful when coming to reaching a younger market. The transition from downloading music on outlets such as iTunes to streaming music on platforms such as Apple Music and Spotify has definitely increased and to add to that, there is no longer this obscure way of accessing older hip hop.

For underground and independent hip hop artists like myself, it’s just another plus. There are more and more tools being developed and made available (such as TuneCore) that allow independent/underground artists to be a part of these major online digital music outlets, without the muscle of a major label – allowing us to be a apart of that accessibility to a younger market who are turning to streaming to listen to the latest music of some of the most underground acts.

That being said, it is also up to those underground acts to choose to use these platforms to get their music in a place that can be accessed by a younger crowd through streaming because if the music is not there, how will that younger audience find it through those means? Companies are recognizing that more artists are going the independent route and creating these platforms that make DIY look professional, clean and full of quality so for me – as long as those platforms are available and accessible for underground hip hop artists, then there is a way for us to be accessed by the masses.

Your latest album speaks of transcendence and loss, among other things – what kind of personal and social topics are you exploring on And Gaps Do Lead to Bridges?

And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges is my open letter to humanity – touching on the surface of my thoughts, emotions, frustrations, amazements, inspirations, fears, hopes and confusions of human actions, motives, resilience, truths, goods and evils. I’ve always been one that has for some time, internalized my observations and feelings when it comes to racism, discrimination, oppression, loss, corrupt systems, government dealings and the politics that follow suit. I’m not entirely sure why I’ve been that way, but I felt it was time to use my outlet and my contribution to this world to speak on the many issues I’ve internalized for some time, the issues that are still as real, relevant and destructive as they were decades ago.

I can make music, I can tour, I can live my life and do whatever I want but at the end of the day, the fact remains that I am a young black woman who has to accept that there exists a very long history of people who look like her being treated in unfair and indescribable ways. At the end of the day, the fact remains that I am a part of a society that as a whole regardless of race, is working to overcome obstacles because we truly are all just one. Hip hop was intended to bring to the surface the topics that people were not speaking about openly. It was intended to bring the rawest of truths out in the open to be examined, discussed, changed and I believe I would be doing myself and my love for hip hop a disservice if I did not use my voice to do just the same and these are the raw truths that I feel comfortable expressing openly at this point of my life.

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Hip hop as a genre continues to be such an important platform for artists to align themselves with causes and movements. How do you hope to connect with your fans via lyrics?

With this album in particular, I’ve chosen to maintain my familiar style of songwriting and delivery which tends to be very honest, abstract, metaphoric,complex and contains layers and layers of meanings. However, while writing the songs of this album, I’ve also found it very important for me to be able to deliver direct, straightforward and concise messages to my audience. It was important for me to be able to get certain observations and emotions across in a more conversational tone, in a way that could be easily digested.

My hope is that listeners take their time with the lyrics of this album and that they really allow themselves to be guided by the words that I’ve weaved together, as there are many intricacies to the songs of this project, regardless of how simple or complex the delivery and song structure may be. There are lyrics in this album that are directed to people of colour, there are lyrics that are directed to black men and women specifically, there are lyrics directed to anyone who has ever chosen to oppress a person of colour or treat them unfairly whether in thought or in action, there are lyrics directed to our leaders, to followers. There are lyrics directed to myself, to my listeners and most importantly, there are lyrics that are directed to human kind period.

I’ve always been a huge fan of being able to read through the lyric booklets of albums, so in that same fashion I’ve provided the lyrics of this new album (as well as my past EP’s) to listeners through a dedicated lyric page on my website which allows listeners to stream through all of my songs while reading through the lyrics word for word at their own pace.

With a debut full length under your belt, what are your plans for marketing, engaging with fans and riding the momentum through 2016?

Creating And Gaps Do Lead To Bridges has allowed me to venture into many new areas within my songwriting, my production and the ways in which I use my voice.  I’ll be embarking on my very first tour, bringing this album to Melbourne (Australia), Toronto, Ottawa, Windsor, Montreal and New York.

The “Gaps To Bridges Tour” will be running from July to September and will serve as my major introduction to international markets. I’ve spent about four years now building and nurturing a listening base here in Toronto, and although I am nowhere finished with the investment into the Toronto market, I am ready to begin building and nurturing listening bases in international cities with the aim of seeing those roots continue to grow larger, grow stronger and spread.

Aside from the tour, I have some incredible music videos on the way for these songs that will allow listeners to receive yet another way of experiencing this album. I knew at a very early stage that both the sound and the visuals of this project were important factors and that hasn’t changed. I’m just looking forward to executing all of the visions and ideas I have for this project and allowing my listeners to continue to explore and delve deeper into these songs through the different opportunities I offer them to do just that.

TuneCore Artists Head Down to A3C Prepared!

It’s Day Two of A3C Festival 2015 and hip hop artists from all over have ascended to Atlanta to perform, shake hands, and, well, party! Before the festival kicked off, we reached out to some of our TuneCore MCs and producers to get a feel for how they’re planning on making the most of A3C this year, and grab their thoughts on what it means to be an in independent artist in 2015.

Per usual, our insightful community didn’t disappoint! Whether they’re veterans on the scene or they’ve head to Atlanta for the first time, take a look at what they had to say…

On making the most of A3C. . .

“I plan on going to as many conference panels as possible to network and get advice from industry veterans on how to improve what I’m currently doing and continue to improve my musical success.”

“Aside from the obvious answer of making connections and witnessing legends speak/perform, I find A3C and Atlanta in general, a huge inspiration for my song writing. The rich culture and southern lifestyle spark a different kind of creativity I wouldn’t normally experience at home in Canada.”
– Quake Matthews

“This is my first year at A3C, after doing SXSW four years in a row and having great success, I’m really excited to start the A3C chapter in my career. After the festival, I hope to gain the notice of music lovers that enjoy spreading the word on new artists as myself.”
Erreon Lee

“I plan on taking advantage of every opportunity to engage with the supporters of indie hip hop; performing as much as possible, building with people on a one-on-one level, etc. In terms of the “creative” side of things, I’m there to have fun and make sure I remain as visible as possible to those who I may want to engage with in the near future.”

“As an independent artist it’s key to be out and about networking. You don’t have a big team behind you, so you have to play street team sometimes down to the manager. We plan on killing shows and building with like minded artist with the same goals. A3C is the perfect opportunity to make more opportunities just have to apply yourself.”

As an independent artist I plan on making the most of my time at A3C this year by personally connecting with my current and potential fans. I already have a pretty nice fanbase in ATL, so I will be looking to expand on that. Other ways I will be making the most of my experience in A3C this year are by promoting with CDs, download cards and promotional flyers for the project I released this year through TuneCore. I will also have my personal artist/brand apparel on hand at every show and media event I attend. I’m scheduled to do tons of interviews and a few shows, so I plan to make the most of every opportunity. ”
Weasel Sims

“As an independent artist it’s hard getting your music heard and recognized. A3C gives upcoming independent artists a platform to be heard, so if I don’t connect with as many people and artists as possible I’d be wasting my time.”
Kidd Adamz

“In my eyes, the biggest thing that needs to happen during my time at A3C this year is  to go from a shy introverted artist to the very outgoing personable being that I am. The best way to do so is by meeting as many people as possible!”

On being an independent hip hop artist in 2015…

“Being an indie artist in 2015 has it’s ups and downs. As far as myself, I tend to try and look towards the positive, which is freedom. Sometimes the freedom to be you creatively makes a lot of difference – your sound, your look, and your perception always has a chance to be the next thing!”
Boxx A Million

“Being an [independent] hip hop artist, there are many obstacles and challenges – but it’s my job to continue to make interesting music and be as interactive with my fans as possible.”

“We’re the next wave of music. Of course labels will always be around, but everyday another indie artist is going viral without them. We’re the future.”
– Trev Rich

“As an independent artist in 2015 with the Internet at our fingertips, the power is in my hands. As much as I love the art, I understand that I’m a business. The more energy you invest into your business, the larger it can grow!”

“It means to be able to control your own future. Being able to ride the wave and keep up with the changes by releasing music whenever you choose to. It also means having a close relationship with your fans; they’re like your team.”
– Shawn Chrystopher

“Any thing is possible even without a label support if you work hard for it.”

“To have been signed to a boutique label before and to be independent and thriving at the same time is just a blessing from God. It’s an amazing opportunity and honor to be respected as an independent artist and it makes more sense business-wise for me at the moment; so the timing is perfect for me to succeed as a self-contained force. Shout out my team!”
– Super Spodee

Latest News From TuneCore Music Publishing

Greetings from Burbank! We’re popping in mid-month to give you the latest happenings from our Music Publishing Administration office – songwriter highlights, sync and creative, placements and news. Check out below what we’ve been up to, and if you haven’t looked into what TuneCore has to offer, read more about our Music Publishing Administration services!


Former Stars of Track and Field front man, Kevin Calaba, formed AirLands in 2014. Calaba collaborated with producer airlandsTony Lash (Elliot Smith, The Dandy Warhols) and drummer Benjamin Weikel (Modest Mouse, The Hello Sequence) to create AirLands’ self-titled debut album which was released earlier this year.

Airlands’ lead single, “Love & Exhale”, quickly gained momentum and was featured on Google Play’s Antenna Sampler as well as Spotify’s New Music Tuesday. With their Peter Gabriel-meets-Bon Iver-meets-The National vibe, this atmospheric post-indie band frequently play shows around the Brooklyn area and have attracted a strong New York fan base.

Throughout singer/songwriter Ari Hest’s impressive 15 year career he has released eight albums and three EPs. After leaving Columbia ari_hestRecords, Hest started a project entitled “52” where he released a new song every Monday for a year. Additionally, Hest scored the film, DreamRiders, in 2008.

Hest has toured the world, as a headliner and opener for artists such as Ani DiFranco and Suzanne Vega. Currently, he has several tour dates booked nationwide including dates with his Brazilian music inspired side project, Bluebirds of Paradise.


In addition to our Sync & Master Licensing Database, our creative team continuously works to place TuneCore administered copyrights across all visual media. Recent pitches include music for several TV shows including Quantico and The Catch, a video game trailer for Trial Fusions, and Dirty Grandpa starring Zac Efron.


am_idol-1American Idol
“When The Moment Comes”
Writer: Erin Sydney
Artist: Mia Dyson


huggiesHuggies Diapers
“Hug (Everybody Needs a Hug)”
Writer: Ben Sands
Artist: Ben Sands


focus-1Focus (Trailer)
“Misboa Mulata”
Writer: Pedro Goncalves
Artist: Dead Combo



TuneCore stays current on industry news to make sure we’re the first to know how new legislation and deals will affect our writers. Here are links to recent articles you need to know about:

From Around The Web:
Judge Explains Why Pandora Must Pay 2.5 Percent of Revenue to BMI

From the TuneCore Blog:
Interview: Music Supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas Talks Sync Licensing

TuneCore Partners With TapInfluence: Helping Artists Connect With Brands

YouTube Announces New Artist-Friendly Features

If you’re an independent artist, the focus on marketing your music to your fan base and your efforts to reach new fans never ceases. YouTube, a social media platform once heralded solely for its ability to amuse viewers by way of cat videos, is now considered the largest streaming service on the Internet. And it’s becoming a marketing powerhouse, with revenue-generating benefits and tools that can help artists build their careers. There are multiple ways to get heard and viewed beyond the “going viral” phenomenon, and if you’re not capitalizing on YouTube as a promotional, money-making and artist-support avenue, you’re missing out.

During this year’s Digital portion of SXSW, YouTube announced the launch of YouTube For Artists. This new suite of services lets independent artists track analytics using geographic data and access more in-depth view/play metrics associated with their channels and other channels where their music is being used. Much of this information will be made available via YouTube’s Content ID system, which is only accessible to independent artists via YouTube Partners.

If you distribute your music using TuneCore, for example, our YouTube Sound Recording Revenue collection service allows you to register your tracks within that Content ID system. From there, TuneCore – your YouTube Partner – can collect the revenue you might be missing out on when an ad is placed on your channel or when your music is featured in user-generated videos. We love having the ability to collect revenue on behalf of our artists. We love sharing data, like number of views and the URLs of the videos that use their music, with artists. And now, with YouTube For Artists, TuneCore Artists will soon be able to drive their career in new directions based on real time metrics.

Vivien Lewit, YouTube’s Head of Artist and Label Relations, told Fast Company that the new and improved creator hub “…takes the wisdom of experts who’ve spent years learning about YouTube through analytics and how to gain exposure, and delivers it to a wider audience of artists. We’re taking all of that and aggregating it in one specific place in a digestible format. It will help people understand how to gain fans, how to monetize content, what does YouTube’s algorithm reward, and what do those rewards mean in terms of where your videos will be surfaced.”

Furthermore, Billboard Magazine noted that, “Perhaps the most applicable tool will arrive after launch. In the coming weeks or months, YouTube will debut an analytical tool that will provide viewer information on a city level, with data going back to fall of 2013. This should help artists plan tours or which time zone to release an upcoming video.

As YouTube aims to position its creators for further success, artists’ data and information will be available for anyone to see. So instead of behind-the-scenes analytics, TuneCore Artists, who sign up with our YouTube Sound Recording Revenue collection service, will also be able to show their stats to decision makers, sponsors or promoters in the music and entertainment world who seek more information.

YouTube has certainly come a long way as a platform for artist promotion. They’ve developed more artist-friendly tools and features and music fans have easier methods of discovery. Plus artists have more efficient methods of managing their marketing efforts, collecting revenue from their sound recordings and analyzing their music’s influence.

#TCVideoFriday: Feb. 6, 2015

What’s happening, TuneCore Community?! Dive into this weekend head first and let this round up of TuneCore Artist videos act as your spring board!

Young Dolph, “Preach”

Nigel Stanford, “Science Vs. Music”

Brian Collins, “Never Really Left” 

MKRNI, “Mi Cuerpo Pide”

Sanders Bohlke, “Serious”

Nightmare Boy, “Chivalry Is Alive and Well and Living in Glasgow”

Shy Girls, “Still Not Falling

Cam Meekins, “Inhale”

Lennon & Maisy, “Boom Clap (Charli XCX Cover)”

#TCVideoFriday: Jan. 30, 2015

Last weekend in January! Superbowl on Sunday! Grandma’s birthday! Whatever your reason for enjoying this Friday afternoon is, kick it up notch with these fine TuneCore Artist videos…

NIKO IS – “Cherry Beamer Dreaming”

KA’RON – “Public Enemy”

Kali Uchis, “Know What I Want”

Housefires, “Good Good Father (ft. Pat Barrett)”

Happy Fangs, “Ton of Bricks”

DJ Khaled, “Hold You Down (ft. Chris Brown, August Alsina, Future, Jeremih)”

Drew Holcomb & the Neighbors, “American Beauty”

Manolo Rose, “Run Ricky Run (ft. Telli)”

Fakuta, “Tormenta Solar”

Sandasha, “You’re a V.I.P.”