Brampton Rapper Rel McCoy's Success on Kickstarter is Far From a Stroke of Luck

Independent Canadian rappers face a lot of adversity, but this Brampton rapper found a way out.

Apr 25 2016, 8:00pm

All photos by Galyn Esmé

Independent Canadian rappers face many obstacles in order to eke out a living in the vast landscape of this country, which makes Brampton-based rapper Rel McCoy’s current accomplishment quite impressive. Back in December, Rel, whose government name is Mark Morley, started thinking about what he could do to help make sure that his upcoming album, Gas Money, had more promotion behind it than his last project did. During the last week of January, he decided to go all-in and start a Kickstarter campaign to fund the record. The four-week campaign launched on February 24 and ran until March 24. Initially, the project had three goals: $4,000 to hire professional PR for press in North America, $8,000 for professional PR in Europe, then $12,000 to put together a high-end video. As the money started quickly flowing in—much to Rel’s surprise—he would add another goal of $16,000 to cover some of his touring expenses in Europe. By the end, two of the hurdles were cleared, and the third milestone was almost reached. To say it exceeded his expectations would be an understatement, as Rel would raise over $11,000. “I told myself when we started, if we get to $6,000, I’ll be amazed, so I was really shocked that I was able to raise that much. People were really, super supportive.” In comparison, only 20 percent of all Kickstarter campaigns surpass $10,000. However, Rell’s accomplishments are far from a random stroke of luck.

Aside from being a rapper, Rell, for about eight years has been operating recording studio The Reservoir Studio, full-time, while releasing his own records and touring for the past four years. When asked how he was able to garner cumulate so much success on Kickstarter, Rell emphasizes how vital it was to establish an intimate connection with his fan base. “It was about six weeks of me, intensely reaching out to people and having conversations with [fans] every single day, whether it’s on the phone or text, or via email or Facebook, or what have you,” Rel says. As for his career, he feels his success is due to people gravitating towards his golden era-influenced, progressive hip-hop style and rigorous work ethic. “I've toured at least once to support each release I've put out over the last couple of years,” he says. “Servicing college radio and playing festivals have helped as well. I think people support good music when they hear it, so the aim for me has been getting my music into the ears of potential fans in any way possible.”

Noisey: When did you first brainstorm the idea for starting a Kickstarter campaign to fund your upcoming album Gas Money?
Rel McCoy: That was actually back in December. There was some talk about it, thinking about what I could do to help make sure that the album had more promotion behind it than the last one did. And that was one of the things on the list that was like, ‘This is what we could possibly do.’ But I didn’t actually commit to doing it until the last week of January, which is when I really started just going hard and doing a little bit of research. I just did an online music crowdfunding course called Launch & Release, And really just finding out more about what it was, and how I could use it to my advantage.

As an indie Canadian rapper, it’s pretty remarkable that you were able to raise over $11,000 in the span of a month. When the campaign first began, did you realistically think you could raise such a large amount of money in such a short period of time?
No way, man! No way! I told myself when we started, if we get to 6,000, I’ll be amazed. People were really, super supportive. It’s a little bit different for music when it comes to Kickstarter stuff. I don’t know if you saw the documentary about the 3D printer, how those guys did their Kickstarter thing? You can advertise and tell random people that have never heard of you, ‘Hey, I have this idea.’ And they might become interested, just because it’s interesting to them. But when it comes to music, it’s a different ballgame because the people that are actually gonna support you are people that are already engaged, people that already know you, people that are already familiar with what it is that you do in some sense. Or they’re family or people that know you personally that just wanna support you no matter what it is that you’re doing. So, it’s a completely different approach to the game. It’s not like you can put a bunch of ads out there and do a bunch of marketing for your Kickstarter, and see the Kickstarter do really well. It really was a lot more based on me keeping in touch with people and making sure that I was engaging with them on a personal level because the project was so important to me.

How have you been able to attract your fan base, in terms of people who donated money to your campaign?
It really was about the one-on-one personal engagement. I did a couple of small radio interviews with college radio. One was a college radio station and one was an online radio station, and all those interviews and being able to be on those radio stations was awesome. Those are the kinds of things that really are the last resort, in terms of what it is that you’re doing with your Kickstarter to make it a successful one. It’s way more on a grassroots, hyper-intense, daily level of hitting people up. The campaign was four weeks, and then there was two weeks prior to that, so I guess it was about six weeks of me being here almost every single day, intensely reaching out to people and having conversations, whether it’s on the phone, or text, or via email or Facebook, or what have you. And that’s my first Kickstarter campaign ever, so there were things that I learned about that in hindsight I’d say, "Oh, you know what, I could have done this a little bit better." But still, the turnaround and what happened was amazing.

A common theme throughout your career has been that you have always kept your particular brand of music intact. Have you ever been tempted to make trendy, mainstream hip-hop?
Of course, of course. All the time. That’s one of the things that’s happening to a lot of rappers today, especially in Canada. I think that when you know that Canada makes up less than two percent of the world’s music market, it gives you a little bit of insight of what it is that we’re up against as Canadian musicians altogether. And then you take the hip-hop and you put that inside of that hole, and then it gets even smaller, and then you take my style of hip-hop and it gets even smaller, in terms of the actual audience that’s there that wants to buy music. So when you look at it through that lens, it gives you a little bit more of a feeling like, "I shouldn’t change what it is that I’m doing, it’s actually the environment in which I’m working that is a little bit tough to navigate." But that doesn’t mean that I need to change for the environment, that means I need to find the right way to connect and engage with the audience that will like my music.

Are you proud of the fact that you’ve been able to sustain success while maintaining your integrity?
Yeah, I guess so, man. That’s a tough question because integrity falls into some grey areas, in terms of what it is that you wanna do to help the world, and be selfless and that sort of thing. But the game itself is like a dog-eat-dog thing. I watched a little clip of an interview with Snoop Dogg yesterday. Snoop was basically breaking down how that if you wanna be successful, you gotta lose a bunch of friends, and you lose them consistently along the way. And I think that he’s right about that, but I also found what he was saying narcissistic and self-serving, and that’s not me hating on Snoop Dogg, that’s just me basically saying that the game itself can turn you into that person if you’re not careful. So in terms of that, I’m really happy that I’ve been able to keep my integrity, to an extent. But what he was saying in that video still rings true, if you work really hard and you’re pursuing something with all of your passion, and you got a bunch of people around you that want you to pursue it as well as you can, so that you can pull them up, it just doesn’t work like that. Pulling other people forward that aren’t gonna start bailing the water out of the boat is just gonna make the boat sink. It is tough to keep doing what you’re doing and keep your integrity intact.

On your upcoming album, what are some of the themes that you’ll be addressing?
It’s the record that I made with the least amount of time in which to make it. So I set myself a hard deadline and really pushed myself over a short period of time to make a bunch of songs and stylistically make it a broad spectrum of sounds. And that for me was really the focus with this record. I’ve had records in the past where I really have touched on specific subject matter, and that was the importance of those records. But this one is a lot more free. A lot more "having fun songs" on there. There’s a couple of small things that I touch on. There’s a song on there called “Never Alone,” that I talk about depression in, and having been depressed, and the only reason that I made that song is because I had been in touch recently with some people that have gone through depression, sort of the same way that I did. And I felt like that was a meaningful thing to touch on, in terms of relating to those people. And there’s another song on there, where I basically elaborate a little bit more on that, but it’s not so poignant. So it’s like, I just made the record to have fun, and I hope that people will have fun listening to it. That's the gist of it.

And with having such a successful Kickstarter campaign, are you hoping that it will take your career to new heights?
I definitely hope so, man. I’m doing what I said I was gonna do with the money, and hiring PR firms, both here and in Europe, to make sure that the music itself has as good of a push behind it as it can have. But every single time I put a record out, I learn a little bit more about what I should have done and what I did that was successful and the things that I can do better for the next time. I see myself as a business and trying to pull myself up by the bootstraps and I don’t really have a giant team of people working with me. So this money that I got from the Kickstarter campaign is a huge help, in terms of helping create awareness for the record.

Ian McBride is a writer from Waterloo. Follow him on Twitter.