It is a rainy Thursday night, three days before Christmas, and a sellout crowd of more than 400 people is standing inside Sounds of Brazil, a well worn New York night club on the edge of Soho. A parade of hip-hop musicians has played here at SOBs on their way to becoming boldface names, from Grandmaster Flash to Kanye West. On this night, Hoodie Allen has top billing. Shortly after 10 p.m., the lights dim and he bounds on stage, flanked by his drummer and his producer, Reginald “R.J.” Ferguson W’10, who creates the rhythms and instrumentals for Hoodie’s music on a laptop. The crowd, mostly quiet during two warm-up acts, erupts. “We are looking good tonight, NYC!” Hoodie shouts. “Make me one promise—make this the best night of your life!”

The first song, “The Chase is On,” sets the tone for the evening.  Like most of Hoodie’s music, it is sunny, exuberant, anthemic, and fun—party rap. A catchy tale about love at first sight, it also reinforces a message Hoodie is sending to his audience. “I truly care more about you than anybody else in the world!” he says. “Even your parents! Your parents aren’t here, are they?” He is clean cut—short hair, a flannel shirt over a tee-shirt, gray jeans, Nike sneakers, and not a tattoo in sight. His fans—for the most part in high school or college, more male than female—sing along and wave their hands from side to side over their heads in unison with the beat.

Hoodie moves through his catalogue of most popular tunes, sprinkling in new songs—the music he will sell on iTunes—along the way. Between songs, he chats up the crowd. “There’s no label here,” he says at one point. “There is no big money behind us. You are looking at the crew!” His breakout song, “You Are Not a Robot,” a tune that generated enormous buzz on Internet music sites the summer after his graduation from Penn, is saved for last. Eighty minutes and 16 songs after taking the stage, Hoodie, his tee-shirt now soaked with sweat, is done. Almost. “I’ll be back in five minutes, in the back,” he says. “Let’s hang out and have fun!”

And so begins Part II of a Hoodie Allen concert, a free meet-and-greet that begins when the music ends, a ritual virtually unheard of in the music business. After changing shirts and drying off, Hoodie reappears behind a table at the back of the club, where 100 or so fans have lined up to say hello. He signs autographs and poses for pictures, a smile always on his face. Within minutes, as Hoodie knows, many of these photos will be posted on Facebook and Twitter, reinforcing, in a way, his own viral marketing campaign.

That marketing is how Aaron Lieberman, 16, of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, became a devoted fan. “My friends told me about him, and then I looked him up on Twitter, and every time I wrote him, he wrote me back,” Aaron says. He and a friend, Zev Mark, an 11th grader from the Bronx, had just gotten Hoodie’s autograph. “This really makes an impression,” Zev says. “It shows he cares about his fans.”

Such interactions are crucial for Hoodie—not just because he likes doing it, but also, he explains, because it makes business sense. In an interview 10 days before his Sounds of Brazil show, he compared himself to a new company, trying to break into the marketplace. “I am taking this new product, which is my music, which I think has unique qualities to it, and I am trying to convince people to try it, and then to become involved with it and supporters of it,” he explained. To do this, he has taken a number of his classroom lessons to heart. First, he is providing easy access to his music, what he describes as “creating as few barriers to entry as possible.” Like many musicians trying to build a following today, he concluded it was better to give his songs away rather than charge for them. He and his equally young manager, Michael George, 22, then took this one step further, creating a clean, eye-catching website (hoodieallen.com) where fans could download or listen to any of his songs with one simple click.

Hoodie also identified the influential music bloggers in the hip-hop world and cultivated relationships with them, sending emails and copies of his mix tapes. “You get the people who are cool on board with you, and you are cool,” he explains. “It’s not rocket science.” Other new artists are sending their music to bloggers, “but I know we do it better based on what I have learned from school.”

But the foundation of his approach is the marketing staple of creating “brand loyalty.” “How do you get someone to be a repeat customer, to talk about your music, share it, and feel like they are valued and important? You engage with them,” Hoodie explains. He does this not only through his meet-and-greets, but also by trying to answer every email sent his way, every Tweet, every post on Facebook—a task that can consume hours a night. (To ease the time pressures, his manager sometimes will respond in Hoodie’s name.) “It all makes business sense. Show me someone else doing it. There is nobody,” Hoodie says. “Obviously, I like it ... But it would be so much easier not to do it sometimes. The reason I stay committed to doing it is I wanted to create something that’s not fleeting, that’s lifelong, that if I was always there for them, they would [always] be there for me.”  
 


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