Timely reuters article about indie hip-hop’s club circuit and it’s growing recognition. Goes into some figures also. Link

By Mosi Reeves 49 minutes ago

NEW YORK (Billboard) – Ten years ago, it would take a series of hot 12-inch records for an underground hip-hop act to establish its reputation. These days, the proving ground is just as likely to be a concert stage.

Thanks to successful jaunts by Atmosphere, Hieroglyphics, the Definitive Jux crew and other pioneering acts, a national touring circuit for independent hip-hop has begun to form, giving rappers often ignored by BET, MTV and commercial radio a way to sell records and build a fan base. These artists are dispelling the myth that hip-hop cannot work on the live stage, and making a surprising amount of money doing it.

Christian Bernhardt, who owns the Emeryville, Calif.-based Kork Agency, says he expects Atmosphere‘s 56-date Pour Me Another One tour to gross $500,000 before it ends November 15 in the duo‘s hometown, Minneapolis. The tour supports Atmosphere‘s fifth album, released October 4 on its own Rhymesayers Entertainment label.

“There‘s a lot more indie hip-hop touring than there was a few years ago,” says Bernhardt, who also represents indie rap artists MF Doom, Sage Francis, Aesop Rock, Jean Grae, Murs and Mr. Lif. “Most of the acts we represent … bring home quite a bit of money, and they can live from that very well.”

Before Kork handled Atmosphere‘s first national trek in 2000, Atmosphere rapper Sean “Slug” Daley and producer Ant often booked their own tours of the Midwest. Brent “Siddiq” Sayers, who owns Rhymesayers with Daley, attributes the duo‘s success to “grinding” work. “Atmosphere can play to 3,000 people in certain markets, and we‘ll still go to those markets where he may play for 300 people,” Sayers says.

For the past two decades, rap stars have usually promoted records through music videos, in-store appearances, one-off “spot dates” at nightclubs and the occasional package tour. “Promoters didn‘t know there was underground hip-hop that would tour like punk rock bands,” Bernhardt says.

One of the first indie rap groups to mount its own tour was Hieroglyphics, an Oakland, Calif.-based collective that includes Del Tha Funkee Homosapien, Souls of Mischief, Casual and Pep Love. They went on the road in 1997, having just formed an independent label, Hiero Imperium.

Damian “Domino” Siguenza, CEO and in-house producer of Hiero Imperium, booked all 25 dates with no outside label support or sponsorships. He says the crowds varied from 200-300 on an off night to 1,000 for a triumphant homecoming at San Francisco‘s Maritime Hall. “We were in it to plant seeds,” he says.

Hieroglyphics usually tour as a unit once a year, Siguenza says, with grosses exceeding $300,000.

“A lot of the venues and promoters were incredibly nervous and wary about bringing our stuff in,” says Amaechi Uzoigwe, who owns Definitive Jux with producer/rapper El-P and is also El-P‘s manager. He adds that indie hip-hop “is in its first actual decade of network, where it‘s become an actual cottage industry.”

Of course, any cottage industry takes its lumps. Audience appetite is not keeping up with all the newly touring indie acts. Some rap promoters suggest that hip-hop heads, unlike hardcore rock fans, do not attend several concerts per week. In addition, Bernhardt says, rap ticket prices tend to be more expensive than those for rock shows.

Still, tenured MCs are seeing rap‘s shift toward the touring industry. New York-based Grae, recently signed to Talib Kweli‘s Warner-distributed Blacksmith label, first drew attention in 1996 with Natural Resource‘s indie hit “Negro League” (Makin‘ Records). Grae will perform 100-150 shows this year and says she appreciates how the new touring landscape is making artists work harder onstage. “It‘s not just going out and doing the songs,” she says. “It‘s going out and hustling CDs and merch at the end of the show, and trying to talk to as many people as I can. It gets people to step up their show, because that‘s how you‘re going to sell records.”