Versatility has remained a superpower of artist Dawn Richard.
Richard, born in New Orleans, LA, made her first imprint in the world as an music artist. In 2004, she auditioned for Sean “Diddy” Combs’ “Making the Band 3,” which led to the creation of girl band Danity Kane.
She would also become a part of the duo Diddy-Dirty Money in 2009.
Ultimately, both groups would eventually dismantle by 2013. Despite the shifts in Richard’s career, what has remained constant is her desire to create “great art.” However, along her journey, she has encountered multiple challenges, particularly from those trying to constrain her musically, she says.
During an interview with AFROTECH following her AFROTECH Conference 2023 panel “World Builders: The New Storytelling Frontier,” she noted that when she was looking to create progressive music, she received pushback. This was despite having two top-charting albums alongside Danity Kane and a platinum album with “Last Train to Paris,” among other musical achievements, according to CBS.
“When I wanted to go, I had done Dirty Money’s ‘Last Train to Paris,’ which to me was one of the most incredible albums and innovative albums, and then when I wanted to continue this, they all looked at me like, ‘Don’t make this progressive.’ Now you have a genre in the Grammys called Progressive R&B, the thing that they said that wouldn’t be there,” Richard told AFROTECH.
She added, “So there were all these obstacles of ‘You’re too Black. You’re too electronic. This is too white. All these concepts of what people keep telling you to be. And all I really just wanted to do is just make great art. So that constantly happened, and it is still happening… but I think for my own career, it’s daily and I live for it. Please keep bringing me your boxes and your stupid walls. And I will continuously knock them down.”
While Richard is certainly welcoming all the naysayers, she also has been silencing the noise as an independent artist.
In 2013, she released her debut album “Goldenheart” receiving acclaim globally, per CBS News. Richard followed up with another album in 2015, titled “Blackheart,” which reached No. 1 on the U.S. Top Independent Albums chart and No. 2 on Billboard’s Dance/Electronic charts.
In total she has released six solo albums.
“You can’t listen to that noise. So, I shut it out early because they told me that I wouldn’t go past Puff. ‘No one survives Bad Boy,'” Richard recollected. “That’s what they told me. And they said, ‘I have proof to show you that they don’t.’ And they did. We have stories. We’ve seen it. It’s not a secret that we’ve seen the stories of Bad Boy artists, and they all told me, ‘You’re gonna be that.’ Yet, here we are. So I think that I knew then that if I was going to survive this, it had to be tunnel… I could not listen to anyone else. And I got blocked by everyone. I’ve been rejected times three in this industry by pretty much probably everyone.”
Richard’s tumultuous history navigating the industry has taught her to bet on herself. She has been meticulous, which has been a game changer as she could not afford to hire a manager or a team to help her book her shows.
She recalls researching her analytics using App Analytics to determine which cities she would include on tour. She also examined her ticket sales at venues.
“These are things that most artists, they have someone else doing that for ’em,” she mentioned. “And then I did that with a lot of things. So for me, I think that the most important thing you could do as an independent artist, as someone building this yourself, is look at the data, learn your analytics and your numbers, and then with your creativity, innovate. Don’t follow the trends. Look at the trends, and then see how you can transcend the trends.”
Taking her own advice, Richard has been an innovator in the world of animation. As AFROTECH told you, through her role as a creative consultant at Adult Swim, she has placed a spotlight on Black animators such as Chaz Bottoms, who has gone on to work with Matthew Perry, Disney, Hulu, and more.
Not only has animation opened doors for other creatives surrounding Richard, she can also credit the diversification of her fanbase to its use. She intentionally integrated animation into her artistic pursuits by leaning into motion capture as well as virtual and augmented reality.
“As soon as I was independent, I had animated videos, I worked in virtual reality, did augmented reality,” Richard said. “Like we were doing that in 2014 and 2015 because we knew, and we were hacking into motion capture. There’s a record, a music video called ‘Titans x James Dean,’ where we actually turned into obsidian diamond characters. So, we were already realizing the fun we could have with stretching the concept of things.”
She continued, “Then I found that I got to reach places I never would’ve thought. And when I looked at my analytics, most of my fan base had expanded to gaming culture. It expanded into the ‘Adult Swim’ culture to tech culture. I realized quite quickly that once you choose to take a chance on your branding and expand in that way, your demographic grows. Your market grows. And that’s what I saw happening, a fan base that was just the gays and giving their best life that were fans of Danity Kane, and that world turned into the kid that lives at the gaming center, or like watches ‘Riot Games.’ That’s how broad my fan base got, just by me making the choices to shift the way.”