Music business

Muni Long fights against the music industry and wins with viral “hours and hours”

Overnight success has been a long time coming for Muni Long. The artist formerly known as Priscilla Renea landed a major recording contract with Capitol in the late 2000s due to viral success on YouTube. Embarrassed and misunderstood, her artist project did not take off, but she quickly established herself as one of the industry’s essential hitmakers, writing songs for Madonna, Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande. Along the way, the 33-year-old became a vocal advocate for songwriters and creatives, and started her own independent label, Supergiant Records.

In 2020, she decided it was time for a creative renaissance. Enter: Muni Long.

Already a keen student of the industry thanks to her Capitol experience (Priscilla Renea was signed by veteran A&R Chris Anokute, who co-manages Muni Long alongside Supergiant label partner Rashad Tyler), she predicted the TikTok’s role in breaking songs and saw the platform as a major opportunity. After all, Renea had conquered YouTube in the 2000s and inherently understood that the most prized commodity on social media was authenticity.

On the release of her 2021 EP, “Public Displays of Affection,” she focused on engaging with fans — and they returned the favor by doing “Hrs and Hrs” (pronounced “hours and hours”) , a slinky and beloved R&B ballad, a TikTok phenomenon. The song quickly crossed over, hitting the top 10 on iTunes, Apple Music, Shazam, Spotify and SoundCloud charts. This week, it became Long’s first top 40 hit on the Billboard Hot 100, fulfilling a dream that had been in the making for years.

Variety: You have had so much success as a songwriter. What’s it like to have your own hit?

Muni Long: It’s an incredible experience. I am thrilled to now have a platform to advocate for songwriters. I have always insisted that artists be compensated fairly. It has always been predatory since the early days of Tin Pan Alley, where songwriters were paid underpayments. These songs went on to bring millions of dollars to other people, and songwriters begged in the streets. This industry is the Wild Wild West. Nobody really speaks for these lower-level creatives, who really contribute to the meat and potatoes of the music. I am delighted to speak for these people.

It’s so interesting that “Hrs and Hrs” is exploding on TikTok, because you were one of the first artists to go viral on YouTube in the 2000s.

Everything happens for a reason. All the things that I have experienced in my past have brought me to where I am now. Being a viral YouTube sensation prepared me for how the music industry exists in 2022. Because of TikTok, the song exploded. It’s an amazing full loop moment. I intuitively knew where the industry was heading about two years ago. I thought, “Wait a minute, Priscilla, you’ve done this before. You were the first, at least one of the first artists to go viral on YouTube. At one point, I was consistently the #1 musician on YouTube.

Did you record “Hrs and Hrs” with TikTok in mind?

Unintentional. I leave a place of flow and make room for divine events. I consider myself a channel. If you’ve ever been in the studio with me, you know I channel. I just open my mouth and things come out.

What’s the secret to your success on TikTok, besides great songwriting?

TikTok was definitely part of the strategy, that’s for sure. Without giving away my secrets, I realized that I had to be my own marketing company. I create my own ads and put them on my own billboard, which is my TikTok. Another one of my little secrets is that you have to really love your supporters. You can’t expect people to spend time watching you and your music, coming to your shows, and interacting with your content, if it’s one-sided. So, I make sure to like as many comments as possible. I make sure to visit their pages. I’ll watch their stories if I’m interested.

I’m really, genuinely interested in what my supporters think and who they are. And I think that’s part of the reason the song exploded too, because people would see me replying and leaving comments on their videos and telling them how good they sounded or how pretty they were or how awesome they were as a couple together. It’s just about making people feel special, about reciprocating that love. I think artists don’t do it enough. And not to make anyone feel bad or pass judgment on anyone. I think that’s all the supporters and the fans really want. They want to feel appreciated.

Tell us about your journey as an independent artist?

I got caught up in the industry and the status quo. There’s a huge magnetism in the industry — kind of like a “this is how it’s done” energy — and it sucks you in, really. I’ve been sucked in for years. But being successful as a songwriter has given me financial freedom to the point where I don’t have to do things I don’t want to do. I can go and study and find love and rest and find inspiration. A lot of people don’t realize that it’s not just the money that songwriters are lacking. It’s love and support. You are in a very vulnerable place, where you feel like you don’t trust yourself. There’s nothing that builds your confidence or self-esteem to be able to turn things down.

When you wrote “Hrs and Hrs”, did you expect it to be big?

No idea. I was just writing with purity of heart, authentically. I was blown away by the track when I heard it. Soufflé. And I’m always drawn to things that inspire me to action. So that made me stop what I was doing and hit the record button to put aside the idea that was floating around in my head. Let’s be honest, this stuff is huge. It’s a hit on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, TikTok, YouTube. None of us knew how big this shit was going to be. We were just doing things with freedom, pace and purpose to change the way people view indie gaming and how the internet has truly, for better and for worse, changed the music industry. But everyone thought “No Signal” or “No R&B” was gonna be the song. No one thought it was “Hrs and Hrs”.

What prompted you to record under the name Muni Long?

I am a very sweet person. And I’ve always been nice and wanted to play nice together. But the world is not organized like that. The world takes advantage of people like that. And I enjoyed A LOT. So there came a point where I had to say, “Okay, I gotta show up and defend myself because if I don’t, this shit is gonna crush me.” And I can’t portray myself as the person who needs protection because when you do that, when you think about narcissistic relationships and abuse, when your abuser is used to being able to do whatever he wants with you, as soon as you say no and stand up, it enrages them. This makes them want to attack even harder so they can keep you under their control.

I had let it go on for so long, thinking people would eventually see what a great person I am and want to change their ways. And I realized they didn’t care. They just want to get what they get. So I had to become that character, I guess, who really is who I am on the inside, but I just don’t like to treat people like that. I choose to be kind. It’s better for me to be nice to people. But I had to become that person and just protect myself. But I always make sure that at the core of my values, after I’ve brought you together and said everything I have to say to you, to let you know where my limits are, I always end with love.

What advice would you give to independent artists who may not have the financial resources that you have from your songwriting career?

Value can be created by means other than the paper dollar. I think if you have the resources to be able to create your own content, if you have a cellphone or an iPad or a computer, you have a camera. And you can connect directly with people. I mean, you can literally sit in your room and talk about how you feel about the world, or sit in front of your computer and sing a song. And you can continue to do that and connect with people. Start where you are and just build. Never be afraid to try because you feel like you don’t have something.

Although I was able to get a lot of financial support, I didn’t have the information. I didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know how to run a record label. But I didn’t let that be an excuse why I wasn’t going to start. I learned things along the way. I adjusted. I remained humble and malleable. You need to be able to pivot if something goes wrong. Always be curious, always ask questions. Never feel like you know it all. There are billions of people on this planet. Each person sees the world in a different way. So there’s no way you can know everything. So I would just say be always ready to learn and try new things.

Have you ever considered giving up on being an artist?

I gave up 700,089 times. But then I would wake up the next day and be like, “Well, what else am I going to do? What am I going to do?” I’m really good at it. And I want to do it. And I think it sucks that I have to quit because someone else is trying to mess it up for me. So yeah , I quit a million times, but started again the next day.

How will you juggle your booming artist career with songwriting?

The answer is simple. I spent a decade and then a few giving songs and helping build other people’s dreams. I think it’s okay if I take three, five years to focus on myself. And if there’s a collaboration opportunity, where an artist wants me to write something and they can sing it, but I’m in it, we can do it. I don’t object because some of my biggest collaborations have been with artists who write their own stuff – Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey. So there are always opportunities for that.

But as far as just giving songs, it would have to be a special circumstance, someone I respect a lot, who in exchange for that song, might be able to give me advice on where where I want to go, or they might be able to include me in other aspects of their already established business. Because I now understand the value and the value of my songs, that they have the ability to do what “Hrs and Hrs” did for me and explode my career, I can do it for other people just with my songs. So I can’t just be here giving this to everyone.