Overnight success has been a long time coming for Muni Long. The artist formerly known as Priscilla Renea landed a major label record deal with Capitol in the late ‘00s due to viral success on YouTube. Pigeonholed and misunderstood, her artist project didn’t take off, but she soon established herself as one of the industry’s go-to hitmakers, penning songs for the likes of Madonna, Rihanna, Mariah Carey and Ariana Grande. Along the way, the 33-year-old became an outspoken advocate for songwriters and creatives, and established her own independent label, Supergiant Records.
In 2020 she decided it was time for a creative rebirth. Enter: Muni Long.
Already a keen student of the industry thanks to her Capitol experience (Priscilla Renea was signed by A&R veteran Chris Anokute, who serves as Muni Long’s co-manager alongside Supergiant label partner Rashad Tyler), she had predicted TikTok’s role in breaking songs and saw the platform as a major opportunity. After all, Renea had conquered YouTube in the ‘00s and inherently understood that the most valuable commodity on social media is authenticity.
Upon the release of her 2021 EP, “Public Displays of Affection,” she focussed on engaging with fans — and they reciprocated by making “Hrs and Hrs” (pronounced “hours and hours”), a slinky, loved-up R&B ballad, a TikTok phenomenon. The song swiftly crossed over, cracking 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 years in the making.
Variety: You’ve enjoyed so much success as a songwriter. How does it feel to have a huge hit of your own?
Muni Long: It’s an amazing experience. I’m excited that I have a platform now to speak up for songwriters. I’ve always been vocal about making sure artists get compensated fairly. It has always been predatory from the early days of Tin Pan Alley, where songwriters were getting paid pennies. Those songs went on to make millions of dollars for other people, and the songwriters were panhandling on the streets. This industry is the Wild Wild West. There’s no one really speaking up for those lower level creatives, who really contribute the meat and potatoes of the music. I’m excited to speak up for those people.
It’s so interesting that “Hrs and Hrs” is blowing up on TikTok, because you were one of the first artists to go viral on YouTube in the ‘00s.
Everything happens for a reason. All of the things I went through in my past have gotten me to the place I am now. Being a viral sensation on YouTube prepared me for the way that the music business exists in 2022. Because of TikTok, the song blew up. It’s an incredible full circle moment. I intuitively knew where the industry was headed 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 the No. 1 musician on YouTube consistently.
Did you record “Hrs and Hrs” with TikTok in mind?
Not intentionally. I move from a place of flow and allow room for divine happenings. I consider myself to be a channel. If you’ve ever been in the studio with me, you know that I’m channeling. I just open my mouth and things come out.
What’s the secret to your TikTok success, apart from great songwriting?
TikTok was definitely a part of the strategy, for sure. Without giving away my secrets, I realized that I had to be my own marketing company. I’m creating my own ads, and I’m putting them on my own billboard, which is my TikTok. Another one of my little secrets is that you genuinely have to like your supporters. You can’t expect people to spend time watching you and streaming your music, and coming to your shows and engaging with your content, if it’s one-sided. So I make sure I like as many comments as I can. I make sure to visit their pages. I’ll watch their stories if it’s engaging to me.
I’m genuinely, authentically interested in what my supporters think and who they are. And I think that’s part of the reason why the song blew up as well, because people were seeing that I was responding and leaving comments on their videos and telling them how beautiful they sound or how pretty they were or how awesome of a couple they are together. It’s just about making people feel special, reciprocating that love. I don’t think artists do that enough. And not to make anyone feel bad or place judgment on anyone. I think that’s all that 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 tremendous magnetism that the industry has — sort of like a “this is the way that it’s done” energy — and it sucks you in, it really does. I was sucked in for years. But having success as a songwriter enabled me to have financial freedom to the point where I don’t have to do things that I don’t want to do. I can go away and study and get love and get rest and find inspiration. A lot of people don’t realize it’s not just money that songwriters are devoid of. It’s love and support. You’re in a very vulnerable place, where you feel you don’t have the confidence. There’s nothing reinforcing your confidence or your sense of self-worth to be able to turn down things.
When you wrote “Hrs and Hrs,” did you anticipate it was going to be big?
No idea. I was just writing from pureness of heart, authentically. I was blown away by the track when I heard it. Blown away. And I always gravitate towards things that inspire me to action. So it made me stop what I was doing and hit the record button to put down the idea that was in my head. Let’s just be honest, this thing is massive. It’s a hit on iTunes, Spotify, SoundCloud, TikTok, YouTube. None of us knew how massive this shit was going to be. We were just doing things with a freedom, and a rhythm, and a purpose to change the way people see the independent game and how the internet really, for good and for bad, has changed the music industry. But everybody thought that “No Signal” or “No R&B” was going to be the song. Nobody thought it was “Hrs and Hrs.”
What prompted you to record under the moniker Muni Long?
I’m a very gentle person. And I’ve always been kind and wanted to play nice together. But the world is not set up like that. The world takes advantage of people like that. And I got taken advantage of A LOT. So there came a time where I had to say, “Okay, I have to show up and stand up for myself because if I don’t, this shit is going to crush me.” And I can’t show up 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 they want to you, as soon as you say no and you stand up, it enrages them. It makes them want to attack even harder so they can keep you under their control.
I had allowed it to go on for so long, thinking that eventually people would see how great of a person I am, and they would want to change their ways. And I realized they don’t care. They just want to get what they get. So I had to become this character, I guess, which is really who I am on the inside, but I just don’t like treating people like that. I choose to be kind. It feels better to me to be nice to people. But I had to become this person and just protect myself. But I always make sure that at the core of my values, after I get you together and I say whatever I need to say to you, to let you know where my boundaries lie, I always finish with love.
What advice would you give to independent artists that maybe don’t have the financial resources you have from your songwriting career?
Value can be created in other ways than just the paper dollar. I think if you have the resources to be able to create your own content, if you have a cell phone or an iPad or a computer, you got a camera. And you can connect directly with people. I mean, you literally can sit in your bedroom and talk about how you feel about the world, or sit in front of your computer and sing a song. And you can keep doing that and connecting with people. Start where you’re at, and just build. Don’t ever be afraid to try because you feel like you don’t have something.
While I might have had 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 company. But I didn’t let that be an excuse for why I wasn’t going to start. I learned some things along the way. I adjusted. I stayed humble and malleable. You have to be able to pivot if something isn’t going right. Always be curious, always ask questions. Don’t ever feel like you know everything. There’s billions of people on this planet. Each and every person views the world in a different way. So there’s no way that you could know everything. So I would just say always be willing to learn and try new things.
Did you ever consider giving up on being an artist?
I gave up like 700,089 times. But then I would wake up the next day and be like, “Well, what the fuck else am I going to do? What am I going to do?” I’m really good at this. And I want to do it. And I think it fucking sucks that I would have to quit because somebody else is trying to ruin it for me. So yes, I quit a million times, but then I started right back up again the next day.
How are you going to juggle your exploding artist career with songwriting?
The answer to that is easy. I spent a decade and then some giving away songs and helping to 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 get to sing it, but I’m featured on it, we can do that. I’m not opposed to that because some of my greatest collaborations were with artists who write their own stuff — Madonna, Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey. So there’s always opportunities for that.
But as far as just giving songs away, it would have to be a special circumstance, somebody who I respect highly, who in exchange for that song, they might be able to lend me some advice for where I want to go, or they might be able to include me in other aspects of their already established business. Because I do understand the worth and the value of my songs now, that they have the ability to do what “Hrs and Hrs” has done for me and explode my career, I can do that for other people just with my songs. So I can’t just be out here giving that away to everybody.