Artists have greater ability to sustain their careers full-time and independently today than ever before. While growing avenues of digital revenue have allowed artists greater freedom to take control, it’s important to be financially secure and smart with managing money to ensure you’re thriving over time. Khary is a shining example of how to do this right.
In this post, we get to know the Brooklyn-based rapper, hearing about his journey as an independent creator and the steps he’s taken to pursue music full-time.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to quit my job in the beginning of December last year,” says Khary. “I was running the guest list at a club -– the last thing on earth I imagined I’d be doing –- in Brooklyn but that shit got really played out. Living off music is still fairly new to me.”
Quitting his job allowed him to focus completely on finishing Tidal Graves, his Intern Aquarium EP follow-up, which will be released on July 28th. He’s also gearing up for a U.S. tour, as well as a debut full-length this fall. While it was important for the timing to line up creatively for Khary to pursue his career as a musician full-time, perhaps the most important factor in making the move was learning how to track his various revenue streams — something that Stem allowed him to do with ease.
There are so many revenue streams from just music alone: artists are due streaming and download royalties from every single digital service provider (Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Tidal, etc.) in addition to publishing and performance royalties, which are paid through various outlets such as publishers, Performance Rights Organizations, and earnings for non-interactive platforms (such as Pandora and SiriusXM) through SoundExchange. In addition to that, revenue from merchandise, touring and brand deals help artists build and fund their careers.
In short, there’s a lot to keep track of, and for independent artists, it can be difficult to make sure you’re collecting everything possible. Understanding your revenue streams is important not only for making a living, but also for projecting your earnings and making long-term plans for your career.
At this time, Khary makes the majority of his earnings from his merchandise brand, Kousteau, and streaming royalties. His next plan is to make headway in touring. For now, he looks to his fans as a barometer for his merchandise sales, often measuring how engaged they are and whether or not he can rely on this revenue stream to help build his business:
“With merch, I’m rather ambitious because your fan base isn’t solid until they are willing to buy merch from you. This is where I usually invest and my only real goal is to make back what I spend. Once you have a steady income and financial framework set up, you’ll be making money online while working on music.”
Khary is thankful for his fans for being by his side and allowing him to progress. He says experimenting with them can be fun to test out where he stands in his journey as an independent artist.
“Constantly test your fan base through your sources of income. For example, when I decided to sell merch I began with colors instead of using black and white (safe colors). I knew if my fans would buy merch with color, they would more than likely buy black and white merch. This helped me measure my current wingspan and value as an artist. When you know how far your fans will or won’t go for you, you can use the data to make your next moves and grow.”
While he continues to grow Kousteau in addition to music, it’s important for him to cover all bases and track closely what comes through and what gets spent in different areas. Having access to his streaming data and earnings from different DSPs has enabled him to project financials and make long-term plans for his career; so much so, he’s created a threshold income from this data which he tries to stay above in order to continue moving forward.
“Honestly it’s pretty crazy how fast I was able to make money once I started using Stem. I just assumed that I’d be releasing music for free until I signed to a label or something simply because I didn’t know how to generate income from my music. It kind of seemed like something I didn’t have have access to as an independent artist and other distribution platforms didn’t seem transparent enough to me… Transparency is super important because it gives you an answer to your ‘how.’ I was wondering how I could make a living off streaming and quickly figured that out.”
While Khary owns most of his publishing and master recording rights, he has some tracks that he splits streaming revenue with other collaborators. Using Stem has helped him handle the business on splitting earnings in a convenient way so he can continue to stay focused on his creative work and collaborations. Additionally, Stem has helped him gain a better understanding of how streaming revenue works and feel more in control of his work and where it gets distributed, all in one place.
“It’s beyond convenient to have an app containing all of my streaming data in my pocket. I know what’s going on at all times. I know which songs are doing the best on each platform on a monthly basis. Also, Stem makes splitting royalties with my collaborators 100% easier which usually leads to them signing up for it as well. It’s simply a win for independent artists.”
Tidal Graves will be available for streaming and download on July 28th.