Managing your indie career requires a good bit of sacrifice. At least, that’s how New Jersey’s Franky Hill sees it. The rapper has accrued a sizable hometown following, with his music reaching outside the Tri-State and his fanbase ever-growing. In the throes of taking his career to the next level, Hill attests that when it comes to the work and to the money that makes his music possible, everything hinges on being able to sacrifice and husband your funds.
“I remember, early on, being an artist and being a kid who paid rent and bills at a very young age,” Franky tells me over the phone. “One side, I’m this responsible young adult who’s getting bills paid and on the other side, I’m this rapper, but rapping takes money [laughs]. It takes serious dollars. So the awareness of sacrificing. Knowing how to sacrifice. I like to have fun, but knowing when to say no, sometimes. Saying no, with money, is very critical. At the end of the day, you gotta keep the main thing, the main thing. Music has to come first.”
With his music-first mentality, Franky Hill released USER in 2018 to quiet acclaim. The album is full of heart and meditations on addiction and growth, but is also a testament to Hill’s newfound ability to ask for help—something that he also attests is paramount to having success as an indie artist.
But what of the money? While there are offerings like Amuse, which give advances on artists' streaming royalties, the streaming model is far from perfect. Franky Hill may be an amazing artist, but he is still a relatively small act. Though he refers to his financial situation as “comfortable,” he does not live without struggle (“I can’t move my mom out the hood, it’s not that tangible yet. It’s a process, and if you love music and you love what you do, it’s one that you don’t mind. It’s the good grind”). That said, Hill knows that the best way to make money as an indie is to go direct-to-consumer and monetize the message and the fanbase.
“Yes, yes, yes!” he declares of the importance of touring and merch. “That can help you sustain and fund what you do. That’s the biggest thing: if people think they just gon’ come into rap and make thousands right off the grip, you’re fooling yourself. This is like a start-up. You gotta keep re-investing to try and make it bigger.”
While Franky Hill continues to grow, invest in his career, and bet on himself, you can bet we will be watching. Our full conversation with Franky Hill, talking all manner of indie business, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What’s your favorite part of being an independent artist?
Franky Hill: My favorite part of being an independent artist, it’s a simple as the control. Doing what I want when I want. That has it downfalls, and it’s not an egotistical thing, but more of a… We’ve gotten to this point on our merit and with our own ideas, being able to do what we are doing.
What are the downsides of being in control?
You can get stuck in your ways a little bit. If you’re not careful, you can get enslaved to your own thinking and your own ideas. I’m a person that likes change, and I like different perspectives. At the same time, I’m really happy doing it how I’ve done it. That’s a tough thing to balance. The only downside would be, outside of things like the money, it’s just that fear of being stagnant or predictable.
How do you break out of that?
Trusting other people, man. Bringing people on and being accepting of new ideas. Knowing yourself, but also being selfless enough to trust. If I have an idea and I’m in the studio with three other people I trust and it’s like: “Y’all think this is hot?” and everyone is like, “Nah, bruh” [laughs]. Alright, I’m three-to-one. Allowing other people to make some decisions for you, that kind of stuff.
What’s something about being indie that you still don’t fully understand?
[Sighs] Jesus. Wow, can we come back to that one?
Sure, what makes you good at DIY?
Again, it’s not just me. I think that’s a quality. I’ve always been outgoing and I collaborated well with others. DIY, that sounds unfair, because it’s not just me. As [an] independent, I’m really dependent. Independent doesn’t mean alone. That’s a mantra I can say I run with, because I’m definitely not alone and me being accepting of others and wanting of help, not being afraid to ask for help, that’s helped me be incredible. Being able to do stuff on my own, because I’m not on my own.
Were you always able to ask for help?
Oh, no… Hell no. I wish I did. There was a time when I made [USER], that was the theme of it. I was trying to do everything alone, on my own, just life stuff. I would try to do it on my own, and it wasn’t until I became a user due to sh*t, I realized that when you ask for help and when you seek help, things become a ton easier. Big things don’t seem as big, small things are laughable at this point. Everything is easier.
Getting into the financials, how do you sustain being an artist?
I guess: awareness. My relationship with money, even very early on, has been very fluid. Now, I’m not struggling as much. But very early on, I was living paycheck-to-paycheck-to-paycheck. It was almost like I was living a double life. I remember, early on, being an artist and being a kid who paid rent and bills at a very young age. One side, I’m this responsible young adult who’s getting bills paid and on the other side, I’m this rapper, but rapping takes money [laughs]. It takes serious dollars. So the awareness of sacrificing. Knowing how to sacrifice. I like to have fun, but knowing when to say no, sometimes. Saying no, with money, is very critical. Music has to come first.
Touring and merch probably play a key role, too, right?
Yes, yes, yes! That’s key. Doing shows and selling merch, especially as an indie artist, with how streaming is set up… They’re really hurting everybody. But that’s some money that’s direct and [has] true value. You place a value on that T-shirt and based on the music and who you are and who you represent, people go out and they buy that. That can help you sustain and fund what you do. That’s the biggest thing: if people think they just gon’ come into rap and make thousands right off the grip, you’re fooling yourself.
A career is like a start-up. You gotta keep re-investing to try and make it bigger. It’s always about progressing. For a while, you’re collecting money and re-investing. So, when I say I’m comfortable, I’m not sitting on a couple racks. Nah. I just have enough to get what I wanna get done. I can’t move my mom out the hood, it’s not that tangible yet. It’s a process, and if you love music and you love what you do, it’s one that you don’t mind. It’s the good grind.
So, streaming isn’t a reliable source of income for you?
Oh, no. Not at this point. It’s just so hard. The metrics are just so unfair. TIDAL pays the most, and I think if you get a million streams on TIDAL, you get twelve thousand dollars. It’s hard to sustain that, especially if you’re doing it the “right way,” you have to pay for a lawyer, have an LLC situation; we went through these steps to make it “real.” It’s tough. Streaming is so tough. That’s why some of our favorite artists tour year-round. I watch Drake, like, bro, why is Drake still on tour? Drake shouldn’t have to tour as much as he does. I’m sure he loves connecting with his fans and stuff, but it’s just f*cked up out here.
How would you budget differently if you got an advance on your streaming royalties, a la the service offered by Amuse?
Wow. That’s an interesting idea. I guess that gets tricky, because what’s the terms of my advance? [Laughs] I don’t know if I would budget differently, it would be more re-investing into myself.
So, what’s something about being indie that you still don’t fully understand?
Ah, you’re back. I guess, at this point, you know the saying: You don’t know what you don’t know? I have a pretty good grasp, because I study a lot. I spend a lot of time looking at independence and the people who took that risk. Early on, Roc-A-Fella partnering with Def Jam. Those stories attracted me, so I paid close attention. I hate to cheapen you with this answer, but I don’t know what I don’t know, and I’m comfortable saying that. Something will come along, and maybe when that happens, I’ll text you.
Lastly, what makes Franky Hill happy?
What makes me happy? Love, man. Love makes me happy. It’s too much evil, man. It’s way too much evil. Friendship makes me happy. Fellowship. All the nice things in life. All that kinda stuff makes me happy. Seeing people smile, real social interaction. Meeting new people, learning people’s stories. All that genuine stuff makes me happy.