In an era where artists are flooding the market with music, New York’s Jimi Tents prefers to take his time. Jimi privileges the fan experience over everything, and with his DMs open and fans telling him his music changed their lives, that fan relationship is quite literally paying off.
If it sounds like fans are the key to Jimi's indie success, you’re only partly correct. While fans are one cog, the key to staying cash flow positive as an indie artist comes from reinvestment and team-building.
“As an indie artist, there’s only so many avenues of income and it’s not like you have a label or this huge financial backing, or an advance,” Jimi tells me over the phone. “Everything comes from us—me and my team—and there’s no sure guarantee that a record will perform well.”
That risk and reward is the single hardest part of being an indie artist. With streaming being as “fickle” as it is, per Jimi, artists cannot rely on the streaming check to pay their rent or get them to their next month of being an artist. Instead, Jimi—like many other artists—relies on touring and merchandise to keep himself afloat, but even with touring, there are challenges.
“One of the challenges of touring is most tours are pretty much put together on a relationship basis,” he explains. “Artist to artist relationships basis. If you’re not really the most social or cliquey kind of person… It’s not something that your booking agent can do.”
Of course, the outlook for an independent artist is not all bleak. Jimi Tents is excellent at budgeting and keeping his money right. If he got an advance on his royalties, per the service offered by Amuse, Jimi would simply put his budgeting cap on and continue reinvesting in himself; he would put out more content faster, and tailor the fan experience. They are, after all, the reason Jimi Tents gets to wake up and be an artist every day.
Our full conversation with Jimi Tents, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What’s something about being indie that you still don’t fully understand?
Jimi Tents: I have to say the radio; there’s a disconnect between independent artists in general and radio. That’s something that every indie artist wrestles with. We all know it takes a lot of money, and yet payola is illegal, so it’s like: Where does the money go? It’s just something I feel like labels have more of a grip on. And also understanding radio records, that’s a whole world of its own. Radio might not be super important to a lot of other people, but coming from New York where we have huge stations… Radio still is very prominent.
What’s the hardest part of managing an indie career?
It’d probably have to be just generating capital and reinvesting in yourself time after time. As an indie artist, there’s only so many avenues of income and it’s not like you have a label or this huge financial backing, or an advance. Everything comes from us—me and my team—and there’s no sure guarantee that a record will perform well. Sometimes it exceeds our expectations as well, but it’s a gamble. The fact that you take your funds and you gamble with them, that’s the hardest part.
How do you manage to stay cash flow positive without a label?
It comes from me and the rest of my team, everybody pitching in and contributing to the overall dream and objective of what we’re trying to achieve. A big bulk of my income comes from shows, streaming, features, and we’re starting to get the ball rolling on merch now. But it has to be a team effort.
How much does touring play into your ability to stay afloat?
Touring is a huge factor for all artists, not just indie artists. Touring is something I definitely want to strengthen and really get a grasp on, whether it be me going out on the road and supporting a bigger artist, or me going out on a more direct tour where I’m only targeting my biggest cities.
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One of the challenges of touring is that most tours are put together on a relationship basis; artist to artist relationships basis. If you’re not really the most social or cliquey kind of person… It’s not something that your booking agent can do. A lot of times, securing a tour is “Do you know this artist personally? Do you have mutual respect? Does this person wanna see you win?”
Is that something that troubles you?
I wouldn’t say it troubles me, but it definitely puts things into perspective for me when it comes to building relationships with my peers. It puts things into perspective like “Hey, you shouldn’t build these relationships for the sake of solely getting ahead. But also keep in mind, you shouldn’t be a stranger either.”
What about streaming? Is that a reliable source of income for you?
I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s the most reliable source, because it’s fickle. Some months are better than others. You can’t really depend on streaming for it to be your end all be all. Like, “Okay, I’m about to pay rent with this streaming check.” It’s real fickle. All of that, also, falls on me, the artist, because it’s all about my consistency as far as putting music out and the activity that’s surrounding all these records.
It’s all about having creative ideas, innovative ideas. It’s not all about the money. I don’t think it’s the most reliable source of income… At an indie stage, until you get your footing where your song is doing a million streams a week or something, that changes the conversation.
Have you figured out how to make streaming work for you?
It’s definitely still a work in progress. I’m the type of artist, I create a lot of music, but I’m also really hard on myself. I don’t feed into mediocrity. I don’t necessarily care about what everybody else is doing. I try to put things out that I can be proud of for years to come. A lot of times, I might not be cranking out releases as much as I possibly could, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have the records.
I definitely wanna be more consistent when it comes to releasing stuff and putting stuff out; whether it be EPs or more visuals. Just content across the board, I wanna get to a point where I’m cranking stuff out—because I also tend to sit on things, too. I’m still figuring out what’s the best mode to go in this day and age, in this era of everything is microwavable and there’s six albums that come out every Friday. How do you stand out?
Does that make it hard for you to sustain your career? Or does the team support overcome that?
Definitely, I don’t think it would be possible without my team. They help so much! I don’t feel like [my release rate] will affect sustainability, it’s just hard because for me it’s more about the timing. Figuring out the best time to release, because every six months to a year, there’s a new tactic and there’s a new way people are discovering music, and people are releasing music. That relationship constantly shapeshifts. There’s the blog era, the streaming era, and now we’re in a space where a lot of people don’t even wanna look for the music on streaming platforms. Listeners are fickle. That’s why playlists are so popular. Going back to your question, I don’t think sustainability is the problem. We’re just trying to keep up with the ever-changing business that is music.
How would you budget differently if you got an advance on your streaming royalties, a la the service provided by Amuse?
Honestly, I’m pretty good at budgeting [laughs]. It wouldn’t be too much different than how I tend to operate now. Our whole business model is [based on] reinvesting [in] yourself and giving back to your fans. We’re just trying to build something that people can support on the whole. To answer your question: I would just have the money upfront to create more content. I would have the content [done] and I’d be able to give people more, at a faster rate.
Ending on a high note, what’s your favorite part of being an indie artist?
A mixture of the satisfaction of having that direct to consumer relationship with a lot of my fans, they can DM me at any time. We can have full-blown conversations. People tell me they want me in certain cities. They really support and wanna see me win. You get to build a one-on-one relationship with these people that wanna see you win, that you probably wouldn’t know from a hole in the wall. And you get to hear all these stories about how your music helped them.
Another thing that’s probably my favorite part of being an indie artist is just ownership. Being able to know I own my catalog, I own my masters. If I were to sign a major label deal, which I’m not opposed to, I’d keep my back catalog and I know what I want, so to speak. And I know what I don’t want. That would be my favorite part: ownership. Knowing I own my shit [laughs].