SIIMBA makes the weighty sound effortless. His 2017 debut album Zemenay’s Gemiinii is a silky foray into the life and times of the artist raised in New York City, New Jersey, and Ethiopia. His myriad perspectives and understanding of life’s twists, and the chaos of being, sound relaxed and plume gracefully across 12 tracks. His music is woeful and sinuous. It flows and beckons the listener to dive in, and once submerged, SIIMBA rewards the listener with meditations on the light and darkness occupying a life.
If SIIMBA sounds like a dream of an artist, that’s because he very well is. Gemiinii is a wonderfully versatile project—both rich and thoughtful—which SIIMBA released independently. On and off wax, he is proud to be indie (“Cocaine Biimbie”). But while SIIMBA gets to focus solely on the art without having to deal with the trappings of the major label business, his career is not without its hardships.
“The hardest part about managing your career is dealing with all the components outside of the creation of the music,” SIIMBA tells DJBooth. “People with more infrastructure can outsource more things and therefore work towards creating music.”
Recently, SIIMBA has learned how to trust others, cede control, and outsource the same way as artists on major labels. “I find people who are better than I am at what I am looking to get done. Then, I can trust them,” he says.
Now, SIIMBA sees having a team and helping hands as crucial to expanding his operation. He makes music that demands your attention in its subtleties. It’s not the Drake formula. There’s no shame in needing a team to help push his movement.
Strategic business partnerships, like his work with Amuse, are also a must. “What Amuse does, is they calculate Okay, you’re projected to make 'x' amount of money, based on your streams. In 'x' amount of time, we’ll give you an advance on that. Then you recoup based on your streams,” he explains.
With Amuse’s service, SIIMBA can invest in himself at a higher rate, pressing merch and marketing himself with more regularity. As for his views on streaming services, they’re not so incendiary. SIIMBA sees streaming as a viable option for additional income, but not as the main revenue stream.
“There’s more money in music now than there has been in a long time,” he begins. “Artists should get a higher percentage. There’s lots of artists who are living off of their streaming now, but they should live better off their streams.” Amen.
DJBooth’s full conversation with SIIMBA, lightly edited for content and clarity, follows below.
DJBooth: What’s the hardest part of managing an indie career?
SIIMBA: The hardest part about managing your career is dealing with all the components outside of the creation of the music. People with more infrastructure can outsource more things and therefore work towards creating music.
How do you overcome that?
Still working on that [laughs]. It’s a lot of work and not that much sleep. Now, what I’m getting better with is learning to outsource and learning to trust people. Trusting people was what I wanted to execute. I find people who are better than I am at what I am looking to get done. Then, I can trust them.
Was it hard to let go of control?
Yeah, letting go of control was probably my biggest challenge… People have to realize that if you’re looking to accomplish certain things, you have to look at “Where am I looking to be?” You have to understand what it takes to achieve that. You’re not gonna achieve Drake-success using a Talib Kweli blueprint, and vice versa. You’re not gonna have a Kweli-type career following a Drake blueprint. Whoever it is, it’s about figuring out what you’re looking to do and looking to accomplish. For me, having a team and having help is important.
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Getting into the financials, how do you manage to stay cash flow positive without a label?
You find strategic partnerships and things that make sense, like the Amuse situation.
Could you break down how the service works?
Essentially, when you are on streaming services, right, you do a certain amount of streams, you get paid out regularly. You get paid every couple weeks, or whatever the case may be. What Amuse does, is they calculate Okay, you’re projected to make 'x' amount of money, based on your streams. In 'x' amount of time, we’ll give you an advance on that. Then you recoup based on your streams.
How has the Amuse service changed your ability to budget your career?
If you’re smart, any time you get larger sums of money, you can reinvest that towards things that make you more money. Say you get an advance, you take some of that money, you can put it towards getting merch made, which makes more money. Put it towards marketing, whatever the case is. A lot of times, you have things you’re looking to get done, but you don’t have the funds. Any time you can get a big sum, it’s beneficial.
What has Amuse helped you invest in?
For me, it was more marketing, which is important.
Is streaming itself a reliable source of income for you?
Yeah, kinda. I mean… My streams are still going up, so I’m guaranteed to get a check every month, so that’s good. It’s another source of residual income.
What makes up the bulk of your income?
Shows and other investments I have outside of music.
How would you change the streaming model to make it viable for indie artists so they don’t have to rely on external investments?
There’s more money in music now than there has been in a long time. I would say: bigger payouts. Artists should get a higher percentage. There are lots of artists who are living off of their streaming now, but they should be living better. We should be getting more money per stream. Other than that, it’s straight.
Ending on a high, what’s your favorite part of being an indie artist?
I’m not signed to a major label, so I don’t have some of the challenges that my friends have dealt with in the sense of not knowing when their shit’s gonna get put out. So, the lack of control that I’ve seen in people I know when it comes to their major label situation, those frustrations? I don’t have those frustrations. I like the full control component when it comes to the music.