Iamsu! Is Proof Independent Artists Can Thrive And Sell Music In The Streaming Era

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The clock is ticking, and there are only 15 minutes left until the doors of Ace Of Spades in Sacramento open for the third annual IAMSUMMER extravaganza, which is half IAMSU! show and half Summer Jam for his rabid fans and the followers of his Bay Area collective the HBK Gang. Fans have been lining up across the street for over two hours now, and the line is wrapping around the block, anxious to burst through the doors and rush to the spaces closest to the stage.

The 27-year-old Richmond, California native is still hard at work, checking every single detail and making sure it’s all up to spec. He bounces around gleefully, with the type of exuberance typically reserved for children less than half his age. He’s so happy with life he can’t possibly hide it, not that he would want to or that he’s trying even in the least bit. But even with all that glee he does mean business, and with the urging of his mother, he’s allowed each of his guests performers — who also double as his closest friends — to do their own individual sound check. He’s also been patiently waiting to get a look at the massive and remarkable video board he’s rented — for a handsome fee — for the two IAMSUMMER shows, the second of which will be in the legendary Fox Theater in Oakland on July 29th, and the 2,800 capacity there will make it Su’s largest headlining show to date.

“This is the norm,” Su’s mom, Ms. Harris, notes before reminding him how much time is left before the doors open. Then, in a motherly and endearing way, she calmly explains to the performers, friends and family in attendance who will go where once the show starts as they all listen attentively and slowly begin heading to the areas she directed them towards. “Sudan has always been hands on,” she says, calling him his given name like any mother would. “It’s the only way to make sure you look good — to do it yourself.”

This is the life for Su, where he’s as much of an all-seeing, all-doing taskmaster as he is a rapper/producer extraordinaire. And now, that DIY attitude and classic bay area hustler’s mentality has catapulted him into a successful independent existence, wherein he can cater to his fans directly, live comfortably, and thrive in an era where music is as abundant and free as it has ever been.

“I’m going to come clean,” Su explains backstage during a brief a break from his soundcheck. “I make money off music, I could not do shows if I wanted to, because my music sells.” Su’s success conflicts with current industry trends, where most believe music can’t be sold anymore and mostly serves as a loud flyer for the two major outlets for artists: Touring and merchandising.

Su does both, but after years of groundwork cultivating his fan base through networking and with a breakneck work rate and some cost-effective production measures, he’s been able to create an ecosystem where his fans will pay for music, even if he gives it away for free. Their willingness to do, and their constantly growing numbers have made him rich, all without the help of a major record label, and may have created a blueprint for independent success in the streaming era.