"I think people need to stop focusing on all the negative and, instead of thinking of all the stuff you can’t do, think of the stuff that you can do right now.”
In the first half of this interview, Zuby explicated his mantra of innate optimism. He also admits, however, that he himself has not always kept the same mindset.
The first Zuby album came out 14 years ago, in 2006 - one year before the birth of SoundCloud and two years before Spotify. Youtube itself was also barely a year old. A lot has changed in the time since the legend of Zuby began.
“The philosophy I was just telling you about, about looking at the positive things and the opportunities? One place I think I didn’t do that nearly as well as I could have was when things started shifting from the world of physical media to online streaming and stuff like that. I’ll be totally honest and up front, okay? I still don’t really like streaming. Like, I’m still not a giant fan of streaming - I don’t think the revenue model is particularly fair towards artists...so I still have my little grievances with streaming. But I used to be, like, totally opposed to it. And I think, in hindsight, that probably was an error because technology always changes. I didn’t withhold my music from it or anything, but I think that - earlier on - if I’d sort-of seen that as an opportunity rather than as a problem and as a challenge, then I think I would’ve been able to get that land grab and capitalise on that better than I did. I did do other things, you know. That’s when I started my pop-up shop and started selling more of my merchandise and stuff like that, so it’s not like I got crushed by the thing. But, I think that’s a situation where it took me too long to kind-of see the opportunity there, rather than just the issue.
"And like I said, you know, it’s something I still have a little bit of a battle with because I think artists need to be compensated fairly and everything like that. I mean, if you look at the streaming rates and just look at the mathematics of it, when you look at selling, say, a CD independently… you can say I can sell the CD for £10. To make £10 from streaming? That might need I don’t know how many thousand plays to get even 10 quid. Depending on the platform, it could be between 2500 streams to 5000 streams just to make that same £10.”
The current spotify rates stand at an average payout of $0.00437 USD per stream. This would mean that it requires 2288 streams to earn $10 USD - around £8.02 GBP.
“For some artists, it might be easier to get 2500 streams than to sell 1 CD. But the type of artist I am and the way I run my stuff, it’s easier for me to sell 1 CD than to get 5000 streams. So it’s not really like one is better than the other period… I think it’s just like, 'okay look: things change, technology changes, you just gotta move with it and you’ve got to utilise whatever tools and options are at hand'. So that would be advice to me if I could rewind 5 to 10 years ago.”
Another new technology Zuby probably never saw likely to be able to aid him at the time of its inception was Twitter - also founded in 2006, the year of Zuby’s debut Commercial Underground. Zuby has recently blown up on Twitter, both in the UK as well as with our American cousins, accumulating over 222k followers, and counting.
“It wasn’t planned - I’ll be totally honest, man”, Zuby reveals. “For the first 10 years of my career, I used to quite specifically not talk about politics or religion or anything that could be really polarising or controversial or whatever. Anyone who listened to my music I think would know, would get some idea of some of my stuff, but I used to keep that off. And then, what really happened was - in 2018, due to a bunch of different things - I just thought on Twitter...I just thought the conversation was very imbalanced. Right? It seemed like people are only getting this one perspective here and there are a lot of people who share my views and opinions on a lot of things, like I’m not someone who’s got some super crazy, far-out fringe views or something. But it just seemed like a lot of normal, commonsensical views were not being expressed and I thought like you know what, if everyone’s on here voicing opinions, some of which I thought were crazy or ill-thought out or whatever, then I don’t think I even can stay silent.
“Everyone picks their battles. You don’t get into every argument or every debate or every thing, whatever, that you potentially could. And I don’t recommend someone does that ‘cause you won’t have a very fun life, but there are certain things you feel like ‘alright, I need to say something about this’. Like, if I don’t say something, I’ll feel like I’m being complicit in my silence.”
Zuby has become somewhat of a pundit on social and political topics. He says “I just started voicing certain opinions, and it turned out that a lot of people found it really refreshing and people really liked it and were like ‘oh, it’s good to hear someone say that’ or ‘oh, I agree with you on that’ or, you know ‘I disagree with you on that’, but opening conversation and everything. A lot of people started following me because of this commentary.”
He continues: “You’ll see that now my following is a mixture of fans of my music, my podcast, my politics, or this or that, it’s not really one thing. It sort-of transcended just being Zuby Music - which is initially what I wanted not to happen. That was what I was trying to avoid all those years.”
Zuby’s had a number of viral tweets, but there was one tweet in particular that captured the essence of Zuby’s Twitter perfectly. The tweet’s video got circled worldwide, and was broadcast on news programs such as Piers Morgan’s Good Morning Britain. “When I identified as a woman and broke the women's’ British deadlift record...that tweet has done over 8 million impressions...the thing went crazy, it just went totally bananas, and that was the gateway for a lot of people discovering me. And a lot of people discovered my music off the back of that, and discovered my podcast, and then I released my book and so a lot of things snowballed from there and I got all these crazy opportunities to go out to the states and go on Joe Rogan, go on Fox News and Rubin Report and Ben Shapiro and I don’t even know how many things I got. I went to Washington D.C., I got invited to the Pentagon, I got invited to the White House… that was probably one of the most successful tweets of all time in terms of actually changing someone’s career trajectory.”
Zuby’s been invited to the White House a total of three times. When asked why, he replies through laughter: “That’s a good question. Why did I get invited to the White House?”
He explains: “When I was in Nashville, actually, I put out a tweet saying ‘I’m going to be in D.C. next week, I wonder if anyone can get me into the White House’ and within, like, a day, it turns out I have people following me who work in the White House - which I didn’t know at the time - as well as having some friends who know people who work in the White House, including the President. And so, that just sort of happened. I was in D.C. and I got an email inviting me to the White House, and… I figure if you get invited to the White House, you go - right? It was a cool opportunity, you know. It was a big honour. I don’t think there are many rappers, let alone British rappers - I might be the only one - to say they’ve been invited to the White House to have a tour and look around and stuff.”
“I didn’t get a chance to meet the President,” Zuby tells. “He wasn’t there at the time I was there but I got to see his office and I got to sit in the Vice President’s office. That was interesting. I got a tour, I did meet some other people who work in the administration and stuff like that, but I didn’t get a chance to meet the great orange one.”
Zuby does admit that his situation is surreal, though, telling that “Most people who now know me only discovered me in the past 16 to 18 months. So a lot of people who know me now - the majority of people who know me now - sort of missed the whole grind. I mean, I’m still grinding, I’m grinding just in a different way, but...so many people are unaware of all the grind and the hustle that went into this, like, they didn’t see me travelling up and down the UK with my backpack talking to people on the street and passing out flyers and all the real hard work that went into stuff. So a lot of people now see me as ‘oh, this guy just tweeted something’, you know, or ‘he got lucky’ and it’s like, man. You missed so much of this, you know. If you could understand the story and take a moment to look at it, you’d quite quickly see this is the culmination of a lot of hard work.
“People will see the tip of the iceberg...It’s like, you’ll have someone who looks at a Youtube channel with 5 million subscribers and someone’ll think like ‘oh, they just put out a video and they were lucky’, or whatever, but they didn’t see maybe it took that same person like 2 years to even reach 5000 subscibers, right? You know, it took them hundreds of hundreds of videos and failed efforts and mean comments and people telling them ‘you suck’ and all of that, like, people don’t see all that.”
Zuby develops the idea, elaborating “I think you’re always planting seeds...some of them will grow in a year, some of them you won’t see that happen until 5, 10 years down the line and it’s ‘oh wow, if I didn’t do that thing before, then I wouldn’t be where I’m at now’. Because wherever you are, it’s a culmination of everything that’s happened in the past. So, for me, it manifested in a weird way - I wasn’t expecting a tweet to be the thing that put me on so many people’s radar, but I’m grateful that it happened.”
Zuby has widened his platform, and he has no plans to slow up anything yet.
“I want to take everything as far as it can go. I don’t put limits and caps on myself. My big goal is to have a positive impact on over 10 million people. And, initially, the plan was to do that just through my music and it’s like, you know what? I’m going to just do the things that I’m good at and I’m capable of doing, and if I can inspire or help people in some way, shape or form, I don’t really mind what medium they come through...I can’t really force the outcome...I can create the making of it, I can put stuff out there, but I don’t know what will come back and what the feedback will be. But I’m definitely going to keep making music, I think a lot of people have thought ‘is he still making music’ or whatever, yes I’m definitely still making music. I just had to take care of some other stuff, but I’m back making music and I’m also gonna be putting out more books, gonna be putting out more social media content, more videos, more podcasts, who knows, maybe in a couple more years maybe I’ll have added something else in there. I’m just going to continue doing what I love, what I enjoy, and hopefully people can find some inspiration and value in it.”
"Master your craft"
For new artists trying to make it in the independent music industry, Zuby says “The first thing I would tell them is master your craft. Get really, really good at what it is that you do. Whether you’re a producer, rapper, singer, it doesn’t matter - just get to the stage where you are undeniably good. I say undeniably… there are people who think that Eminem is a rubbish rapper, so there’s always gonna be exceptions. But get your stuff to a stage where you could play it to a stranger and they would think it’s at least as good as a lot of the music out there that they hear on the radio or on Spotify or whatever. And then, once you’ve done that, that’s when you need to worry about building a fan base or getting yourself out there.
“A lot of times people worry about getting themselves out there before they’ve even gotten good or made a song or done a gig, so just do things in the right order and that would be my initial advice. Master your craft.”