What would the ideal scenario be then‚ if you could just revamp the entire process? If everything went right‚ what would that look like?
If everything went right and I was still being realistic about what this all is -- I think if you look at bands like Charlie Hunter‚ The Bad Plus‚ or even Tortoise‚ some of these bands do have some degree of commercial success -- I think in an ideal world we could comfortably spend $20‚000 making a record‚ sell 20‚000 records and these guys could tour 3 or 4 times a year in front of 250-300 people a night. Just right there‚ it would be enough for everyone to be comfortable. It wouldn't be like MTV Cribs -- popping the most expensive champagne‚ hanging out at strip clubs -- but it wouldn't be like treading water either. It's kind of amazing. It might sometimes be perceived differently by the audience‚ but‚ speaking for the label‚ we're getting by month-to-month. I'm working 16 hours a day a lot‚ taking on artists outside of the label sometimes. It's probably not that different from being a music journalist trying to write about this music. Maybe it's harder.
It's the same issue. As I'm trying to cover the musicians that are really interesting to me‚ I'm not finding a ready-made scene. All of this stuff seems to be going on between the cracks in a way. It's so primary to so many people but only tends to get recognized as a subset of something else most of the time.
It's really important that we all stick together and spread the word and bring the new generation along. You've got to put your money where your mouth is in a way. Support music‚ and donate to your local NPR station. It's true‚ though‚ because those are the only conduits to get this out there. All the other big media outlets are on total lock-down. Thank God for David Fricke‚ though. Otherwise‚ nothing but middle-of-the-road rock music would get through to Rolling Stone‚ and that was a magazine that was founded on great music.
Yeah‚ and populist ideals and progressive politics.
I've got to give it to Rolling Stone‚ because they do tend to promote progressive politics.
I was just going to say‚ I think the political coverage is actually better than the music coverage a lot of times.
Oh‚ God‚ yes. I wouldn't subscribe to the magazine if it weren't for the politics. But it's frustrating. Why is the music coverage so whack? They could at least balance it a little bit.
Yeah. The romantic in me says‚ "If only people could hear the good stuff. If we weren't being force-fed then everyone would understand..."
I think that's sort of true. It's going to be interesting to see how everything continues to shake out though. Five years ago we could release a James Blood Ulmer album or an album by Skerik or someone and could comfortably sell 5000 copies. Over the last three or four years with file trading and the torrent sites‚ we've seen a difference. We've seen the sales just disappear. It's also because a lot of the record stores we used to use to get the music out‚ whether it was independent or Tower Records -- which did carry a really wide selection of music -- have disappeared. Now we can't sell this music to people.
Do you think the future is just digital downloads then?
We considered that but really prefer to be old-school. There's just something really appealing about having a physical CD‚ having the artwork and the complete vision and statement without losing the sound quality in mp3s. It's just something about the tangible thing. But unless something really changes in the next few years‚ we're going to have to deal with the fact that music is going to be totally digital. I can't stress how important it is to go out and buy music. Of course I'm going to say that‚ speaking from a label standpoint‚ but we provide a very valuable function for an artist. I know there are people out there who make this argument‚ like‚ "Well‚ dude‚ when everything's free it's‚ like‚ easier for people to discover shit."
Yeah‚ I think there is that argument. Especially for bands that are more live-oriented and are going to be touring regardless. Once upon a time it was "tour to promote a CD‚" but has it kind of flip-flopped to the point that the CD is almost subordinate to the tour‚ if someone's going to be playing out regardless?
That might be part of it‚ but I've found that you're much more likely to get coverage if these bands have a new CD out. Just because a fan has technology to steal music doesn't mean that it's right. If the artist wants to release that music for free‚ that's the artist's decision. Making a good record is absolutely an art form‚ and it takes money to do it properly. Sure‚ recording got cheaper with Pro Tools and people are doing home recordings in their bedroom‚ but there's still something to be said for going into a recording studio and making a record with the right microphones with the right amount of time‚ letting the band work out arrangements. All of that takes time and money‚ and people need to respect that.
Returning for a moment to that notion that if everything's free then everything will be exchanged and the word will spread‚ what do you think about the Radiohead [In Rainbows] thing? Is that viable if you're not an international superstar like Radiohead?
No. I don't think it is. In a lot of ways I think Radiohead kind of took advantage of the situation and did a huge disservice to artists who are where they were 10 or 12 years ago. It was interesting to watch happen and it got them a lot of press and of course it was their choice...
A choice that was only viable because they had struggled to build up the empire that is Radiohead‚ in a way.
And I do find it interesting that guys like Trent Reznor and Jeff Tweedy‚ who I love‚ have come out and sung the virtues of giving music away‚ but those guys are already built on major-label money. They would probably still be scrapping it out if they hadn't had $100‚000-promo campaigns put behind them. And it is interesting‚ some of that music I mentioned before -- Charlie Hunter‚ The Bad Plus -- it got exposed because a major label came along and put real money into it. Those are opportunities that a lot of these other bands have never had.
How do you find the artists that you end up putting on the label? HYENA runs the gamut.
I just keep my ears open. If something strikes me that I absolutely love‚ then I go with it. People I know in the industry bring stuff to me sometimes. Believe me‚ there is so much good music that I wish I could be putting out‚ but I'm only able to do maybe 10 percent of it. We just have to be super careful. We've gotten to the point where we have a core roster now and it's my intention to see those artists develop out of HYENA. We have had records like this one by Grayson Capps‚ who's from New Orleans‚ and I literally discovered it in the Louisiana Music Factory. I thought the cover was cool and was like‚ what the fuck‚ I'll buy it. I brought it home and fell in love with it. Then there's someone like The Brakes‚ who an intern turned me on to. Then‚ someone just mailed me a John Ellis demo‚ and it turned out he was playing with Charlie Hunter.