A story for The Big Issue #353 on Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Click the image below for full-size, readable version; story text is included underneath.
Six hours is plenty of time to record a full-length rock album from start to finish, claims Mikey Young from Melbourne band Eddy Current Suppression Ring. Did you hear that? That was the sound of professional recording engineers, meticulous sound technicians and veteran major label marketing managers gasping in horror.
ECSR is beholden to no such middlemen. Instead, the band have cultivated a reputation as indie heroes, of sorts: their completely hands-on, DIY approach to all aspects of their career has resulted in a steady rise in the popularity of not only the band themselves, but of the lo-fi, old-school garage rock sound that they’ve played a large part in resurrecting for a new generation of Australian music fans. Young tells me that he spent three years listening to “teenage garage records from the ’60s” while working at Corduroy Records’ vinyl pressing plant, where he realised his fondness for the distinctive guitar tone that now characterises the band: warm and clean for the most part, though prone to occasional buzzing, abrasive bursts of energy.
None of the above would hold much weight if the band didn’t have an audience. Who cares about an indie band doing everything themselves, for cheap? But the band do have an audience, and many do care. In a transition reminiscent of fellow Melburnians The Drones in recent years, Eddy Current Suppression Ring can lay claim to a rare confluence of events: they’re lauded by music critics, and they’re popular enough to dent the mainstream (their third album, Rush To Relax, debuted in mid-February at #20 on the ARIA album chart). But most importantly, they’ve managed to keep most of their fan base intact, despite their rising profile and the inevitable backlash that occurs when artists outgrow their roots.
Though their lo-fi garage rock sound continues to attract more ears, the band’s production costs seem to be inversely proportional. The quartet were the recipients of the $30,000 Australian Music Prize (AMP) in March 2009 ahead of competition like The Presets, Cut Copy, and the aforementioned Drones. The album that won it for them, Primary Colours (2008), reportedly cost just $1,500 to make. Young – whose roles within the band include guitarist, keyboardist, studio recorder, mixer, and manager – claims Rush To Relax cost less and took even less time.
Where does it end, then? The logical conclusion is that they’ll record the next release in one take. Curious, I put the idea to Young. “I always thought about it, but I think it’s unlikely. I can’t see how we can do it much more quickly or cheaper than [Rush To Relax]. Definitely not any cheaper!” However, he feels that too much attention is paid to the length of time it takes for the band to record albums. “It’s not like we’re trying to prove a point. I have the recording gear, so it doesn’t cost us anything. We’re comfortable with doing it that way, and it sounds okay for what we’re trying to do. Unlike some bands who go into a recording session to write songs, we tend to have 12 to 15 songs written and ready to go.”
On record, ECSR aim to sound as close to their live performances as possible. Young elaborates: “I always thought if you can’t play the songs you’re trying to record well after three takes, you shouldn’t be recording it. We try a song a couple of times and hopefully it’s done. There’s plenty of room for bum notes and stuff like that. We’re not trying to achieve any kind of perfection.”
Young believes idiosyncratic singer Brendan Huntley “always seems to be quirky and out of time,” which, alongside his simplistic, honest lyrics, may influence the band’s broad-reaching popularity.
While keeping their career completely DIY might not quite result in the proverbial license to print money, self-recording their material is “a way of keeping costs down, that’s for sure,” says Young. What of the AMP cash they won 12 months ago, then? Besides securing their own recording space, Young laughs as he discusses the photograph that adorns the Rush To Relax album cover.
It isn’t Photoshopped: they really hired the plane that appears in the sky, high above the band, who are wearing masks (“Maybe we were just scared of our own faces on the cover,” he adds, before stressing that there’s no symbolic meaning behind the masks). The cost of this venture seems at odds with their DIY approach, until you consider the importance the band place on their artistic integrity. After speaking with Young, I’m convinced that faking the shot wouldn’t have occurred to the band at all.
“It was pretty hard to find a company that still does those old plane banners. I always used to like those banners as a kid and I always wanted one,” the guitarist says. “Our album cost nothin’, and our friends film our videos, and I guess we won some money last year,” – he laughs. “And I felt like we should show that we spent it on something. So we might as well get a stupid big plane.”
It turned out to be one of those we’ve-made-it moments: “When it came flying over, it was seriously the most exciting event. We were just jumping up and down going ‘yes!’ It was like, box ticked, I can retire now!”
Last week I wrote a feature article for Australian music website Mess+Noise about Faux Pas, a Melbourne-based electronic artist whose ‘digital DIY’ approach has intrigued me since Waycooljnr founder Nick Crocker pointed me in his direction.
I’ve since found Tim Shiel – the man behind the Faux Pas moniker, pictured right – to be a great example of an artist willing to invest time in developing his online presence. Besides using his computer to write and record his art, Shiel offers his music openly and honestly with bloggers, and allows fans to buy and share his material with minimal fuss. Below is the unedited interview that I used as the basis for my Mess+Noise feature ahead of the April 2010 release of his new album, Noiseworks.
Sacramento, California hard rock band Deftones have been in the game since 1988. You might know them best through their third full-length, White Pony, which debuted at #2 on the Australian charts upon release in 2000. Widely considered the band’s finest hour, it showcased a more considered, mature songwriting approach that largely favoured a lighter touch over the bludgeoning drums and distorted guitars that had characterised their first two releases. Tool and A Perfect Circle singer Maynard James Keenan also happened to provide guest vocals on a song, which did wonders for the band’s credibility and cross-over appeal.
That was ten years ago. Since then the band released Deftones (2003) andSaturday Night Wrist (2006). The quintet’s sixth album, Diamond Eyes, is due in early May. Four years between albums, their progress has been hampered by a car accident involving bassist/backup vocalist Chi Cheng, who has remained in a minimally conscious state since November 2008. Upon picking up their instruments in the months that followed, the band decided to shelve the album they’d been working on with Cheng (tentatively titled Eros) in favour of writing and recording an entirely different product. We spoke with Deftones drummer Abe Cunningham [above, top right] ahead of the release of Diamond Eyes.
As soon as the call ended, this felt like a horrible interview, through no error or omission on either of our parts. First, we discovered that Abe couldn’t hear me when I used my speakerphone – a tactic which usually works fine – so I had to switch between handset and speakerphone settings the whole time.
Worse, our call dropped out at a crucial moment, when he was discussing the process the band went through following Chi’s accident. I hadn’t intended to directly address this topic – it seemed too obvious to me – but he brought it up voluntarily. Then the call dropped. How unfortunate, how frustrating.
So I was surprised when I read through the transcript and found I still had a bunch of workable, worthwhile stuff. Phew.
On February 13 2010, I spoke to OK Go’s singer/guitarist Damian Kulash [pictured right] on behalf of Rolling Stone Australia. He’d been up all night shooting a second music video for their song ‘This Too Shall Pass’. The first video couldn’t be embedded anywhere outside of YouTube because of the restrictions put in place by their parent label, Capitol Records, which is owned by EMI Music. The band’s response was to upload an embeddable version to Vimeo, write an open letter to their fans explaining the situation, and seek outside funding to conceptualise and film an entirely different music video. [You should click the above links to watch the videos, if you haven't already seen them.]
Shortly before Rolling Stone’s May issue went to print at the end of February – confusing, right? - OK Go left Capitol Records, effectively undermining my story’s relevance. [More on that experience here.]
Below is the full conversation I had with Damian, which is one of the last interviews the band gave while still signed to a major label.
Andrew: Before we start, are you totally sick of talking about this whole issue?
Damian: The politics of the music industry are… tiresome. I’ll put it that way. It’s important to me and I’m fascinated by it, but I’d much rather be thinking about making things, than how to distribute them.
What kind of response have you seen from your fans in regard to your letter?
It’s been pretty positive. My letter has been received by some people as a polemic, or as a big screed, but truly, the letter was just an explanation to our fans about why certain things weren’t available to them, because I think people really didn’t understand what was going on. I didn’t see it as a big political move; it was just an explanation to our fans, and we’ve gotten very good response from them. I think they’re just happy that we treat them like adults.
What kind of response have you seen from the record label? I read your interview on New TeeVee where you said your main contact at the label wants as badly as you do for the video to be embeddable.
I think most folks at the label probably share our opinion that things should be easily distributed. There are a lot of competing agendas within the record label, so I’ve gotten a wide range of responses. The digital department of EMI France actually tweeted the letter and was distributing it because they felt it was a defense of their position. Other people felt like it was an attack. It’s a big company, so there’s been a wide range of responses.
Beyond your fan base and record label industry people, the general public has also paid attention to the letter. I refer to your quote in Time about how you think there is a quiet majority who are just interested in seeing how the music industry works these days, and seeing your explanation from the inside.
That’s definitely been the basic response that I’ve felt. I obviously can’t quantify it, but the loudest comments in the music industry in general are mostly from people who hate labels and who hate major labels and feel the industry is set up to screw musicians. I don’t feel like that’s generally representative. I think it’s easy to hate the machine. You really get those comments from people that actually try to make a living making music. It’s mostly people who have this purist idea of what music should be to them; give up their day jobs because they want their musicians to be absolutely conceptually totally pure and not ever have to worry about money for them.
I read your Mashable interview where you said that a year or two ago, EMI switched the embedding stuff on all of your videos, but you didn’t pay much attention as you were making your new record at the time. Looking back, do you wish that you had paid attention? Would you have done anything differently back then?
We have to pay attention to how our records and our videos and everything is distributed because we make ‘em and we care about how they get out there, but I wouldn’t be a student of the music industry’s technicalities if I wasn’t convinced that the animating passion in my life is making things, and how the distribution of them affects that. I know it sounds incredibly circular, but I don’t particularly care if the music industry works until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.
I’m glad that when I’m writing music and recording music, in between records, I’m not spending my time trying to figure out the solution to the logistical problems of the music industry. Those are some things that we have to pay attention to out of necessity, not because we like paying attention to them.
There is a quote from you in the letter where you say, “Unbelievably, we’re stuck in the position of arguing with our own label about the merits of sharing videos. It’s like the world has gone backwards.” As musicians, you must feel that having these kinds of conversations about the business side of music drains your creativity or your time that could be better spent creating music.
It seems to me like there are a couple of things. One, the music industry is very clearly in an incredible crisis and that’s what makes this story complex. There is a lot to talk about because we’re up against what appears to be a sort of unresolvable problem. People want to talk about it. Two, I think a lot of us feel incredibly passionate about music and by its nature – almost by its definition – the important part of music kind of defies words. To me, what makes music sort of magical – what makes music the thing that I live for – is that you can communicate things like music’s four-dimensional emotions instantaneously. It’s like emotional ESP.
I think when something comes along, something to talk about in music, something very rational or logistical and sort of left-linear logical, that’s attached to the distribution of music or to the manufacturing or production of music, then at least there is something to sink our rational brains into and some people really want to talk about it. Maybe this is something of a stretch as an argument, but we do a lot of interviews and it’s impossible to answer substantive questions about music because music is a feeling, not an argument. Whereas, everything that surrounds music – how it’s distributed, the politics, and the money behind it – gives you something hard and logical to talk about. I think that’s sort of why there is so much fascination on these things.
Bob Lefsetz wrote in response to this situation that “if the labels want to maintain control, they have to first get the hearts and minds of the artists.” As an artist who deals with labels on a regular basis, do you share his view?
Yes, in essence they do. I think that the value in music from which we derive the money in music can no longer be generated by limiting access. The way you assess value in most commodities is related to supply, the whole supply and demand curve. The reason you have to pay to have most things is because someone else restricts your access to them or you have to pay for the access to them. There are certain things that don’t follow that model and music has sort of jumped the barrier, I think.
Twenty, fifteen, or even ten years ago, music was a physical thing that could be bought and sold. Even if conceptually the music wasn’t, there was a way of controlling access to it: you either owned a CD or you didn’t. Either you had access to it or your friend did, or you got it from a library. More likely, you bought it and had access to music.
Now that has sort of broken down and the music industry is not going to be able to get that genie back in the bottle. You have to find a different level to work with, and I think that – whatever the financing situation is, no matter which body is financing the logistical mechanics of music – that body will have to have a better relationship with musicians and record labels. Record labels deal in very black-and-white terms with this restricted access thing, and now everyone is going to have to believe in a new model simultaneously, otherwise money won’t be generated for music.
By now you’re all too familiar with the arguments surrounding this YouTube issue, having lived them out and told the world about it. If you can comment on it, I’d like to know how EMI rationalise the ‘disable embedding’ decision to the average web consumer – the one who just wants to share their cool videos with their friends?
There has been a conceptual shift between videos being advertisement and videos being product. They’re sort of ‘on the fence’ still. All labels still want their videos to be seen far and wide, but they also want to be paid for them to be seen far and wide. Whereas once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would actually help you distribute your advertising. Now, there is a website out there that is actually distributing your product without paying you for it. I think that’s how they justify it. They want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”
Do you think that the thought of the average web user even comes into their equation, or is it all just discussed in terms of profit and shareholders, as you alluded to in your letter?
They’re not such morons that they can’t take into account what people want. Labels don’t have a singular mind. It’s not like one big beast with one agenda. I think a lot of people at labels understand what people want and are frustrated with the way things are working. I think there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetization. There used to be an obvious revenue stream, and that was selling records [CDs]. Since that is shrinking so incredibly fast, now all the things that you essentially pay for to promote that revenue stream are now things that they’re trying to turn the tables on and get money for actually having done.
I don’t think they’re incapable of thinking about what people want. I think everybody suddenly is trying to eat the hamburger at the same time that they’re still milking the cow. You can’t have it both ways.
Final question Damian, and it’s a bit of a philosophical one, so take a deep breath. If labels continue to herd viewers into absorbing their artists’ content in specific web destinations like on YouTube, what are the wider ramifications for the nature of sharing content online?
First of all, I’ve been talking this whole time as if I have a kind of answer, like I know exactly what’s going on and there is an obvious path forward. I don’t know what the ramifications will be. The first step that seems obvious to me is we do need something like record labels to perform some of the functions record labels traditionally have. This is what I think the critics of major labels often miss, is that for all of their exploitative, greedy, and short-sighted policies, they did provide a risk aggregation for the world of music making. They invest in however many young bands a year and most of them fail. Those bands go back to their jobs at the local coffee houses without having to be in tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of personal debt for having gone for it.
If we don’t want to be just a domain of the independently wealthy and people who can take time off from their jobs for a couple of years to see what happens, or finance their own world tour while they figure out exactly how to make the number at the end of the column black, then somebody has to be doing this risk aggregation.
Historically, when a band did well, or an artist did well, the profits could be so substantial that they would cover the other nineteen losses that the failed bands meant for a record label. A label could take the very extreme numbers of the music industry: you might have a less than 1% chance of success, but if you do succeed there is a massive reward, and it sort of evens them out over dozens or hundreds of artists a year.
Something sort of needs to be doing that unless we want music only to be the domain of the independently wealthy. I think then you have to figure out what that means for content distribution. Somehow, some sector of the business has to be able to make a significant reward off of the success of that one-in-twenty, or that one-in-fifty, or that one-in-one hundred in order to keep the system running.
At the same time, we all want this magical, wonderful, instantaneous global distribution – via the internet – to make music ever easier to get to and to make it more universal and more accessible. We have to figure out how to get the money that people are willing to spend on music into the hands of musicians, and into the hands of those risk aggregation bodies.
Right now, it seems people are willing to spend money pretty freely on music. They just tend to do it more on hardware or on their broadband connection. People are willing to pay for extremely fast connection to the internet so they can download big files. They just don’t particularly care for paying for the file themselves, or see that as something they should be doing. People will pay a lot for an mp3 player. They don’t expect that part to be free, so to get people to value their music in that way, then we should figure out how to look at the system from a macro perspective and figure out a reasonable way forward.
Thanks Damian. I admire your ability to speak coherently about the music industry, especially after an all-nighter. [The band had been up working on the second video for 'This Too Shall Pass', which is embedded below.]
I don’t know how coherent I’ve been, but if you can whip that into shape and make me sound like I was, then more power to you. I appreciate it.
[You can read more about this story for Rolling Stone Australia here.]
Operating under the Faux Pas moniker, Melbourne musician and broadcaster Tim Shiel’s success hasn’t been played out among Melbourne’s live music venues, but online, writes ANDREW MCMILLEN.
“I owe a lot of people a beer.”
This is how Tim Shiel, also known as Faux Pas, jokingly describes his career so far. Unconfined by spatial constraints, Shiel’s success as an independent solo artist hasn’t been played out in Melbourne’s live music venues, but online. The beer-owing remark was a response to his experiences with community radio, which he credits, along with the internet, with disseminating his music to Australia and beyond.
“I don’t play live shows, so radio airplay and internet exposure are really the two main ways in which my music gets spread out there. And the thing with community radio is – and I know this is obvious, but sometimes it bears repeating – in the majority of cases, it’s the individual presenters who make the call about whether they are going to put your stuff to air or not. So there are a lot of individuals who I’m heavily indebted to.”
Meg White is my favourite young Brisbane writer. She’s relocated to Sydney to write for Australian Penthouse in recent months, but that’s a minor formality in a nascent, yet distinguished career. Highlights? She wrote an amazing live review of Brisbane rock band Hits, launched a brilliant war against The Courier-Mail’s shoddy online music journalism [full series of posts here - read from bottom], and tore to shreds a decidedly average Butcher Birds live review I wrote for Mess+Noise last October.
I have a question for you, seeing as you’re the most successful freelancer I know of. When you contact publications, do you make a general enquiry about their freelancing capacity, do you pitch them stories or do you offer to sell them content you’ve already written?
I’ve been toying with the idea of getting involved in the freelance world because there’s no clause in my contract about writing for competing publications, and while I’ve been poking around and talking to people, these seem to be the three main approaches used. Just wondering which one works best for you.
This is how I approach pitching new publications.
Find the name of the editor.
Try to find someone who knows her/him, and ask whether they’re able to give me a quick email intro to the editor.
If this approach succeeds and someone intros me, I jump into the email convo and ask whether the editor is open to freelance pitches.
Failing that acquaintance-intro tactic, I write a quick intro mentioning my bylines, link to my published work, and ask whether they are open to pitches.
From there, it’s usually a clear-cut ‘yes’ or ‘no’.
I find that just outright pitching stories, without any kind of preamble, looks (and feels, to me) rude. I try to picture the response of the editor on the other end. ‘Who is this person, and why do I care?’ *delete*
I have found that every editor who responds to my enquiry (whether intro’d through a third party or not) is upfront about their freelance budget. Most are happy to see story ideas – that is their job, or at least a big part of it, to commission stories – but some will state that it’s rare for freelance pitches to be approved. Which is part of the challenge, of course, and it’s nice to see an initial ‘no, we don’t take freelancers’ turn into a ‘well, that’s a good idea’ after a few weeks/months of persistence.
In response to the third approach you mentioned – I have never written content before it is commissioned. I do not intend to. I don’t like the idea of spending time on something when I’m unsure whether I’ll be paid for it. You know?
Thanks for the message. I kinda wish you didn’t smoke and drink so much, but then, your writing mightn’t be half as interesting if you didn’t put yourself in those situations.
Technically, this is my first video interview for The Vine. You wouldn’t know this if I hadn’t told you; although it took place via a Skype video call, it’s still published in plain text.
Andrew Wilson of Die! Die! Die!
Indie punk band Die! Die! Die! burst forth from Dunedin, New Zealand in 2005 with a hard-edged debut album that favoured abrasive noise over melody or song longevity. Their second release, 2007’s Promises, Promises doubled that album’s duration to 40 minutes, and saw the band exploring a more restrained style of songwriting without losing their characteristic urgency and impact.
Three years later, their third full-length is due. To whet our appetites, they’ve released a new video [for ‘We Built Our Own Oppressors’, see below] and are touring Australia throughout April. The Vine’s Andrew McMillen video called Die! Die! Die! singer/guitarist Andrew Wilson [pictured left in the above image] in Auckland, to discuss outsider perceptions of New Zealand, supporting Marilyn Manson, history’s great Kiwi bands, and turning down European tours with Brian Jonestown Massacre.
Skype video calls are a wonderful interview tool, though my connection did drop out midway through. We hastily reconnected and pretended that nothing happened. How marvelous that we can speak to one another from our respective bedrooms in Brisbane and Auckland. I should have taken a screenshot. Next time…
Die! Die! Die! are an excellent band and you should give them a try. Thanks to Joe Segreto @ IMC for hooking this up.
As frontman of The Drones, Gareth Liddiard has cultivated a reputation that approaches reverence among Australia’s independent music community. His band were winners of the inaugural Australian Music Prize in 2005, were awarded 2009’s ‘Best Live Act’ by Rolling Stone, and Liddiard’s song ‘Shark Fin Blues’ was voted as the ‘greatest Australian song of all time’ in jmag late last year by his peers. The band have managed to drag this local reverence overseas, garnering ciritcal praise from both sides of the Atlantic while being regular visitors to the US and Europe, most notably as a semi-regular fixture at the All Tomorrow’s Parties festivals.
Between recording and touring with The Drones, Liddiard is set to release his debut solo album later this year. Ahead of a solo tour at three east coast venues in mid-April, Andrew McMillen spoke to Gareth Liddiard at length about the pros and cons of performing acoustically, playing Halo 2 while on the dole, ‘sub-par teen angst’, and reading one’s own reviews.
Full interview – around 6,000 words – over at The Vine.
To my knowledge, this is the most comprehensive interview with Gareth published to date. I researched extensively in preparation, and I think that comes across in both my questioning and his responses. Moreover, because The Drones are my favourite Australian band, it was an absolute pleasure to engage with their key songwriter for most of an hour. It’s one of those occasions where I truly love what I do.
My first cautionary tale as a print media journalist: a lot can happen in the time between submitting a story, and the magazine going to print.
In late January, I pitched a story to Rolling Stone. Its focus: the discussion surrounding American rock band OK Go and their open letter to fans explaining why their label had blocked the embedding of latest new music video. Shortly after I researched, interviewed and submitted this story in late February, the band left their label – effectively destroying the story’s hook. It was edited from 800 words to around 200. Damn!
So here’s a treat: you can read the original story I submitted to Rolling Stone. Just pretend that OK Go are still signed to Capitol Records, and it’ll all make sense. I promise.
But first, here’s the (short) story that appears in the May 2010 issue of Rolling Stone (which features Hendrix on the cover). Click the below image for a closer look.
Here’s what I submitted.
EMI Killed The (Streaming) Video Stars
By Andrew McMillen
On the back of a clever, low-budget music video added to YouTube in July 2006, American rock act OK Go’s star went supernova. The original upload of the band’s treadmill dance routine to their single ‘Here It Goes Again‘ has been viewed 50 million times. Nearly four years later, restrictions put in place by their parent label, EMI subsidiary Capitol Records, have made it much more difficult for that level of ‘viral’ success to be replicated, whether by OK Go or any other act signed to EMI.
How? The label now enforces embedding restrictions on content published to the YouTube channels of all EMI-signed acts. Why? The label owns the band’s videos, and the label doesn’t receive ad revenue when the video is embedded outside of YouTube.
It’s a discussion centred around EMI’s apparent shift in values. In the eye of the storm stands OK Go singer and guitarist, Damian Kulash. Speaking to Rolling Stone before the band’s mid-February Australian tour, the frontman reflected on the changing nature of streaming online content.
“Once upon a time it was just amazing that there was a website out there [YouTube] that would help you distribute your advertising,” referring to the long-accepted notion of a band’s music video as a marketing tool. The relationship between YouTube and content owners changed from friendly to adversarial when the latter realised they were missing an opportunity to make a buck from the free online service. Putting himself in EMI’s shoes, Kulash suggests: “[Content owners] want people to see it like: “we paid for that thing, how come you won’t pay us for it?”.
Kulash is far from a clueless musician whining about losing precious YouTube views. Having eloquently opened a proverbial can of worms when he published an open letter to their fans on January 18 , the singer is all too aware of the complexities surrounding this issue, and of the industry’s wider foibles. He bluntly states: “I don’t particularly care if the music industry works, until I make something and it fucks up the way I want that thing to be shared with the world.”
That thing, in this case, was the band’s newest filmed creation for single ‘This Too Shall Pass’, which was uploaded to YouTube in early January. [Vimeo version embedded below.]
Like the treadmill video, it’s another monster one-take effort involving the band:this time, they’re assisted by 200 extras. Brilliant though the video is, it didn’t catch fire like ‘Here It Goes Again’.
After being “flooded with complaints”, the band realised that the video couldn’t be embedded on external sites, since the software that overlays texts ads onto YouTube videos is configured to only work on-site.
Hence Kulash’s apologetic letter, and the band’s decision to upload the video to ad-free competitor Vimeo. In the letter, Kulash explained that years ago – post-treadmill video – the major labels “threatened all sorts of legal terror, and eventually all four majors struck deals with YouTube which pay them tiny, tiny sums of money every time one of their videos gets played.”
While in Australia recently, Kulash again commented on the issue, this time with a piece entitled ‘WhoseTube?‘ that appeared in the opinion pages of The New York Times. Estimates of those “tiny, tiny sums of money” range between US$0.004 and $0.008 per stream of an ad-overlaid video. By Kulash’s math, EMI’s gross for streams of ‘Here It Goes Again’ is capped at around $5,400.
Since the no-embed rule was enforced, the band has seen only small change. “Our last royalty statement from the label, which covered six months of streams, shows a whopping US$27.77 credit to our account,” Kulash wrote.
When speaking about his parent label, he suggests that “clearly there hasn’t been a very clear-eyed assessment of that shift in music videos from advertisement to product, or in general, of the attempt to blur promotion and monetisation.” He concludes: “The value in music from which we derive money can no longer be generated by limiting access.”
On the national front, it’s difficult to judge whether EMI Australia’s policy mimics that of the larger North American body. At the time of writing, some videos by EMI Australia artists – uploaded to the label’s YouTube channel, account name ‘musich3ad‘ – can be embedded, like Tina Arena, Something With Numbers, Kasey Chambers, You Am I, and Miami Horror. Some can’t, like Keith Urban, Angus & Julia Stone, The Cat Empire, and Operator Please.
Empire Of The Sun content lies on both sides of the divide: ‘We Are The People’ is embed-friendly, while ‘Walking On A Dream’ is not.
EMI Australia’s digital media department repeatedly denied requests to comment on their embedding policy, though their publicist arranged the interview with Damian Kulash for this story.
To further confuse this already-complex discussion, consider that EMI Australia was unwilling to publicly address whether their position on streaming online content has shifted from a platform of free marketing to a mere revenue-generating device, while simultaneously allowing Rolling Stone access to one of their most vocal dissidents.
On the upside, it was great to interview Damian Kulash, OK Go’s singer, who is easily one of the most business-savvy and eloquent musicians I’ve spoken to. I’m not surprised that they left Capitol, and I expect they’ll be a stronger band for it.
Following my interview with Claes Loberg – CEO of new free, advertiser-funded online music service Guvera - for The Vine, Mess+Noise asked me to ‘road test’ the site. I also enlisted the assistance of Ian Rogers from Brisbane doom rock trio No Anchor, and Melbourne electronic artist Faux Pas (Tim Shiel).
Road Test: Guvera
A new service called Guvera promises free music in exchange for being willfully marketed to, but is it really the solution to illegal downloading? ANDREW MCMILLEN finds out.
Guvera is a new online music service. It offers free downloads to consumers in exchange for the “pleasure” of being blatantly marketed to throughout the entire experience. Here’s how it works: instead of interrupting people with annoying ads, potential advertisers can inhabit a personalised channel that people will voluntarily visit (or, more accurately, tolerate) in exchange for 256kbps MP3s of their favourite artists. CEO Claes Loberg describes this as a “reversal of the advertising process”.
The site launched on March 30 to widespread media fanfare including a spot on A Current Affair, whose audience might not have been aware that “the internet is the electronic equivalent of going to a record store”, as one of the show’s talking heads revealed. However, Loberg admits they’re targeting those who currently obtain music illegally.
“The reality is that the people who want to use those [illegal] services still can,” he said. “What we’re trying to do is implement a service that creates an option for the music industry to try and monetise the free stuff that everybody’s already getting, by getting advertisers to pay for it.”
In theory, it’s an admirable endeavour. But how does the service rate in terms of usability and practicality?