All posts tagged trent-reznor

  • A Conversation With Ross Zietz, Threadless Art Director

    Patchy Ross and Patchy RedI’ve worn Threadless shirts almost exclusively since 2006. So I when I found out that their Art Director, Ross Zietz, was visiting Brisbane on Wednesday, 27th May as a guest speaker for the Portable Film Festival, I hooked up an interview with him for FourThousand. I researched like a good journalist and found that I owned two of his designs, ‘Pandamonium‘ and ‘Loch Ness Imposter‘. So I wore one of them when we met, to show that I’m a fan. Kind of like how gangs wear colours so that they know who not to fight.

    But Ross wouldn’t fight anyone. He’s a gentleman. He spoke with me about t-shirts for 45 minutes, before speaking about t-shirts for another 70 minutes to the Portable Film Festival symposium crowd of 40. During the discussion, Ross had to repeat answers to a lot of the questions that I’d asked beforehand. Poor guy. 

    A: Hey, Ross. I read that you joined Threadless as the janitor.
    R: (laughs) Yeah, back in the day. Do you know that whole story?
    A: Well I knew that you had submitted designs to the site. Then an opportunity came up at the company, and you took it.
    R: Yeah. I went to school at Louisiana State University, and studied graphic design there. One day I was researching for a project at a bookstore, and there was a little blurb in a magazine about Threadless. So I checked the site out, and submitted a shirt that night. It was a really bad shirt, but I kinda just got hooked. It was a cool way to get feedback, and it was outside of what we had to do for school. It was like an escape, where I could just do what I wanted.

    It was a year or two after that, right after I graduated from design school, when they posted a blog about how they were looking to hire somebody. It wasn’t for a graphic design position, it was for a – as they worded it – “helper dude”. I was about to accept a design position at a place in New Orleans, but I looked at the Threadless opp and thought – “why not?” Because I’d been to Chicago, and really liked it, and kind of wanted to get out of Louisiana as I’d been there all my life.

    So I applied, and got an email back from Jake [Nickell, Threadless founder] the day after. He said that they were interested in hiring me, so they flew me out a couple of days later on St Patrick’s Day. The job interview was actually at a bar, and we drank some green beers. So I got the job the next day, and I was like, “All right! I guess I’m gonna move to Chicago!” I moved there the next month, and when I started there, I was like the ninth person that they’d hired. And I was probably the first person to join who wasn’t already a friend of Jake. Jake and Jacob [DeHart, Threadless co-founder] both had their own friends, and that’s how they brought the company together. That’s why everybody’s so close in the company. So I was one of the first that wasn’t part of the clique. At that time, we all packed and shipped shirts, and kind of did everything.
    A: So Threadless had a warehouse space at that time, I take it.
    R: We had a warehouse space, but it was like a quarter of the size that we have now. That’s when we were doing our early growing, I guess you could say. That was 2005.
    A: So there were only nine people in 2005, and now you’re up to..
    R: Around 80. 80 during the sales. We hire a bunch of temps to help us ship out shirts. And a lot of the time, the people who work as temps end up getting normal jobs, too.
    A: When you applied, were Jake and Jacob aware of your design skills?
    R: They were, yeah.
    A: Had you had a few designs printed?
    R: At that point I four or five printed. And that was one of my stipulations when they hired me. I told them that I really wanted to still be able to submit shirts. Because to me, it seems like if you work for the company, and you get chosen to be printed, it still kind of looks shady. So when I was hired, I started doing designs under different aliases. But yeah, that’s how I got the job!
    A: Do you wear your own shirt designs?
    R: I feel weird wearing stuff I designed. I don’t really own any of my designs. I let my mom, and dad, and girlfriend wear them, but I’d feel weird wearing them myself. Imagine if someone saw me wearing it, and came up to me: “Hey, you designed that shirt!” I don’t know if that’d really happen, but I’d just feel weird doing it.
    A: But it’d be advertising for your work.
    R: That’s true. If somebody was like, “Hey, I really like your shirt!” But that’s one of the great things about Threadless, when people say that kind of thing. Because we don’t brand it at all, so when people see the shirt and complement the design, that’s when you tell them about Threadless.
    A: That’s the reason that I got into wearing Threadless. I used to wear surf brands and stuff when I was growing up, and I got sick of that. So I started wearing band shirts and Threadless. I found the site in 2006, and I really got into it, because I’d rather wear a cool design that I know someone made, rather than wearing a brand that I’ve never associated with.
    R: Exactly. I think that’s really cool. Especially when the shirt designers are from all over the world. That’s really neat.
    A: Does it still blow your mind to see people wearing your designs?
    R: It does. The first time I saw someone wearing one of mine was ‘Pandamonium‘, and it was a girl at concert. I was with some friends, and they told me that I should go and talk to her.. because she was kind of cute too (laughs) But I didn’t do that, because I didn’t want to be like “Hey, I designed that shirt!”
    A: “That thing you’re wearing? I made it!”
    R: “I’m on your shirt tag!”
    A: Really, man? I totally would approach people like that if I were you. It’d be a great introduction, because they’ve obviously taken the time to find your artwork, like it, and buy it. You’re too modest!
    R: That’s true.
    One of Ross' Dave Matthews Band designsA: I saw that you’ve done some band work for Dashboard Confessional, Dave Matthews Band and a couple of others.
    R: The first one I did was for Hellogoodbye. All of those artists, or their managers, saw my shirts on Theadless and got my email through the site. They said they liked my style, and asked if I’d be interested in doing some shirts for them. I was like, “Hell yeah!”. Because when you get a gig like that, it just seems awesome. It all happened though Threadless, and it happens with a lot of other designers. Once they get printed, and their name is out there and on the shirts. I know a bunch of others that’ve gotten to do shirts for bands. I know that Dave Matthews has done a bunch of Threadless designers. I’m actually doing some for Phish when I get back. That was through the Dave Matthews people.
    A: Do they give you design briefs, or do they ask you to come up with something?
    R: They tend to show me a bunch of stuff that they like, and have me go from there. It’s always interesting, because when you do a t-shirt for a big band like that, the most you’ll get paid is.. I did two shirts for Dashboard, and they paid me $1500 total. I thought that was a lot. But when you compare that to Threadless paying out up to $2200 for one design.. I know it seems strange to some people, but that is a lot of money for a non-spec work. And I know there’s no guarantee that you’re going to win, but at least you can have fun doing it.
    A: Who would you most like to design a shirt for?
    R: Doing something with a band who have a crazy, art attitude would be cool. Someone like Radiohead would be awesome. Any stuff like that where you can have more freedom. It’s fun doing that stuff; it’s fun to challenge yourself. I have no idea what I’m going to do for Phish. I’ve seen their older shirts that have fish smoking weed, but I’m going to try and come up with something cool. Right now, Patagonia is a company who I think is really cool. They’re kind of like an outdoorsy brand, and they’re really green and organic and all of that stuff. They’re based in Ventura, California, so they’re really into surfing and stuff. They work with some designers, like Geoff McFetridge, and I think it’d be really cool to design some stuff for them. I don’t think I could though, because I work for Threadless.
    A: Do you get many bands approaching Threadless to do contract work through the site?
    R: Yeah, we’ve done some Threadless Loves promotions.
    A: I saw you had Hot Chip on there recently.
    R: And a lot of other bands, like Josh Ritter and The Decemberists. I think we’re gonna start doing some more stuff like that, and maybe even do some bigger bands, too.
    A: It sounds like a pretty good idea to me, for musicians. To source artwork from a crowd of people who’re likely fans of the act, in most cases. And if a fan’s artwork wins, they’ll tell all their friends about it.
    R: Exactly. The bands that approach us are really cool about it, but the ones that aren’t cool about it are the ones that want the band’s name on the shirt. We haven’t really done a shirt with a band’s name. We run it so that the band will give a theme, and then the design community will take that theme and go nuts with it, and then the band will pick a winner.
    A: I saw that Design By Humans have been doing that a lot lately.
    R: Yeah. I’m not going to talk shit about them. They go through one merch company that uses a kinda weird licensing thing. But they do a lot of huge bands.
    A: Fleetwood Mac, Kings Of Leon.
    "Stand in front of this yellow door, put on this shirt and wear a scarf."R: Lil Wayne, too. It’s cool, but I didn’t like the shirts that got chosen. They got some amazing subs [submissions], but again, those artists require that the band name has to be pretty prominent on the design. It’s not to say that we wouldn’t do that in the future, but I think that we like it so that when you see the shirt, you think of the band, but it’s not necessarily overt.
    A: You take more of a subtle approach.
    R: Yeah, that’s it. Subtlety!
    A: I guess that’s something that not a lot of artists would be down with that.
    R: Yeah. That’s why the artists that we partner with are more into the whole ‘art scene’, I guess.
    A: So you score a lot of designs each day. How long does it take you to know if you like a design?
    R: I think it’s cool if when you see a t-shirt, and you don’t have to get it right away. When you walk by somebody, you usually see it for like two or three seconds. So it needs to be something that’s pretty simple and straight-forward. That’s just what I like, or whether it looks good or pretty. But the ones that are really intricate – the ones you have to look at real close – I think they’re cool, but that’s kind of more stuff to hang on a wall, rather than to wear on a t-shirt.
    A: That’s funny, because I told a friend of mine that I was doing this interview. She said that she thinks that she prefers plain shirts to any kind of design. She thinks that designs just belong on walls, which I totally disagree with.
    R: I guess I kinda see that, because I wear a lot of plain t-shirts too. I like the idea of being able to express yourself with a t-shirt.
    A: Because a shirt is a statement.
    R: Yeah. I like spicing it up a little bit, rather than wearing the same plain, uniform kind of shirts each day. It keeps people different, I guess. I do love some shirts that are really crazy, but I like simple stuff. My favourite artist is Geoff McFetridge. Do you know who that is?
    A: No.
    R: He’s pretty amazing. He does a lot of real simple, kinda goofy stuff, but I’ve always been a fan of his. Check him out – he actually just did a Select shirt for us ['Frowns Are Flesh', pictured below right]. That was pretty damn amazing – this guy, who I’ve idolised for so long, did a shirt for us. That was cool.
    A: I’ve noticed that most Threadless shirts over the years have relied on a centre image on the chest, whereas elsewhere there’s a bit of a trend to use the whole shirt.
    R: Yeah. We do that [giant designs] more now. Our best-selling shirts lately have been the all-over prints. One thing that I really like about Threadless is that we print enough shirts that there’s a range. I don’t mean to put down Design By Humans, but it seems like their shtick lately is just kinda giant prints.
    A: Definitely.
    R: It’s almost too much, and I think it alienates some people. It’s kinda cool that we can spread out. This [points to shirt - 'Party Animal' by John Hegquist] is a new one. Just a real basic, simple print on the front. But we’re working all these new printers now, too, that have presses that can do these crazy big prints. But there’s not many in the Midwest. We’re based in Chicago; they’re more in LA, which is where Design By Humans is located.
    Ross modelling a double-sided Geoff McFetridge Select designA: American Apparel are there too, aren’t they?
    R: Yeah. They’re the ones that make our shirts. But we use two printers out of Chicago, and one of them is getting a brand new giant press, so we’re looking forward to seeing what we can do with that. But lately we’ve been doing more big prints, because that seems to be the trend that’s been coming for three or four years now.
    A: Do you think that centre, chest designs kind of define Threadless’ style? Because when I think of Threadless, I think of the simple, character-based shirts, or the clever situations.
    R: In the past, yeah, but I think we’re doing a bunch more random stuff now. If you look at our homepage, you can see that a lot of our new ones are trending toward giant prints. And another cool thing that we do is the Bestees, where you can vote on the best t-shirt that we print each month, and the winning designer will get another $2,500.
    A: Oh yeah, I heard about that. That’s ridiculous!
    R: It’s crazy. Three out of the three that’ve won so far this year are giant tees. [he shows me on his laptop]
    A: Oh yeah, that red one is awesome. ['The Red' by Dina Prasetyawan]
    R: Yeah, these big prints are all the rage right now. And I think they’re cool, but I like simpler stuff.
    A: Do your designs have a particular style?
    R: I don’t really have a style. When I come up with something in my head, I have to make it look like that. And I think that is probably one of my problems, that I don’t have a distinctive style. I’m more about the idea than having a style. But no, I’m styleless. (laughs)
    A: I’ve seen your stuff, and it’s pretty varied. You range from character-based ones like this, to ones like ‘Infinity MPG’.
    R: I found out that one ['Infinity MPG', pictured below] just got ripped, actually. I don’t know why I’m mentioning this, you probably don’t care.
    A: No I do, because I saw that ‘Pandamonium‘ got kinda ripped off a while ago too.
    R: They basically just stole the idea and made another shirt called ‘Infinity MPG’. And I was like, “oh well”.
    The ORIGINAL MPG. Accept no substitutes.A: How do you feel about that?
    R: It sucks.
    A: I guess there’s a good way to look at it – it was such a good idea that they wanted to take it off..
    R: It’s kind of flattering, yeah. There are even people who started a website called ‘Infinity MPG’ after I got printed, and sold bumper stickers and all these things. It’s not like I invented the idea that by riding a bike you use less gas. (laughs) I can’t get mad at that. I think it’s cool. As long as it does something beneficial, it’s cool.
    A: When people submit to Threadless, they still own the copyright of the image, don’t they?
    R: The only thing we get is garment rights. So basically, we can put it on a t-shirt, or a hoodie. But the artist can make prints of the design and whatever else. We have some wall rights for wall graphics. We work with a company called Blik, and they do crazy wall coverings. They’re a great company to work with, and that’s why we have some of those rights.

    But there’s been times when people have had their design printed on a shirt, and they came back to me saying “hey, I want to do something with this design”, like making a print out of it. We just talk to the artist and they’re fine with it. That’s the cool thing about being so close with all the artists. If they have a want or a need, they can just talk to us, and make it happen.
    A: Here in Australia – and I’m sure you’ve heard of similar things in the US – I saw some designs for sale at a music festival market stall, and the majority of the shirts were Threadless rip-offs.
    R: They were telling me about this yesterday in Melbourne, too. I have heard that. There’s a lot of places in Asia that have that same thing. And we can’t really do anything about it. It’s so hard to do stuff outside of the United States with that kind of law. And especially if it’s just at a market. Were the shirts tagged and everything? Did it seem like a legit brand, or like they weren’t making too many of them?
    A: No, they just seemed like limited runs.
    R: Yeah, see, it sucks, but we can’t really do anything about. It sucks for the artist, too, because they feel like they’re getting exploited more than we are, because they’re not getting any credit for it.
    A: For sure. What’s the most important part of running an online design community?
    R: I like being open and honest. When we fuck up, we let people know that we messed up. We keep our community ‘in the loop’, and that’s what is most important. I also like being able to be close with the designers. In my position as Art Director, I receive their art, and I get to work with these amazing artists to try and make what they envisioned work on a shirt. And at the same time, if the community sees something like a fake Threadless shirt, they’ll blog about it and kind of police for us.
    A: It really is just a dedicated community built around t-shirts.
    R: I know, and who would have thought? And seriously, when Jake came up with the idea, he never, ever in his wildest dreams thought that it would get as big as it has. The growth was organic, and it’s just turned out really cool.
    Nothing I type here could be funnier than this photo.A: Tell me about the Threadless retail stores.
    R: We have two now. They’re both in Chicago. We opened the first one around 18 months ago, and then the second around six months ago. The second one was just for kids shirts, initially, but we’re going to change it so that it’s for both kids and adults.
    A: So the kids idea didn’t work out so well?
    R: Well it did, but parents would come in with their strollers and want to buy shirts for themselves, too. It makes sense to have everything there, rather than just do a kids store.
    A: I read that the first store didn’t have a lot of stock, but tended to focus on art instead.
    R: We tried to replicate the feeling you get when you’re on the website. We have a bunch of digital displays where you walk in, and you can get a headshot of yourself taken. We have a bunch of monitors on these mannequins in the window, so your head will show up on the mannequins.
    A: Is that a popular feature?
    R: Yeah, it’s pretty cool. It’s a pretty busy walking street, so a lot of people walk by and stuff. We do two weeks of stock at the store, so we only have like 18 shirts in the store at a time. I mean, right now we’ve had like 2,000 shirts printed, and in stock we have probably 300 designs, so we can’t necessarily have 300 designs in stock at the store. But it’s a pretty small little shop, and we just decided to do the most recent shirts, and cycle through.
    A: Do you have plans to expand the store range?
    R: Eventually, we’d love to. It’s just that right now, it’s just so hard with all of the money issues going on. But we definitely plan to do some more stuff overseas. And the cool thing is that Australia is our #4 country, sales-wise. It goes US, UK, Canada and Australia, so y’all are up there on our list. This is my first time here; it’s been great so far. I really love it!
    A: The whirlwind tour – you’re here for what, three days?
    R: I know! So quick. I was in Melbourne for the past two days and basically jetlagged the whole time. Tomorrow is Sydney, and then I have two days to relax. Actually, another Threadless guy is coming from New Zealand to meet me there. His girlfriend lives in Sydney, so we’re gonna hang out for those few days. He’s a cool guy. The community has these meet-ups once per year in Chicago, and we have designers and members from all over the world coming to meet us.
    A: The online community in real life.
    R: I know, it’s nuts. It’s nuts that they travel – well, not nuts – but it’s really cool that they travel that far just to come and meet everybody.
    A: Dedication! Brand loyalty! Hey, how many votes does it to convince you that a shirt you don’t personally like should be printed?
    R: We have a brand management team, and so when we look at the scores of shirts, we can see the highest scoring ones, but then we can break it down into how girls scored it, how guys scored it, how people that buy a lot of shirts scored it; all these different factors that we get to look at. That’s how we decide what gets printed. So there’s a lot of times where designs that I’m not really too keen on score amazingly, and I can’t deny it just because I don’t like it. If a lot of other people like it, it’s worth printing.
    He's that futuristic. Also, I'd never wear this shirt.A: How many shirts does Threadless print per week?
    R: A single batch is right around 1,000. But before we print them, we ‘weigh in’ the amount of votes. So if it scored well with girls, we’ll print more for them, and if it didn’t score so well for guys, we’ll print less. One single batch is usually between 800 and 1,000. Once they sell out, you can request a reprint, and the artist will get another $500 if the shirt gets reprinted.
    A: How many requests does it take for reprint?
    R: It varies, but if we do a shirt that sells out really fast, we’ll push that to reprint a little bit quicker, especially if it’s like a hot topic, or a hot style at the time. But when we look at a reprint request, we usually get more than 2,000 requests before we reprint.
    A: But you only print around 800 or a thousand at a time.
    R: A lot of times when people make a reprint request, they’ll do it multiple times.
    A: I guess that Jake and Jacob learned that the hard way.
    R: Yeah. (laughs) And a lot of the time when people request a reprint, they changed their mind when it’s back up on the site.
    A: The site has those $5-10 shirt sales throughout the year. Is that just to clear out the inventory?
    R: Yeah, it’s to keep everything clean. We’re starting to have $9 shirts on the site almost all of the time, now, but we tend to only drop to $5 for the crazy sales. But we do that just because we release so many shirts a week that stuff gets lost of the site, if we don’t clear it out. Like if we printed more than 800-1,000 shirts, the different designs that we have would just get too much, and too hard for people to find on the site. And that’s another thing that’s really hard: a lot of the time, shirts have titles that don’t really fit, so when people are looking for it, it’s kind of hard.
    A: Maybe that’s something that could be built into the site – shirt keywords.
    R: We do some keywords, but it’s always hard to keep track of that.
    A: I was submitting some photos on the site last week [note: uploading a photo of yourself wearing a Threadless shirt earns $1.50 in store credit] and it took me a while to figure out their names.
    R: It’s tough. It’s one of the things that we’re constantly working on – better ways to keep it so that shirts don’t get lost. Some really great designs get lost on the site.
    A: How did the Twitter tee range come about?
    R: We have a pretty good relationship with the Twitter guys. Our Chief Technical Officer Harper Reed is friends with them. Twitter put us on their ‘suggested users’ list, and now we have over 500,000 followers. It’s crazy for a little t-shirt company out of Chicago.
    A: It’s such a powerful medium when you have that kind of a follower base. Every time you post a link, it goes out to a huge amount of people.
    R: That’s the thing. We’re trying to figure out the best way to use that. We don’t want to drive people crazy and post too much. We don’t want to be annoying. So we’re trying to figure out what people react to. Because, yeah, when you have half a million people following you, you have to think about everything that you’re sending out.
    A: There’s guys like Trent Reznor who have a similar amount of followers. It’s the kind of thing that could be abused so easily. “With great power comes great responsibility.”
    Guaranteed to cause seizures as you walk down the street, or your money back!R: Exactly.
    A: Would you wear a Twitter shirt?
    R: Um.. (pauses)
    A: Come on!
    R: I’m not a big ‘words on t-shirts’ kind of guy..
    A: I didn’t think so!
    R: Me and two other guys are designing all of those Twitter shirts, and all of the Type tees, but I like more of the subtle stuff. Less ‘in your face’. I wouldn’t be too fond of wearing the ‘I’m huge on Twitter‘ shirt. But there’s definitely an audience for that stuff. It’s just not my cup of tea. But we are going to start doing more Twitter shirts that are going to be less about Twitter, and more about funny things that people said on Twitter. I think that we probably shouldn’t have done the launch using four shirts about Twitter.
    A: What can you recall about your first time on the site?
    R: I remember that first night that I went on Threadless, I studied the site for a little bit, and studied the designs that had been submitted. And I came up with a design, and thought “man, this shirt is going to be so awesome!” It was a heart on a sleeve, and it was the worst design ever.
    A: That was it? Just a plain shirt?
    R: Yeah, a plain shirt with a heart on the sleeve. I was like, “That’s so clever and creative!” So I subbed that, and it just got tore up. It was hilarious. But that’s what got me hooked, because I was like, “All right, I’ll prove these guys wrong! I can do some stuff that they’ll like, that I’ll like too!” And that got me hooked. But the community can be brutal. They can be mean. If you put some stuff up that they don’t like, it can be a real reality check sometimes.
    A: That’s a good thing though, right? You’d want criticism rather than praise?
    R: Exactly. You want honest criticism. That’s one thing I noticed when I was in design school. Our teachers would give honest feedback, but the students would never really give feedback. They probably just felt that they were trying to say good stuff. And so when you put it online – especially with people you don’t know – and they give you feedback, that’s when you feel like you get more of the honest truth from people.
    A: Was that hard to deal with at first, as an artist who’d been otherwise praised?
    R: Yeah.. no.. (laughs) I think you need that. It’s what keeps you humble, and what keeps you in check. You don’t want to get a big head about anything.
    Blue shirt, yellow field. Sounds like an Eskimo Joe b-side.A: The site gets over a thousand subs per week – what percentage is printed?
    R: We’re printing six new sub shirts per week, and we’re about to add two more per week. So it’s less than a 1% chance of being printed.
    A: But it’s not really chance, though.
    R: Yeah, it’s more based on skill.
    A: That’s the beauty of it: the most popular, or the best designs, will win.
    R: That’s one of the things that’s tough, because I do feel like there is a little bit of a popularity contest within the community. It’s not as bad as it could be, but you do notice that people who score well tend to always score well. I mean, a lot of times it’s because all their stuff is so good, but other times they just figure out what people want and they just duplicate that style, to make it work on a t-shirt.
    A: What’s your favourite printed Threadless design?
    R: The one you’re wearing is pretty great ['Pandamonium']. I also like ‘Loch Ness Imposter‘.
    A: I’ve got that one too. It’s pretty subtle, it takes people a while to get it.
    R: Yeah, it’s great. The one shirt that I designed that I wear is ‘Piece Of Meat‘, the one with just the steak on it. I don’t know why, I just really like that shirt. One of the shirts that I’ve been wearing a lot lately is a Select shirt that wasn’t even that popular, it’s a green one called ‘The Hills Have Eyes‘ [by Clayton Dixon]. It was like this little mountain scene with these hills that all have eyeballs, and this guy in a station wagon driving by. It was illustrated really well. It just looked cool on a t-shirt, and I liked the green colour. That’s the one I wear the most. [he points at a bowl of Smarties that I've been snacking on throughout the interview] Are these chocolate?
    A: Yeah, they’re called Smarties. When you were at college, did you imagine that you’d make a living off of directing the art that appears on shirts?
    R: No, not at all. I know that I basically just lucked out, and every day when I come into work, I think “this is an awesome job”. And now I get to come to Australia and talk about it!
    A: Again, it wasn’t luck, though. You were chosen for this. It was perfect for you!
    R: Yeah – it found me! (laughs) But no, it is really cool. When I was at college, I thought that I’d eventually get a job at a design firm or at an ad agency. Which still wouldn’t be bad, but it’s just that I like what I’m doing now.
    A: What advice do you have for young designers?
    R: Oh, man. (pauses)
    A: Would you recommend following your path – not to become Threadless Art Director, but in terms of getting printed?
    R: Do what you want. Do what you enjoy doing. I mean, for kids in school, it’s tough now, because you have to do these real strict assignments and stuff. But try and make each project your own, if you can. Use a grid. I love using a grid, even in strict illustrations, I’m real weird about that.
    A: Can you explain that? I have no design knowledge. What’s the advantage of a grid?
    R: It’s a sort of really anal thing, I guess. It’s a Swiss thing. But when you start working on a piece, imagine if there was like gridwork and lines going through it. If you can get ‘em to match up and stuff, it’s a lot more pleasing to the eye, usually.
    A: What, so being symmetrical?
    R: Not symmetrical. Just – at points. It’s one of those weird things that I’ve always done. There are definitely design teachers who are like, “Break the grid. Don’t use a grid.” For illustrations, you don’t have to use a grid. But when you’re doing stuff with type, and type mixed with imagery, I think it’s important to have some structure to it. That was one of the first things that we learned in design school.
    Zietz 'n' me. I'm wearing his Pandamonium design. *blush*A:Tonight’s discussion [for the symposium] is a bit different to last night, right? I’m told that you’ll be speaking about the entrepreneurial side of things.
    R: I think so. Which is not really my expertise, but..
    A: You can bullshit, right?
    R: I can do my best (laughs) But Portable [Film Festival], where Andrew [Apostola, Creative Director] works, they’re the ones that flew me out here. What we do with Threadless, they kind of do with films. They allow filmmakers that’re just getting started to get their films out there, so that people can see them. That’s kind of like how designers who’re just starting out can put their designs up on Threadless and get people talking about their work.
    A: That’s gotta be one of the best parts of the internet, how people can group off in different sections and just talk amongst yourselves. People who care about a topic can find their own niche.
    R: Exactly. All over the world. It’s really great.

    Aww. Thanks again, Ross. That was probably my best interview so far. If you want, you can stalk Ross on Twitter, Flickr, and Threadless.

  • ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto’ Brisbane Screening and Music Industry Panel Discussion

    RiP: A Remix Manifesto posterI went to a screening of ‘RiP: A Remix Manifesto‘ last night, along with around sixty others. The audience included local promoters, distributors, musicians, writers and university students. Via nfb.ca:

    In RiP: A Remix Manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.i

    The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

    A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at opensourcecinema.org, for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

    Which side of the ideas war are you on?

    The screening was organised by Phil Tripp, who started The Australasian Music Directory, as well as themusic.com.au and IMMEDIA!. In addition to the film screening, Tripp organised a panel comprised of five Brisbane music authorities to discuss the film, and some of the wider issues that the modern music industry is facing.

    I transcribed the majority of this panel discussion – approximately an hour’s worth – because I want to share their thoughts and opinions with those who weren’t there.

    Some of their comments are valid. Some are misguided. Some are ridiculously outdated. I’m not going to point out which is which, though. That’s up to you.

    Note that this post is quite long – around 8,000 words.  It gets into some very specific topics. I have occasionally edited their words for clarity, and omitted a couple of uninteresting bits. But you should read it to gauge the five speakers’ beliefs about what is happening to the music industry. To save you scrolling up and down, I will repeat each speaker’s title each time they are quoted,  so that you can contrast their opinions against their commercial beliefs.

    Download links for the audio files are at the bottom of this post. Enjoy.

    [Tripp gives an introductory speech before the film starts.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA! [pictured right]:

    Phil TrippThe future of music, the way we look at it, is about going overseas. But not giving up your home country. You hear my American accent; I’ve been here 28 years, and I always love to come home to Sydney. And for the set of trips that I’m doing this month, I found a film at South By South West (SXSW) – which is an event in Austin, Texas that I rep for this region – to show throughout Australia. We decided to show it, not because I’m a benevolent person wanting to educate you, but because I want to give you an idea of where the future of music is going, from one point of view.

    Now, this film is propaganda. It is a film that has been made with a purpose in mind, and a message. And the message is, that when I was a kid, my teacher told me, along with the rest of the class, that “tonight, we want you to go home to your parents and we want you to cut out little pictures, and things from magazines, and bring them in tomorrow, and we’re gonna take out the paste pots, and we’re gonna glue them all down on paper, and we’re gonna put them out on the wall outside, and we’re gonna make what’s called a collage”.

    Little did she know that that was a violation of copyright. Taking other people’s images and mixing them into a ‘mash-up’ of visuals. Back then it didn’t matter. Now, you people have tools that go far beyond scissors and paste pots. You have the tools to take music and turn it into a whole new form of art. And that’s great. Except I’m a commercial bastard. I have intellectual property – the Music Directory, and our site themusic.com.au – and if anybody wants to take my intellectual property, which is basically a phone book, and put it on their website because they’re believe it’s free because it’s on the internet, they will get a hot testy letter from me, with the legal advice that I may take their house, or whatever property they have.

    So I’m not exactly the kind of guy who believes that people should take intellectual property and steal it, and use it, and make money from it. The cool thing about this film is that it talks about somebody who has done just that, but he’s done it as art. But there came a point at which it crossed over into commerce. When I found out about this film at SXSW, I thought this would be a great introduction to the conference we’re doing in August…

    [Tripp describes his conference.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I think this is the most exciting time for you people to be in the music business, because although the recording industry has gone to shit, the music business is actually doing pretty well. Especially for the live side of music, or new revenue streams though mobile phone companies, or through internet sites, and also through the future of what will evolve.

    Anyway, I hope you enjoy the film tonight. I hope it makes you think. I hope you realise that there is the commerce of music, and there is the art of music. And the two don’t necessarily mix. Unless you’re going to make money and also share the money you make with the people that actually created it originally.

    [The film plays. Tripp then introduces the panel speakers.]

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility
    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People
    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine
    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off

    [The panel discussion begins.]

    [Tripp describes local initiatives to help Australian artists export their work nationally and overseas.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    [...]There’s another group called Sounds Australia, which this year helped Australian artists so that they were able to afford to attend SXSW and The Great Escape [Andrew's note: Sounds Australia also appears to be run by Tripp.]. And there’s AusTrade, the Australian Trade Commission, which has been one of the greatest evangelists for Australian music from our Government in a long time. The Australia Council [For The Arts] has just this year got on board, after supporting the works of dead composers for many years, and forms of music called ‘opera’, ‘classical’ and ‘symphonic’.

    This year, it’s cool to be contemporary. They have put considerable money behind the need to take Australian artists to the world. Because, let’s face it, kids: you’re not gonna ‘make it’ here. You’re not gonna make enough money in this country, at this point, to actually have a living. So you need to have an export strategy.

    [The panellists discuss their thoughts and opinions on the film. I didn't transcribe this bit.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, I want you to tell us – because you have a relatively successful band here, out of Brisbane – have you made any money from mobile music? And if so, how?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People [pictured right]:

    rick_chazanAs far as music mobile for The Boat People is concerned, it’s been an area which we really haven’t pursued. It’s one of those things that’s on the radar; everybody’s saying that this is the way in which it’s going to take over, and that everyone is going to be consuming music through their mobile phone. We’re well aware of that, but my understanding is that it’s very much a media that’s beginning, and as Paul described, it’s going to be dominated by what’s in the charts. Our music is distributed through Shock, and so Shock is working with different distributors who will likely make our music available on mobile platforms. But our mobile music income at this stage is negligible. And I’m not sure whether it will become relevant for us.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, what about iTunes?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    We work as an independent band with IODA, who is an aggregator for digital music. So our music is distributed by them internationally. In Australia, it’s through Shock. In terms of digital sales, our experience is that 80-90% of our digital sales are through iTunes. We’re on Napster and Rhapsody and all the different sites that exist, but iTunes is where the vast majority of sales come through. Digital is fantastic: it means that you’re very mobile, very agile, and it means that the band can be everywhere at once in the world very quickly. But it’s really the same game as it always was: “how do you sell records?” “How you sell digital?” And you need to be able to promote [the product]. Our sales internationally have happened through traditional means; namely, radio. In the US, we’ve had a good run with radio – we’re currently on about 20 stations, so we’ve had a lot of support – and when that happened, our digital sales on iTunes spiked considerably, and they’ve been growing since.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about YouTube?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    This is an area which is very close to my heart, because I think there’s such a great opportunity for bands to have an incredible reach by doing something very inexpensively. The Boat People tried to do something smart, and it didn’t quite work (laughs) We created a film clip for Awkward Orchid Orchard, where within the clip, there are clues for 54 band names, from The Beatles, to The Shins, to The Boat People. So we thought this’d be a fun game for any music nerd, and they’d share it with their friends. And it worked to some degree – we’ve had 20,000 hits, whereas our previous clip had about 5,000 – so it’s kind of worked.

    But there’s a Brisbane band called Blame Ringo, who’re pretty unknown. The band had an idea to shoot a film clip, where they got a friend to go to Abbey Road and shoot at the pedestrian crossing, to capture how people mimic The Beatles album cover. They cut a few pieces out of that and created a clip from their three hours of footage, and it put it up on YouTube using a few Beatles keywords, and in a few weeks they got, I think, around half a million hits. They had an interview on Weekend Sunrise, and they got a call from a US national TV show. This is a band that had absolutely nothing going on! This is staggering. YouTube is a fascinating tool, which if people are creative and thinking, they can use to give themselves a real ‘leg up’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine [pictured right]:

    lars_brandleThat’s just making me think; going back to the movie, there was that comment about how the future of music will be less creative, because of the locks that are being put on copyright. But here’s this band, Blame Ringo, who have just shown us that if you’ve got a good idea, and if you can follow it through, and make it happen on a world stage. The technology’s in your hands. You don’t have to grab someone else’s inspiration, and rework that; if you’ve got an idea in your head, then you’ve got the tools to make it happen. So I don’t agree with that comment, that ‘the future will be less creative’. I think that’s wrong.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Rick, how has your band been ripped off digitally? Have you got any stories of how you’ve discovered some copyright infringement?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    No, but we’re looking forward to when it happens (laughs) Nothing’s really happened like that for us, at this stage. I don’t think we’re quite famous enough to be ripped off at this particular point.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    You don’t have to be famous to be ripped off. You know what happened to me? Our music directory is online, and some people will subscribe to it and then they’ll pull down all the information. And we’ll find it, because we have little bots that search. We get people all the time who take our information and put it up on their website, like they’re creating a new music directory and giving it away for free. Man, I have had so much fun with them. There is a publisher named Deke Miskin who has a big house on the harbour. And Deke had some stupid intern take my information and put it in another magazine. We found it on the newsstand; I called him and said “Deke, guess what? It’s settlement time. Violation of copyright. You are now on notice. Do you want to go to court? Would you like me to shame you in the Sunday papers?” And rather than do that, Deke, being the man of honour that he was, paid me a whole bunch of money to shut the eff up. And then he withdrew the title from circulation. It was one of those little “how to get into the music business” mini-magazines, for suckers, for $6.95.

    Now, you’re in the magazine business, Steve. You’re in the new age of finding out that the print medium is being shot to shit, while the internet has everything for free. However, I must say that I do a lot of work with Street Press Australia; they’re one of our conference sponsors. What I find interesting is when Leigh Treweek [of Street Press Australia] spoke for this event in Perth and Melbourne, he talked about the whole idea of branding, and how his publications and street press in general is not going away anytime soon. He also gave some very interesting stories of how bands become brands. How do you see the internet affecting you, as a street press publication, and what are some of the more innovative ways that musicians can use your medium to push themselves ahead?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off [pictured right]:

    Steve BellWell, there’s no doubt that the dissemination of information is definitely changing. We’d be fools to not realise that. We haven’t rushed into a web presence. I mean, we’ve got websites and stuff, but they’re just sort of token for the moment. We’re trying to work out the best model for going forward, and what it’s going to entail. We’ve spoken to a lot of people, we’ve actually hooked up some meetings with Craig Treweek, Leigh’s brother, this week in Sydney with some friends of mine who’ve got some really interesting ideas on the future of the web. It’s moving so fast; it’s very difficult to really work out. There’s no black or white.

    So we are very aware of it, but we’re sort of playing it by ear, because there’s no certainty as to the future. But we do realise that all the interviews Time Off has done are a resource. And by just letting them go each week, and not accumulating them into some kind of archive, we are, down the track, burning ourselves. We should be putting this together and using it as the resource that it is. At the moment we’re not; it’s just going into the paper each week, and becoming landfill, or whatever happens to it. We are addressing it, but it’s still in the infancy stages, I guess you’d say! (laughs)

    In terms of bands using us, probably the first thing that comes to mind is Savage Garden meeting through our classifieds, so there’s still that old sort of model. Don’t blame us for that! But the street press is just a different form of exposure. It’s one of many that you use. I can’t think of any real examples.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    What about brands using street press to push themselves forward to another level, like Chupa-Chups, for example, going onto MySpace? What sort of brands have done anything innovative with you in the last year that you can think of, and use as an example?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    Because it didn’t work very well, I can’t think of the company, but there was a media company that put a DVD on the front of an issue, who paid quite a bit of money to.. you know, often there’s things like that. Companies will use us as a way of disseminating their product, or samples, just because of our distribution channels. But that’s not really using our brand as such, it’s more using our pickup at various locations. Do you have anything in mind? I’m struggling to think of anything.

    [Tripp describes one of his magazines, Urban Animal, to the audience.]

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Lars, where do you see the future of the music industry here in Australia, and overseas?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    Well, it’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? As a kind of segue to what you were just saying about the pet industry, and how “you can’t download dog food”; the one really, really strong point of the music industry in the last couple of years has been the live business. The reason why the live business is so hot is because people love to see bands, and you can’t steal a live performance. Unless you dig a hole under the fence at a concert, you can’t actually rip it off. So live performance has been booming. It’s absolutely been soaring in recent years. The future of the record industry, now, we are seeing the major record labels trying their hand at getting into the live business, because they realise, “hey, we’re kind of screwed here”. Revenues in the last ten years have dropped a lot, so to safeguard their future, the big labels are looking at investing in companies involved in live music. Or going out alone.

    In a way it’s desperate, because the record companies don’t have expertise in the live music business. There’s a lot of ‘shyster’-ing that goes on in the live business, and the record labels don’t really know this. They don’t know that sector of business so well. We’re going to see a lot of jostling in that space over the next couple of years.

    Sony Music are the first of the four Australian majors that have declared their attention to have a go; they’ve created a touring division. They’re co-promoting Simon & Garfunkel. Huge tour; there’ll be a lot of money on the table. If tickets don’t sell out for this, I’m sure that Sony Music will lose a lot of money. They will get their fingers burned, because it’s a tough business and they’re playing with some real sharks. Those Simon & Garfunkel world tour dates have only been announced in Australia so far, so the world will be watching here first.

    To date, the tickets haven’t sold out. We’re in tough economic times. No-one really knows if they want to see Simon & Garfunkel, either, or whether they can still ‘cut it’. It’s really interesting. From a journalist’s point of view, I’m interested to see how this goes, because for me, that is the obvious route that record companies will take – entering the live business – because live is hot.

    Digital.. everyone’s been talking about digital for ten years. Of course, we saw how the RIAA clamped down stupidly on Americans, in particular, but the international recording industry have done the same thing in issuing lawsuits against downloaders. It was a bone-headed thing to do, but they were desperate to get a handle on control of the dissemination of music. Now, the record labels are so far behind the game, they have to catch up. They’re also getting into bed with technology firms, and they have to. They have to get wise to the digital environment, because that certainly is the way forward.

    We’re not there yet. Digital music in Australia accounts for, I think, about fifteen percent of album sales, so it’s really ‘small beer’. Those headlines you read about “CDs are finished, it’s all about digital” – that’s not right. We’re still looking at 85% of record sales in Australia comprising CDs; although it’ll ebb away in time, we don’t know when. In a nutshell – and I’ve rambled on – the future is certainly going to be a strong live business. We don’t know if it’s peaked yet, and I suppose that it hasn’t. And digital will be the way forward, but it’s not here yet. But the record labels have a lot to learn.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Two comments. Gregg Donovan, who is the manager of Airbourne, Josh Pyke, Grinspoon and a few other bands, talked at our seminar in Sydney about how he had been approached by major multinational record companies who wanted to do ‘360 deals‘ with some of his artists. For those of you who don’t know what that is, a 360 deal is where a record company wants to act as the manager, the touring promoter, the agent, the merchandiser, the publisher; essentially, everything.

    And Gregg went to them and say, “okay, I’ll tell you what”, to this American record company. “Let me see your t-shirts. Where are your t-shirts? You manufacture t-shirts? You’re a merchandising company? Take me to your t-shirt factory.” And of course, they couldn’t, so he said “no deal there”. And then he asked, “you have management? You have a management company within the label?” And they replied, “oh, no, but we’re getting it…” Gregg said, “no”. What happened here was Sony, aside from setting up a touring division, they also bought half of that doofus from Australian Idol, Paul Caplice [Andrew's note: I can't find this name online. Maybe I can't spell it.] and David Champion, who I call “tweedle-dumb” and “tweedle-dumber”. They bought into this, and they found out that it’s a very expensive job that you have ahead of you, if you have incompetence running the management side of a record company. It’s actually very funny to watch from the outside.

    And I’ll make one more comment on what you said, Lars. Yes, digital is only fifteen, maybe twenty percent of revenue in our industry, but every download sale is a sale without physical product. Most albums print out a thousand for every hundred they sell. And it takes about ten or twelve failures for one success. So although physical product is selling more, it’s also destroying more. It’s being given away, it’s been put into landfill et cetera, because you can only buy it in a record store eight hours a day. With digital, you can buy it 24/7. Steve, tell us, where do you think it’s going?

    Steve Bell – Editor, Time Off:

    I guess it ties in with what you were saying about 360 deals. For the last ten or so years, most bands have changed the way they’ve approached revenue streams. I used to run TSP, the t-shirt printers, [who are] one of the biggest merch companies in Australia. We used to represent big overseas touring bands – Green Day, Foo Fighters, Chili Peppers, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, what have you. The amount of money that we’d make out of any given show out at Boondall (Brisbane’s Entertainment Centre), and I’d see the figures for the whole Australian tours, while knowing the costs of this stuff, it was quite remarkable. There was a fad of punk kids wanting to buy those fuzzy wristbands, which were selling for around $15 at shows, and I think if you make them in bulk they cost around 8 cents per unit.

    So bands who are focussing on touring, and merchandising, and the different revenues that come with that are changing their approach to recorded music. Instead of being a cash cow itself, it’s become a way of drawing attention to the band and their different revenue streams. I mean, they still want to make money from it, of course. But I think the one certainty is that there’s always going to be a market for music. People still want to create, and there’s obviously all of us here tonight as music fans. It’s just going to be a matter of how it’s disseminated, and how it’s received. I think it’s exciting, really, that all these new models are out there, and bands are discovering that they don’t need to spend so much money to make great music. I still interview a lot of bands, though, and more often than not, they’re not spending five months in a studio, they’re doing the bulk of it at home. Costs are going down, and there’s going to be a lot of changes down the track, but I think it’s a really exciting time. Music’s going to flourish, despite what the nay-sayers say.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    The future of music.. I don’t know, of course. But as a manager trying to help artists to flourish and survive in their careers, it’s quite true that the recording income from CD and digital sales are one or two income streams, but there’s maybe 15 or 20 income streams that flow from the recording. So how you look at it commercially is an interesting question. There is no need to despair in that sense: it’s always been tough, it’s still tough and it will be tough to make a sustainable career as an artist, but the fact that there’s a decrease in recording income shouldn’t be such a big problem.

    One of the opportunities which is here now is, because of the internet, and MySpace, and Facebook et cetera, is the ability to create communities around your band. And this suits some bands better than others, but I think it’s worth thinking about. A great example is a Brisbane band called The Red Paintings, who I’m sure you all know. One of the strong things about the band, outside of the music, is that Trash, the band leader, has a very defined, strong philosophy of what the entire act is about. And I think that’s very interesting. He understands it so well that when he talks to you, you’ll get it when speaking with him for two minutes. I spoke to him briefly on a telephone call and he explained to me that, with his live shows, the philosophy is that it’s about being able to express yourself creatively and freely, without hurting anybody. So that’s the essence behind his whole live show. When you go to a Red Paintings show, you’re allowed to paint, and have a lot of fun, and do things that you’re not allowed to do normally, but you can do it at a Red Paintings show.

    Now, with that, he’s actually developed a community of people that subscribe to more than just the music. They subscribe to this philosophy that he’s espousing. I don’t know if you know this, but for his last record, he put out to his fans that if they put in $40, they’d get their name on the CD. So a thousand people theoretically put in $40, and he raised $40,000 to fund his own CD independently through that. [Andrew's note: individuum's Academy Of Dreams sponsored $25,000 of the $40,000 total]. I think that’s just something to think about: you [the musician] have the ability to create a community.

    The other thing that’s interesting is that the notion of status in our society is changing a lot. Status symbols used to be – I read this is a Sunday Mail article, so I don’t know how great of a reference it is – it used to be that if you had a gold Rolex watch, or a great house, that was a status that people would care about, that you’d show off to your friends. Now I think what’s happening is that status is more about the experiences that you have, and the ones that you can talk about. So if you went on a spaceship to the moon to have a party with U2, that would be something that would impress your friends, if you see what I mean.

    I think that what’s happening with festivals, why they’re succeeding so much, is that it’s not just about the music, it’s because you’ve got to tell your mates that you went to Big Day Out, or you went to Splendour [In The Grass]. It’s like a badge of honour. I think the other thing to keep thinking about is how you can create something that gives people that sense of good feeling that they experience.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Please don’t tell me that you think the future is frickin’ Twitter. Paul, where do you see the future of music going?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility [pictured right]:

    Paul PaolielloObviously, the barrier to entry to the music industry these days is a lot lower due to technology. Anybody can get into the business, but the bottom line is still around creativity. You cut through in this industry via your creativity. If you have something special musically, it’s going to cut through, but also in terms of reaching your fans; these days, it is about getting creative around building those communities, as the other guys have been saying. So the approach to this business, or career that you take, or this art form that you’ve embraced around music – it is more of a business, and you have to embrace it. Because it is so complex.

    The exciting thing is that you can take a more ‘do it yourself’ approach with music. There are many tools out there that enable you to create music, and to connect with a fanbase. And to monetise your music, whether it is, as Rick said, coming up with an interesting concept to get your fans to help you fund an album, build an album, sell a download, build a mobile community, or whether you want to get your music on iTunes. There is no barrier to entry to getting a sales channel for your music, these days, but it really does come down to being a lot more savvy around the music industry, and how to build a career around it. And as you go, to build up as much leverage as you can around your intellectual property – your music and all the things associated around it – and obviously, the multiple revenue streams that you are driving from your music. Whether it’s your recordings, or your t-shirts, your whatever; the more leverage you have, I guess that becomes the enabler for your future relationships with the broader industry. And that’s when the major record companies come along, and they start knocking on your door, and you’re in a stronger position to decide whether you want to work with them or not.

    These days, they [major labels] are really the bank that you need to make a big hit bigger, or a big business bigger. As the guys were saying, the major record companies are trying to keep themselves afloat, so they are trying to grab hold of what everybody’s calling the 360 elements of the industry. But they don’t necessarily have the skill set, or they, like everybody else, try to get fewer people to do more work, with less skills. So it becomes a lot tougher. But if you are driving those revenue streams, and if you are in a lead position, then you are in a much stronger position to determine whether that relationship works for you, on a 360 basis. Or whether it is only 270, or 90, or 10 [degrees].

    And I guess, having left the music industry in its tradition form and gone into mobile, my feeling was that getting into digital, I needed to build my skill set around this ‘brave new world’ that digital and mobile is becoming. In the last couple of years, as Lars was saying, it really is the tip of the iceberg. As Lars was saying, it hasn’t matured in any way, shape or form. Digital is very much driven by iTunes. Mobile is very much driven by the iPhone. And with the new application landscape, it is driving what mobile is essentially going to become. And that’s the exciting part. That access to music on-the-go, and having a device that is going to be all things to you.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Okay, I’ve got to tell you that the future of music will have a lot to do with mobile handset manufacturers. I’d like to share my vision on the future of music with you, from an old fart who’s been around in the industry for 38 years. 38 years ago, when I got out of the drug trade – I mean when I got out of the fine stone trade – I was living in a small place in Atlanta, Georgia, on 14th Street, which was about one block away from Piedmont Park. One Sunday, when I woke up at about one o’clock in the afternoon, I heard this great music. I heard a guitar playing like I’d never heard, and two drummers. I walked down to the park, and there they were, in the gazebo: The Allman Brothers Band.

    They were playing every Sunday, live, free, and they were building a music community, at that time. That was almost forty years ago, and they’d been going for two years prior to that. When I was in the States last at SXSW, they did a run of the Beacon Theater in New York. They do it every year, maybe ten shows, over a two week period. And they sell out instantly, because they’ve maintained that community over many years. People believe in them, people who know their brand, wear their t-shirt, buy every single live album they ever do; they buy anything. There’s even a magazine devoted to them, called Hittin’ The Note.

    The future of music is this. I’ve experienced it and I love it. I buy music, I don’t download stuff for free. I don’t want worms, and all that other stuff [Andrew's note: he is referring to viruses]. I want either FLAC lossless, or I want 256k downloads. And I’m not going to be getting that from all of my iTunes purchases. I don’t purchase here. I don’t mind saying it: I don’t buy Australian music. Most Australian music is for you people, the younger people. The last Australian band I bought was The Greencards. I have four of their albums. Most of you wouldn’t think of them as Australian music, you’d call it ‘bluegrass’.

    Truth of the matter is, I buy about $5,000 of music each year, and it’s not just iTunes. I would love for you to go home tonight and go to a place called Munck Music [munckmusic.com]. It’s based in the US, and created by a producer and an engineer who believe that if they recorded bands and offered their live music for sale to their fanbase, they could make a lot of money. Especially if like, Little Feat, they have a hundred concerts out there. Bruce Hornsby has about 50; the entire New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has a couple of a hundred shows by artists up there. The Grateful Dead, and others [do too], including The Allman Brothers Band.

    I’ve purchased probably 20 Allman Brothers concerts, 20 Little Feat concerts, 10 Bruce Hornsby concerts, and you can get them one of three ways. CD: $14 (USD) for a concert, usually three hours’ worth. Secondly: as a 256k download. You can sample the music, you can view the setlist, so you can see and hear what you’re going to get. You can also get it as in the FLAC lossless file format, which means that it’s not ’2 per cent milk’, like MP3s are; it’s more like ‘full-cream milk’. It takes a long time to load, and you better have a big account for it, and a large storage device. However, these bands have made a fortune from selling their own music to their own fanbase. And they also go on cruise ships, and take their fans around to Jamaica, or up and down the Mexican coast, or through the Caribbean, doing nothing but cruise ship shows, full of fans.

    The other place you’ve got to go is called Moogis [moogis.com]. It was started by The Allman Brothers’ drummer, Butch Trucks, who had an idea that when technology and downloads could meet the need for video and audio to be compressed reasonably, and give high quality, then that would be the time for a band to be able to sell a subscription to their six months of concerts, for users to pay $100 to see that show as much as they want. With backstage footage, various camera angles, and the full concert, in high definition, and with high quality audio. So Butch and the band started selling that, and I don’t know how much they’ve sold, but it’s worked for them. They’ve done extremely well.

    But to me, and you, the future of music is being able to create a brand with your band. Create an audience, and keep them as a community. Don’t ever lose that community you have ‘back home’, just because you want to go overseas and make it rich. The day you lose that is when you lose your career. [The future is] Selling your music directly to your community in any form you can, and especially if you’ve got a great song, selling it to them in ten different ways. Extended ways, mixed ways, whatever.

    The future of music is going to be about you knowing the business of music, too. Because without the business and the understanding of copyright, commerce, and a lot of other issues, you’re not going to be able to succeed. So I suggest that you line my pockets by coming to my conference, in August, because my future of music is dependent on you, too.

    The future of music of music for you [the audience] is this: get a job. Work with people who inspire you, and pay you fairly. And can give you the opportunity to do things. Don’t necessarily work for free, but ask lots of questions, take lots of notes. Watch, observe, and above all, be honest.

    What we want to do now, because you’ve been such a great audience, we want to answer any question you’ve got about the music business, or anything else you’ve got.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Phil, just one thing. Google ‘Trent Reznor‘, because there was a case study that was done earlier this year at Midem, the music conference at Cannes that they have each year. They studied Reznor, who basically decided to revive his career, and looked at the whole digital model, and did a combination of offering his albums for free, offering limited editions, box sets, digital versions, hiding USB sticks at concerts, special versions hidden in storage drains as a treasure hunt based off his website. It’s a really interesting case study who is interested in trying to enable their fans, and keep their fanbase loyal, and building around that model.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Music should always be about discovery. Questions, please.

    [Audience Q&A section commences. It comprises four questions and is fifteen minutes in duration.]

    Question 1: Just on Trent Reznor – if you look up a Digg interview with him, he talks about his entire business model, and it’s fascinating. My question is regards to copyright law: what do you think the future is going to be? How are copyright owners going to enforce their copyright? Will it go more toward the Creative Commons?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    They can take my copyright pen out of my dead hand, clutching it to the very bitter end. I’m gonna fight for copyright. Look, I have intellectual property. It’s boring, but it’s very lucrative, and my intellectual property has nothing to do with songs. I think copyright will continue to evolve, but unfortunately it will evolve very slowly, and far behind the ability for people to steal. Just like they haven’t figured out a way to stop people shoplifting yet, have they. Paul?

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Yeah, I was just going to say the same thing. The minute you open that door, the floodgates open, so they’ll never be able to move with the times. Country by country, it’s going to be different. That’s where a lot of the ISPs are getting frustrated, the Yahoos and Googles of the world, because they’re saying “well, cross-border, we’re trying to do this as a global thing, to try and clear copyright across borders, but we just can’t do it”. It’s still remaining territorial. Some territories are going to be more open to change than others. Here in Australia, they’ve been trying to change the law the for a while, and the cogs are still turning.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    I’ll jump in here. I think that Creative Commons is a wonderful opt-in solution for people who want to allow anyone to use copyright. When the music industry initially shut down Napster, we saw Lars Ulrich speaking on the movie earlier. He made himself an enemy to a lot of people worldwide who wanted to use Napster to disseminate their music. So that a kid in Atlanta could be heard by someone in Peru. There are now platforms which allow you to do that, but I think that Creative Commons underwrites that, and enables people to create that copyright.

    But coming right back, absolutely, I don’t think copyright rules will change any quicker than snail’s pace, but anyone who has a vision and wants to create, should have the right to patent it and receive royalties, at least while they’re walking on this planet.

    Question 2: Do any of you have any concept – because I know it’s variable – just roughly what artists are getting percentage-wise for music downloads? Is there some ballpark figure to get ideas?

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    If you sell music on iTunes, they’ll take their cut, which is 30%. And then the distributor will take their cut – typically between 20-25%. And then the artist gets the rest, so in the case of an iTunes sale, the artist will receive 70 or 80 cents per song. Which is actually quite good, because there’s nothing physical that’s being created, and you’re getting this invisible sale. The latest statistics show that only 5% of music online is bought, and the other 95% is ‘taken’.

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We also have to look around at other ways of generating alternative revenue streams. There’s a fascinating case going on at the moment with YouTube, the user-generated content platform, and some of the major record labels who’ve nixed any of their content that’s available on YouTube. Warner Music‘s one of them. So we’re looking at transactions on iTunes as one way to make money, but in the years ahead, if your music is being used on these user-generated content platforms, you ought to – in theory – earn a cut of advertising revenue on that platform. This space is changing; there is money to be collected out there, but it gets very confusing, and very complex.

    Paul Paoliello – CEO, Mercury Mobility:

    Just on that, Gavin from Sony BMG often quotes a Justin Timberlake cases. When they brought out his last album, they found about 120 revenue streams for that album, at last count. So from a ringtone to a full track download, to a YouTube revenue stream, to an online radio stream, to a CD sale, and so forth, there was 120 different revenue streams, for that one release. And that was a couple of years ago, so these days, it’s probably even greater.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    The other side of the equation is – to answer your question more directly – it depends on how smart or stupid you’re going to be in assigning your music to someone to sell it. We use the term ‘aggregator’; these are people who take your music and place it on a variety of different sale sites. Some of them take a very small amount, such as Tunecore, who charge a flat fee to put the music up; they don’t take a percentage. Whereas others charge large fees and take large percentages, and don’t necessarily always report to you. There’s CDBaby, for example, which has been around for a while, and IODA, and Amphead.. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend the Australian alternative. The Orchard.. I’m ambivalent [toward them]. But the thing is, there’s a lot of people waiting to rip you off, just like there was with the compilation scams of many years ago. “Get yourself on a CD that we send around to all the A&R people, for a fee.” Be very aware that if people are trying to charge you a fee to put your music up on iTunes or wherever, you should very carefully check into them. Fortunately, it’s a lot easier these days to find out.

    Question 3: Something the film didn’t really didn’t cover is the role of the ISPs. I know from conversations that I’ve had with people from APRA, and that sort of thing, that they are trying to negotiate with ISPs to come up with a solution to this. What are your thoughts on the role of the ISPs in Australia?

    Lars Brandle – Australasian Editor, Billboard Magazine:

    We understanding of the argument is that ISPs are the ones who are getting the benefit of all the music being there – people going there [online], and getting free music – and of course the ISPs are getting their subscription. And the value of that subscription is incredibly valuable, given that you can get a whole lot of free music by going online. One solution that’s being offered up is that the ISPs are forced, in some ways, through some legislative creation, to track all of the downloads, including the free ones, and somehow compensate the artists. Similarly to the way APRA does, through the form of either radio or live [performance royalty fees]. This is just one of the possible solutions that are there; whether it will go down that way, is questionable.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    APRA is a great organisation that has done an incredible amount for the music industry, from bringing court cases and seeking judgements from tribunals, and increasing the amount of money that is paid to the composers, the songwriters, and their publishers. It’s a shame that the PPCA [Phonographic Performance Company of Australia] and ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Association] haven’t had the vision, the forethought, or the ability to do much more than ‘sweet FA’. As a result, fortunately, composers, songwriters and their publishers get paid. Artists often do not. And one of the interesting points that’s raised about this is that with all that money that was awarded to the record industry on the Kazaa case, the $54 million: artists didn’t see that money, and they won’t ever. One more question.

    Question 4: Okay, just before when you were talking about the royalties, about how artists generally get nothing, and where they’re making their money is through live performance.. why should we really care that we’re downloading their music for free, and giving it to other people? I would not know half of the artists that I know through free downloads, if it wasn’t available to me for free, because I wouldn’t be able to afford to go out to the stores and buy it.

    So in essence, when I’m giving all my free downloads to my friends, and the ‘word of mouth’ thing is working, and we’re all going out to the live performance when they come to town, and there’s more requests for them to play because we’ve had that whole word of mouth.. why should we really care if we’re really giving our money back to our artists anyway? Aren’t we kind of bypassing giving our money to the corporations and the record labels, by not buying their CDs?

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    I heard it best said that “you may consider yourself to be an auto-enthusiast, because you like fast cars. But when you decide to steal that car, you are a thief.” And it’s not necessarily going to enrich General Motors, Porsche, or whatever, that you decided to steal that car. Now, what you just said made a lot of sense. A lot of people who download music do buy it. They do discover it that way. However, I really don’t believe that people like you are gonna be that generous when it comes to actually paying for things.

    Now, the same people who download music [for free] are the same people who try to get into clubs for free – get on the ‘free list’ – and stand outside the fence at Splendour In The Grass. The same sort of people who want to wear a phony t-shirt of a band, because it costs a lot less than the real thing. I do take your point that you are trying to discover music, and hopefully it [Andrew's note: money, presumably] will reach the band. But I’ve been in this business a long time. I don’t see anybody out there who does ‘sonic shoplifting’ that really thinks altruistically about ‘the brothers’ in the bands.

    Rick Chazan – Manager, The Boat People:

    I agree, and I’ll add to that. What you’re saying is that it’s actually not bad for the bands, because by allowing it to be free, you’re actually discovering the bands and therefore, you can love them and maybe go and see a live show, et cetera. And so you’re saying therefore, it’s okay. But it’s got to be the artist’s choice that it happens that way. You’re still taking something which they’ve created and paid for, and put time and work into, like anybody doing anything. And for example, you might discover that music on MySpace, which the artist chooses to allow to be free; [to be] streamed, not to be stolen of off. You can learn about the artist through five or six songs; I know in The Boat People’s case, we’ve got five or six songs up there from the last two albums, so there’s a bit of a mix to get to know the band. You could listen to it all day long, and get to know the band, and want to go and see them live. And if you loved them enough, you’d actually have to have that CD.

    As an independent band, we’re losing that opportunity, and I don’t see it [inaudible]. I’d hate to come across as a moralist, but I have a problem that what’s being lost in the whole conversation is that it’s now being said that, because it’s easy to do, and everybody’s doing it, it’s ‘okay’. So it’s like, nobody’s saying to a young person, “look, this person actually toiled, they put their work into it, their effort into it, therefore they actually have value in it, and therefore to enjoy that, you need to actually trade for it”.

    Now it’s being said that because it’s so easy and because it’s so bloody hard to do anything about it, it’s ‘okay’. So, to me it’s not all about criminalisation, because I think that’s a waste of time, to sue some individual teenager for downloading a song. But it’s more about conscience. It’s more about, you know, when they asked the people in the movie, “who downloads music for free?” and all of their hands went up, and then they asked, “who thinks they stole the music?”, or did something wrong, and it was only one out of a hundred.

    See, I know about this a lot better than anyone, because when I was a teenager I used to record tapes. I used to do that, because I really wanted the music [from the radio], and I didn’t have enough money to get it. But I knew that it was wrong, and I did feel a little bit like my conscience was saying “this is not quite right”. I feel that we’re eventually going to the lose the consciousness of taking something from another person, and that’s the part that disturbs me.

    Phil Tripp – Managing Partner, IMMEDIA!:

    Great, that was perfect. I have one other thing to say. It’s kind of like: if you think you can get somebody drunk enough at a bar that they’ll screw you because they have no more control over themselves, that’s about the same way that I equate the moral ability to download music. Because you think you’re going to give somebody else a good time. That was a good one, wasn’t it? (laughs)

    [Audience Q&A session ends.]

    Download Phil Tripp’s introductory speech
    Download the panel discussion (I transcribed from 26th minute until the 67th minute)
    Download the Q&A session

    The film will screen in Brisbane at UQ‘s Schonell Theatre from June 4, 2009.