Kyle Bylin, over at Hypebot, has an excellent interview with Yan, the manager of the hip hop band Jedi Mind Trick, where he talks about how the band has embraced the internet
to become much more successful. The interview is chock full of the type of thing we write about here. For example, on the band's response to "file sharing":
For JMT, it has been more of a blessing. Yeah, they've lost sales to illegal file sharing just like everyone else, but the efficiency of those file sharing networks has allowed their music to spread across the world in a way that the physical distribution network never achieved.
Those file-sharing networks are definitely part of the reason why JMT can play a show in front of 2,000 kids in Bogota, Colombia or to a similarly-sized crowd in Bucharest, Romania. They may have lost sales, but they have gained new throngs of fans by playing live in places that their music may have never reached without the Internet. With the improvements in digital distribution, the hope is that file sharers will become supporters.
This highlights a really important point that many of the critics to these ideas often miss. They seem to assume a zero sum world, where those who embrace the free distribution of their work are automatically "giving up" sales. But what JMT has discovered is that by accepting this, they've build a huge fanbase in places where it wouldn't have been possible before. As Yan notes later in the interview:
Over the 14 years of their career, the Internet enabled them to take what started as a passionate fan base in say Philly, NYC, Boston, and maybe a few other major cities like Los Angeles and grow that fan base across the world.
Without the Internet, they may have been relegated to a regional phenomenon or maybe a group that plays 10-15 shows a year in major markets. With the help of the Internet, they've grown from a regional niche into a worldwide niche with a worldwide fan base. They're 14 years into their career and there are still cities that they haven't played where there is a demand to see them play, so they're very fortunate in that respect.
Yan also shows how the band realized early on that the market had changed and (unlike some others) quickly figured out how to use that changing market to their own advantage:
The internet created an opportunity for them to have their music distributed across the world in a way that physical distribution hadn't achieved. They recognized that opportunity and seized it by developing their worldwide touring business. In the early years, they took low guarantees to go play for their fans; they were confident that they would draw a crowd and get invited back. Now, those tour dates are the anchor of their business. Between the creative accounting of labels and depleting sales, they knew that they had to develop their touring business if they hoped to carve out a sustainable career. Ironically, in this digital age, artists are looking to the analog experience of playing a show to a crowd of actual human beings as the cornerstone of their businesses.
Furthermore, Yan talks about the importance of connecting with fans, and notes how that's more important in the long run than how many albums
are sold -- in part because they know that they will get support via other means:
The rise of the social networks has been a great asset for JMT as well. Those networks have created unprecedented access for fans to artists and vice versa. Our business is a customer service business; we care about how the fans feel about the music. We're always looking for new ways to interact with the fans, because the fans' reactions to what JMT is doing musically are a better barometer of their success than SoundScan numbers. For a long time now, we've chosen to measure their success in the fans' passion for the music rather than Billboard chart positions.
Not only that, but Yan also demonstrates how fans like
supporting the indie bands and artists that they find. We've been hearing from some lately, who claim that no musician will be able to make money in the future because there will just be too much competition. But that assumes, incorrectly, that fans don't want to support bands -- they just need a good reason to buy:
It seems like human nature to root for the underdog. Fans of independent music are typically a different breed of music fan, because they generally have to work to discover you and they're actively seeking out music rather than waiting for it to be spoon-fed to them through traditional radio, TV, etc. outlets, so when they discover you they wear it like a badge of honor. JMT has fans that send them pictures of themselves with tattoos of JMT's logo or lyrics -- they're literally wearing the music as a permanent badge of honor. That type of passion isn't measured by a Billboard chart, but we're fine with that. We've built a business model that exists outside the gates of that hierarchy.
Great interview by Kyle, and it's great to see yet another band that has this all figured out. In fact, they've got it so figured out that they've set up an artist management business to help other artists do the same thing as well.