Note: I started writing this post up prior to the unfortunate news that longterm Deftones bassist Chi Cheng passed away, after spending much of the past four years in a coma following a car accident. Sad news.
One of the points we've tried to make over and over again is that people who are downloading unauthorized copies of music, movies and other content are often huge fans, or have the potential to be huge fans. So it never made sense to us that some content creators treat them like criminals. Every so often, we see someone say something silly like "I don't want fans like that." People say that, but they almost certainly don't mean it, because it would likely mean the loss of a huge percentage of their biggest fans. As we've seen over the years, plenty of enlightened content creators recognize the basic situation and have happily embraced it. We can add Deftones guitarist Stephen Carpenter to that list as he explains eloquently why he's happy about people downloading his music.
"I say hallelujah to them. I say it for only one reason, the truth is people who download your music are your fans, or people who are potentially going to become your fans," he said. "And if you're going to be upset that someone is interested, or becoming interested in your stuff, then what's the point? What are you doing?"
He continued: "If it's all about money then certainly you're going to be offended. But if your intent is to enjoy what you're doing and have others enjoying it, then it should be a no brainer. I welcome all people to download the music. They won't be the first, they won’t be the last, and for anyone to fight that ... it's futile."
He later says he "can't be offended by someone enjoying" his music. He notes that he's watched the internet and downloading from the beginning and he hasn't felt he needed to change at all.
The discussion is from a half hour interview with Loud Guitars. The full interview (about half an hour) is fun to watch, with a lot of discussion on having a positive attitude on all sorts of things, from life to the internet to the music industry to just making music. He also talks about how great the internet is beyond just the downloading issue. He talks about how things like YouTube can help make great musicians famous and kickstart a career and how awesome that is (in fact, he has a "hobby" of searching YouTube for great guitarists to inspire himself to push himself further).
Once again, a nice counter-point to those who have been arguing that YouTube is somehow harming artists or that fans should be treated like criminals.
Unless you've been totally under a pop-culture/music rock for the past few months, you've probably heard of Macklemore and his hit song (and video) Thrift Shop. Now at well over 200 million views, the song itself has been at the top of the charts and has sold over 4 million copies. In case you somehow have missed it, or in case you just want to watch it again, here's the video:
The song itself was released last year, and built up a lot of buzz throughout the fall, but completely exploded at the beginning of this year. While I became aware of the song a while back, I didn't realize until recently that Macklemore is actually yet another story of a totally independent artist who found success not by signing with a label and having them throw a ton of money into promoting him, but by carving his own independent path (and using YouTube to connect with fans). In many ways, his story reminds me of Alex Day's.
A few weeks ago, Macklemore sat down with Chris Hardwick on the Nerdist podcast and it's great. Beyond some interesting discussions about sudden fame (and then doing laundry in the communal laundry room of your apartment building days after appearing on SNL), he does talk a little about being a successful musician without a label. Chris asks him about the no label part and mentions what a great story it is:
Chris: To see you and Ryan Lewis come out of Seattle just making stuff you like making, with no label, and oh you're at the top of the charts, and all these people are talking about the song... that's just a great story.
Macklemore: Yeah, I appreciate it. It is a very cool story. It's what you always hope for in terms of picking the independent path. It's cool to see that that's been a focal point. It's not just "Thrift Shop"; it's this kind of do-it-yourself attitude behind the music we've made -- that is also within the midst of this thrift shop song. That these two dudes chose to go independently, to turn down the labels. That the music industry is changing. That it's evolving. And to be at any sort of place where we're at the forefront of that, at the moment, is exciting.
Chris: It's so inspiring to so many young people who maybe -- and I think people are more and more used to the fact that they can just make stuff in their bedrooms and it can turn out to be huge. But every time it happens, it's that much more inspiring to a younger generation of people who go... 'there's no excuse any more to not go out and make stuff that you want.'
Macklemore: Absolutely. And that's what we watched people that came before us that have done it independently, whether it's Sub Pop, or whether it's... Mac Miller did it independently. And he had every major label hollering at him with huge seven figure offers and turned it down and still went number one on Billboard. There's examples of it that came before us, that had us say 'I think that it can work -- I'm not sure that it can work." But, at the end of the day, what's most important, and creative control is number one for Ryan and I. It's a no brainer.
Chris I'm sure you've been approached a million times at this point, but you still don't want the infrastructure of a label?
Macklemore: Yeah, there's no reason to do it. With the power of the internet and with the real personal relationship that you can have via social media with your fans... I mean everyone talks about MTV and the music industry, and how MTV doesn't play videos any more -- YouTube has obviously completely replaced that. It doesn't matter that MTV doesn't play videos. It matters that we have YouTube and that has been our greatest resource in terms of connecting, having our identity, creating a brand, showing the world who we are via YouTube. That has been our label. Labels will go in and spend a million dollar or hundreds of thousands of dollars and try to "brand" these artists and they have no idea how to do it. There's no authenticity. They're trying to follow a formula that's dead. And Ryan and I, out of anything, that we're good at making music, but we're great at branding. We're great at figuring out what our target audience is. How we're going to reach them and how we're going to do that in a way that's real and true to who we are as people. Because that's where the substance is. That's where the people actually feel the real connection.
And labels don't have that.
So you sign up for a label. There's not some magic button they're now going to push and it means that people are going to like who you are. Or that they're identify with your vision or your songs. It actually comes from sitting down, staring at a piece of paper for months or years on end, trying to figure out who you are as a person, and hoping that it comes through in the end. But a label's not going to do that for you.
Uh huh. Once again, it makes you wonder what people are thinking when they claim that YouTube is putting artists out of work.
The whole episode is worth listening to as Macklemore has a great perspective on all of this, and it's interesting to hear him discuss the oddity of his sudden increase in fame and how he's dealing with it, without letting it go to his head. But considering how often we've had similar discussions about artists who choose to go independent, I thought some would enjoy that particular snippet especially.
Last summer, we wrote about UK musician Alex Day, creator of a number of very catchy tunes (seriously take a listen), and how he sold half a million songs by breaking all the "rules" that those from the old recording industry insist are true. You can read that article for the details, but the short version is that he has no label, relies pretty much entirely on YouTube, he encourages fans to use his his music as much as possible and he's regularly releasing new songs. Recently, he released his latest album in the UK the same day that music industry superstar Justin Timberlake did, and (at least on iTunes), Day's album charted better than Timberlake's, despite Timberlake basically having the entire force of the legacy music industry behind him.
At that link above, James Altucher has another great interview with Day, in which he (once again) highlights the basics of how he built his success -- hitting on a bunch of points that we've regularly talked about here, and which industry insiders insist could never really work for anyone. First up, connect with fans:
Right from my first 30 subscribers, I began talking to the audience that was there and making videos directly for them and replying to comments, but I never saw it as a ‘fan base’ – I mainly just figured we were all bored kids.
Another interesting point: he doesn't perform shows. This is a very interesting one, because we regularly get attacked in the comments by people who insist that we've claimed that the answer for musicians today is just to tour. Of course, we've never actually said that. There's a conflation there between where many artists are making money today and other ways in which artists can make money. In many ways, Day reminds me of Pomplamoose, who also used YouTube to build up a huge following and to make a living (both mixed cover songs with originals early on). You don't need to perform to make money, and Day has proven that.
Performing wasn't an avenue for me – the only gigs I've done are one-off launch events (to launch my album, for example) or gigs with friends (as I mentioned). I really don't feel the need to gig when I can reach my audience online and hit everyone at once, all over the world, and not exclude anybody, which a tour doesn't do.
And, yes, it sounds like he's doing quite well. Between YouTube and people buying the music (even though it's available for free on YouTube), he's doing quite well.
Typically I make around £3500 a month from YouTube (I'm on a network so they can sell the ad space higher) and at least £10,000 a month from music and merch sales. I've also done other projects – I co-created a card game with my cousin which we sell online, I have a business called Lifescouts I launched this year – which add a bit of extra cash to the pot also.
Basically: connect with fans and give them a reason to buy, and they will, even if the music is available for free. So much for the idea that no one will ever buy if it's free.
Also, while some insist that we hate record labels and think there's no role for them at all any more, nothing could be further from the truth. We've noted, repeatedly, that there is still a huge role for record labels, helping and enabling artists to do more for the artists that want that. What's different today is that artists have a choice. They can use a label, if they think that helps them, or they can do stuff themselves. And having that choice also gives the artist a lot more power and some more leverage. So it's interesting to see Day talk about his thoughts on labels. He's very open minded, pointing out that he's not against signing with a label, but they'd have to actually be able to do something for him and they've yet to show that they can do that without wanting to control absolutely everything.
Labels have never known what the hell to do with me. I always went in with an open mind – I don't like the idea that being proudly unsigned/independent instantly means I'm white and they're black and we have to duel to the death or whatever. There are a lot of things I do on my own because I have to, so I've got good at them, but it would definitely be easier with outside help! So I was willing to hear what they could offer and how we could work together and I still would be, but I don't think labels are ready to be that humble. They want to control everything. I like being able to decide my own songs and film my own music videos.
I've had several meetings with Island Records in the UK, the last of which ended with the guy saying he doesn't think I'm ready to be on a label yet because "we only sign artists we can sell at least a million copies of in the next three months" – but if he's waiting for me to get to that point without him, why do I need the label ever? I've also met with Warner, Sony, EMI – they were all the same, none of them expected to justify themselves and at best they were just trying to "figure out my secret" and at worst they were completely uninformed and lazy...
He talks about how a one-off deal with Universal solely for distribution of his CD helped get that CD into music shops, which was nice for sales, and those kinds of relationships are interesting to him. Ones where they control everything and don't add any actual value... are not. He even points to this hilarious video about his experience meeting with a major label. Seriously, watch this video.
And, of course for those YouTube-haters out there, Day notes that YouTube has basically been everything for him:
It's just YouTube. I have Twitter and Facebook only because I sort of feel I have to, because I need to reach people in those places.... For the personal connection, it's all YouTube. I love it there. It's such a creative outlet. I've been making videos seven years and never got bored of it — one or two videos a week regularly all that time.
It genuinely saddens me when YouTube isn't lumped in as one of the essential social metrics with Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr (I do have a Tumblr too but like the others I don't really know how to use it). I understand YouTube and it's changed my whole life.
Wait, weren't we just hearing some old school musician insisting that YouTube had put 12,000 musicians out of work? Maybe it's just 11,999 then. Or, maybe it's the opposite. Maybe it's created an opportunity for lots and lots of musicians. But the key, as Day notes, is that you have to actually get YouTube. Miss that step and (shockingly), it might not work for you.
Either way, it's great to see Alex continue doing what he does best: making great music, connecting with fans and building a career.