The June Q&A features Craig Barnes of the NYC-based quintet MiniBoone. MiniBoone’s song “The Devil In Your Eyes” was featured on Fingertips in February. The friendly and articulate Barnes had so much to say that he voluntarily divided the first question into two, so this month, the Q&A has six questions instead of the usual five. If you want to know why the wild people may not be making the music any more, keep reading….
Q: Should MP3s be free across the board? Why or why not? And if musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, as some presume, where does that leave you? What are your other options?
A: If music recordings are going to be free across the board, then people will need to accept the consequences. First off, free music requires the musician to find a source of income to replace what was lost. That could mean a number of things, for instance:
* Bands who in another era would have been opposed to licensing their songs or lending out their image will now accept it
* More bands will need to be funded by private donations
* The music industry will simply shrink (fewer record labels, fewer music magazines, fewer bands that can actually make music without working 9 to 5)
If music listeners are comfortable with the implications of those things, then I suppose it’s okay to for MP3s to be free.
I feel that another consequence of musicians’ shrinking incomes is that they will have less money to spend on hiring someone to handle the business side of things, and will have to take on more of this role themselves. It’s been interesting releasing and promoting our record, Big Changes, because while we’ve gotten a lot of invaluable support from our buds at Drug Front Records, we’ve also done a lot of work ourselves that in another era a band might have paid somebody to do. It’s not financially feasible for us to hire a PR company, so Sam and I have been reading and emailing hundreds of blogs to cover the record; we can’t afford a booking agent, so Doug and Taylor have been busy booking a tour for us this summer; and James has done a lot of research into buying a van and forming an LLC under the band’s name. It’s hard for me to imagine Joey and Dee Dee Ramone doing this sort of work.
I don’t know if there’s a way to actually prove or disprove this statement, but I think you could argue that the modern (independent) music industry isn’t going to attract the wild people anymore. The musicians themselves have to be super organized and disciplined in an administrative sort of way. And those kinds of organized people probably make different music than the wild people do, so it’s also going to direct the overall sound of the scene.
Q: If musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, as some presume, where does that leave you? What are your other options?
A: I was shocked to read on Wikipedia a while back that Peaches’ newest record sold 3,000 copies in its first week, and then promptly fell off the sales charts. I don’t think Peaches is very well known outside the underground, but nonetheless, I was surprised that an act that has been around for more than a decade and has a pretty popular live show sold so few records. So, rather than asking “IF musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, where does that leave you?” I would ask, “NOW THAT musicians can no longer make money off their recordings, where does that leave you?” And the answer is, touring and licensing.
For the most part, music fans seem to be accepting the licensing and increasing commercialization of their favorite bands. I think that’s actually a good thing, because if you download a record illegally–or, for that matter, legally and for free–then you’ve lost the right to protest when a band tries to make money in a more “commercial” way. Since you’ve already guaranteed that a band will not make a living off of you, that band has to figure out how to do it another way. Actually, on the Peaches topic, I just did a little search on Google and found out that one of her songs was used in a Gap commercial a few years back. So that’s where Peaches finds the money.
I think the question should no longer be “Should a band be active in the commercial realm?” but rather, “How can a band be commercial artfully, and with minimal intrusion in their art?” I do think this is possible. Bushmills has an awesome campaign going on right now with hand-painted ads of Chromeo, the heads of DFA Records, DJ A-Trak, etc. all over Brooklyn. Something about “Friends Since Way Back.” And although I’m not really a Neon Indian fan, I think his thing with Mountain Dew was a really cool idea. Normally I might look at beverage advertising and think that it’s cheesy and fake, but these campaigns are done with such class and with bands that actually make sense that the ads themselves become fascinating pieces of art.
Q: There’s a lot of talk these days that says that music in the near future will exist in the so-called “cloud” and that music fans will not need to own the music they like any longer. As a working musician who writes songs and puts out albums, at least in theory so people will own them, look at the packages, put them on a shelf, etc., how do you feel about this?
A: As a listener, I’m super excited to think that in a few years we might be able to listen to any song at anytime on our iPods simply by paying a monthly fee. I don’t feel I know enough about the record industry to predict if and how quickly this will happen, but it’s a cool idea.
Music sales are already such a small part of MiniBoone’s income that I’m not sure if it will make a big difference to us when people are no longer buying our record at all and are just listening to us on the “cloud” instead. I’m ready to accept it. As for the death of the physical product, I think that’s okay, because I do think people still care about the art, even if they’re viewing it on a computer instead of on a CD insert. I see people proudly displaying the covers of their most recent favorite records like badges on the walls of their music blogs. The record cover, even when represented in a 90 x 90 JPEG, is a symbol of pride.
Personally, I haven’t bought a physical CD for years, and I don’t feel that I have less of a connection with bands because of it. If you like a band’s music, you will want to know more about them, what they look like, how they act, what kind of scene they fit into, how they choose to visually express their music on a t-shirt, record cover, etc., regardless of how you heard the music.
Q: How has your life as a musician been affected–or not–by the existence of music blogs?
A: MiniBoone became a working band in the age of blogs, so I don’t know what it was like to be a working band before blogs existed. Personally, I find them a lot of fun. It’s fun creating a dialogue with a blog and I like it when writers actually come up to talk to us at shows. I think that musicians should not just create music for themselves, but also actively create a discussion with the listener. And it’s fun to look through blogs and find somebody who we think we will actually like us.
That being said, it’s difficult to say if we’ve actually yet gained anything financially from blog coverage. The amount of information that pours out from just one blog is too great to push favor in the direction of one band over the others. I would say that their value is in their ability to give you an immediate idea of how people are reacting to and processing your music, and they make it easier to open up that line of communication between musician and listener.
Q: What are your thoughts about the album as a musical entity– does it still strike you as a legitimate means of expression?
In your previous columns for the Q&A, you framed this question as something like “What do you feel about the death of the album”? Even though I still listen to full albums most of the time, I am fine with the “death of the album.” First off, the LP didn’t come into vogue until the ’60s, so it hasn’t been around for that long–not nearly as long as the sonata form in classical music, for instance. Exciting pop music was being made before the birth of the LP, but it was instead being presented on singles. The LP was an awesome artistic invention, but it’s kind of strange that it’s become the standard form for pop music. It would be like if modern classical composers were expected to write in sonata form all the time.
If the album does “die,” I think that all that means is that it will cease to become the main form of presenting music, and musicians will only put out a full album if it makes sense as a cohesive work of art: the songs are tied together conceptually, maybe there’s a central sound to it, or maybe they were just all written and recorded in a short period of time. I think it’s perfect for that. Otherwise, if there’s no central concept to a group of songs, the EP is a better and quicker way of presenting music. It captures the sound of a band at a certain point in its life without having the band worry about putting out an “important” record or anything like that. Better to capture that sound before it changes into something else. So far, we’ve only put out one EP as a five-piece and we’re planning for our next record to be an EP as well. Not sure yet what we’ll do after that, but for now I think the EPs make more sense for us.
Besides, I learned in a basic level science class in college that mass extinctions (i.e. The “Big Five” according to Wikipedia) are actually very exciting from a biological perspective, because after an extinction, the ecosystem opens up for the birth of new species. If the dinosaurs hadn’t gone extinct, then there might be no people! It’s very exciting to think of what will arrive to replace the album after its “death.”
Q: What is your personal preferred way of listening to music at this point?
A: When I was still in school, I liked to listen to music with my headphones on in a dark room with my eyes closed. I don’t feel I have the time to do that anymore, so when I listen to music now, it’s mostly while I’m doing something else at the same time: writing email, washing dishes, eating a meal, etc. That being said, I get distracted a lot when a good song comes on. I’ll stop whatever I’m doing, turn it up, and start dancing. Lately I’ve been listening to Peter Gabriel’s So and every time it gets to “Sledgehammer,” the invitation to dance is just too powerful. Actually, rather than dance, I really just freak out and march around my apartment. And sometimes, when I’m in a bar and a really awesome song comes on the speakers, I can’t concentrate on what people are saying to me.
Usually I put full albums on repeat and let them run three or four times through before I switch to another record. When I’m in the moment with one record, it’s hard for me to think of what else I might want to listen to, so I just like to let it keep going. I do not trust shuffle.