By Harrison Kadwit
Published: April 18, 2014 at 8:00 a.m.
Edited: April 20, 2014 at 7:20 p.m.
Excellent. I’ll accept that. Some people (often in interviews) just ask a question because it seems like they should. Not that it matters to them, they only think they should ask it. Sometimes, if they ask that question, they’re not really paying attention to the answer. To me what matters is what we’re doing right now, I don’t care what we were doing 30 years ago.
There are some good punk bands here in Olympia, one named Hysterics.
I haven’t heard them a whole lot but I have their flexi disc.
They have a record out on Perennial Records that’s a flexi disc, as opposed to a phonograph. It’s a piece of plastic. It’s similar to most phonograph records but much thinner.
Not very durable and difficult to market. They’re mostly used for promotional purposes. A magazine might include a flexi disc because it’s lightweight and easy to package. A lot of magazines in the 1980’s and 90’s had them and would include a bonus song.
I’ve never paid attention to lyrics. Sometimes I sing along but I don’t mind if the words don’t make sense, it’s more fun that way. It makes more possibilities because you think, “How could this make sense?” I never read the lyrics if they’re available.
It still does, it’s the main way I consume music. It suits my lifestyle, like a bite-sized chunk. It’s powerful and digestible.
Man of action—I put on a record and listen to it then I’m on to the next. I don’t have time to sit around and listen to a 78 minute CD.
It’s very cool that people have these tools of communication and it certainly has opened a floodgate of creative expression.
Hmm. Well, it’s more like an art project, for better or worse.
There’s lots of different ways to go about things. They had the opportunity to release many records and they did. Whether all those records were good or even worth releasing, that’s beside the point: they exist. People, who might appreciate them, have an opportunity to do so. Take a label like Folkways, they put out thousands of records and never advertised or promoted any of the releases. That’s what K has done. We make it available to those who may or may not be interested. In terms of being a record label, it’s only been a game; I’ve never had an interest in running a business. Some people are good at that, as an art form, but it’s not my forte.
I should say it’s not our forte.
He’s awesome. There’s a guy who has his head pulled out of his ass, he knows what he’s doing.
I’m pretty good at faking it.
There’s always the luck of the draw, you just never know. Let’s say you’re a kid in New Hampshire; you don’t have a record store in your city but somebody’s passing through. They have a CD in their satchel and while they stop in at a cafe for coffee, it falls out onto the sidewalk. You find it and say, “Woah! What the hell is this? A bunch of weird drawings and shit—check it out.” You bring it home, listen to it and really like it and find more about it.
Or maybe you just happen to be reading the New York Times and there’s an interview with an artist as part of a residency with the Ace Hotel. She mentions doing a show with a band called Wallpaper and the reader thinks: “What a strange band name,” and then looks them up. People find out about things in just the weirdest ways. It’s all accumulative, you can’t point to one thing. If you advertise in a magazine, it doesn’t guarantee you’ll sell x amount of records. This points to the other side of it—you can never do enough. When it comes down to it just do what you can do.
See, that’s a good question. It’d be awesome if people actually listened to the music. That’s why if you go to our website, you can listen to any of our artists for free. It’s streaming 24 hours a day. If people want to hear the music, they should hear it. That’s the way I’ve always felt, and I remember when people said home taping was killing music. I thought it was spreading joy, it’s allowing access and access was always a big problem. Now you can listen... if you actually want to.
It’s analogous to how much you would make if your song was played by radio. Radio stations pay to play: BMI and ASCAP, for example, any of the performing arts and rights societies. The music is then distributed to all members of that society. The amount of money an average artist makes from that is insignificant. The point is, maybe someone pays less by using streaming services, but it’s a way for people to hear music. It’s awesome.
I love radio. I listen to Olympia’s local station, KAOS, and various northwest stations. Just the other day I was on the phone with Karl Blau, he’s living in San Diego now. I couldn’t hear him well and asked, “What are you at a party?” He was like, “No! I’m listening to the radio, Jared Gramson’s show.” Jared’s an artist in a band called Solvents and has a radio show in Port Townshend. Because of the miracle of the world wide web, Karl could listen to his radio show live from San Diego.
It’s not just about the media conglomerates, it’s about a lifestyle that is overtaking our entire society. We have a supreme court that is handing them billions of dollars of public assets. I think that’s the most insidious threat to our freedoms: it has to do with the military industrial complex, the way our food is produced and distributed, insurance companies, all these different facets that take the power out of our ability to make our own decisions. For instance in Bellingham, where the local decision making bodies are trying to fight coal trains, corporations are attempting to go over their heads. That’s what corporations are trying to do but it’s exciting to see people stand up against that power.
Well, Doug is an artist that I have a great deal of respect for. He has a very clear vision about what kind of work he wants to do and is strong in his convictions. He’s able to assert himself in ways that a lot of other artists don’t feel comfortable doing. So, he has thrived in that major label environment because of that. Many people would have buckled in that environment a long time ago.
People always—or they used to—throw out the what if question about a major label and the fact of the matter is, it’s never going to happen. Nobody in that position is going to look at my band and say, “Oh, yeah, we can make a million dollars.” A corporation is there to make money for its stockholders; the people who work there have a responsibility to serve those stockholders. That’s what their decisions are based on, and I live in this other world where people make music because they like to.
And that’s exactly what Isaac did do, he lived in a shed. He also happens to be a really smart person, he understands people. He’s just a wonderful human being. It’s unusual to have a really talented musician that’s also a wonderful person.
It’s not as common as you would hope.
I just love rock and roll. That book talked a lot about major labels and their mergers. By 1977, many of them had collapsed into each other. Kind of like the computer companies, car companies, it’s all the same deal. Apple’s one of the major players in how we consume music. One of the things that interested me was that the corporations that own large record labels are also involved in manufacturing military weapons. It’s depressing but not surprising.
I do what I can. I recycle, it’s one of my hobbies.
The answer to that is always going to be no but it’s also always going to be yes. What if we decided in 1960 that the world didn’t need any more phonograph records? We would have never heard The Beatles. It doesn’t mean they wouldn’t have existed, you just wouldn’t have heard them. Any record could be as great as The Beatles, why would I put out a record if I didn’t think so?
The real answer is immaterial. If K made a huge pile of all the records we’ve put out it would be a drop in the bucket of one day of military bullshit. Perhaps the world would be a better place if we hadn’t made any records; but, there are ways the world is a better place because we did. Is it worth it for you to have driven here to interview me? No. Then on the other hand, yes.
I think of the glory of the commons and celebrate it every day by walking down the street. I can scream, sing, and hand out flyers. At the mall, you can’t do any of those things. The street is dirty and filthy, there’s none of that at the mall. The commons is where there’s exciting life, dirty gum you can step on. At the mall they clean up gum before you can get your foot on it. I always had this idea that we should bomb the malls but it’s never caught on.
By Harrison Kadwit
Published: September 20, 2013 at 5:51 p.m.
Edited: September 23, 2013 at 3:23 p.m.
The fact that at the end of the day, they are a business. There's plenty of examples of people at labels that truly do care about art and integrity and all that stuff... but the bottom line is these labels need to sell records in order to exist. So, there is a level where that does matter and it is going to affect how they operate and think. It's important to realize that especially as a band on a label. You exist on different planes but it’s true, it's kind of a co-dependent relationship. The label can do things for the artist that the artist could not do on their own and without the artist, the label would have nothing to do things for... but there is that separation. So when making decisions as an artist, all that shit, keep in mind where the label's motives are coming from.
We all grew up in the punk rock scene so major labels = bad. DIY = good. In one sense, I feel incredibly fortunate because I was exposed to that DIY mentality from a young age and was able to see that there are ways to exist outside of the major label system, outside of the corporate world, and still be a successful and functioning band.
It was pretty simple. I would imagine our relationship with Sacred Bones is not the typical band-label relationship. They are dear friends of ours and have been for a long time. So, it was a real natural thing. There was no courting, no fancy dinners or any of that crap. It was more like an agreement between friends to work together. We had self-released all of our own records up until that point and were planning on releasing “Leave Home” the same way. But, Caleb, the owner of Sacred Bones, offered to put out the record and we went with it. I don't think we even thought of it as "signing" to a label. There was no contract at that point. It was just an instance where this dude, our friend, liked the record and wanted to do it. We liked his label—we knew he was a good dude so we went with it. It's become more complicated since then but that's where it started and that's where the core of our relationship with the label is, that friendship. I feel really good about it.
However, I can say that labels have approached us and have tried to court us and quite honestly, it's real sleazy. These are people that want to be a part of something that is proven and that has some cache or buzz attached to it—it's not based on love or art—it's based on being able to sell records. The problem with that is if you're not selling records, you are worthless to these people. That's a terrible relationship to be in.
There were other options but none that we considered seriously. As I said, I think we have a special relationship with Sacred Bones because it runs a little deeper than just "we sell a bunch of records together.” When we first started working with them, we didn't sell records. We were a band that no one really knew about outside of the punk rock world so the bond we formed was based on friendship and it was about the music. Luckily, things have worked out really well since that point and I believe that bond will still be there however this thing ends up turning out.
Well a decent label can do things that you just can't do as a band: distribution, making it available to people, things that when you get to a point as an artist you just can't do. We tour constantly, are constantly writing new music, working on music etc. and to throw in that business end of distributing and producing records—it’s too much. It's a full time job, so I'm happy to have those duties handled by people we trust and respect.
I think the number one role a label should play is to make it possible for the band to focus on their music, freely, without the label exerting their influence on how it should sound or what it should be. To work with the band so that the band can grow artistically and not worry about the more business end of making records. Allowing the band freedom is mutually beneficial—creative freedom leads to better music, which will ultimately lead to better records and more sales.
Unfortunately, I think most times. I'm not saying the label shouldn't be involved in the process at all, but ultimately, these decisions should be made by the artist. The artist is the one making the music and they should be able to decide how that is going to happen. Now, with that said, we've definitely been given feedback from our label and we appreciate it. There are times when we even ask for it. But ultimately, the decisions are always up to the band and that's one of the main reasons we love working with Sacred Bones. They support us as artists and give us the freedom to make the music we want to make, the way we want to make it.
Well, the internet definitely changed things. Physical formats have changed—78s, 45s, 33s, eight tracks, cassettes, CDs, and now mp3s. You have these waves of technology that influence what the label can sell and what they can sell it for. It changes how the music sounds. An mp3 sounds like shit, straight up, but that is the main way people listen to music now. I think that's sad—that appreciation is lost and there are ramifications that follow. If the listening experience is not high quality, it's going to domino effect back to the creation and the creation will suffer. Bob Dylan was talking about recording technology one time and he was commented how in the 60's every record sounded good because at the time the technology did not surpass what the artist could actually do. It was about the music and what was actually being performed. Now, with digital recording and pro-tools and garage band you can manipulate music in ways you should never be able to. You don't need to know how to play in order to make a record. You don't even need to know how to record in order to make a record. The learning curve and that self-check evolution system has been abandoned. Most records now stink and most bands can't play. They don't need to.
They need to adapt to the changing times or they won't be around much longer.
By Harrison Kadwit
Published: August 6, 2013 at 11:30 p.m.
Edited: August 12, 2013 at 11:42 p.m.
No, most of them just see it as a promotional tool that’s promoting their song or album or bringing them to a new audience. We don’t really pay people to do that stuff because we feel like we’re bringing a lot to the table that’s more valuable than say, $500. So no, that’s not something that comes up too often.
The main difference is that Spotify is cashing on what musicians do, which is make music…but the vast majority of musicians are not in the world of comedy. So if they’re taking two or three hours to make a Funny or Die video for exposure, it’s something that I think fans appreciate and think is cool. If they were coming in 30 hours a week and working on something there might be more of an argument about paying people.
Everything is just an artist driven model now. Whether you go out and create a three minute comedy video or a three minute song, you’re going to try and spread that to as many people as possible. From a purely content perspective, I think music and video sites kind of look at that the same way. What’s different with music is that once you get to a certain level and you’re signed and have an album and there are things like Spotify, iTunes and Pandora which are these infrastructures in which to monetize that—that’s something video doesn’t really have, yet. And it’s interesting, because everything online video-wise is essentially free unless it’s something from the New York Times or The Wall Street Journal—which is something they deem “proprietary information” and want people to subscribe to see. I think Funny or Die will always be free.
Personally I think music has gotten a lot better. They [the industry] just got hit so hard 15 years ago with Napster and were caught totally off-guard by the digital revolution. It’s not like T.V. or movies wouldn’t have been caught off guard either; T.V. and movies are just longer than three minute songs, thus making it harder for people to steal them. Music just got kind of got burned by the nature of how short songs are and then online video didn’t become a real popular thing until YouTube made it very easy. I think music has done a better job trying to organize these things—obviously there’s still ways to steal music if you want to—but just from a consumer point of view the idea of paying for digital music is much more accepted now than it was 10 years ago.
Watch: Documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Napster
I’ve never worked at a record label but I imagine it’s very similar. We do our own distribution, our own marketing, we have to raise our own money and invest it in things we believe in, we have to build out an audience and make sure we’re servicing them; it seems like thematically there are a lot of similarities.
Yeah. We’re still very much a start-up and it’s still very important to us to have all departments talking together to make sure we’re making the most of what we’re doing. I think that you want to be big enough to get stuff done but you want to stay small enough to remain very nimble.
It’s definitely viable. I think when it works it’s kind of what you just said. There is some advertising, there is some sponsorship but you don’t mind because hopefully you’re having a good time watching it. Musicians are no different and I think that’s part of what we’re going to try and do is, now that we’ve built up a foundation of working with lots of different acts and people see the value in it, I think there’s ways, hopefully organically and very still true the spirit of the partnership, to team up and have some brand involvement. I don’t know the stats but I know lots of big indie bands and probably even more mainstream bands are making money by having product placement in their videos. So if through Funny or Die we can take that to the next level engagement wise, by keeping it funny and keeping it cool—which are the challenges of doing that kind of thing—so that it becomes more than just something fun but another way for fans to support the artist in getting their music out there.
Well I think social media is just another tool to help drive revenue. It’s a fancy word to talk about now, but unless you have content and ideas and things that people want you won’t have the social media to back it up. It’s all a part of the pie that’s part of the conversation going on with online advertisers.
Well I think forward thinking musicians and labels can certainly embrace it, there’s nothing stopping people who have content from sharing it and hopefully that turning into more people liking it and equating to more opportunities for everyone. It’s not rocket science, these things, it just takes a certain attitude and culture and persistence to get good at and turn into an asset.
What’s that expression? Something like, “50 percent of advertising works, I just don’t know which half.” So who’s to say? Social media could help. It isn’t going anywhere any time soon, so no use diverting away your attention from it. It’s only going to get bigger and more impactful. It doesn’t take much, and that’s the beautiful thing. If you’re doing it well, a lot of people, your fans, end up doing the work for you. Just think how expensive ads probably are or used to be in the Rolling Stone or The New York Times—probably one of those ads could pay the bright smart kid who’s 22 and has grown up on social media and is leading an independent label—it could probably pay for a year’s worth of salary. All things considered, it's way cheaper compared to the way it used to be, especially when the right person or company is sharing content that the fans can help spread and advance.
You have to be smart about where you’re at and how you’re communicating but ultimately it’s just another way to get your product out and you shouldn't ignore any of those ways. We’re a digital age company: We're not held back by conventions that have been built up for the last 50 or 60 years. We definitely cultivate and engage with an audience that turns into this community of people that hopefully enjoy what we make and share it so those things can grow organically. It’s not always just promotional, it’s putting a voice behind [Funny or Die], a kind of lifestyle that makes it feel trusted.
Yeah I thought that was a funny video.
Actually doing more music inspired videos or music videos or a combination thereof is a huge priority of ours. We’ve done stuff with Macklemore, Odd Future, the premiere of that Matt and Kim music video that did really well, Flea [Red Hot Chili Peppers], Questlove, Tegan and Sara. And yeah, musicians are always looking for a way to get their music out and if we can do something that’s funny and unexpected and taps into their fans and taps into our audience, it’s a win-win.