A few weeks ago, I posted an essay about file sharing in relation to the music industry. (You can read "Are You a Pirate Too?" here.) As research for the piece, I interviewed Matt Wantland, an ex-member of the rock band 10 Years. This band released three albums under Universal Music Group, the largest of the major labels. I am finally posting the full transcript of that interview, which was conducted on April 19, 2011. Here it is:
(Warning: Some of Matt's responses contain profanity. This interview was conducted as an online chat, so most of his replies are exactly as he typed them.)
Enrique Aguilar: As a musician, what are your general thoughts about illegal downloading of music?
Matt Wantland: I have no problem with it whatsoever, it's how I get my music and most everyone I know as well. I never made a dime off of selling a cd as a signed artist, bands survive on merchandise or live shows, unless you're U2 or Lady Gaga or something, and true fans will buy your disc and go to the show and pick up a t-shirt. What's more is music has always been free through the radio and tv, and now we have youtube which most have on their phone I can listen to anything I want at any given time anyways. Statistically more people check out new music on youtube than any other medium. My thought is in this world, to try to fight a new way of doing things that is only going to continue to go farther from actually owning music you're just fighting yourself and your fans more than making any progress... it's better for people to have it than not to be able to get it
There was a time when I was playing with 10 years that Universal Records would only allow us to put up 90 second clips on our myspace and all it did was piss off our fans, which really does nothing but hurt the artist and their relationship with the fans
Makes sense. Do you think that the internet helped 10 Years become more popular? And do you feel fans were loyal enough by getting out to the shows and buying merchandise for you actually to be able to make a living just from music?
Of course the internet helped, where do you or anyone you know check out new music... I can build a fanbase in korea from my computer chair if I'm smart and good enough. Although touring almost 300 days a year and radio helped quite a bit, that was 6 years ago, if you have a great song you can be discovered by the whole world in a matter of days, people share and pass on what they like to their friends and post it on their fb pages to who knows how many people... radio and tv are the last place most people go for music anymore, it's all commercials (and commercial) and that's why the labels are freaking out because they have no control over the internet.... which is why it's brilliant. they tried with vevo for signed bands music videos and now you can't find official songs and videos on youtube and all they're doing is missing their crowds by trying to monetize everything...Nothing frustrates me more than not being able to listen to a band on my phone and it won't play on youtube cause some label hid them on some private video site they run that they get advertising money from... and I will never try to look up that band again. smart huh? haha
Exactly. Well, since we're on the music industry, would you rather be in a band that isn't signed, and produce and promote yourself?
That's what I'm doing as we speak, obviously funding is harder this way but I also don't have to answer to all these middle men who aren't concerned with anything but their own agenda...lawyers, labels, managers, booking agents, I mean [half] the bands you hear on the radio don't even write their own songs anymore becasue they're so indebted to whoever they are signed to that they're having to sacrifice who they are and what they stand for to maintain the relationship with the labels and the lifestyle they provide
Do you feel you can be more creative now?
Either they get on [board] or they are going to get left behind, a label was good for getting radio play, paying for making the album and distributing to the stores, and then holding all that over a bands head. There is no distribution with an Mp3 or online audio file, so there goes that, noone really cares about radio, and every laptop is capable of recording a record...so now they're scrambling. They understand I think, they just don't have an answer on how they or going to survive through it because they most likely won't. It's a beautiful time for music because everyone has a stage and fans no longer have to buy what they're sold, they can search out what they like and leave the crap on the table, and unfortunately for labels they specialize in crap. I definitely feel I can be more creative now, I don't have anyone telling me to have someone else write my songs or what to wear or what to say in an interview, if I had said half this in 10 years I would've been chastised if not fired haha I don't have to write songs that will try to appeal to a certain crowd on a certain type of radio station. I always think of a band like the flaming lips who never get radio play or anything of the typical nature who built their reputation on trying new things and being themselves and playing live who can play a theatre sold out 3 nights in a row, and being in 10 years where we could have a number 1 rock song and not even fill up a 500 person club, if we didn't have a new song on the radio few people care at all, and that's the problem with mainstream success is those fans go away as fast as they come, fair-weather fans, I would rather play to a room of people who truly believe in me even if it is smaller in numbers than be big for a minute and then be abandoned because I stood for nothing, because we you don't compromise yourself people will stay with you through your experiments, people know when you're full of shit... you remember how big hinder got? where the fuck are they now?
man can I ramble ha
Haha, that's alright.
Downloading helps distribute music. No need for a label to put it on the shelf. But do you think making physical albums, with art and sleeves and all, still works? Do you have a desire to do it? Or would you rather go song by song online?
I plan on putting everything online for free as albums with art, I might print enough to take on the road or to sell online for fans that really want it, I had an idea to hand screen print the album art just to make it more personal for the fans, maybe a small run of vinyl for people that really want something, but otherwise it's just going to end up in someones computer anyways. I wouldn't make more than a thousand and print more if needed
Yeah, that does sound practical. This is probably more of a question for myself, but what would your advice be for an artist who wants to do it all by himself, as far as making music and distributing it online?
it's hard to say as I'm just figuring it out myself, but bandcamp is good, learning how to tag videos and things properly so they show up in searches, tunecore I think handles sending your music to all online music sites itunes amazon and all that
Back to relevant questions. Do you think it's possible for bands signed to a label to keep their artistic integrity? I think it's gotta be tough.
it's very hard, because the label is making an investment and it's not in your bands career it's in how much they think they can get back out of you and when you sign they literally own and control what you do, you would have to be amzingly unique and sellable and the same time to get away with it, indie labels are a better route because they still care about music... a band like death cab for cutie was on an indie label for like 4 albums and ended up getting big enough that majors wanted them, and since they were already established they made the rules because the label needed them more than they needed the label
I see. Did you feel like you couldn't make your music when you were signed? Did you have to cater to a subgenre or to the demands from the label? Or maybe you were rushed to make an album?
I had to make 10 years records, pure and simple... no experiments nothing [too] crazy no chance to change direction or try something new, just safe and sellable and by then end I wasn't even allowed to write at all, the band I helped found was completely taken away from me in every sense you could conceive, it was all safe and calculated
and that is as much the fault of a few guys in the band who don't have enough balls to say no to stupid things requested of them as it did with the labels demanding them
mars volta is another great example of how to do it your own way, they're not scared to say... no, this is what we want to do
Alright, last question. What would you say would be a solution to the "problem" of downloading? Labels figuring it out and letting music go for free because they realize they'll make more money from shows anyway? Or maybe just letting the labels die?
I'd say let them die, but I think a subscription based thing kind of like netflix would be genius, it's always there whatever you want, I mean the only radio i listen to is pandora and I can ttype in bands I like and then I learn of new bands it leads me to, and the artists still get royalties from the plays, because noone is going to go back in time and start buying in any mass amount ever again
The conversation continued in a more unofficial tone after this point. I will post some of that as "Part Two" on a later date.
Matt's former group, 10 Years, happens to be my favorite band. They will be releasing an album with their own independent label on August 7, 2012. This is their official website, and this is their Facebook page. Last I knew, Matt's new band is named Dead Language. I haven't heard much from them lately, but here's their Facebook, their SoundCloud, and a song by them I really liked. I thought it would be fair to give both bands a shout out.