Do It Yourself and Maynard James Keenan

MaynardJamesKeenan

These are some quotes from an article I read with one of my life coaches, Maynard James Keenan, about his thoughts on the future of the music industry. I know I know, just another blog talking about the “future of the music industry” – I hear your internal dialogues – and yes, it does just go over the same old ground but I think the most interesting point is the way Maynard himself is interacting with the digital world in order to fund his Puscifer project.

Read on to find out more:

There’s a disconnect between people not buying music and not understanding why [bands] go away,” Keenan says. “There are people who are like monkeys in a cage just hitting the coke button. They don’t really get that for [musicians and artists] to do these things, they have to fund them. They have to have something to pay the rent.”

For Keenan, it means scaling down the operation. He’s proud of Puscifer’s status as an independent project, free from “some artless, soulless, heartless funding person getting in the middle and fucking up the art.” The band records at Caduceus Cellars, and Keenan funds the manufacturing of CDs and merchandise. “[It’s that] survivalist, end-of-the-world mentality,” he says, “Pulling together your skill set so you don’t end up becoming food.”

His forecast regarding the music industry is bleak, but realistic:

“It’s going to have to default back to people who are willing to do more work for less money, basically. You have to kind of do it out of love, and doing it by living within your means and getting to an end of what you want to do, other than worrying about 401(k)s and insurance and all that crap that comes with being paid by someone else [so] you [can] coast.”

It makes sense that Keenan focuses on Puscifer. Tool records for Volcano, a subsidiary of Epic Records, owned by industry giant Sony. A Perfect Circle recorded for Virgin Records, bought out in 2007 by Capitol. The majors continue to consolidate as the market share decreases, making Keenan’s small, locally sourced business approach to Puscifer look as much like a necessity as a creative capital choice.

“The illusion is gone,” Keenan says. “There’s no longer blank checkbooks. I remember playing a show ages ago, where Helmet got offered a [record deal worth a] million dollars. Oh, my God! A million dollars. Of course, all that did was make every other band with ego throw its dicks on the table and say, ‘Well, I want a million five.’ ‘Well, I want two million; I’m more popular.’ There was never any rhyme or reason to what those numbers ended up translating to at the end of the day. If you go back and track what somebody actually paid for something, it’s not nearly as dialed-in as, say, a video-game corporation saying, ‘No, we’re going to sell exactly this many units of this game.’ It was never that calculated. The people running [the business] weren’t qualified to run it.”

For a band to survive takes more than T-shirts and CDs, Keenan says. Embracing digital distribution makes too much sense to ignore, he says, but the MP3 model comes with downsides for someone interested in creating a complete package.

“I don’t know, I feel like I’m kind of torn,” he says. “There’s two sides of my brain fighting with each other. There’s something about connecting with that physical piece of property, and also things you don’t know about. When you download the song, there’s nothing. Sometimes it comes with a booklet, sometimes it comes with an image, but usually it doesn’t. It’s just this disconnected thing that you can’t touch and feel and experience. [There are] other nuances to the songs. Some images and artwork that are totally connected and related to the song you’re hearing, and you make the connection by seeing that image, and it completes the joke or completes the thought; that’s a little disconnected.

“However, as an independent project — no funding, no record label, no underwriters, nothing — the whole digital route is a lot more sustainable. You’re not wasting a lot of paper or plastic products, except for the manufacturing of computers, which apparently go out of date every week. Thank you very much, Apple. But you’re able to get that music out there and have a direct connection to who you’re selling it to — and actually fund your project.”

Keenan splits the difference. Puscifer’s music is available via digital outlets like iTunes, Amazon, and eMusic, but just up the hill from the Caduceus Cellars Tasting Room in Jerome, you’ll find the Puscifer Store, a brick-and-mortar outlet devoted to Keenan’s physical esoterica: CDs and vinyl from Puscifer, DVD copies of the Bikini Bandits films, Puscifer whole-bean coffee, jewelry, framed show posters, T-shirts, and releases from like-minded collaborators such as “America’s Funnyman,” comedian Neil Hamburger.

“You have to turn to weird stuff,” Keenan says. “We just released a limited-edition giclée of an image [designer and photographer] Tim Cadiente and I put together, and we’re being criticized because it’s 250 bucks. But if you go online, Mickey Mouse giclées are 800 bucks. Am I Mickey Mouse?”

Keenan doesn’t claim to have the solution for the ailing music industry, but he thinks it generally will sort itself out. Innovative bands will figure out a way to reach fans, while those that won’t adapt to the new landscape — bands that refuse to take on the ever-increasing workload — simply will go away.

“We have our own thing figured out,” he says. “I think that’s how the pieces are going to settle into place. It’s going to default back to people who want to do this and are willing to do this. Once people find their own way and find their own audience, they might kind of peek their head up over the crowd long enough to see that there’s an entire movement happening, and we did it individually. It’s critical mass; it all disseminates in a way that you go, ‘Oh, this is the new thing now.’ People just did it naturally, and people just did it in their own ways, in their lines and their mediums and surroundings. They’ll all step back and realize they’ve all come to the same place.”

Source: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/2013-01-24/music/maynard-james-keenan-is-nobody-s-tool/

I think there are some very important points raised here by the seasoned veteran and pioneer. The point that I think most bands and musicians should understand is in the last two paragraphs:

“Keenan doesn’t claim to have the solution for the ailing music industry, but he thinks it generally will sort itself out. Innovative bands will figure out a way to reach fans, while those that won’t adapt to the new landscape — bands that refuse to take on the ever-increasing workload — simply will go away.

“We have our own thing figured out,” he says. “I think that’s how the pieces are going to settle into place. It’s going to default back to people who want to do this and are willing to do this. Once people find their own way and find their own audience, they might kind of peek their head up over the crowd long enough to see that there’s an entire movement happening, and we did it individually. It’s critical mass; it all disseminates in a way that you go, ‘Oh, this is the new thing now.’ People just did it naturally, and people just did it in their own ways, in their lines and their mediums and surroundings. They’ll all step back and realize they’ve all come to the same place.”

That is my advice to anyone and everyone who claims to believe in the DIY work ethic. Sure, Maynard James Keenan has a steady income from his pursuits with Tool and A Perfect Circle. He also invests all of this money into his wine and now his Puscifer project. The main point that I will always come back to is “Innovative bands will figure out a way to reach fans, while those that won’t adapt to the new landscape — bands that refuse to take on the ever-increasing workload — simply will go away.”

To dull all of your internal dialogues just let me stomp out the standardised argument that everyone will throw in the comments section – “But Maynard is a rich rock star, he can afford to do that and say those things” – yes, thank you for pointing out the obvious and contributing nothing to the argument.

You see, that may indeed be the case but the actual opinion expressed is in no way any less meaningful to an independent band and let me plaster it again just so you can regain your focus on what I’m actually talking about:

“Innovative bands will figure out a way to reach fans, while those that won’t adapt to the new landscape — bands that refuse to take on the ever-increasing workload — simply will go away.”

It just sounds so beautiful when I read it again and again and really drives home earlier points I’ve discussed in other blogs about the redundant business model that the current music industry – both independent and mainstream levels – runs on (follow the following link to read more of my thoughts on the music industry – https://heavyandwierd.wordpress.com/2012/11/03/my-views-on-the-music-industry-part-one-the-music-industry-and-the-idea-of-success/).

This is the kind of way Galapogos approach what we do, with a degree of innovation. The other day I was being interviewed by the wonderful Bianca and one of the questions she asked me was about the challenges that Galapogos face as an independent band. When I really sat down to think about it, I couldn’t really find too many to complain about. The truth is we don’t have many challenges as an independent band. We don’t rely on our music as income so we all work day jobs that respect that we are artists. So we are able to get financial freedom through those day jobs and as a result have the ability to fund what we do. We have our own recording studio “Amber Sound” that was set up and established by our guitarist Luke. That was a ten-year investment from him so we don’t have any recording costs. We have an audience who respect us for what we do and who we do our best to serve, so we don’t face any restrictions on what we can and can’t do. They love that we do what we want, so we never have to compromise our art. We have the support of all the independent radio stations across Australia so we don’t have to worry about radio play or support. We have the respect of venues across Brisbane who know who we are and that we are professional and believe in making sure both the venue and audience are satisfied with the end result of our gigs. We have the internet which allows us to connect with the world and through this we have had our music travel into different countries and to many different ears. We have the respect of our musical peers. Our biggest challenge as a band is the mediocrity of the fevered egos that exist in the music industry and making sure that their evils don’t pollute our souls and bum us out. We are after all only human and being human means that we sometimes have moments of weakness where the fevered egos pollute our light. This is easily fixed and as we grow as people we find better ways of dealing with this. So in terms of challenges, we have very minor ones.

Reading what Maynard said just drilled home the importance of being innovative with your approach to not only your sound but how you conduct your business and Galapogos are not kidding when we say we are fully DIY. Being so fiercely DIY requires hard work and if you’re not prepared to do that hard work then you may be disappointed with the results you get for your band.

The other question that Bianca asked was about the amount of music we release and the way we have gone about it. When I answered this question, I outlined that our commitment to being prolific is not a new idea, in fact we see it more as an exercise in returning music to a place it originally was back in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We all loved the idea of in the 80’s punk rock underground that bands would just make cassette tapes and hand them out. Knowing that a lot of people just don’t have the capacity to consume via cassette tapes we looked at the technology around us and decided to use the same idea of the 80’spunk underground but instead of cassette tapes we are using our bandcamp page to release an EP each month. If you believe what the world at large is telling us and that people consume music a lot quicker these days and primarily through the internet than instead of ignoring the technology we decided to embrace it. Embracing it however does not mean letting the quality and intensity of our art suffer, it just means we have a space to store it for anyone and everyone to download it. We’ve actually found that by making our music free and by releasing an EP each month we’ve actually had more people wanting to pay us for it. This is both humbling but a nice exercise in understanding that yes people want stuff for free but if you as the artist control that and if you release music that is quality people will develop a connection to it and from here they will believe in you and feel a part of it and want to follow you for the long-term and in the end potentially want to pay for it. Like Fugazi though, when our music is released physically we also believe in making sure that you only pay between $5 to $10 or even less for it. By ignoring the redundant business models of the music industry we have been able to connect deeper with our audience and find ways to keep costs down for us and our fans. It’s all a tribute to Fugazi.

We are in the middle of recording our second full length album and have just finished recording three EP’s that will be released over the next three months. I think by March this year our discography will contain 1 full length album (available both physically and digitally) and 20 EP’s (all available digitally). Our second album will be released on vinyl only with some limited CD prints. In 2014 we’ll also be compiling our first anthology to curate and collect our first 3 years as a band which will be the first time a lot of the music on those digital EP’s will be available physically.

So in short, you can distract yourself with a business plan or just fucking get it on and do what you want but remembering that doing it yourself is not a boutique or easy thing, it still requires hard work and you really do it for the sake of your art, not a profit. Seeing what you do influence people is more powerful and rewarding than a swollen bank account. We’ll all die with satisfied minds and clean souls.

Peace Out

By Dan Newton xo

(p.s. I did repost some of my own quotes from my interview with Bianca, which you’ll be able to read very soon)

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