Most of the time, I’m looking at the music business from the eyes of managers, publicists, sound engineers and recording engineers. But today we’ll get a completely different vantage point. Yesod Williams from Pepper will be talking about the business from a musician’s perspective.
Hello Yesod – thank you for taking the time to talk with us. In this interview series, we’ve been exploring the big picture stuff of the music industry. All of us are music lovers! We all buy music and pay to go to concerts but few of us think about music as a collection of lots of different people working together for a much bigger goal. Each piece is as important as the next and collectively – somehow- it all forms together into something nebulously called the “music industry.” We all hear how the industry is changing and how no one really knows what the future will look like, but before we can talk about the future – it is important to understand the present and all the people who have stakes in this game. You’ve seen a lot – from all different angels. You are a professionally touring artist, you are a record label owner, you’ve organized tours and you’ve worn management hats and everything in between. So with that, what’s your definition of “The Music Industry?”
It’s an ever stirring organic pot of talent, art, and emotion that is mixed in with a standard business model that’s been used for years — when they coincide and work together it’s a powerful machine — one that can break any barrier you can think of, age, language, gender etc.
In the best-case scenario, all the moving pieces work together and everyone benefits from the labors and expertise of everyone else. But no single organization really works like that — let alone a collection of groups with sometimes opposing interests. And it gets even more complicated when you consider that we’re not talking about selling widgets. We are talking about people making and selling music. So how does it all work? How — from your perspective as an artist —is an album made and marketed?
Basically it extends from my last answer. It starts naturally — the same vibe you have when you start a band, let’s get together in a room and jam some music that we think is cool and we’d be fans of. The band puts their stamp on it then you have a product. After you have this you want to surround yourself with the right team to extend your art as far and beyond as you’d like it to go. That’s the goal anyway. And never forget to forever and constantly nurture your core following while embracing the new!!!!!!!!
OK – same question but now from the perspective of a record label owner.
You first hope the band who is recording doesn’t go over budget, HA! Seriously though, these days you can record an A-class album for less than a fraction of what it was 15 years ago. So you just want to get the best of the true essence of your artist recorded onto a body of work — I think they used to be called albums. Once the whole package is a uniformed piece of art you get it out to the masses and market it appropriately. How an album is marketed these days is crazy due to the fact that there are a million different avenues. Some that are good for some bands brand might not be good for others. It’s all about using these modern day tools all to their potential while considering what’s right for you, integrity is so key, it’s real ya know.
How has this business changed from when you first started making records to nowadays?
The business, in every way you can think of, is completely opposite from when we started Pepper. The term, “record deal” is a minimalist thing nowadays, it’s all about what you need instead of what you want. 1 hit record isn’t paying for 10 flops these days — that was when major labels were giving signing bonuses that were buying mansions. Then there was a huge budget on top of that to market and record an album. It seems it was a lot more formulated. Which is why we think now is so exciting, because with all the ways to market a band/record it leaves more room for creative and outside of the box thinking — which is why the old school dinosaur record execs continue to panic — when embrace is the key!
In your opinion, from everything that you’ve seen, is there a better or more efficient way to do things?
It seems like everyday there’s a better or maybe just a new way of doing things. The best aspect is I think that even though there is a lot less money coming from record sales, it evens out because they’re cheaper — if not free ways— to market with the internet. So in a way it balances out. We’re also huge fans of giving away music. For instance when we released our last Single (Wake Up) from our EP “Stitches,” we gave away a bonus song with every download. A little free music goes a very long way.
How do all the new digital distribution tools and methods figure into this? As an artist, how does this affect you and your future?
For us personally, it just gives us longer arms to extend to the masses. For us as Pepper, it’s huge because we’re in complete control with releasing and owning our own records. And as LAW Records, it pretty much works the same for the bands on our label. As you know LAW is the working bands label, which Kaleo coined!!!!!!
What do you think about when you and other musicians talk about “the future of music?” Will you, as an artist, be able to make a living and support a family?
Absolutely. No doubt about it!!!! I have sheer excitement when thinking about the “future of music,” the control is flowing into the artists’ hands instead of a bunch of suits who have probably never picked up an instrument in their life, makes sense right?
How is there ever balance between selling records and making art? Not that these 2 things should be considered opposites — art and music are meant to be enjoyed and artists deserve to make a living making art — but this must be the source of a lot of conflict between disparate groups of people.
Ya, it can be a fine line you walk. I don’t know if it’s ever technically a balance but more knowing where to fit the 2 sides where they belong. I think not getting too caught up in the bullshit of the business side will keep the art side of it more pure and knowing when to draw the line and in a sense not mix the 2 together would be the closest thing to a “balance”.
What about touring? We keep reading that since the record industry died, artists now have to rely on touring to make money? Is that true and if so, what about all the new news about weaker ticket sales? Does this affect all musicians the same way?
Yes, I believe its true, bands used to sell records to tour, now you tour to sell records. It effects some bands more than others, hey if you’re a huge established artist I think as long as you’re smart about ticket prices the peaks and valleys won’t be as drastic — gotta flow like water with the industry. For Pepper, touring has always been the biggest building block for us so in a sense, it’s all we’ve ever known and we always stress to the bands on our label that getting out face to face with the peeps and touring hard and smart is a sure fire way to build. (Touring smart is key because you could do 200 shows a year but if there is no method behind the madness, it’s kind of like playing tennis against the wall. You might have some fun but you aren’t gonna get too far.)
At the end of the day, what do you think fans want? Why do people love music the way they do?
In my opinion, as a fan I want something real that sounds and makes me feel good. Something that kids are gonna air guitar and air drum to — in a nutshell, music that injects life and emotion into you. People love music because it’s the ultimate form of communication and the fact that someone can write a song about one topic and it can come across to others with a million different meanings, all which are right, is the most amazing thing in the world to me. I can’t think of anything else in the world like it. It’s the ultimate emotion and thought evoker!
What do you think that it will all look like in 10 years from now?
Back to the 50’s, we’ll be selling 7” singles out of the trunks of our car. That would be nuts. But really, who knows? But I’m excited!
Thank you Yesod – thank you for sharing your insights and thank you for making such beautiful music!
PEPPER, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Kaleo Wassman, bassist/vocalist Bret Bollinger and drummer Yesod Williams, formed in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island of Hawaii in 1997. Having grown up surfing on the island, it’s not a wonder that they would mix their rock “shock and ah” flare, along with their mellow island rhythm roots to create their own truly diverse sound. They have also been known to hypnotize fans of all walks of life with their incredibly sweet harmonies all the while keeping bodies moving on the dance floor.
This interview was originally published by Mike Dias for Ultimate Ears