Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Chimp Spanner

As part of a new series of interviews EspyRock commander-in-chief Michael Hughes, who is currently writing a dissertation on the effect of the internet on the music industry for the University Of The West Of Scotland, will be getting the views of artists on the internet’s effect on the music industry. The interview series will cover what is currently going on with the band at the moment but will also feature a questionnaire ranging from topics as to illegal downloading, social networking, technology and the future of the industry.

Next to talk about his views on the industry was Chimp Spanner (Paul Antonio Ortiz), a one man multi-instrumental progressive Metal entity, whose album of emotive compositions, warping riffage and polished lead guitar work entitled ‘At The Dreams Edge’.

Performed, recorded, produced and mixed entirely by Paul, ‘At The Dreams Edge’ encompasses many styles of progressive Rock and Metal, delivered on a movie-like soundscape with a tight and punchy modern production. Visualise an instrumental Dream Theater meets Toto, arranged by Vangelis and produced by Devin Townsend, with Frederik Thordendal on rhythm and Steve Vai on lead guitars.

Read on as Paul talks about the new Chimp Spanner EP, taking his music live and also accidentally ripping off a fans remix of one of his songs as he wished he had done it himself.

Follow Chimp Spanner on Facebook for regular updates and check out his material below in the player if you haven’t already heard of his name. Like what you hear? Then head over to the Basick Records store right away and buy CDs and merchandise to support the artist.


Interview

You have a new EP coming out later this year as a follow up to ‘At The Dreams Edge’, what are fans going to expect from this release compared to the album?

Well the plan is it will serve as a sort of bridge between ATDE and a brand new full length. Some of the tracks on the album go back like 4 or 5 years, and it wasn’t until the later stuff that I really started finding some sounds I liked (the synthy ‘Under One Sky’ vibe). So I’ll explore that more on the EP, and then attempt something else entirely for the next album.

Are you going to be looking to build fans for your next full length?

I know that playing live is a great way of reaching a whole other audience that I probably wouldn’t even touch online. I’ve seen this with all the bands who started around the same time as me. It’s really exploded for them! So hopefully I’ll be able to add to the simian army this way.

What prompted the idea to run the remix competition for the tracks ‘The Mirror’ and ‘Supererogation’?

It was really the result of some brainstorming between Nathan at Basick Records and me…and by brainstorming I mean he kind of came up with it! But, really, we’re both aware that a lot of ‘fans’ are also creators themselves. So it seemed like a great way to get them involved, and get everyone involved a little extra promotion.

Were you pleased with the outcome of some of the tracks that came in for you to select?

Most definitely! I even ended up accidentally ripping one of them off in a new song…needless to say I had to delete it. But it’s cool (and slightly annoying) to hear people do something with your song you wish you would’ve done yourself.

Chimp Spanner - PaulNaturally for bands they have others to bounce ideas off and to assist them at any time of a writing block. Do you work with or play with anyone as you write just to get ideas and keep things flowing or do you prefer to work alone with your vision for what your music will be?

Well I wouldn’t say I prefer to work alone…it’s kind of just the way it is haha. No I mean, it’s great for the most part. I’m kind of a solitary worker by nature so I’m not sure how easy it’d be to get into that headspace with someone else around. But it’s also kind of frustrating sometimes, especially when I reach a block. Thankfully a lot of the other musicians and bands I know are always happy to lend their ear. And I can usually tell if they’re genuinely impressed or if they feel it’s not quite up to scratch!

Do you have certain influences for each instrument that you play?

I never really looked at it that way but yeah I guess I do! Some of my synth work is a bit Jan Hammer-ish. The chord progressions are influences by a lot of great fusion, Latin and soul from my childhood. Guitar wise it’s everything from Meshuggah and Fear Factory to Holdsworth and Vai. Bass…well I’ll get back to you on that. I’m the first to admit I’m not really a bassist. I mean it’s just a big guitar isn’t it?

You’re about to set off on tour with Aliases shortly are you looking forward to playing the tour?

For sure! It’s kind of strange being at the start again, in as much as building a band and getting everything refined (again), but it’s a great challenge. One I’m definitely looking forward to.

When fans called for you to take your music live, did you every worry about how it might happen as you performed and recorded everything yourself and having to trust other musicians with your music?

I’d be lying if I said no haha. But I’ve been fortunate to find some really dedicated and talented people to help me so far. The only real worry I had was that playing it live would make it less of this cinematic ‘experience’, you know? I never really envisaged it as 3 or 4 dudes on stage making noise. But thankfully it seems to have translated well. It’s given me some good ideas as to what will work live for the next album, but I don’t want to base the WHOLE thing on that alone.

Do you have any set goals for 2011 that you love to achieve whether it be musically or personally?

I guess just to take it as far as it will go! I’m a pretty dedicated worker when it comes to working for other people, but I need to be in a whole other gear to work for myself. So I suppose my goal is to push myself harder and jump into this thing with both feet. That way, whatever comes of it, it won’t be for lack of trying!!

Internet and the music industry

The biggest issue with the internet for artists is of course illegal downloading and there has been a rapid decline in value of the industry as the internet expands throughout the world. Several artists I have spoken to have stated that it has become part of life and that now selling albums is no longer a profitable business; money is solely earned from touring. What are your views on the matter of illegal downloading?

Yeah it kind of just comes with the territory now. The same freedoms that make the internet a relatively safe haven for free speech and expression also make it the perfect place for piracy! But then I think the problem is a little overstated. I self released an album, at Christmas no less (what a stupid idea!) and there seemed to be no shortage of people willing to dig deep. This was without any kind of live front; just word of mouth and self promotion. You do find some people that feel they no longer need to support an artist once they’re signed – I think that’s something that maybe needs to be addressed. But yeah, for the most part, not everyone that downloads would’ve bought. So they’re hardly lost customers. Plus I’m kind of glad that it’s torrent worthy. You know you’re onto a winner when people want to pirate you ;)

Chimp Spanner - PaulDo you feel that any of the current methods such as watermarking or streaming based models which have users paying a fee to stream music will take off and help stop the illegal sharing of music files? Or do you see any strength with the idea of giving away your music for free, having it shared around the world and again relying on touring to make money?

I’m quite a big fan of the paid streaming thing. Or even free streaming. I’ve checked out plenty of albums on Spotify, and then gone on to buy them so I can have them in my car or whatever. It shows faith in the genuine listener/fan, and in my experience that’s usually reciprocated!

The global recorded music industry saw a 31% decline in value from the years of 2004 to 2010 but the digital music market has seen a 1000% increase in value over the same period. Do you see the internet’s influence on the industry as the sole cause of this decline or do you believe there are any other factors which you consider an issue?

I think the industry is playing catch-up with the rest of us! The wider industry is still working on this model where people get their music solely through them, based on mainstream radio/TV and trends of the moment and what’s in CD stores. It’s just not the case any more as far as I’m concerned. It’s all about fan power. It’s a great time for lesser known, up and coming artists – they can get themselves on iTunes sooner than they’d ever get a CD in a store or a song on the radio. The new ‘generation’ of labels seem to get that, I think.

With such a growth in the digital music market, many artists have already stopped creating physical albums; the most notable is Rob Zombie who stated his most recent release would be his last physical album as the growing popularity of iTunes and Amazon is now controlling album sales. The IFPI recently published findings that 16.5% of internet users in the United States purchase their music digitally than physically.
Firstly as an artist and music fan, do you still buy physical albums or do you download from digital music stores? Secondly, do see the digital music markets as something positive for the industry and your career as a new and cheaper distribution method?

I still buy physical albums, sure. I like the whole package – the inlay, the artwork. Maybe that’s outdated now! You’re also getting it at top quality, although I know digital formats are probably in the same league now (320kbps MP3s, FLAC, etc.). So it wouldn’t put me off buying if it was only digital. I’m sure they could sweeten the deal with some bonus digital content ;)

As the digital music stores assist in distribution, other factors that come into releasing an album are marketing and promotion of any sort. What are your views on the ability to use the internet to promote and market yourself?

It’s a lot of work! More than you’d think. Staying visible and active on the internet is like…a full time job. If I’m writing, I’m not promoting. If I’m promoting, I’m not writing. In that regard I’m really happy to have help with that. That might just be me, though. I’m not very good at multi-tasking.

Social networking has naturally become a massive asset in the industry for labels and artists to be able to interact with fans on an everyday basis from anywhere in the world. Do you feel that if the social networking boom hadn’t taken place that it would effectively hinder careers as there would have been no direct route to communicate with fans?

Kind of! I think if people are passionate about what they do, they will find a way. But it’s definitely made it easier. I don’t think I would’ve had the luxury of just sitting in my studio, creating something, and getting it heard without it. Otherwise I might’ve had to go an entirely different route playing countless shows and the project might have turned out completely different. Not necessarily worse, of course.

A big development in recent years has been the hardware and software that has been created for anyone and everyone to purchase. We now find aspiring artists building their own home studios at their computer by purchasing top of line software, sound cards, microphones and such. What are your views on the technology advancements in recent years from software, hardware and even to the MP3 itself? What positives or negatives if any do you see from these advancements?

For the most part it’s great. I couldn’t have made my album without all this new technology. But it can get in the way of/overshadow the musicianship and the writing process. I mean how many people would rather copy + paste than play a whole take? It kind of kills the spontaneity of writing, and I’m as guilty of it as the next guy of that! I’m going to try real hard in future material to rely less on the technology to make the ideas happen, and just focus on my instrument. Everything else will be a bonus.

Chimp Spanner - Paul 2While purchasing hardware/software and recording in your own home studio is a method of removing big studio costs and staff costs, recently fan funding in return for incentives has become a new way forward. Recently in the UK bands such as Madina Lake, Funeral For A Friend and The Blackout have used Pledge Music (Kickstarter in the US) in which fans contribute towards the cost of the studio in return for signed albums, special gifts and more. Do you think this method of involving fans more intimately in the creation of an album and offering them incentives to do so could be a way forward to combat the losses through piracy?

I think it’s a great idea – wish I would’ve thought of it!! Anyone want to help me get an Axe-FX?! But no, I can’t really see a bad side to this. I think in this age of abundance where new music, film and media is practically thrown at you on a daily basis it’s kind of easy for a disconnect to form in peoples minds between the creator, and the work. This stuff isn’t just naturally occurring! Real people have to sit and make it, and while we do it for the love of it, it can’t be done for nothing. So yeah, cool idea. I like it!

In the United States from 1999 to 2009 there was a 17% fall in the number of people hired as a musician and in Europe, while not directly musicians, the estimated number of jobs likely to be lost due to piracy in the creative industries will reach 1.2 million by 2015. Do you worry as an artist that you will ever be swept by this wave and be forced to leave the industry you love in order to provide a better living for yourself?

Hmm that’s a tough one! On the one hand I always think that there was nothing in it for me when I started, and I shouldn’t take it for granted that there always will be. I would be a very lucky person indeed if I could continue to work in this industry, doing the thing I love! I certainly don’t see it as any kind of ‘right’. But on the other, it’s not an entirely selfish pursuit ;) It is, after all, an industry. It’s good for venues, engineers, artists, programmers, journalists – all the people involved at all stages of the process. And of course there are the people out there that just love to listen to the music. So I hope as much for them as for us that it never goes that way.

When you consider the industry previously to the time before the internet and to now with the internet in full swing, what do you see for the future of the industry?

I see a future of large, strong musical communities with labels involved way earlier on in the process – Basick are already bang on that! The tools to create and distribute are already within easy reach. So the real work for them is going to be in developing, and investing in the best of the bunch to do their ideas justice and give the fans something lasting, and of substance. Something like that anyway!!

     

About Michael

Michael is the owner and creator of EspyRock. He is your general all round geek; sports fan; TV show fanatic. You can find him sharing his thoughts on his personal Twitter account. Contact Michael on Twitter or via Email.

2 Responses to “Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Chimp Spanner”

  1. “Where you pleased with the outcome of some”…should be “Were you…”