Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Journal

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.

Continuing our series Journal guitarist Joe Van Houten took time to speak to us about the bands album, sound and his favourite video games. Read on for some great in depth answers about the bands album ‘Unlorja’ and a whole lot more.

Be sure to follow the band on Facebook and listen to some of their music on MySpace also. If you like what you hear head over to your regular physical/digital store and purchase ‘Unlorja’ now!

Interview

Unlorja was released last year and has been met with a great reaction. How did it make you feel to get that sort of response from fans and critics?

It is an amazing feeling to receive such a positive response from so many people. We took a number of risks when creating Unlorja. We wanted every aspect of this album to be atypical, hopefully in a way that people would still enjoy it. Everything from the vocals, instrumentation, individual compositions, album themes, and in general the music as a whole, was given a tremendous amount of thought. The question that we asked ourselves was “How can we make this album intense, highly unconventional, progressive, and complex, while simultaneously making it be enjoyable and memorable for musicians and non-musicians alike?” Believe me. It is easier to ask that question and fantasize about its potential than it is to actually produce something that satisfies such demanding criteria. Regardless of how happy WE were with Unlorja, dropping this kind of an album to a large group of unbiased listeners is a scary thing. We’ve definitely heard some bad things, but fortunately, we’ve heard mostly good things. It makes sense that not everyone should like it. Your typical Godsmack or Disturbed fans won’t like this, and I do believe it is better that way. We play this kind of music for ourselves because we enjoy it. It just makes it that much better when others enjoy it too.

Journal Unlorja ArtworkWhen I first heard clips of the album the technical aspect of the album instantly struck me and then I saw that it lasted for 80 minutes. How does the writing process work for the band when there is so much being put into the album?

I’ve stated in past interviews, what a gruelling process it was to compose and even record Unlora. As challenging as it is to listen to the album, just imagine the headaches to create it. The Journal writing process is an interesting thing… we don’t “write” guitar riffs. Guitar riffs are incidental. Journal’s music is much more composition and theme driven. We try to imagine the complex thoughts and emotions that someone might have in very desperate and dramatic situations, such as war. We try to embrace these thoughts and feelings. We desire to convey these ideas with our very instrumentation. It is our goal to present these ideas to the listener, with or without a human voice (vocals). To do this, we generally attempt to amplify and even exaggerate the melodies, to further intensify the composition. Where things get really interesting is when we attempt to flavour our musical creation with something that feels like from within a dream or something from another world. Often times when we complete a single movement, within a composition, many other movements are also realized, as there is already a natural story flow occurring. This process is very tiring, but is also effective for us. I’m not sure how else we would be able to pull it off. From an outsider’s perspective, there are just SO many riffs, but writing this type of music in that way isn’t manageable.

How would you even categorise yourself or do you try to place yourself into a genre? Would you agree with the opening to the bio “ultra-technical, Nintendo influenced, indie-noisecore band”?

We do agree with the genre description: ultra-technical, Nintendo influenced, indie-noisecore band. It is a bit lengthy to say aloud, but we think that it is really quite accurate. The music is technical for obvious reasons, and we do draw inspiration from certain video game soundtracks. We’re not quite metal, as there are too many weird time changes and other bizarre mixtures happening simultaneously – though it is understandable if we are perceived as metal, since we do have fast drums and screaming. However, the spazzy and frantic chords and very frequent time changes layer the music with a seemingly unstable surface that some people will only interpret as a wall of noise. For that reason, noisecore seems more appropriate than metal. You might wonder why we would want to be associated, musically, with the genre tag of “noisecore.” The reason is because noise is extremely forceful, intense, and commanding – even intimidating, which is somewhat inline with one of our musical goals: to control the emotions of our listener. If you really like our music or if it overwhelms you to the point where you have to shut if off, we say mission accomplished in both cases. Again, it’s not for everyone. The Indie tag makes sense a little because of some of the strange and progressive sounding passages that happen, periodically.

I saw a list of some of the non-metal influences you mentioned such as classical music, mainly the soundtracks of RPG games or fantasy movies and also some of the 8-bit style with ambient music also. Do these influences spread throughout the band and are they harnessed at all during the writing process when you consider your sound?

I might be the only one in the band that would list so many non-metal influences as my primary source of inspiration, but everyone in the band does enjoy at least some elements of classical music and especially certain RPG video game soundtracks, to some degree. I wouldn’t say that these influences are harnessed to the point that we are attempting to recreate them. Many classical pieces and certain video game soundtracks do an exceptionally good job at conveying powerful themes, throughout the story that they represent. It is more important to determine why the music is so effective. In many cases, our listed influences have proven very effective in our understanding of how to convey certain themes. Most mainstream music is only capable of channelling 3 basic emotions: anger, sadness, happiness. We attempt to convey many, many more: love, hate, anger, happiness, sadness, despair, rage, guilt, triumph, sorrow, shame, desperation, empathy, excitement, loneliness, envy, frustration etc. Some of these require a lot of extra thought, and many of our influences have successfully captured these ideas. We find this to be very inspirational.

Gaming influences are key from the information I have read so as gamers ourselves what consoles do you own and play? What are your favourite games?

We, in Journal, LOVE our video games! Here are some of the systems that we play or used to play: NES, SNES, Sega, Playstation I,II, and III, Game Cube, Wii, DS, 3DS. There are A TON of games that we love, but here are some of the top titles: Final Fantasy 1,2 (4 in Japan),3 (6 in Japan), 7,8,9,10, Zelda: A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, Windwaker, Twightlight Princess, Zelda I and II for NES, Legend of Dragoon, Shadow of the Colossus, God of War I, II, and III, Star Ocean 3, Kingdom Hearts, Megaman 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8, Megaman X1,X2,X3, Earthworm Jim, Kabuki Quantum Fighter, Mario 1,2,3,4, Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Evermore, Chrono Trigger, Chrono Cross, Metroid NES, Super Metroid, Metroid Prime 1,2,3, Metroid Other M, Mario Kart SNES, Mario RPG, BioShock, Mike Tyson’s Punch Out, Double Dragon 1 & 2, Sonic 1 & 2, Toe Jam and Earl, Tetris, Street Fighter 1 and 2 (regular and Alpha), Mortal Kombat 1,2,3, Super Puzzle Fighter, Xenogears, XenoSaga, etc.

I read that you sort of feel that maybe labels see the band as a bit risky to take to sign because of your unconventional style but to date you have done well as a band without a label. Do you think if the right label came along that you would change at all to fit the needs or is Journal what you see, take it or leave it?

Absolutely take us or leave us. We are currently a DIY band because of our true devotion, dedication, and love for music. We don’t make much money doing this. I mean, all that we have is our integrity. If the right label came around, they would already know this about us and wouldn’t ask us to change anything. They would trust us to produce quality music. If we change the music to fit on a label, we could still end up being unsuccessful, AND we wouldn’t entirely be playing the music from our hearts – instead, maybe our wallets. If our objective was to get signed and get huge, our writing style would have been different from the start. We understand and respect why other bands do this, but it is not an option for Journal – period. If we ever decide to write music that appeals to a mainstream audience, just for the sake of making lots of money, we would do so under a different band name and retire the band, Journal, such that Journal is remembered in the most respectable way.

You did for a time work with Relapse for distribution. Did that relationship work for the band as you still had control over pretty much everything in the band and they just helped you reach a wider audience through their distribution?

I do believe that our Relapse distribution of Unlorja helped us a bit. They got to make some money, and we got some extra exposure from a label that hosts bands like ours. It is definitely ideal, for us, that we maintain control over everything in the band, especially musical rights, so having this relationship was really awesome. It’s a lot of little things, such as this, that have helped us get a lot of extra exposure that we wouldn’t have had otherwise, given the fact that we are not signed. We feel very fortunate that people have taken a liking to our music and have opened the doors to these types of opportunities.

Journal - Joe Van HoutenIt is early to start discussing future releases as Unlorja was only released last year but do you think in the future that you could match that intensity and the complexity of that album and possibly pass it?

It would be tough but not impossible to match or exceed the intensity and complexity of Unlorja. We do have experience in writing these types of compositions and a wide variety of tools, in which to implement new ideas and reinforce really good, older ideas. I think the best approach we could take, when writing a new album, is not to try and “do better” than Unlorja, but rather to determine how we can make it different than Unlorja with new and progressive ideas, while maintaining the complexity and intensity that defines Journal. Pressuring ourselves to write a better album might result in stress or unrealistic expectations that could possibly even prevent us from releasing a new album. If we keep an open mind and stick to our usual song writing formula/strategies, we believe that things will just work out. However we choose to do it, people are either going to like it or they won’t. There is no controlling that, so our first goal is to make ourselves happy.

Do you have any goals for 2011?

Our goals for 2011 are to start brainstorming some new ideas for a new Journal album – nothing serious or writing intensive. We just need a stable starting point. Promotionally, we want to keep spreading the word about Unlorja, getting as much publicity as we can, given our situation. We would also like to potentially set up some shows with a few high exposure bands, within our realm of music. Maybe Dillinger??? Well, that one might be tough, but it would be so awesome!

Outside of music what are your interests?

Joe Van Houten (guitar): Being a father and a husband, powerlifting, electronics engineering, video games, reading, and if time permits, hanging out with friends.

Tony Juvinall (guitar): Snowboarding, hiking, smelling roses, bicycling, drinking beer, sex, playing fetch with my cat Cyrah, studying art through observation, being the funny guy when I’m oblivious to my own humour. Yes, I do influence myself, and I’m influenced by the wonderful people who I can honestly call my friends.

Justin Tvetan (drums): Video games, cycling, reading, internet

Danny Paul (bass): Video games, hanging out, chilling with my lady, eating

Thank you for taking time to answer some questions, please feel free to ask anything you wish.

Thank you for your time to prepare this interview! We enjoy talking about music and communicating with our fans – all five of them!

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?

I’m not sure if Journal is in a position to have a strong stance on this issue. One of our main goals is to write music that we’re proud of and get lots of people to hear it. Sure, it is nice if people actually pay for our music. It allows us to recycle it into the band, so that we can put it towards new recordings and other merchandise, but we never expected to depend on music as a source of income.

This issue is more pertinent to artists that are on labels, and I can see both sides. The label, 99.99% of the time, is in the business to make a profit. They tend to treat bands like they are a packaged product – in some ways, tangible to the buyer. This used to work well because listening to music used to require a compact disc. Unfortunately, that’s not the case any longer. More importantly, there are so many labels and musical acts now that a label has to promote their bands a lot more aggressively to gain any interest, which results in more advertising costs. Meanwhile, the artists suffer, since much of the advertising etc. comes out of their cut.

Consumers are always trying to save money, especially in this economy. With so many bands today, the music industry is saturated. There is unlimited music to choose from, and so the listener has a hard time searching through it all to find “the good stuff”. It’s only natural that they would choose to prioritise what they will spend their money on. Make no mistake. Illegal downloading is definitely stealing, which is wrong, but the music industry isn’t exactly making the situation better. They continue to further alienate the fans of their bands with loud protests and petty threats. They are practically egging on the fans to continue stealing.

This illegal downloading problem is really just a more complex form of supply and demand. Currently, there is way too much supply of music – so much that technology was even forced to adapt to accommodate its rapid growth. The goal, of course, was to make it as easy as possible for people to hear and obtain music, instantly. The demand for music is low because there is so much of it, and it has become so easy to get it. There’s really not much to think about, regarding this topic – If there is infinite supply of some product, the demand and the value of that product converges to zero. That is the current status of the music industry.

My prediction: Many record companies will go out of business in the next 10 years because their advertising costs will outweigh their profits, due to the fact that the music industry is grossly over saturated with bands – many of them actually being quite terrible. Hardly anyone will profit from their music. Many people in bands will change professions, effectively ending those said bands, and only the ones who actually enjoy music for the music will remain, since for them, it was never about money.

Piracy will continue to be a problem, and it will even evolve. Labels will just have to find other ways to make a profit, if they wish to survive.

Do 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?

This won’t do anything except further alienate fans and generate new and innovative methods of stealing. When Napster was sued, at least 10 other major sites that allow illegal downloading were born. I’d bet there are hundreds more by now. Sure, some people will pay the fees and abide by the laws, but many more will not. Furthermore, someone will figure out how to extract the music from a watermarked disc and put it up for free download for everyone else, the same as before. Software companies have been using this idea for years now, and people continue to steal software. Furthermore, many companies offer free software downloads for a variety of applications, which are not AS powerful as the big name vendors, but they are adequate to the point where you could justify going that route instead. Music would be no different.

In Journal, we recognize that we are the ones trying to be heard. Listeners aren’t going to come to us without incentive. We have obtained a lot of fans by offering our first CD, “Casualties of War”, for free download and by offering some tracks off of Unlorja, by streaming. People appreciate that, and it really helps expand the fan base. Our approach for achieving success might seem strange to some or even anger people in the industry, since it creates a conflict of interest, but the idea is gaining momentum among many unsigned artists. What you have to understand is that our goals are very different than most people’s goals in the industry. Money is great, but that’s not why we play.

Journal - Joe Van HoutenThe 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?

It is certainly more convenient to download music, instantly, and to keep that music consolidated on a single electronic device. Plus, you can buy the individual songs instead of having to buy the whole album, in which you may not like all of the songs. While there may be some other small factors, contributing to the decline, the internet makes the digital music market a far more convenient method of getting music. I would say that the internet is the sole cause of the decline.

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 greatly value having hardcopy albums for artists that I enjoy. I don’t really have a good reason for why. I just don’t like the idea of having 100 different bands on a single electronic media device (iPhone for example), which could eventually get stolen or destroyed – everything lost. I like to hear AND see an album for reasons that I can’t completely explain. I think the digital music market is very positive for the exposure of bands. It is so easy to get your music heard now, because of the internet. A band like us, who has never really toured, can get a lot of attention because of the internet. I have no idea if this is good for the industry. If the industry depends on electronic CD sales to keep their business afloat, I would say not.

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?

If we thought this was a bad thing, we would be hypocrites. I would think that the majority of our success and recognition, as a band, is due to our ability to use the internet to promote ourselves. This is a very good thing, but it also becomes more and more challenging. As I mentioned before, many (too many) bands exist today. Everyone is promoting on the internet. There is too much music – some of it is good, and most of it is crap. How difficult is it for someone to locate a truly good band? MySpace is a perfect example. We used to promote our band on there and look for people who might be interested. There is some luck involved when going this route because so many bands also use this tactic. People get tired of bands because of all of junk music they have to sift through to find something actually good, and they start blocking bands from adding them as friends all together. Hundreds of our fans have expressed that point to us. They say things like: “Thank God I actually gave Journal a chance. I normally delete friend requests from bands before I even listen because I always get treated to garbage, and it happens at least 10 times per day.” On the other hand, some people might hear us and probably think we sound like garbage too. The point is that having the internet is a double edged sword because of how popular it is for bands to promote. Having it doesn’t give you an edge. It gives you equal opportunity. Not having it puts your band at a disadvantage. You have to be strategic to promote yourself on the internet, or you risk wasting your own time/money.

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?

Social networking is definitely helpful for labels and artists. It’s hard to know the direct impact of never having social networking. Networking sites, such as Facebook, have been really helpful for us to inform fans about band news, such as CD releases, shows, and new merchandise etc. Not having that would, indeed, make things more difficult.

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?

The positives are easiest to observe. Take our album, Unlorja, for example. Because of the advancements in recording software and hardware, we were able to produce a recording of extremely high quality audio for a lot less money than would have otherwise been required. Between recording the CD, mixing, mastering, CD artwork, and CD press/package, our bill came in at around $5000. In case you don’t know this: That is extremely cheap, given the complexity of our record and the fact that it was 80-minutes long. Our sound engineer had really good microphones (just shy of the best quality) that he purchased for a lot cheaper than he could have ten years ago. The recording software advancements are where the magic happens though. You can do amazing things to edit and enhance music now. This, however, does lead to some negative consequences. I have heard phenomenal recordings by bands that were absolutely atrocious when they played live. This can be extremely disappointing for fans. Recordings can give listeners a false impression of a particular band’s musicianship and overall sound. It is up to the live bands to put on a performance that sets them apart from the rest. You have to win the respect of the fans with a great live performance, as many artists are not nearly as talented as their recording makes them sound. It should be no surprise, then, that a fan could lose respect, for that band, and then stop bothering to pay for that band’s music or even stop listening to their music altogether.

While 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?

This seems like a bit of a stretch, but then it’s really hard to know what people would be willing to do or not. This question operates on a different premise than previous questions. If fans are willing to contribute money towards the studio recording costs, in which they would not actually receive the studio album for multiple weeks thereafter, then those fans are already truly dedicated fans, of that particular band, and they wouldn’t be likely to download the music, illegally, in the first place. Someone who downloads music, illegally, is never going to prepay for an album that hasn’t even been recorded yet. Many people, who purchase music and love their bands, might not even be willing to make that type of an investment. If someone doesn’t respect your band enough to download even one song, legally through a purchase, receiving a signed album that they have to pay full price (or more) for (and wait for weeks to months) doesn’t seem like it would be much incentive for them. I do, however, think that the fans, who already support the band, would be willing to contribute towards studio recording costs, in return for those special gifts. This absolutely will not combat losses through piracy.

Journal LogoIn 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?

Again, I’m not sure Journal can take much of a stance on this. From a financial perspective, we aren’t even part of the industry. We play music because we love it, and we just keep our day jobs.

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 imagine that technology will advance to the point that there will be no money in music – or at least not for labels. People already exchange music for free download. Let us examine the other money making options: t-shirts? Stickers? Posters? People will produce counterfeit items and charge very little or even nothing at all. Printers are becoming so advanced that a person could, if they wanted to, get the correct fabrics or paper material, as well as the artwork, and create these items for themselves. What about live performances? With the recent advancements in audio sound systems and 3D technology, bands will likely be looking for ways to record live performances with the utmost quality, to give their fans the “full 3D experience” in the comfort of their own home… So then why would they pay $20 to come see a live show? Of course there will be people who don’t go down these paths, but I’d wager that the same people who are doing the illegal downloads will jump right on board with this. The future of the industry is clear: Money will become harder and harder to make, in the presence of technology that is constantly being abused. It will become a less reliable and dependable profession for most musical acts. Music will again become about the music, since the people that are in it, solely to profit from it, will be forced to reconsider their path to financial success.

     

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.

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