Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – Margin Of Error

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 take time out of his day to respond to us was Travis Meyers, vocalist and driving force for Ohio deathcore band Margin Of Error. The band has spent several years working independently and gaining a huge following for not only their music but their live show which has audiences in the palm of their hand.

Read on to find out more about their most recent release, his thoughts on the next album release, concepts and also the controversial video for ‘Your Life In Playback’.

Follow the band on Facebook for the latest updates and also listen to their music on the band page also. Like what you hear? Then head to the bands store and pick up a CD or some merchandise.

Interview

The band is still working hard to promote the 2009 release of ‘What You Are About To Witness’ so what can you tell those who have yet to hear the album what they can expect from it?

I think ultimately when I titled the record “What You Are About to Witness” I based it on something that people had to experience. The album is a concept record about the thought process of a serial killer. I wrote the record in a first person manner from the serial killer’s perspective and the CD is almost a diary or journal of the events before, during, and after the killings. The killer films each female victim that he tortures and eventually kills. He is creating a collection. It is his masterpiece. I wanted the audience to look at this record like a car crash that they couldn’t look away from. Beyond its heaviness and raw nature lies the real question of whether the killer is in love with his victims or is in love with the act of killing his victims.

When I first heard of the band it spoke of your industrial metal sound with ‘Destroy.Create.Repeat.’ before moving onto a blend of progressive deathcore fused with electronic elements. Was this just natural evolution of the band or was it by choice to experiment?

I think it really was a little of both. At the time of conception we had just gotten off of a national tour and we were very interested in pushing the envelope in terms of a much heavier direction for the band. We mixed up the writing process by relying a lot more on riffs to create melodies and not keys. As we began writing, it felt very natural and the songs were much more raw than past efforts. I felt the band become a lot more organic and I thought that reflected the very real nature of the serial killer concept. We used keys to be a lot more atmospheric and mood enhancing on this record and found a way to still keep it very “Margin of Error” in the process. This band is about evolution. Since the beginning we always find a way to challenge ourselves to grow, and we will continue to do so. In this instance, this record is what resulted.

It was a quick release of the second album from the first and as that has been two years now, is the band actively writing and working on any new material for another release?

I think ‘Witness’ has gained new life and has been re-introduced to so many people now because of all the news coverage it has garnered lately. We also just shot and released a music video for the track “Your Life in Playback”. It’s really interesting how things workout sometimes. In a lot of ways I feel ‘Witness’ is finally being appreciated for what it is, even more than a year after its release. As for new material, yes, we are actively working on new items, but we’re definitely taking our time on this release. This new record will be our defining moment. I know it will be our most important work, and there is a lot riding on it.

From what I can see everything the band has done up to the start of 2011 was fully DIY. Do you like having that control over your music and how every aspect of the business went from relying on labels and others to do it for you?

Both have pros and cons, and in a lot of ways, but I only know one way to do things, on my own. I am really grateful to the few people who are currently helping us grow and believe in us as a band. We’re such a hardworking band, and believe in what we do, that will never change. Our backbone of doing what we want and how we want to will always be with us. How and why we do things makes us who we are. When we get to the next level we will just be able to display our unrelenting message (both sonically and visually) to a larger audience. That is the only difference.

Obviously for some people your new music video pushed slight boundaries with them, was it your aim to give them something visual that tied in with the theme/concept of the album?

Absolutely. In a lot of ways I didn’t feel the album was complete until I brought this serial killer to life. I’ve been so happy to see my fans grasp even more of the ideas and the concept when watching our new video. Truly satisfying for me, and it is those moments that make me realize what I do is important and appreciated by my fans. Many websites feared posting the video because of the controversy surrounding the content of it. I’m glad I stood my ground and the horror giant FEARnet gave it a proper premiere. Censoring what I do is not an option. So thank you to everyone who checked out the video.

Speaking of the concept for the album, do you think you would continue with another concept on a future album or maybe continue the serial killer story?

Honestly, I’m not sure if I can work without a concept involved. I don’t see much point in creating art without some kind of message or conceptual continuity. I thrive on it. The serial killer story allowed me to speak from a human position. When I write and create I feel very immortal, but for this record I allowed myself to speak from a very vulnerable and human area of my mind. In the beginning the killer was a character, but from day one when I started writing from “his” position, I realized it was myself. The serial killer concept will fade with the next record as I will be moving onto another concept, but that portion of my brain that I gave to everyone who listened to the new record will always be a part of me. People will see it when we play these songs live or when I talk about the ‘Witness’ record.

Does it help to write a song with a theme in mind?

I definitely think it does. It’s actually how I operate creatively. I start with a big idea and it seems to spur many smaller ideas that complete the original concept and give it more detail. Most of the time I start with the end result before I write a single item. I titled “What You Are About to Witness” before I wrote a single song, and I have done that the same way with our upcoming record. People may find that odd, and sometimes I even do, but I don’t fuck with what works for me. The song writing process is the same. I am writing within a new world, the overall concept, and lyrics, visuals, and sound will all come from this.

Who influences the bands writing/playing style if any?

I am more so influenced by filmmakers than anything. I am a very visual person and feel that sound and visuals make a completed package. So many bands are good, but they lack an overall feeling, and usually have no continuity. Sometimes I even hate to call ourselves a band. I feel it is a bit misleading because we are so much more than that.

The live show is of course one of the main things that people consider when writing an album, how will it covert live. Do you take that into mind and how would you describe a typical live show?

I do to an extent. In the same breath though, I always seem to say I don’t want to water down a track because it would be difficult live or we wouldn’t know how some things would come off live. I want to write great music that we believe in, and will not water down a great idea due to it being in question in a live environment. We will figure that all out in due time, but we’re there to write great music we believe in, so that is what we will do.

Do you have any goals for the rest of 2011?

My goals are always the same, deliver an unrelenting product to as many people as we can. We will keep pushing the envelope and keep working hard to garner the attention that I think us and many others think we deserve.

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?

Honestly, it really disgusts me. I think it is extremely disrespectful to artists to just steal from them. I don’t think people have any idea how much time, energy, and money that goes into writing and releasing a record. I want our music to be heard as much as the next band, but not at the cost of devaluing art. Just like the people who go to their jobs everyday and get paid for their hourly wage, why shouldn’t the artist? Just speaking for my band I have lost so much money to illegal downloads that it is hard to release music in a physical manner anymore. That saddens me deeply because Margin of Error just isn’t about our music; it’s about the experience of viewing the album art in a physical manner. It gives the listener a greater connection with our work. What people don’t understand is if they illegally download bands’ music that then the band has to tour to make more income. In turn, every band is now touring a lot more and that is saturating the market. Most kids have 7 shows a week in their city and can only pick out 1-2 of them to go to. So, tour money is drying up as well. Illegally downloading music is affecting EVERYTHING that has to do with bands making a modest income in the industry. Think before you download your next CD illegally. Don’t let your favourite bands die.

Margin Of Error - Travis MeyersDo 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 don’t think this will help much at all. The people who are downloading music illegally will continue to do so until they are punished for this deed. Some bands like to give away their music for free, and that’s fine, but I have far too much respect for what I do to devalue it by just giving it away. What artists do is worth something, and cd’s are at an all time low in cost. You can pick up a lot of great albums for $10 and under. People must support music or your favourite bands will go away. As for touring to make money, the reality is downloading has taken a lot of that market away as well. Too many shows now = less people at the shows which means less money for the bands involved.

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?

The internet has hurt more than it has helped in terms of sales. It’s people who have to decide whether they will let themselves destroy the industry from here.

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 have never downloaded an album ever. I still love going out and buying records from stores, although that’s becoming a much more complex task given most stores are doing away with cd’s entirely. I see from a business standpoint that without pressing a physical copy of the cd I would have less money in it, but doing that would be selling my band short. I take great pride in visuals, and I always will. I want my fans to hold the album art in their hand and experience the record the way I intended them to. Other bands can bypass physical records and get away with it, but we will continue to use our strengths, and visuals will always be one of them.

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?

The internet is like a double edged sword because it has helped me tremendously throughout my career as a musician, yet hurt me at the same time. I love having a place to show what I do and I wouldn’t even be around without the fans I have garnered through displaying our work online. There are so many great things you can do to promote yourself online and reach literally the entire world. The only issue I see nowadays is everyone is trying to promote themselves and everyone thinks they are amazing at everything. In turn garbage music clogs the ears of many potential listeners who are then turned off to discovering new music online. There should be a test you have to pass to allow your music to be displayed.

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?

It absolutely would have. I think the boom allowed a lot of great talent to get their work out in front of many people that they couldn’t have otherwise. I can say that Margin of Error had our initial boom on MySpace and that really solidified who we are and what we are today. Fans that found us 6 years ago are still following us now because of that outlet. I wish MySpace was still up and kicking the way it was a few years back as it was the absolute best place to promote music. Facebook has now taken over and has done an absolute terrible job to allow bands to promote to anyone.

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?

Technology moved so fast and honestly without being able to build a solid home studio on a small budget, I don’t know if I would have ever found this outlet for my creativity. It’s a huge positive that you can mow through a lot of ideas at home when working on new music, but in the same breath it’s almost too easy for people to get their hands on the gear to record. So there’s a lot of shit people put up online and it essentially clogs the listeners ears with it.

Margin Of Error - Travis MeyersWhile 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 could definitely help, but to have to rely on something like this is hardly the answer. This is more of a band-aid to help artists just get by until the next item. I’m glad it’s working for a lot of artists though, it’s survival of the fittest and if you can land some decent funding from fans and give them some cool exclusive incentives that is a good thing.

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?

I battle with this everyday of my life, but I don’t know what I would do without this. This is more than a means of living for me, and this outlet is really who I am. So yeah, it’s a huge battle because losing it would be like losing a part of myself. I have gone through financial hardships, relationship issues, etc… It’s a strain on everything around me, but I have been lucky enough to have the closest people around me believe in what I am doing and have been very supportive when it counted.

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 mean something has to change. Right now the industry is reeling and grasping at anything that will stop the bleeding, even if it won’t fix the problem. Pretty soon you will see many of your favourite bands that many believe are doing well completely quit. I don’t think the industry can repair itself fast enough before many great artists will walk away. I am hopeful, but realistic. Let’s hope our fans will help us stay afloat throughout these truly hard times now and ahead.

     

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 – Margin Of Error”

  1. Good Interview, Travis always has a lot of great things to say…I think it’s the music industry that failed to adapt quickly enough to the internet in the beginning is now playing catch up and is too far behind to save the old ways…we still must find new ways for artist to make money…it’s really sad times for society as a whole as we are moving to a point ware the only way to make money is through advertising for corporations trying to get consumers to spend the money they made from selling advertising.

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