Exclusive Interview Series: The internet and the music industry – The Empire Shall Fall

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.

Our series continues with The Empire Shall Fall bassist Nick Sollecito who took time out from recording the brand new The Empire Shall Fall EP to answer some questions for us.

Having being featured on EspyRock before with The Empire Shall Fall in an interview with the band and having his own top ten playlist featured on the website, we were looking forward to hearing what is going on with the upcoming EP, his upcoming touring slot with The Dear Hunter and also his thoughts on the industry.

Be sure to follow the band on Facebook as they continually update you on the progress of their new EP and pick up a copy of their debut album ‘Awaken’ over at the bands store right away.

Interview

For the past month the band has been in the studio working hard on the new EP, how have things been progressing?

Yes, things have been going swimmingly. We decided to take our DIY approach one step further for the recording process, this time. For Awaken, we rented out a studio from our friends in The Dear Hunter. This time, we decided to buy our own gear and turn my living room into a live room. My bedroom became the control room. We financed the gear with money we made off of CD sales. This is an expensive investment, but we figure that over time we will save money, as now we never have to enter a studio to record something new. We are done with drums and one of the guitars, currently. I will finish tracking my bass parts this weekend.

You noted on Facebook that this will be the first in a series of three concept EPs. What is the concept for this EP and will it carry on throughout all three EPs or will each one have its own specific theme?

That’s correct. Each EP will have its own theme. We are still working out a lot of the details, lyrically. But, the overall theme is human struggle. We get into issues ranging from environmental, health, political, economic, etc. It’s a little early to really say what the final product will be, but what we have so far is pretty interesting. I think it’ll turn a lot of heads in the metal community.

What made you go with the idea of a concept series from the start?

Well, it’s a two-parter. First off, I have always thought that bands should most always do concept albums. My favourite music ends up being the kind that intertwines with itself. Pink Floyd is a huge influence on how I listen to albums. I also like the idea of listening to a release from start to finish. I generally hate skipping tracks. The other part of why we are doing concept EP’s is because Jesse’s schedule is so chaotic with Times of Grace, that there was no way we could focus on an entire LP. It would never get done. So, we decided to break up the work load into 3 segments to be released over the course of a year. That way, when Jesse gets home from tour, he only has to write 4 songs, as opposed to 12.

Nick Sollecito“It is some of the most challenging music we have written”. What can fans expect with the new material if you compare it to Awaken which gained the band a huge support and was a highly praised release.

Based on that quote, this stuff is more along the lines of songs like “Awaken” or “Our Own.” We have been trying to craft that technical element of our music to still be thoughtful and intelligent, but to have more groove. We just want there to always be a pulse that you can nod your head to. Basically, the new stuff sounds like the technical stuff on Awaken, just more focused…and hopefully heavier, yet more beautiful.

You have followed the same path as some other artists and are working with fans in order to fund some of the studio time in return for incentives and the campaigns I have witnessed have always worked out well, how did you feel this one went?

This one worked out very well. We didn’t need a lot of money to finish what we are doing, but we did need some help. We tried to keep the donations kind of limited, so those who did donate get the satisfaction of really helping. I was kind of against asking for donations, but then I realized that lots of organizations ask for money. NPR asks for money all the time and people willing donate to keep that organization going. There isn’t any shame in taking donations because the donors feel a sense of pride in donating.

With the release of the final EP it will come as a complete collection with the first two and possibly an extended version. If there was to be an extended version have you had any thoughts about what might be included for fans, more songs, and video or such?

We are thinking of putting all the EP’s together on one CD. That CD may come with bonus material or maybe a DVD of sorts. Not exactly sure, but we will need to provide incentive for people to buy the CD, as we will probably distribute it in stores. Also, we plan on having the CD to have transitions between the EPs seamlessly.

As Jesse has been working with Times Of Grace, you are preparing to tour with The Dear Hunter soon, are you looking forward to getting onto the road with them?

Yes indeed. I have been patiently waiting for the right opportunity to hit the road. I have always been very conservative with taking risks. I always thought it was a terrible idea to just hit the road and not make enough money to pay for expenses. I have seen so many bands just “go for it” and come home with tons of debt, maxed out credit cards, destroyed vans, and just an overall bad experience. I think if you are patient and make the right moves, you can arrange a tour to be at the very least, financially stable enough so you don’t go in to the red. Now, it’s finally happening, and I couldn’t be happier. I still worry, as I won’t be making tons of money, at all. And, I won’t have any solid income when I get home, but at least I won’t be racking up debt. And, The Dear Hunter has been one of my favourite bands for some time, now.

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?

My view always has been and always will be that if an artist is charging money for their product, and someone downloads it without paying for it, it’s stealing. There is no way around that. It’s a fact. But, I know just as well as anyone that illegal downloading isn’t going away, so artists should work around this. There will always be a market for those who will purchase the physical product. We still sell CD’s every day. But, we don’t expect to make most our money off CD’s. We are taking the journey into vinyl with these upcoming EP’s. I feel that those who still want a physical product will buy the vinyl, particularly since the individual EP’s won’t be on CD. Also, there is a resurgence of vinyl, these days, and with good reason. Vinyl sounds great. You can’t compare the sound. Also, artwork looks amazing on a 12 inch jacket. It becomes a collector’s piece at that point. It’ll also come with a digital download so people can still listen on their iPods or whatever. Musicians should really focus on other merchandise and live shows for making the majority of their money. Can’t illegally download yourself into a show or download a t-shirt.

The Empire Shall Fall LogoDo 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?

Subscriptions services are great for both the artist and the listener. They won’t stop illegal downloading. Illegal downloading will never go away. Anyone who wants to survive (particularly labels) need to understand and accept this as fact. Does giving away your music for free benefit the musician? I’m not sure, because if a kid wants the music, he/she’s going to get it, regardless of if it’s free or not. Maybe though, some people will feel more inclined to support the band by buying merchandise or checking out a show, as they didn’t pay for the music. It could work, and to some extent, I think it does. But even shows are difficult to get people to go to, these days. Music is in a strange place. It takes a lot of creativity to sustain yourself as an artist, but it can be done. One of the best things an artist can do is start doing things for themselves. Too many bands chase the idea of being on a label, and after a few years of the chase, they give up and break up/call it quits. They spend so much time and energy trying to get the attention of these labels, but never realize that everything a label can do, you can do yourself. Granted, labels have a wider reach and more money to play with, but it there is plenty an artist can do without a label to get themselves exposure they need to advance themselves to the next level.

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?

Absolutely the internet. Our entire existence has been affected by the internet. The only other factor I see with these numbers is how the iPod has made listening to music so much more accessible.

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. I’m old school, I guess. I buy digital if it’s the only option. Regardless of my preference to physical, digital distribution is so beneficial to the smaller guys (such as myself) who couldn’t always get their music out there. I think it’s great that anyone can get their music on iTunes for the whole world to hear. It makes it a much more “free” market. It’s great that the “powers that be” at the labels can no longer limit what the public is able to hear. It’s still a struggle, but at least it’s possible for us, now.

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 definitely opens up the world, but it’s difficult not to get lost in a sea of music. With TESF, we use a PR person for our releases. It’s a way for us to get our name out there to a bunch of important contacts, quickly and efficiently. PR can be expensive, but it’s a cost you have to weigh, and if it’s beneficial, then go for it. There is no shame in that. It’s advertising, just like any other product needs to reach the masses. These services are available to anyone, but most musicians don’t realize it and think they NEED to have a label for this stuff, but they don’t…at all. Paying a PR person doesn’t grant you success, though. Publications still choose what they feel is news worthy.

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?

I don’t think it would cripple the underground movement, but it certainly has helped. Word of mouth is the best form of advertising. Sites like Facebook just happen to be the most effective word of mouth there is. It has definitely helped me.

Nick SollecitoA 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 obvious negative is that ANYONE can be a musician, so you have a sea of garbage out there to sift through. This definitely hurts the smaller groups, like us. But, it’s mostly a good thing. Good bands will still stand above the bad ones. People can tell when they hear crap music (well, that isn’t always true, but you know what I mean). For us, the technology is great and we couldn’t be where we are without it. Digital recording and the accessibility of affordable, but quality recording gear is the only reason we are able to make albums. I can’t imagine how small bands were able to record in the studios when the rates are $500/day (cheap). I guess most just didn’t record.

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?

Absolutely, we did it. I think I kind of answered this earlier.

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 worry about it all the time. The best thing I can say is to keep adapting to the changing times. It’s like with anything else. Imagine if Ford continued to make those stupid round cars they had in the mid 90’s. No one liked the mid-90’s Taurus. Music currently does not have a set method on “what works.” And while it’s changing and no one really knows what does work, what we do know is that the old method does not work.

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 (eventually) a brighter future where music isn’t corporate controlled, and musicians can be successful based on artistic merit and hard work. There will always be a market for garbage pop music, but hopefully people will smarten up and demand more quality from their music. I’m optimistic.

     

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 – The Empire Shall Fall”

  1. Great article!

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  1. Look out for The Empire Shall Fall EP series! | Duffocation - 19/04/2011

    […] They are in the process of recording their EP which will be part of a 3 EP series. I am beyond excited to hear this when it releases. You can read an interview with Nick Sollecito talking about this and his thoughts about the music industry here. […]