Here’s my recent interview for electronic music blog, The Ransom Note on all things Kickstarter, why I wanted to do things differently this time and my thoughts on the state of music journalism 25 years on from my days at Mixmag..
There is much moaning about the demise of tangible products in this business, but hardly anyone seems to do anything positive about it; and even fewer people are brave enough to make the point that the past wasn’t all that great anyway; so it was nice to hear Dave Seaman buck the trend of apathy and negativity when I met with him the other day.
If you don’t already know, Dave whacked his head clean on the chopping block when he decided that his next mix CD would be funded by the public via Kickstarter. He had a month to raise £25,000 and he bloody well went and pulled it off with a few days to spare, no less. And what’s more, at the time of writing, he’s more than £7,000 over his funding target.
The Kickstarter campaign offered various different products/experiences, ranging from a signed copy of the CD (£12 or more) right through to a personal DJ lesson (£300 or more), and then the top banana; a Dave Seaman DJ set in your own home (there were 5 takers at £2,000 or more).
It was actually an offer from his old muckers at Renaissance that made him think he should push the button and do something different: “If I remember rightly, I’ve done 27 mix albums before, and I’ve done about a dozen for Renaissance,” he said. “Nothing against Renaissance at all, but I guess there might have been a bit of ambivalence, so people would be saying ‘oh, Dave Seaman’s doing yet another Renaissance album‘”
“It was Sara’s idea [his agent at Two Point Zero Agency]… she’d been following Kickstarter and had backed a few projects, and originally we were going to do it later in the year, but I thought ‘you know what, let’s do it now, before someone else does it’. And I know people have used it to do albums before, like Radiohead and all sorts of people have done pledge music stuff, but no one’s done it for a mix album.”
Bit of a surprise, that, considering that Radiohead’s foray into the world of fan-pledging was back in 2007; but on the other hand it may merely show the surprising resilience of the mix CD market.
“There’s still a big market for CDs with older people. The numbers I did for the last Global Underground and Renaissance CDs were good… obviously not as good as how it was in the 90s, but still good. Obviously younger people are doing digital downloads and I’ve done that as well, but there’s still a market.”
“But I put a lot of effort into these… I don’t just throw them together in an afternoon… I take weeks and weeks crafting them… I wanted people to take a bit of notice of it. I also firmly believe that this could be the start of the way a lot of things might go. There will be a lot of people with one eye on what we’re doing thinking ‘if this is working, then how many more projects might work?’
The case in point came as we were sitting at the bar of the Malmaison in Farringdon, shooting the shit about musical business models and Dave’s beloved Leeds United. By pure coincidence, Yousef wondered in (he was doing a Circus at The Egg that night), and the first thing he said after the pleasantries was “fucking good idea that Kickstarter thing mate”.
And he’d be right – just look at the evidence.
“The way the business model works with mix CDs where they take a cut of your touring meant that I was making a loss. This used to work as a business model; 5, 10 years ago when there was more meat on the bone and more promoters around the world were willing to pay a premium to be associated with mix CDs, but it’s different now.”
“I understand what they’re trying to do to a certain extent because they’re trying to do this whole 360 deal thing that a lot of the big record companies do, so that’s why we all did it because we thought ‘well ok; if they’re spending the money doing the album, they take a cut of the touring’; but if the touring cut is going to come straight out of my own fees, it doesn’t work any more.”
But obviously the exposure down the years was of great benefit?
“Absolutely, yes , but it’s diminishing returns now.”
There’s no doubting the positive impact that the likes of Renaissance and Global Underground have had with their mix CDs, both for the careers of DJs and for the public’s ability to connect with them; but it it is the latter point that a Kickstarter campaign can take to another level, a level simply not possible with the linear transaction of paying a set price to receive a set product.
“One of the great things about it is being able to do all this stuff that you couldn’t do at HMV, like DJing at someone’s private party… and it’s fun. I’ve got a friend who got 30 mates together who paid 64 quid each… they’re doing a party in his back garden. It’s generated a lot of excitement, a lot of press, and that’s what I want around a release.”
“Effectively it’s just pre-ordering an album with a few extra fun bits thrown in.”
It seems like such a good idea now – now that he’s raised the money – but it must have been nerve-racking at times.
“It was a bit scary at the beginning, when you fear that you’re gonna be three weeks in and you’ve only got a couple of grand together and you’d look really really stupid. It was scary but exciting… it becomes addictive, checking it every few minutes.”
And potentially, there could be an even more interactive angle, where the public could have a say in the musical content, for example.
“A few people have suggested this, but then it’s not mine any more. I’d basically be a jukebox, but there’s no reason why someone else couldn’t do it and loads of people could get together and do something creative.”
“Artwork might be more viable. People love to be involved in something… you can really feel it.”
Although there was no direct input from the public on content, with such a different platform to work from, it’s interesting to see whether it made a difference to how he approached the musical side of things.
“Every mix album I do is of that moment I suppose… I’m playing a lot more Housey at the moment… I’m trying to keep the Progressive thing at arm’s length because I’ve been rightly or wrongly tagged with that for a hell of a long time. For a long time I thought ‘oh well, I just do what I do’, but when it starts to have a negative effect it makes you think a bit. It’s strange because when I see other DJs, they’ll play a lot of the same records as me, but when they play them it’s Techno and when I play them it’s Prog!”
Although he’s not overly bitter about it – he seems to have a pretty balanced view of it all. As the former editor of Mixmag, I teed him up for the opportunity to lament the reduced influence of the print press; that ‘proper journalism’; that gatekeeper of the truth that we like to romanticise about (yes, even those of us that write for websites); but despite a few leading questions, the balance remained.
“I think back to what it was like when I was a kid, and I used to devour Record Mirror on a Thursday for James Hamilton’s column. That was pretty much all the access I had to the information I wanted – one magazine, once a week, one page. If you compare that to the information that people have now, it’s mind boggling.”
“And of course, magazines and newspapers are disposable items, apart from Vogue or Vanity Fair or something. Most magazines are not collectable.”
Good point. It’s very rare that a magazine can create the profound sense of ownership that, say, a vinyl could, but there are exceptions. Faith would be a good example – it’s probable that many Faith readers would still have a healthy pile of them, I say. And Boys Own.
“I did used to love Boys Own. Terry was always an opinionated sod and used to make me laugh. I don’t think there is enough of that around these days. The Herb Garden and Jockey Slut used to be great too.”
But broadly, you’re saying that the public are better served now than they were in the days when the print media was stronger?
“I don’t know about everyone being better served… you’ve certainly got to be more organised. The choice is there for you – you’ve got to make your decisions of where you want to get your feeds from, but you’re not so reliant on the decisions from a few people – there’s a lot more choice. So I guess compared to what I had as a teenager, then yeah, definitely better.”
“Yes, I think it’s important for there to be filters like Resident Advisor, Ransom Note, Data Transmission etc… places that people trust; but of course with Twitter now you can just take the RSS feeds from wherever you like… there’s your information… why would you really need to go and buy a magazine? I think the internet will hit the print media harder than it hit the record industry.”
He might well turn out to be right, but there’s no denying the weight that the ye olde print media still carries, even in the face of years – or in the case of the British nationals – decades of falling circulations. The habit of people looking up to their authority remains – even Paxman on Newsnight still shows deference to the first edition of the morning papers. And then of course there’s the paradox of a medium like Twitter, which is lauded the world over for its potential to create democracy, but is actually elevating the status of writers that have come from the old guard that Twitter is supposed to be challenging.
“It’s interesting how many journalists from newspapers and magazines have huge Twitter followings now…. they’re almost becoming little stars in their own right… the likes of Caitlin Moran, Grace Dent, Alexis Petridis,” Dave says. “Alexis was a Mixmag writer, but now he’s a big cultural commentator.”
“And they’re very good at commentating, because that’s the nature of what they do; commenting on things on a regular basis, and that’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in on Twitter.”
But where will the equivalent commentators of tomorrow come from, if the internet sees to it that there is no NME/Mixmag/Guardian to get them into the public eye in the first place? It’s a debate for another time.
“My general rule is, people who say it isn’t as good as it used to be, probably aren’t as good as they used to be.”
A fine soundbite on which to end. I’ll remember that one.