I had the pleasure of attending the recent launch of a new documentary "What is Indie?" by Dave Cool. The film seeks to answer the question "What is indie?" by talking to independent musicians and music entrepreneurs like the owner of Sonic Bids, CD Baby, and Indie-Music.com. The documentary made me think about how I would answer the question myself, but rather than bore you with my opinion I decided to dig into the mind of Mr. Dave Cool himself. Question then becomes, what does indie mean to Bandzooglers? Please let me know. In the meantime check out what Dave Cool has to say about the subject.
What made you want to make this film? It really happened kind of naturally. I'm a music guy and had never thought of making a film before, but when someone asked me what being 'indie' meant, I realized that it was a good question, so I figured I'd ask some musician friends on camera what they thought. It was only supposed to be a short 10-minute thing, but it then ended up growing into a full-fledge documentary film as more and more people wanted to get involved, and I realized that we had touched on something that had never really been done before.
What are you thoughts on what "Indie" is after having finished making the movie? My perception of being 'indie' really changed after having made this film. It was specifically after interviewing Derek Sivers, the Founder of CD Baby, that I realized that my impression of what an indie artist is was very narrow. I went into the project feeling that being indie meant that you ran your own record company, DIY all the way, but Derek gave a great example about an artist named Gary Jules, who even though is signed to a major label, he considered him to be an indie artist. And with the argument he gave, I had to agree. Throughout the beginning of the movie I sensed that most independent musician's were a little bitter towards major labels stating that getting signed to a major meant losing creative control. What is creative control to you? Creative control to me means having the final say on how your music is presented and marketed to the world. Otherwise, you're at the mercy of people who might just be looking out for the bottom line and might not care if the way they're marketing you and your music goes contrary to your personal beliefs and who you are as a person. And owning your master recordings doesn't hurt either!
Do you think creative control can exist while signed to a major label? Without a doubt, it's starting to happen more and more these days, which is the most amazing thing to me. Obviously there is the example of Gary Jules in the film, who had been selling tens of thousands of records on his own when Universal approached him. He signed a contract on his terms because he had built up a large fan base already, and had some bargaining power, which is what it's all about. Being proactive in your career so that if/when a major label does come knocking at your door, you can dictate the terms to them, and not the other way around.
Do you think any of the artists interviewed in the movie would sign to a major label if presented a contract? There are a few that definitely wouldn't, especially someone like Ember Swift, who has sold roughly 50,000 records and plays close to 200 shows a year touring Canada, the US and Australia. She's very happy with her career and I don't think she would ever sign to a major label. But there are definitely some artists in the film that would, and that's fine, it doesn't mean you're 'selling out' or anything ridiculous like that, especially if you're signing on your own terms and can maintain creative control. It all comes down to personal choice, and each person has their own set of beliefs and desires, and if a major label can provide a path to achieving your goals, then go for it.
Was there any particular reason why no major label artists were asked what their opinion was on "what is indie"? Going into the film, I felt that being indie meant that you ran your own record company; that yes, you were technically 'unsigned', but you were being proactive and running your own label and getting your music out there, not just sitting around and waiting for a contract to magically appear on your lap. So I didn't feel that major label artists or executives had any place defining what an indie artist was. Of course, my impression by the end of the film changed, and I hope to make a follow-up film that explores these new indie-hybrid artists like Gary Jules.
What advice would you give musician's who have asked the question "do I go indie or do I try to get signed?" Again, after making the film, I realized that being 'indie' has nothing to do with being signed or not. An artist can be 'unsigned' but all they want to do is get signed, and will sign the first contract that comes their way, even if it means giving up all control over their careers. On the flipside, an artist like Gary Jules who is signed to major label, I would consider to be indie because he has that indie philosophy and attitude more than many artists out there. So I would just say that in today's music industry, you now have more power and control over your career than ever before, and there are more opportunities for artists to forge their own careers than ever before, so take advantage! Even if you do want to sign to a major label, the best thing you can do for your career is to be proactive and build up a fan base so that you do have some kind of bargaining power with a record label and don't have to sign the first contract that comes your way.
A message from Dave Cool: For all of the members reading this, you can visit the following link to get a 20% discount ($16 instead of $20) on the price of the "What is INDIE?" 2-disc package just for using such an awesome service like Bandzoogle: http://www.whatisindiemovie.com/discountstore.cfm. If anyone has any questions, they can always reach me through the film's website at whatisindiemovie.com (hosted by Bandzoogle of course!) Part 2 will appear in next weeks blog.
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