This part two of my interview segment with Dave Cool, who is director and producer of the documentary film “What is INDIE? A look into the World of Independent Musicians.” In it, he chronicles the experience of being an indie artist in the music industry and strives to define and challenge the term "indie" itself. In part two, Cool talks about the rapid evolution of the toolkits and websites available to indie artists, whether or not we're fostering communities that support creativity, and his optimism for the future of indie artists of all distinctions.
Can we create a middle-class of musicians?
Dave: There are some who would argue that the middle-class of musicians already exists, and this is actually the exact topic I want to explore in my next film. So if anyone reading this knows of any unsigned artists/bands making a full-time living from their music, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Have the toolkits and websites available to indie artists evolved rapidly?
Dave: Incredibly quickly, yes. When we made “What is INDIE?” in 2005/2006, MySpace, Facebook and YouTube, simply didn’t exist in their current format, so they didn’t even enter into the discussion. And now MySpace looks like it might be dying out, so the evolution is certainly happening quickly. And I think there are some amazing sites out there that are genuinely trying to help artists, but it seems that everyday a new website/service hits the market aimed at the indie artist community.
I would love to know the numbers, but I would guess that there is a multi-million dollar industry riding on the backs of starving artists, and I wonder whether the best way to make money in the music industry is to convince artists to spend money they don’t have on a product or service that might nominally help their career. Maybe I’ve grown cynical, but I really question how many full-time artists even use half of those websites/services, and I feel for artists who have to navigate this industry trying to figure out who and what to trust.
It must seem sometimes like you have to spend $2 just to make a dollar.
Are we fostering communities that support the creativity of indie artists?
Dave: I’m not sure, but I think many online communities are forcing artists to become more creative in how they bring attention to their music. Just look at social networking sites and how creative artists have become in the content that they post, whether it’s text, audio or video. It is raising the bar of creativity in terms of marketing your music. But as far as artistic creativity, I’m not too sure, one can argue that all of this extra time spent online is taking away from rehearsal & recording time, when artists can feed their artistic creativity.
Is the future for indie artists in the music industry bright?
Dave: I am definitely an optimist. You know, recording an album used to cost tens of thousands of dollars, now it can be done with a laptop. Distributing your music used to have to be done through a record label distributor, now it can all be done online. Reaching your fans used to have to be done through advertising and commercial radio, but your fans are all reachable for free online through social networks. But marketing music is the next challenge for indie artists.
With the democratization of both production and distribution, it has brought with it an unintended consequence, which is the increase in costs of marketing. With a level playing field, you are now competing with thousands upon thousands of other artists who all have access to the same tools and cheap methods of production and distribution, so then the key becomes how to stand out from those other thousands of artists in a creative and unique way. So I think the next evolution in artist services is going to be marketing services, as well as filtering services for potential consumers, which we are already seeing with companies like Topspin and Pandora Radio. But I honestly believe indie artists are better off now than they were 5 years ago and will be even better off 5 years from now.
Progress takes time, but I think things are heading in the right direction.