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Interview With OK Go: On File-Sharing, The Major Label System, & Balancing Creativity With Marketing

This interview is by Miranda Burnett of Pirate Verbatim. Follow her on Twitter.

image from reason.com A few months back, Miranda Burnett started a blog called Pirate Verbatim, where she highlights artist's thoughts on file-sharing. Hypebot grew very excited about her efforts, as we had thought it would be great to give artists a voice and enable them to express their concerns about music piracy. Long story short, we gave the gift of "Hypebot Magic" to Burnett and encouraged her to pursue original interviews.

To our surprise, she returned with an interview with Tim Nordwind of OK Go.

Into the new year, expect to her more from Burnett as she pursues more interviews with artists and gets them to share their thoughts on file-sharing. In the meantime, please enjoy this great interview she did with Tim, in which, he talks about engaging fans, the band's artistic endeavors, and music piracy. 

Miranda Burnett: Your videos are less promotional tool, more complete art project. Does this nature ever conflict with or overwhelm the music itself?

Tim Nordwind: The things we make stand up on their own as art projects, but also point to a lot of other things we make in a nice way. Because we’ve gotten away from the old music industry model where everything must point back to the sale of a recording, we are free to make the things we want to make, and hope that it will inspire people to not only listen to the music, but come see a show, buy some merch, get a live recording, come see an art show we’re involved with, read an article one of us has written… Whatever the case may be.

Miranda Burnett: How important is it that these YouTube views turn into music sales? Do you feel less pressure now, outside of the major label system?

Tim Nordwind: Of course we’d love every person who watches our videos on YouTube to buy our music. But we live in the modern world just like everyone else and realize this is not how things work for us, or really for most bands these days. Fewer people than ever buy recordings, period. Our videos have opened up many more opportunities for us to make the things we want to make, and to chase our best and wildest ideas. Yes, we need to figure out how to make a living in a world where people don’t buy music anymore. But really, we’ve been doing that for the last ten years. Things like licensing, touring, merch, and also now making videos through corporate sponsorship have all allowed us to keep the lights on and continue making music.

Miranda Burnett: Did the low-resource nature of your work make it ultimately easier to leave the major label system?

Tim Nordwind: Budgets for our videos have never been a determining factor in how we steer our career as a band. The major label system works the way it works, and works for some bands. We found that we didn’t fit well into that particular system. The thing of value in the major label system is a master recording, and everything surrounding it is simply looked at as marketing, promotion, and advertisement. As a band that likes to make all sorts of things, we find value not only in our music and recordings, but also in all the other things we make. It was an amicable split between our label, and us, mostly because our career and methods on making and distributing things differed from theirs, and we agreed it was best to just go our separate ways.

Miranda Burnett: In this climate, many musicians feel as if they must offer 'more' to encourage fans to buy their music. Do you feel that in terms of innovation, OK Go has branded its own form of incentive?

Tim Nordwind: We love making and sharing things with our fans. And what’s been amazing is that our fans like to make and share back with us. We have hundreds of homage videos made by our fans inspired by several of the videos we’ve made, hundreds of amazing covers from fans, fan art, it’s truly inspiring. Most importantly we just hope to make fans period. We don’t particularly care if our dollars come from the sale of a record, sponsorship from a video, touring, licensing, the sale of a prop from our video. The point is we like making things, and we hope that our fans will like them too.

Miranda Burnett: There is a wide debate on illegal downloading. Where does OK Go stand on the spectrum?

Tim Nordwind: Obviously we’d love for anyone who has our music to buy a copy. But again, we’re realistic enough to know that most music can be found online for free. And trying to block people’s access to it isn’t good for bands or music. If music is going to be free, then musicians will simply have to find alternative methods to make a living in the music business. People are spending money on music, but it’s on the technology to play it. They spend hundreds of dollars on Ipods, but then fill it with 80 gigs of free music. That’s ok, but it’s just a different world now, and bands must learn to adjust.

Miranda Burnett: Do you think there is a danger in publicly embracing freely distributed music, or the inverse - do you think artists may withhold condemning music-sharing in fear of fan backlash?

Tim Nordwind: I’m sure record label executives don’t like filesharing because it doesn't sell the one thing that makes them money, the recordings. But from a band’s perspective I think filesharing is fine. Most music these days is freely distributed. We’ve always had naïve faith that as long as we make things that are good and people like them, more opportunities to make things will arise. We will find money from somewhere to chase our best ideas.

Miranda Burnett: You created Paracadute Recordings to advance your own creative freedom. Are there plans in the works to extend the label, to branch out to others?

Tim Nordwind: We’ll see what happens. Right now Paracadute acts as the distributing arm for all of our creative endeavors, musical and otherwise. It is not out of the realm of possibility that we’ll someday want to spread our wings and help other people with their creative efforts.

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