Recently, I spoke 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 one of this interview segment, Cool talks about differentiating between the different levels of what it means to be an indie artist, his plans to film another documentary, and whether or not file-sharing takes artistic control away from artists, if ever, they had any at all.
Dave: You know, it’s kind of funny, after all of the work put into the film to reach the conclusion that it did, I actually don’t fully agree with it! If I were to define it myself, an indie artist is an unsigned artist, plain and simple. There are so many nuances, but if I had to define it quickly, that’s what I would say, although everyone has their own interpretation which is totally valid, as I documented in the film.
Are the different levels of “indie” getting even harder to tell apart?
Dave: Oh for sure, it’s really murky. And with record labels becoming less relevant as time goes on, and managers and bookers becoming the “new labels”, I even hear discussion that to be truly indie you can’t even have a manager or a booking agent, which to me is crazy. Being an indie artist isn’t about doing everything on your own. An artist will burn out and their creativity will suffer if they try to wear all of the hats as their career progresses. At the outset, you might have no choice, but this can be a good learning experience until your career is at a point where you are making enough money to hire a team of people to help you run the day-to-day of your career. But as long as you remain in control, keep the rights to your music and are “the boss” of the team, I think it’s a very good thing for artists.
Have you thought about doing another documentary?
Dave: Definitely. I’m doing research on a new film right now and hope to start filming in Spring 2011. I believe we are living through a very exciting period in the music industry, so I would like to take another snapshot of where things are at, once again from the perspective of indie artists.
With file-sharing, do artists have control over their work anymore?
Dave: I don’t think artists ever really did to be honest. I used to make tons of mix-tapes as a teenager for all of my friends, and they did the same. Then it was CDs, now it’s MP3’s; yes, it’s on a much larger scale, but the concept is the same.
I often talk to artists who are worried about file-sharing and want to protect and copyright their work as much as they can, spending lots of time and sometimes money to do it. I think it’s kind of crazy. I’m certainly not the only one to say this, but at this level of “indie” artists, your biggest challenge is obscurity, not file-sharing. If your music is NOT being downloaded on file-sharing networks I think you should be worried.
You’ll often see that the music that is downloaded most on file-sharing networks is also the top selling music, and I think most indie artists would welcome that problem. So instead of spending time & money to protect their music (which is a losing battle anyway, just ask the RIAA), I always encourage artists to focus their efforts on interacting and engaging with their fans instead. If you can provide enough value with your music and with who you are as an artist, people will always pay money for it.