Davey has directed music videos for Buckcherry, Jet and Drowning Pool and his documentary The Canary Effect won The Stanley Kubrick Award for Bold and Innovative film making at Michael Moore's Traverse City Film Festival. In this interview Davey talks about his bands exodus from MySpace and Facebook and why the music industry has changed less than we think. Most things are still the same.
At a time when artists are being encouraged to get even more involved with social media and networks, your group did something radical. You left.
You maintained an e-mail list and created discussion with fans. That's it.
Hypebot: What motivated you to leave Facebook and MySpace? How did you establish a more secure connection with your fans through e-mail as a result?
Robin Davey: No matter how many fans you have on a social network, it is the platform itself that dictates how you can communicate with them, how you can post updates, how many words you can use – the connectivity with fans is limited.
When MySpace crashed, we lost that connectivity with 40,000 + legitimate fans and our 1 million or so plays became meaningless, it is nothing more than a number. When it comes to your next release, it means nothing unless you can reach those fans again. It quickly became apparent that we could not communicate with our fans the way we wanted through these means.
We have always maintained an email list and we realized that the majority of our traffic came from posting direct to our fans through this platform. We decided to stop updating our social networks and exclusively use our email list last year. The overwhelming response from fans was fantastic. To make it a successful two way tool, when we send emails we are not just plugging our latest release, we mainly communicate our feelings and thoughts on topics we feel our fan base would like to talk about. We openly encourage people to reply and we feature the best replies we get. It's not actually that groundbreaking an idea, and I have to credit Bob Lefsetz email list as an inspiration, but it works very well for us.
When we made the switch, it was mainly musicians who wrote us and told us how wrong we were to do this and how we were killing our own career, but that's exactly what they said when, to my knowledge, we were the first band to give our entire album away for free download back in 2006.
If MySpace failed then Facebook and certainly twitter could soon follow suit.
You have to work at building a community of your own, whether it be live, or online, by making great music and creating good communication. Simply relying on social networks as your barometer for success is as unstable as the record industry itself and can disappear as quickly as it came.
Hypebot: You bring up a great point about how social networks dictate how artists can interact with their fans. They also dictate how fans can interact with you. What do you think the primary shortcomings of social networks are and how do these faults get in the way of the formations of meaningful connections?
Robin Davey: From a music point of view the shortcomings are that it's about socializing and not music. Things that get shared tend to be gimmicks, quick things to have a laugh about with friends. It's an extension of the bar culture. Meaningful interactions don't tend to happen at the bar, that's about joking around and hooking up. Proper conversations happen in relaxed environments where people have space to talk. There is no space to relax or talk on Facebook because everything whizzes by and time is limited. Again that's why we chose the mailing list route to interact because an inbox is your own environment not someone else's.
Hypebot: It seems like so much has changed in the music industry. Yet, in reality, many things are exactly the same. The advances to new acts are gone. The rest remains static. What has stayed the same in the industry?
Robin Davey: Well it is constantly changing but day by day, it looks much better for the individual artist and decidedly worse for the corporate world. They say albums sales are down again this year, but for an artist we can earn nearly as much through a single download as we could one album sale in the corporate structure. If we sell 1,000 albums that can net us a much as we would get from an advance by signing to an indie label. If we sell 10,000 records then that's the same as an advance from a major label, but to repay an advance of 100,000 from a major would take at least 200,000 sales because of the royalty rate they offered.
The big story is that the industry is dying, but that's what the record labels want you to believe. Bands used to look to getting that elusive deal and big advance as a sign of making it, but only the smallest number of those bands would actually break even, let alone make money from those deals. So all that has actually disappeared is that fledging bands can no longer reap the rewards of a big advance for simply displaying the signs that they have potential for success. It is now like any other business – you earn money from actual sales, not possible sales.
This just means that the bands that are great, work hard and justly build a following get rewarded for it. The ones who concentrate on showcasing at the hip venues and hanging out in 'the scene' will continue to live a narcissistic fantasy life telling themselves "if only the right person could see how talented I was, I will be huge". Those who have a future in the emerging music industry will be building a loyal following one fan at a time by playing every venue that will have them between here and Cape Cod.
Malcolm Gladwell wrote a great piece in [his book Outliers] about how The Beatles did 1,000 shows sometimes playing three sets a night in Hamburg before they were 'discovered'. There was a reason they were so good, and it wasn't simply down to the science of genes and lucky circumstance.
Hypebot: Why do you think the idea of some guy in the back of the bar discovering your band is such a powerful myth? Even though that's happening less and less these days, more people seem to be invested in the idea that this is how the record industry works.
That they will be plucked from obscurity tomorrow.
Robin Davey: I think it's because so many artists believe they are destined to be famous. Because of this they think it's just a matter of time before someone connected sees them and brings their undeniable talent to the world. If you work hard and gig as much as possible you increase the chances that someone will see you, who will tell someone else who knows someone who's in the industry. But you'll get noticed because you worked hard, built up a following and got good enough so eventually you can't be ignored, not because your natural talent outshines everyone else. When these YouTube sensations get noticed they already have 2 million plays, you don't see someone with 200 plays bagging the big deal do you?