Bandzoogle's Dave Cool Revisits His Groundbreaking Film "What Is Indie?" And The Future Of A Musical Middle Class
I remember seeing the film in 2005 - pre-social media, pre Tunecore, etc - and thinking that it captured a d.i.y. music ethos that I felt was growing. What motivated you to make the film?
Dave Cool: The diy/indie world has always fascinated me. My background as a musician is from the punk rock scene, which had a really strong diy ethic. And as I grew older I got into singer-songwriters at a time when Ani DiFranco was leading the diy charge for a generation of folk artists.
I wish I could say I had some kind of master plan for the film, but it was really a happy accident. Back in 2004 I wanted to interview some of my favorite diy/indie artists to make a short video for an Enhanced CD (remember those??) I was releasing through my record label at the time.
Once we started interviewing artists, it became clear we were touching on something interesting. We were seeing a common experience, and at a time when the industry was changing drastically.
So we used those initial interviews to cut a short trailer which helped land interviews with Derek Sivers (Founder of CD Baby) and Panos Panay (Founder of Sonicbids), which completely changed the course of the film. The project took on a life of its own from there, and the CD compilation actually ended up being the bonus disc for the DVD.
How was it received by both artists and the mainstream music community?
Dave Cool: It screened 50+ times at conferences, festivals, and diy events around the world, and the reception was overwhelming positive, especially from artists. The National Film Board of Canada even picked it up for distribution, and it sold well in Colleges & Universities. I still get messages regularly from students seeking out the film.
But of course, I’ll never forget that a local Montreal magazine dedicated *2 full pages* to trashing the film. A humbling reminder that not everyone is going to love what you put out into the world.
Download a free copy of "What Is Indie" here.
There was a lot of talk in the year or two after the film about a growing musical middle class of artists. Do you think that dream has come true for many?
Dave Cool: Excellent question, and my honest answer is: I don’t know. I think it did for some, but I don’t think it was to the extent that many people (myself included) were expecting.
Even though a level playing field was created for all musicians where you can record for cheap, distribute your music for cheap, and reach a potential global audience of fans for practically free, the flipside of all of this has been that music fans also now have an unlimited choice of music.
Musicians are now competing for the attention of music fans, who are distracted more than ever by the thousands upon thousands of options available to them at any given moment. So the biggest challenge has become standing out and keeping the attention of fans, and then generating a living wage through multiple income streams.
That being said, I’m still hopeful, and as more revenue streams open up for musicians, the more success stories we’ll hear about. Companies like PledgeMusic, Noisetrade, Audiam, Patreon, Concert Window, GigSalad, CD Baby, TuneCore, and of course Bandzoogle, are all offering tools that are helping to give artists even more revenue stream opportunities.
While the sentiment still remains, so much has changed since you made the film. If you were to make an updated version today, where would focus?
Dave Cool: 5 years ago I was actually in pre-production for a follow-up film called “The Middle-Class Musician”. I pulled the plug for a few reasons, mostly because I had just joined the Bandzoogle team and wanted to focus my time and energy on my work there, which I continue to really enjoy today.
But I think if I made an updated film now, I would spend more time focusing on success stories, featuring artists like Amanda Palmer and Zoë Keating and others, really studying how they manage their careers. Would also be nice to explore the impact of social media and fan engagement. When ‘What is Indie?’ was released, it was before Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube were part of every musician’s life. Crazy to think about how much has changed in just 9 years.