Anil Prasad: Inner Views, Borderless Perspectives

Joe Lang By

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AAJ: Can you talk about what it's like releasing a book? What surprises have popped up compared to what you thought it would be going in?

AP: It's a complete battle. They don't call it launching a media campaign for nothing. It's almost like going to war. It's an interesting role reversal. It's really hard to get my attention sometimes because the crush of recordings and demands that come my way. So I was on the other side of that trying to get the attention of all of these journalists, all of whom are incredibly busy. We talked about the Joe Boyd White Bicycles thing. A lot of the journalists we sent books to for review weren't used to getting books. So trying to get through their filters and following up was incredibly challenging.

And the cost of mounting a campaign is phenomenal, too. It costs literally $3,000 to $5,000 to hire a publicist to work a book or CD. That's $3,000 to $5,000 that gets added to the cost of the project, and is money that has to be recouped before you ever see a penny. And in many cases the cost of that publicity, combined with the other costs of creating the product, will exceed what you could ever make from releasing the media product itself. It's pretty brutal, actually. So that's a huge revelation. I was very lucky with this book. It got coverage in places like NPR, Christian Science Monitor and the Los Angeles Times, which is remarkable. But the things that you have to do to get there are equally remarkable financially and in terms of time commitment. These days, even if you have a publisher, like I was lucky enough to have, and have a good media agency, again which I was lucky to have, the amount of work on your shoulders is, as the creator of the product, is just astounding.

I've spent dozens and dozens of hours of my life getting the word out there. And I've heard many musicians complain about this too, probably none as loudly as Bill Bruford, who warned me sternly about what to expect. He said with his typical dry wit, "Oh, so, you're thinking about putting out a book, are you? Well just you wait and see how much work that will be for you and let's see what state you're in at the end of that process." And he's right—it's a monumental, all-consuming set of duties that can eclipse the amount of work you put into creating the cultural product that you're promoting.

AAJ: We've talked at length about this in the past and I've also interviewed some more niche artists recently with regard to their stance on label releases and their philosophy. It's been completely varied with some bemoaning the decline of the old label-based establishment and others say they are intrigued about the future. Can you talk about where you see the future of music releases going forward?

AP: I find it interesting when musicians say "I'm waiting to see how this thing shakes out, because we don't know where the future of the music industry is going." Frankly, the future is now. The model has been established. It's here, so deal with it [laughter]. It's a hybrid model; we have the iTunes/Amazon MP3 world, we have the other download sources and aggregators, we have streaming, and there's still the hard copy universe of the CD and LP, including the world of the "super-deluxe" physical package. There's also fan-funding, the pay-what-you-want model, and artists just giving away music in order to promote live performances or merchandise.

To make a success out of a release, musicians need to approach a combination of multiple vehicles in a synergistic way. All this conjecture about the future of the music industry is very tiring to me. Let's talk about what's real right this minute instead. I think it's going to stay this way for a long time to come. Whether it's good or bad for the artist...that's an interesting question. Honestly, whether it's good or bad for the artist is up to the artists themselves. You can either embrace it or sit around and bitterly complain. And there are a lot of older artists sitting around and bitching when in fact they can make all of this work for them. So you can take a lot of it into your own hands now.

There are a lot of ways to quietly or not so quietly build up your audience. I think ultimately it's a good thing. I think the major label structure has been largely negative for artists financially speaking right down to concepts like never owning your own masters, slave labor-like contracts that span decades often specifically designed to ensure that the artist makes no money from the recordings, and for their families to never benefit from them. I think the washing away of that structure is a really wonderful thing. Having said that, a lot of those labels used to do some work to help get the word out. Obviously the benefit was the distribution, and sometimes the advertising and awareness. Now that's often the responsibility of the artists themselves. So if you're willing to do the work it's a really great thing. If you're not willing to do the work you have a problem on your hands.

As far as record labels that do remain, there are some honorable ones out there in the jazz universe like Abstract Logix, Pi Recordings, and Clean Feed. I think the situation with them is that artists benefit from the aggregation of artists on that label. That creates a kind of aura where if you're part of that stable it automatically brings you a certain level of credibility or prestige. Being associated with those labels, when those CDs or downloads go out to journalists means the artists are more likely to be paid attention to. But I think you'll find with a lot of these labels that many, if not most of the artists are funding their own recording, mixing and mastering these days.

And when the label is funding the recording process, the budgets the artists are getting are much smaller as time goes by. So even if you are signed to a record label, a lot of financial management and responsibility is placed on the shoulders of the artist, and there's a lot of money for them to absorb as well. So it's almost more of a sharing arrangement with a record label as opposed to the old model where the record label was funding everything until the record came out at which point it was the artist paying back the advance through sales, hopefully, to make up for it. So it's a very different model now.

AAJ: Going back to when Innerviews first was hitting the web in the '90s, you told me you received some serious criticism from established music journalists. Can you tell me about that and how you reacted and handled it?

AP: When Innerviews came out in '94 and started to pick up steam toward the late '90s, yeah, there was a lot of criticism from established music journalists who I'm not going to name—people who were calling it a joke. They acted like it was just a fad, like this whole online music journalism thing was going to go away. They were like, "Wow. This guy is going to put out this stuff and not charge anything, and he can run stuff as long as he likes? Who does he think he is?" I did have "actual" journalistic credentials, ironically. I think, in general, that Innerviews and the other early online music magazines were probably a little bit scary for people who were wedded to the printed page, especially at the dawn of the web when it went live.

But while I had this peanut gallery of 50 and 60 year old music journalists heckling me, on the other side I had tons of artists going, "This is really cool. This is really interesting. These are really in-depth, substantial interviews. We're not sure we're going to get that level of detail or research in something that runs in some of these other things." Really, it was the artists who helped propagate Innerviews during those early days. An interesting thing to note is until around 1998, virtually all interviews for Innerviews were arranged by me contacting the artist directly and not going through managers, publicists or record labels. And that sometimes really pissed off managers, publicists and record labels [laughter]. When a major artist gave me an interview they'd be like, "You gave an interview to who? To what?" Then the interview would go up and there'd be quite a bit of positivity going, "Oh, wow. That's really good stuff."

And then around the late '90s and into the early 2000s, the site gained a lot of credibility with labels who realized, "OK. This is legitimate and this is forward-looking and this is the way things are going." And certain really important labels like ECM, Virgin Records, and even people at huge labels like Warner started awakening to the fact that coverage on Innerviews would benefit them. They started giving me interview opportunities directly through the label. A certain level of credibility kept building and building which basically eliminated the peanut gallery. Artist and audience enthusiasm are the real reasons the site ended up perpetuating, and why I kept doing it. Truthfully, those are the only opinions that ever mattered to me.

AAJ: What do you see as the future of print music journalism going forward?

AP: I think the future of major print music magazines is basically that they have no future. I used to think I was burning bridges when I said stuff like that, but now the reality is dawning on all of them. They're going to continue falling by the wayside if they do not completely reinvent the way they do things. I think there will be very little room for print music magazines going forward. There are studies pointing to the idea that the printed newspaper could largely be dead by the end of this decade. There's a website called Newspaper Death Watch chronicling the industry's demise in progress. So, if that's what they're saying about the printed newspaper, what does that mean for music publications that are a lot more niche than The Wall Street Journal? The future is not looking bright for them.

I think there could be a temporary hybrid future for the print music magazine where there's still a low circulation print counterpart to the web version. But that's not a long-term viable option. I think a lot of the energy is going toward tablet based devices like the iPad or the Galaxy Tab. And that's definitely the future of mobile-based reading, whether it's for music publications or anything else. Tony Wallace, a leading iPhone/iPad app developer and I, recently launched an iPhone/iPad Innerviews app that hit the top-20 music apps chart worldwide. So, we're pushing Innerviews forward in that way too. The other thing to consider is the demographics of it all.

Music magazines have historically been something for kids. And by kids, I mean you can take that right up to age 35. And we have generations of kids who barely even know what a physical music release is, much less a physical magazine about music. So, I think the relevance and even the names of the print magazines are going to fade significantly as people rely more and more on social media for knowledge. Who knows what's going to happen with Apple's Ping if they choose to evolve that where online purchasing is merged with actual content and artist blogs. If Ping really does get true Facebook integration, that's going to be a very, very powerful universe for information about music. Either the print magazines have to completely reexamine their approach for the new media universe or they're going to die. Simple as that.


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