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.


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