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Leonardo Pavkovic: Nothing is Ordinary

Chris M. Slawecki By

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AAJ: And beyond that horizon?

LP: It's an exciting time for me. After almost three decades in NYC, I am considering a move to Catalonia, Spain, sometime toward the end of 2019 or in early 2020. There is something truly magical about that part of the world, and I miss the Mediterranean flavor in my life.

Of course, since my life is characterized by an improvisational, nomadic spirit, something else could happen and wind up carrying me elsewhere. But I'm really feeling the impetus to pick up and move. My time living here in New York is drawing to a close, I believe. But due to my dynamic lifestyle, I will be often back in the Big Apple or in Indonesia, where I am developing a new business with a few international partners. Of course, as in all improvisations, something unpredictable can happen and lead me somewhere else.

To that end, it seems inevitable that I will have to sort of "downsize" MoonJune Records, and reduce the number of releases. It's not easy to be a one-man army booking dozens of artists around the world while running an indie record label in today's hostile music business environment. Other, real labels have three, four, five, or six people (or more) working for them. I have no such luxuries. I have no one but myself.

Currently, I am not in a position to take on any new artists on the label. I hope to dedicate more time, as much is humanly possible, to help wonderful musicians and good friends such as Dwiki Dharmawan, Mark Wingfield, Dusan Jevtovic, Dewa Budjana, Vasil Hadzimanov, Boris Savoldelli, Asaf Sirkis, Markus Reuter, Yaron Stavi, Beledo and a few others.

AAJ: Your comments on Cuneiform Records' recent announcement to take a sabbatical in 2018 to reconsider its business model?

LP: Steve Feigenbaum has been a very good friend for more than a decade. He is a remarkably passionate and brutally honest straightforward person, and a legendary figure. His label Cuneiform is truly one of the world's greatest. Steve's situation is very different. He's a real label—which is not to say that I'm an "unreal label"—but Cuneiform is employing people and embracing overhead and operational costs exponentially larger than mine. I cannot afford even the expense to pay myself!

Unfortunately, I believe that several other iconic labels will follow Steve's lead. I've heard that once Manfred Eicher decides to finally retire, ECM will stop releasing records as well. The end of an era? The world has changed and I am still trying to figure it all out.

AAJ: What are some of the reasons why records are not selling anymore?

LP: I don't think that streaming and Spotify is the only reason. I am not here to whine or tell stories about the unscrupulous business conduct of Spotify. Big business has always taken advantage of artists for their own gain. Nothing new. It's a business, we live in capitalism, and it's not gonna change. Many claim that Spotify and other streaming companies are not paying a fair share to artists and indie labels; so then I ask myself, what is "fair share"? To receive $169.10 instead of $16.91 for 16,000 streams of a song?

I have only one issue with Spotify. Consumers should listen the music only once for free. Their second time, they should be given the option to purchase a digital or physical copy of the album, or just a digital download of an individual tune. Streaming IS one of the reasons, but it's not the main reason. Consumers can find more music, support more bands, and create more diversity in music. I think the reason that music doesn't sell much anymore is because we live in a different kind of society today. There is oversaturation of the market. There are too many products available for the decreasing amount of consumers. One reason that I don't sell so many records is because I'm competing with thousands and thousands of other albums that are being released at the same time, and the average consumer has only so much money to buy albums. You cannot buy everything that comes out. Apparently, there are hundreds and hundreds of record labels just in the US now, releasing an immense quantity of albums every year, plus numerous artists are "self-releasing" albums on their own. The market is overrun, demand sinks lower and lower, with more and more new albums still being released.

We live in a big world, more than seven billion people. If you are an American jazz lover, for example, you might also be interested in jazz or progressive artists not only from major jazz countries such as UK, France, Germany, Brazil or Italy, but also from Indonesia, Serbia, Chile, Mexico, South Africa, Egypt, Finland, Mongolia, Fiji, Dominican Republic, Turkey, Camerun, Bangladesh, and other countries. Then you can oversaturate yourself acquiring more music from different parts of the world, adding to the music you are already consuming. Besides new releases, there are old releases, re-issues, used CDs, used vinyl, even used cassettes and eight-track tapes!

Let's not overlook the "Steven Wilson phenomenon": Remasters of the remastered remasters to be remastered and over-remastered; then even more remastered versions with so many bonus tracks, bonus discs, bonus whatever; then box sets, special editions, special packages, ultra-limited editions... People are buying for the eleventh or twenty-fourth or thirty-seventh time albums they've already heard so many times in so many different formats.

Then you have traditional old school fans who are still stuck with their 60's and 70's nostalgia, and who categorically believe, and wrongly, that there is no great music today, which is absolutely untrue. There is much more amazing music today than ever in the history of human kind, but no one knows it exists—independent masses confined to the extreme niche of obscurity!

How much money and how much time does a consumer actually need to buy even one album, let alone listen to everything available? How do consumers discover new artists? I know a music fan, a gentleman in his early sixties, who has collected music for almost five decades. His collection is gigantic, and he appreciates my label but has maybe only a few MoonJune albums. He said to me that he has reached a saturation point with "new music," and that he will not live long enough to catch up with everything that's around—he simply has no time. He has the desire but no time. He doesn't consume new music, or very very rarely. He enjoys living in the past and there is nothing wrong with that. But he is not into new music at all.

AAJ: Is it an issue of format, or of content, or of issues outside of music such as economics?

LP: People have gotten used to spending less and less for music. Those who do spend are clearly a minority, and they cannot buy everything and they don't have time to listen to everything. The reality is that the music industry today simply doesn't exist as it existed before. There are no clear-cut tools to promote the music: no magazines, no radio, no way to tell the world that you and your product exist outside of social media and the internet. Magazines and radio, both, are experiencing the same industry contractions that are decimating the recorded music industry.

The ramifications of this are that an overwhelming majority of musicians just cannot live anymore strictly from music; they have to do other things. Musicians from other genres may gravitate toward more commercially popular forms of music, hoping for some measure of success, but this would more than likely only happen for a few lucky souls.

Touring is also increasingly in "slow-down" mode; expenses are more costly than ever, while venues and promoters offer smaller guarantees and lower payouts. But who can blame them? In most cases, they also have to scrape to carve out a living, pay their rent and bills, try to survive. Throw in the "streaming fandango" and here we are. A rather bleak view of both the present and the future.

Maybe music should be free? Maybe musicians and independent labels are not supposed to make any money. Maybe that's the solution: Free music for everyone! Actually, I would like to release an album and offer it for free, just to see what happens. What else I can do when I'm selling a few hundred copies of an unknown artist from Bandung, Indonesia?

AAJ: Spotify and similar streaming services are not the prime suspects?

LP: I am not a huge opponent of Spotify and other digital streaming services, but I know that many people are. I actually like the idea. In the wake of the "digital revolution," I think it's one of the greatest innovations to emerge. Maybe the way it is done does not properly distribute income to artists, but in theory that is a very difficult thing to implement, honestly. It's a tough question, and a difficult dilemma to decipher, but I don't believe that streaming services are necessarily the only ones to blame for our present crisis. You have to hear music somehow, and let me ask you one thing: Where can you hear new music, if not online? In the extinct record shops? In the supermarkets or shopping malls? On TV or radio? What's radio today? Even truck drivers don't listen radio anymore. They play music from their iPods and phones. People listen to talk shows on radio, religious and political demagogues, but radio is not for listening to music anymore. In much the same way that Rolling Stone really isn't about music, anymore.

Things are changing. I just see it as a change in history. We live in a different era. Who's to say that music has to be the most important thing in your life? Who says that? For our generation, music was important; for me, most certainly. But maybe music is not supposed to be the most important thing; perhaps that mentality was from a golden generation, between the '60's and '70's, and it just continued over for a few decades. Maybe, in its present form, the music industry has somehow passed its "expiration date."

Today, music just doesn't matter to so many people. Its messages and its impacts just are not what they used to be. Life continues to change, and at a faster pace than ever before. A little over one hundred years ago, people used to ride horses or walk from one place to another. Now, everyone drives motorized vehicles and travels great distances in short time spans via airplanes.

When I was a teenager or in my early twenties, I used to watch every episode of shows that I enjoyed. I listened to radio. I bought thousands of albums. But as you hit your forties or fifties or sixties, you steadily buy less albums and you go to see less shows. The audience for this particular type of music is aging. There are very few young people to support the industry; most young people are into something else.

We are aging, and the habits of consumers are changing. There are many elements involved in why things are not well anymore. It's very difficult to blame any one thing. Of course, I am the first victim of such things. But should I be blaming Spotify or streaming services? No. That is simply how it is, for me. My music is for a very limited set of people, an aging generation, and young people are into something else. My son is nineteen years old. He's not into what I am doing. He has other interests. I cannot blame him. I grew up with my maternal grandparents, and my grandfather thought that The Beatles and The Rolling Stones were negative elements in society. We live in a new world order. We might complain and suffer but new generations are into something else. Are they wrong? I do not know.

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