Synthpop band Color Theory’s Brian Hazard has recently been trying to figure out the best way to distribute his music online. M3 quizzed Brian on his findings, as well as the significance of albums, deadlines for free music, and how to stand out amongst the crowd…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Brian – I’m a mastering engineer, recording artist, and occasional music promotion blogger. Most of my working hours are spent working on other peoples’ music, but I’m happiest when I can devote a couple hours a day writing and recording my own.
What inspired you to form Color Theory? What is your own musical background?
I grew up on Depeche Mode, The Cure, and The Smiths, and started piano lessons in middle school. I played mallet percussion in the high school drumline and piano in the jazz band, and went on to get my degree in piano performance. I taught piano and accompanied choirs for six years after graduation before turning my full attention to my mastering business and Color Theory.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
A CD is capable of capturing any audio signal perfectly, within the limits of our auditory system. Higher bitrates and sample rates can be useful in tracking and mixing, but are overkill as a final medium. The vast majority of people can’t reliably distinguish between CD and a 320 kbps MP3, and I’m content with the latter for casual listening.
All of my listening for enjoyment is done through my iPhone using a service called MOG, which I believe is US-only so far. It’s similar to Spotify, but the audio quality is superior, particularly on mobile. You can stream or download anything in their catalog to your phone at 320 kbps. The DAC on the iPhone isn’t exactly audiophile quality, but then again, most of my listening is done on my long runs!
Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
I’m an album guy. If I hear a great song, I’ll check MOG to see if the album is out. If not, I’ll wait until it is to explore the band further. I don’t do playlists or radio either. For me as a music fan, it’s the album or nothing.
As an artist, on the other hand, you can’t disappear for two years between albums anymore. If each song is an event, coupled with a video, story, or contest, it makes sense to release them individually. If not, an EP splits the difference.
I still see the album as a culmination of an artist’s musical efforts. Now it just takes a few more steps to get there. Those individually released singles and EP tracks tend to end up on an album eventually.
Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
I don’t perform, so I can’t speak to the profitability of touring. My sales are way down compared to ten years ago, declining as my fan numbers continue to grow. I probably have ten times as many people on my mailing list as I did then, yet I sell one-tenth as much music. So far I’ve avoided selling non-musical products, but I can understand the inclination to sell personalized trinkets through a Kickstarter campaign.
I’d be willing to bet that if a band spent as much time working on film and TV placements as they did touring, they could make just as much, if not more. I’ve seen a handful of artists who give away all of their music for free, to focus entirely on licensing. Still, if the songs and production quality aren’t there, no amount of pushing can make up for that.
Why did you do decide to make 4 of your recent songs available for free download?
Actually, it used to be six, from three different releases! I decided to offer four songs from my latest album for free, in return for an email address. The mailing list confirmation message includes a discount code to get the full album for half off, good for ten days. I’m hoping a deadline will encourage potential fans to sit down and listen to the four tracks to make a decision, rather than just copying them into an overflowing MP3s folder.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen through this distribution method?
The big advantage is not having to press CDs. I’ve released several digital-only EPs with little effort. My full-length albums are all available on CD, but most fans seem to prefer downloads, even at the same price. This is very bad news for my garage! A few of my albums have sold out completely, but it looks like I’ll still be stuck with a couple thousand.
For better or worse, artists no longer need a label or distributor to release their music to the world. Nor do they have to wait weeks for a physical product. The only non-recording expenses for most artists are mastering and graphic design.
Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright?
I try not to think too hard about this stuff, since it’s mostly out of my control. Personally, I love seeing my music posted in “questionable” places, and I welcome all new fans, however they discover and acquire my music. It doesn’t make sense to look at every illegal download as a lost sale. From a financial perspective, the difference between that and a Spotify stream is negligible.
From a technical standpoint, I actually do think it’s enforceable in the vast majority of cases. For example, when I installed a BitTorrent client to download a single episode of Game of Thrones, I got an email warning from my internet provider the next day! I’m sure there are ways to circumvent this sort of thing, but they require research, tech savvy, and time. For most of us, it’s easier to do the right thing. But hey, I wasn’t about to sign up for cable and HBO just to see one show, which I still haven’t seen by the way! I’m sure the books are better anyway, right?
What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
The legislation is an overreach, but I do believe that content creators should be able to dictate how their works are distributed. I anticipate that subscription services like Spotify and MOG will catch on in a big way, lessening the need for these sorts of laws where music is concerned. The film industry is another story.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
The top challenge is obscurity. Since nearly anyone can create and distribute content with minimal expense, it’s increasingly difficult to get anyone’s attention and stand out in a meaningful way. When I put out my first album, just having a CD meant you were a serious artist worth checking out. Now we’re all overwhelmed by the constant flow of links in our social network feeds, with no quick way to distinguish the good from the bad. The signal to noise ratio is totally out of control, and we need better filters and curators to direct our attention to the stuff that’s genuinely important to us.
Finally, what does the future hold for Color Theory?
I’ve nearly wrapped up the first of three EPs, each featuring five new originals and five remixes of those originals. My next album will consist of the best ten or eleven tracks from those three EPs. If there’s enough demand, I may even press one last CD!
I’ve also got two digital-only remix collections nearly ready for release. They won’t be hugely profitable, but since I master them myself, my only expense is graphic design. I didn’t pay for any of the remixes, so the least I can do is provide as much exposure for the remixers as I can.
For more information about Brian Hazard’s projects, you can visit the official Color Theory, Resonance Mastering & Passive Promotion websites. Also, be sure to check out the article Brian recently contributed to the M3 site.