Cultura Tres are putting Venezuela on the metal map with their dark, classic rock influenced take on sludge and their ‘pay-what-you-want’ approach to their music, including their second and most recent record, ‘El Mal Del Bien’. The band spoke to M3 about reaching more fans with the free music method, and why the days of champagne and jacuzzis may be over for the major labels…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Cultura Tres – We are Cultura Tres, a Venezuelan band that plays a dark and melancholic blend of seventies rock, metal and psychedelic passages. There are four musicians in the band, Alejandro (vocals, lead guitar), Juan (guitar), Alonso (bass) and David (drums). We are completely DIY: we record, mix and master our albums; we film and edit our own video clips. Cultura Tres succeeded in touring through South America, Europe and Japan without any label or booking agency: just through our own efforts, and of course the help of friends.
What inspired you to form Cultura Tres? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Cultura Tres was born from the love of dark, heavy music, with a penchant for old bands… For example we love Alice in Chains, Mars Volta, Black Sabbath, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Sepultura: all bands that make us have goose bumps. We felt this eery feeling was missing in most of the new music of recent heavy bands, and sort of stumbled into our own style in an attempt to make music that we would love to hear ourselves…. Along the way we found ourselves in a stream of like-minded bands, especially in South America.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
We use digital music a lot; it is convenient, fast and allows for easy spreading of our musical virus. However, the physical feeling of putting a needle down on dark vinyl, and waiting for first sounds to cut through the imperfections of a record player, has an undeniable magic. The big artwork, the unwieldy format, the fragility of vinyl: it all contributes to that special feeling that you get when you have to care and take time to listen to music.
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?
Perhaps so for ‘the masses’; but there is something special about taking the time to immerse yourself in a longer trip than a 3 minute hit. Maybe not everyone feels like that, but we see a very healthy core of music lovers who values this art form.
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?
That depends: for big bands pushed by greedy labels that used to depend on expensive record sales, it is indeed the most efficient way to earn big bucks: ask ridiculously high ticket prices. Well, people seem to be willing to lay down the money for that. But in the underground scene where we come from, touring doesn’t bring in a lot of cash. We truly depend on the support of fans who come to the shows and buy merchandise, and our physical albums. Our income is boosted by online sales, mainly by Bandcamp.com, a great no-nonsense site which enables digital music sales of which 90% goes straight to the band account.
Why did you decide to make your music available for free (or ‘pay-as-you-please’) download?
Because we see how relative income is, and so we believe that people should be able to get access to it and pay what they want for it. If you are rich give us a lot, if you are poor, don’t, it is ok. We did not become musicians to become rich, so we make sure we can survive without depending on the income of our band. People understand that if they support the band, we can make more good music and focus more and more on that. It is amazing to see the amount of support underground bands like us get: people freely donate money, time and effort to help us out. Those are not economically smart decisions for them, which goes to show this world is not purely driven by money, there is still room for some magic!
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
It is hard to judge, because we can’t compare to a situation where we chose a classic method. All we can see is the fact that we sell our music daily, and that our music spreads all overthe world. Also, it seems to be good for promotion: we get international coverage for our decision to also sell our physical vinyl for a pay-what-you-want. Perhaps it is just good karma spreading.
On average, how many people still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
In our case a bit over 30%. The other 70% contains people who downloaded it for free first, then decided to pay for it; and also people who later come to our shows, and sometimes buy the physical albums there. But also people who just wanted it for free and otherwise wouldn’t have reached. That is the way we see it, I don’t think we’ve lost 70% income, instead we gained much of that 30%, and had an additional increase in free promotion!
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
The march of online media and social networks has shown the world that the new record label is called INTERNET. The big advantage is that through internet we can cut out the expensive major record label middle man, who now has to find another way to finance his champagne and jacuzzi hehe.
But the downside is that we now have to do their work: providing the channels to get our music to interested listeners. Surely, there are enough tools available: every band now can put on a Facebook profile, add home-recorded songs, and put a clip on YouTube. But so… everyone does, and the question becomes: how can we convince people to give our music the time and attention it deserves? I think the main challenge for bands is the challenge to look for a different quality label, to make them stand out in a sea of mediocrity.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
I think the old system is experiencing its death throes: the system still has some power, but it is losing ground quickly. The future will lie in a mix of online distribution channels that allow bands to offer their music straight to the listener, linked to channels through which you can discover good new music. Such channels should narrow down the possibilities either by association or by recommendation from listeners that show their good taste through the bands they feature on their site. This can only last as long as such linked services are open to all and free, or very very cheap; otherwise history will merely repeat itself in a different form.
Finally, what does the future hold for Cultura Tres?
A great journey, with lots of music and good people.
For more information about Cultura Tres, you can visit their official website and find the band on Facebook and Twitter. You can also download their music for free through their Bandcamp page.