Interview – Serious Beans Project

Maastricht’s Serious Beans Project consists of seven musicians from across Europe, combining jazz, reggae and salsa influences to create their unique and exotic sound. M3 met up with the Serious Beans to ask them about their upcoming album, Maastricht’s local music scene and the tangled web of copyright…

(C)Gerlach Delissen Photography

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Serious Beans Project – We are seven young people who met in Maastricht. We all come from different places and first simply met to have some beans and rice, but then seriously got involved into what we call now our project.  From lively musical sessions at home, we ended up roaming streets and walking stages. Our project is very much focused on creating good vibes with our audience.  Our music is a blend of rap, salsa, Italian ballata, chanson francaise, reggae and jazz. We are where the living room meets the stage, where gypsy is played by classical hands and where nothing seems in place but travels from many places. We love making people sing, smile and dance!

What inspired you to form the Serious Beans Project? What are your own musical backgrounds?
The project came about almost by chance without us consciously going through a formation process.  Inspiration came from each of us individually but mostly emerged when we were playing together. In fact, our musical backgrounds are far from professional. Besides Mateusz, most of us have never really studied music. Some learned to play an instrument early on, but had never played in a band before. This really is for us an experiment, a project. Musicians come and go, although by now we have formed a solid core which naturally emerged over time. Every one of us has brought his personal taste in music but one can say that our music draws a lot from bands like:

De André, Brassens, Brel, 17 Hippies, Les Ogres de Barback, Babylon Circus, Manu Chao, Django Reinhardt, Stephane Grappelli, Caetano Veloso, Joao Gilberto, Gilberto Gil, Chico Buarque, La Rue Ketanou, Mano Negra, etc…

You have just finished recording your new album, could you tell us a little more about that?
It is our first album and we are happy to present it on the first of June. The title is Périple, the French word for travel. For one, the name represents what this CD is for us: A part of our musical journey. It is also a reference to the place where we recorded, Périple en la demeure in Belgium, an independent cultural center introduced to usby a close friend. Together with two sound engineers, Jo Smeets and Edis Pajazetovic, we recorded eight songs in three days, which was quite an achievement for us. In the end everything worked out just fine. The former school and now cultural center provided us with tasty food, beautiful landscape and most importantly a perfect recording room, their auditorium. The experience of recording an album was fantastic.

We decided to record, because we loved the idea of transforming our music into a tangible form. We wanted to have a physical object as a manifestation of our music, as a medium with which we can promote ourselves, but definitely also to create the possibility to listen to our music in a good quality at home.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
The immediate answer to this question would be LIVE of course, mainly because the kind of music we do and that we listen to is directly linked to the intensity of its street or stage performance. Making music as well as listening to music is, for us, a communal experience, that objects to the individualism of our society. However, when choosing among the various mediums I guess that the answers could be different depending on what stand we answer from. Since we belong to those who look at the past with romantic melancholia, of course we would opt for the elegance of the Vinyl. However, if we let our realistic stand prevail, we would opt, like we did, for a mixture between CDs and MP3s available online. For us the choice is due to the need to have something tangible to sell on the streets (this is how we finance our tours in Europe and beyond) and to give to friends and families. Yet, we also want to share our music with as many people as possible. In that case we can’t avoid the sharing online and, being not so fond of the strict and often obsolete copy rights regulations (so many complicated adventures we had with Ms Copy Right Law!) we think we will make the music available for free. We can’t close our eyes pretending globalization and digitalization are not happening. Deep down we all enjoy having an MP3 recording on our iPod that keeps us company wherever we go.

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?
This is definitely true. People, (us included) listen to music all the time. Often, the album taken as a whole is undermined by the endless variety of music surrounding us. We have become musically obese, consuming music whenever and wherever we can. And as it is with food, too much makes you sick. Music has become a product of endless consumption on bikes, parties, shopping halls, etc. People have forgotten to appreciate the whole work of artists. Therefore, we think that concerts are very different and we want to continue reaching most people through our concerts and even actively engaging people in musical jams.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
The record store might be dead but, to follow the metaphor, is also resuscitating in other forms. In the very town of Maastricht there are several shops who have integrated the sale of Vinyls into that of other merchandise (i.e. clothes, smartshops).  And people still go to those places and buy the records, walking away happily, holding the Vinyl in one hand and the iPod in the other. The myth of humans being rational purchasers has long been debunked. Of course the availability of portable and, most importantly, freely downloadable music has decreased the sales, mainly of CDs. The availability of digital music anyway does not kill the beauty of having a tangible medium for music. So  we feel that the digital age has highly challenged the record store rather than killing it all in all, forcing it to renew itself and adapt. Loss seems to be an integral part of ‘progression’ (intended as chronological progression rather than a process of amelioration, at least for us). The loss itself has not happened yet but surely that music stores should and are taking steps not to succumb. It does not seem utopian to hope that the challenge could be converted into a very interesting combination between digital media and record stores. . . now, room for the entrepreneurs to decide how to do this!

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?
We hope that it is going to be record sales on the streets in combination with live performances that will allow us to tour around at zero costs hence we can’t say we agree completely. However our financial needs as amateurs are different than the needs of those for whom music equals bread on the table. It is obvious that we are not in the 1960s anymore and that it is incredibly difficult to hope for a decent income only from record sales.  Records often represent a souvenir from a concert, a support to our memory of a good live show. We all have gone to a band’s concert after having downloaded their music digitally and yet have bought the record after the concert.  Concerts and record sales can be an efficient combination rather than singular atomized entities of music distribution.

Do you think that the abundance of easily available record music online has led many people to view the live experience as the ‘authentic’ way to experience music?
If not authentic, surely different. The authenticity of an experience linked to music is very much related to how one feels whilst the music is performed. A live performance is an experience in itself as it involves a real interaction between the listeners and musicians with everything that it entails. The energy that is exchanged between the public and the performers can have a great effect on the music itself. It is also important however to recognize the value of recorded music. The accuracy in a recording is greater than in live concerts. If one is searching to enjoy musical perfection in the performance of an artist,  rather than – say – a more “free”, often improvised and under pressure live act, he/she will see more authenticity in a recorded piece since the author has the opportunity to share the piece he/she considers most representative. A song heard in solitude whilst going through a particularly introspective mental state can also be considered an authentic way to experience music. The relevance of the live performance also varies depending on the genre we are dealing with. We make world music, jump on stage, make people dance and these are things that are difficult to convey in a record. But if we did electronic music we are sure that the relevance of our performance would be largely outweighed by the recording. . . authenticity varies from person to person, from style to style, from occasion to occasion.

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 itself?
In our age of globalization and digitalization music spread around faster than a happy virus, especially with the aid of internet. This is rendering strict copyright regulation a little redundant, and was definitely a bit of a hassle for us. Of course we want to keep the credit for the music we wrote, but we don’t want to limit the availability of our songs so we are thinking of providing it for free in an mp3 format on the net. We also want to support alternative copyright initiatives such as creative commons that enables to use already existing music as material for new creations.

However, Copyright does not seem to be a static concept, and the laws derived from it are continuously evolving to compensate for the changes in the music industry. As we were hinting at before, they seem to be on par with a constant rethinking of how to best meet the advances in technology and distribution, and create a market for artists to trade their goods and receive recognition. The idea of copyrights seems legitimate and although one can criticize its rigidity and the extent of their duration over time sometimes, the bottom-line of the concept seems to have been on the side of those coming up with the creative spark. So the question is rather tricky to answer: on the one hand it is true that thinking about ways to adapt the idea to meet the interests of the artists is important and coming up with ways to stimulate creativity while protecting the intellectual property is desirable; on the other hand it seems a little outdated to punish someone for re-using something that was made available for him in a digital format to make his own tune. The question posed seems particularly relevant and also framed for those playing around with electronic samples, and in that domain we have not really immersed ourselves yet…

Similarly, do you think that copyright legislation could pose a threat to the creativity of artists who make use of a wide variety of samples within their work?
Maybe we can tell a short story to answer this question. For one of our songs, we have been inspired and also cited the poem Quello Che Non Voglio by Stefano Benni. Unfortunately, Italian singer and songwriter De André died of cancer during the process of writing the song with Stefano Benni. The song is dedicated to him. During our recording of the song it became more and more apparent that we were using somebody else’s work. Thus, for us it was just normal to write to Benni, informing him about our project and our new album. We sent the song to him to ask for permission. Then, a word was wrong in our citation of the poem. Luckily we were able to adjusted accordingly and then received permission from Benni. For us, recognition of the creator is tremendously important. Financial compensation is without doubt an important way for artists to have an income. Yet, copy rights should not be so rigid that they prevent other artists to create something new, mixed, etc. Our song is definitely a tribute to both artists, Benni and De André. In general, our music is open for anyone to reuse and make other music out of it, but we do want recognition.

To come back to the question, the law of copyright seems to have been established for a really long time if one thinks about it and has managed to overcome the challenges faced by successive changes in technology, which now enables the copying of a large variety of works in many different types of media. As we understand it, copyright seems to be an incentive to supply creative works and products, and the question then seems to become : does it function in an even manner between the primary creators and the businesses that are based on them? Would alternative reward systems achieve the desired result? What is the impact of copyright on consumers and users of cultural products? These are difficult questions to answer and new answers to them can be found on a daily basis in the cultural/economic sections of newspapers and in journals of cultural economy. It seems fair to say that a healthy skepticism about copyright has been en vogue for some time now, but there are still many unanswered interrogations. Therefore, to answer the question, it seems that copyrights should be seen as a stimulus for creativity and the protection of artists’ work in a system where culture and intellectual property is difficult to quantify in comparison to other goods, however the benefits should profit ultimately the artists, and should not act as a barrier and scare off others when it comes to re-using material.

What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
As we have already mentioned, it seems that the general trend tends towards a digital distribution of music, with the support of Internet. We can easily imagine that if these developments continue on the same line, most recorded music will be available online for free, whether it was intended to be so or not. When people are presented with the opportunity, they like to take themselves control over things, and the availability of music is one of them.

Finally, what does the future hold for the Serious Beans Project?
In the close future, we will be playing on the biggest world music festival Germany’s, in the TFF Rudolstadt in July. After that we aim at further promoting our music around Europe. We would like to take our bikes and instruments to play on European city streets. Leaving the summer behind, future plans are still unsure. Although most of us will depart from Maastricht and go to places abroad, we would love to come back to play on festivals, have another tour through Europe and continue playing music together. We would like to travel more, get to know other musicians, other beautiful places and people. Ideally, our project just continues wherever the Beans are. We are definitely open for whatever the future can provide.

For more information about the Serious Beans Project, you can visit their official Facebook page.


About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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