Cloudkicker (AKA Ben Sharp) became one of Bandcamp’s first success stories, taking the internet by storm with his angular and atmospheric take on progressive metal. Ben has built up an impressive discography over the past 4 years, all of which is entirely self-produced and financed, and available for free download, so M3 decided to ask him for a few pointers for up-and-coming bands…
What inspired you to form Cloudkicker? What is your own musical background?
I was in bands pretty consistently while growing up in Los Angeles, but Cloudkicker evolved out of a desire to see what I could do on my own. My primary instrument is guitar but I do have a pretty decent understanding of drums as well as an understanding of mixing and mastering.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
I prefer digital media just for its insane portability, although I do enjoy the more involved listening experience that I feel like vinyl invites.
Why did you decide to make all your music available for free download?
Well I personally haven’t paid for a CD since 2004 so I thought it would be pretty hypocritical if I demanded that other people pay for my music. I just think that the idea of someone somewhere saying “I want to listen to this album but I don’t have enough money” is pretty bogus.
What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method?
I can’t think of any disadvantages, and the benefits are too many to enumerate.
On average, how many people would you say still pay for a release when given the option to download for free?
I think around 10 to 20 percent.
Cloudkicker has been very successful, especially for a self-financed band that has never had label backing. The internet certainly makes it much easier for musicians to distribute their music directly to fans, so do you think this could ultimately spell the end of the traditional, top-down major label approach for good?
Eh. I really don’t know. I feel like there will always be a market for easily digestible mega-bands. Not everyone considers music the center of their lives and some people just want to be entertained.
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?
Not if it’s a good album. I think that albums with 12 crappy songs on them and one decent song have suffered quite a bit though.
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?
If people can’t figure out how to make record stores a viable business then I don’t know why they should still exist. That said, I can think of a few decent-sized record stores within walking distance of me and they seem to be doing pretty well.
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?
I don’t have an opinion. I don’t want anyone to be taken advantage of but some copyright laws seem like kind of a racket to me.
What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
The main challenge has always been that if you’re not that good, people won’t listen. I think that’s ultra true now, but by the same mechanism, there’s a much more level playing field as far as getting people to at least hear your stuff.
Finally, what does the future hold for Cloudkicker?
Beats me, hopefully more rockin’ tunes.