Interview – Robot(A)

English three piece Robot(A) have just released their debut EP as a free download, 20 minutes of high octane, schizophrenic digital hardcore named ‘Time To Retaliate’. M3 had a chat with vocalist/guitarist Leon about giving away your music for free, and why copyright is struggling to cope with the modern age…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Leon – We’re a 3-piece punk/metal/electronic band from the North East of England. We write music inspired by science fiction, comics and video games.  We each share vocal duties, with myself  performing the lion’s share. I also play guitar, as does Anthony, and Luke is our bassist. Our drummer is a computer program.

What inspired you to form Robot (A)? What are your own musical backgrounds?
Robot(A) was born from a hatred of the elitism surrounding underground music. I wanted to create something unashamedly geeky but still heavy. Taking influences from sources such as bands like The Mad Capsule Markets, Melvins, Rabbit Junk and Hawk Eyes (except they were called Chickenhawk back then!), Blade Runneresque cyberpunk ideas and dystopian science fiction.

Prior to Robot(A) Anthony was self-releasing his chiptune material under the name 16-Bit Hero, Luke played in a now-defunct local noise/grind band Tapestry Of Flesh (later renamed Brian Peppers Is The King) and I previously played in a hardcore band by the name of Hijo De Puta (also with a drum machine!). Only 16-Bit Hero is still active so go check him out on Bandcamp now! Although each of our previous bands are pretty diverse from one another, you can hear influence from everyone’s background in Robot(A)’s music.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Each of us like to collect vinyl for a variety of reasons; it feels like much more of a possession to be treasured than say a CD and there’s much more of a ceremony to playing it. There’s less encouragement to skip tracks and therefore you’re more likely to hear the full piece as the artist intended. However, MP3s are our bread and butter. It’s our main form of distribution as a band, and MP3 players have stopped us murdering everyone on buses.

Why did you decide to make your ‘Time To Retaliate’ EP available for free download through Bandcamp?
I believe everyone deserves to listen to music for free. For me personally it feels arrogant to demand a payment for your first release, in this day and age of digital distribution bands should cultivate a fanbase first. With bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead releasing LPs for free, a smaller band can’t afford to price themselves out. With the economy the way it is at the minute I don’t want to ask anybody to pay £10 to hear a digital release of our EP.

What benefits and/or disadvantages have you encountered through this distribution method?
Disadvantages have come in the form of a lack of feedback really. The amount of downloads we’ve had compared to the amount of people who have come back to us to tell us what they like or what they hate about it is ridiculous. Benefits-wise we’ve gained a lot of downloads of an EP that we’ve barely advertised, and people that have let us know their thoughts have been generally positive. We can also see that our music is reaching every corner of the world, which is nice! We’re big in Japan.

On average, how many people would say still pay for this release when faced with the option to download for free?
There are people out there that just like to own an album/EP, and these kinds of people will buy it even if they have downloaded it for free already. We’ve sold approximately one copy for every three downloaded for free from Bandcamp. We see this as a decent achievement for a small band like ourselves, we’ve sold out two pressings!

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?
The format of music needs to change with the times, regardless of the digital age people are still willing to listen to an album/EP/whatever. Personally I think it works out better for an artist to release an EP or a shorter album these days. It works out in a band’s favour by saving them time, money and pressure over recording when they only have to belt out say six classics as opposed to having to get 13 or so tracks done, and running the risk of a good chunk of them sounding like filler.  It also takes up less of the listeners’ time whilst still allowing them to feel like they’ve got a full release for their money.

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 think copyright law needs to be changed to better reflect the interests of the artists that produce the music, as opposed to the (often greedy) labels that publish them. The current archaic system basically can’t keep up with the digital age and so-called piracy is running rampant. Even ‘Time To Retaliate’ has appeared on Russian piracy sites, and it’s available for free directly from the source! It’s inevitable and artists need to be willing to accept that their music is very likely going to be pirated. It’s kind of like a painter complaining that somebody has seen some of his or her work through a window without paying into the gallery. More effort should be made to support artists directly where possible.

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?
Not really, I think most music works like that. Even if unintentionally, people are ripping each other’s material off all the time. It’s how music and the human mind work. We all develop upon foundations of our influences. Take the Amen Break for example, it’s been sampled countless times and it’s creator doesn’t mind a bit. Ironically it’s since been copyrighted by other sample companies and he doesn’t get to see penny one from it. But it goes to show not every artist is going to sue at the drop of a hat when somebody else samples their work, though obviously some would.

What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
Like I said above, I think the current format needs to disappear and the average release needn’t be as long. I think more music should become available more frequently and at a more competitive price. Which is likely to happen as labels and high street retailers are pricing themselves out of the market. Music is simply not going to be bought if people can’t afford it.

Finally, what does the future hold for Robot (A)?
We’re currently recording our new EP, tentatively titled ‘If It Ain’t Broke, We Need To Break It’ for a September release and hopefully playing a few shows in support of it this Summer and later in the year. Anth will smoke his first bongload.

For more information about Robot(A), you can find the band on Facebook and listen to their music on their Bandcamp page.

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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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