The Indelicates: Interview With Simon Indelicate

This email interview with questions from Bernd Klein took place from the 9th of June until the 11th of July, a German translation is available as well:
Übersetzung ins Deutsche Simon Indelicates

Bernd: "New Art for the People" is a title on your first album. Is your "new art" too new for the conservative music industry? I could imagine, that most radio station would boycott this song, because of the text.

Simon: Well, New Art For The People has a rather sarcastic title and is about self-involved people who can't tell the difference between being romantic and being a tit - and I'd never claim to have made any such thing. But as to whether the music industry is too conservative for what we do: I don't think it matters at all. The music industry's days standing between musicians and consumers of music are numbered, it is only the conservatism of the audience that we need to worry about. I do worry about that - all the kids are very square these days.

Bernd: What do you think of a title "A New Music Industry for the Artists"?

Simon: It's not quite as catchy as mine, but it makes thematic sense ;-)

Bernd: The consumers and the artists still have to cope with the traditional music companies, but there are alternative. Your new album "Songs for Swinging Lovers" is available on a pay-what-you-want (PWYW) basis.
What have been your reasons for this step?

The Indelicates: Cover Swinging Lovers Simon: They are very long and involved but as briefly as possible:

  1. price is a function of supply and demand
  2. because of the internet, the supply of music vastly exceeds the demand for it
  3. the market value of generic music is, therefore, very very low
  4. the only factors that can raise the price of music are ephemeral things like hype, ubiquity and a personal connection with the creators.
  5. As these are highly vague and as the latter is a trust-based relationship and as they are specific to individuals - the best system for determining price is one in which a consumer decides to pay the most they are willing to
  6. furthermore, As it turns out, it works. We have made notably more per download than we ever did when signed in the UK
  7. whoo!

Bernd: A customer is allowed to fix the price on their own in your model. The music industry doesn't trust their customers. They think, that their business is seriously threatened by the supposed dishonesty of the consumer. On the other hand, you must be convinced, that people or at least the majority of people are honest. Do they pay a fair price for your album?

Simon: Yes. We weren't convinced before the release - but we are now. Those who didn't want to pay never would have, those who did were happy to and we have, as I say, done better financially than we would have done if we'd messed around with some wasteful, obsolete and parasitic middleman.

Bernd: Can the pay-what-you-want model work for all musicians or just for the well-established bands?

Simon: I think that depends on what you mean by well-established - I probably wouldn't put us in that category. I think the level of its effectiveness will depend on the band, to an extent. If you're in one of those mid-sized rock bands that is widely *quite* liked but that is nobody's favourite, then I don't know how many of your fans would be willing to volunteer money. Likewise, there's probably a level below us where you would really only be able to expect pocket change.
But as a rule, I think that if you're a band with a touch of individuality, some fans, some reputation and an album worth buying then you could expect to do better selling on a pay-what-you-like basis than you could signed to anything but the rarest of major label record deals.

Bernd: The music industry is convinced that illegal downloading and file sharing has robbed it of billions of dollars. How much money are the Indelicates losing by downloads?

Simon: not a penny, not once, not ever. The ludicrous figures invented by the record industry are based on estimated numbers of downloads, assume that every download is a lost sale and don't factor in the positive financial benefits accrued from the 'word-of-mouth' publicity generated by downloading. Their business models are failing because they are trying to sell as scarce a resource that is abundant. Downloading is just a distraction.

Bernd: What were your reasons to found a record company of your own?

Simon: we figured if we did the exact opposite of everything we'd ever seen a record company do then we'd probably be quite successful. So far, we've yet to be proved wrong on that.

Bernd: Do you think that the record industry is influencing or even censoring their artists, e.g. to make sure that the texts and music is appropriate for mass consumption and will be playable by all radio stations?

Simon: No. I think that they are signing and promoting artists who wouldn't be capable of thinking a controversial thought if they tried. Record companies are only very slightly worse than the vacuous, entitled morons who's meaningless rubbish they promote - you don't need to censor acts who have nothing more to contribute than unfelt love, joyless fun and undergraduate political paranoia.

Bernd: Stars in the music industry are making a lot of money. What about artist who are not or not so famous? Can the current system guarantee them a living?

Simon: As far as I'm aware, the stars are probably making quite a lot less than is generally assumed and it is a bit of a myth that artists toward the obscurer end of indie ever earned enough to live on - beyond keeping themselves on the road. In short, no - neither the old, current or future systems will be able to guarantee anyone a living. I take issue with the idea that artists should be guaranteed a living - everybody else has to take their chances, those of us who prance about with guitars are not special cases who need cosseting. I think there are ways to make money as a musician and I think more will be invented, but even if I didn't I would still be against any measures that seek to limit the growth and expansion of the internet as a forum for the free exchange of data: The benefits are so great and the price is so small.

Bernd: There is a general consensus that we need copyright laws. Copyright is necessary as an incentive to do creative work. Do you agree with this?

Simon: It depends on the law. I see little future for laws preventing the non-commercial duplication of data. I think, however, that laws preventing the financial exploitation of intellectual property are vital. In other words, I think that the pirate bay should be allowed to index and organise the network of enthusiastic fans who share music across bittorrent; I don't think they should be allowed to sell advertising while they are doing it. Copyright needs to be rethought from the ground up, not bluntly enforced with bad, stupid laws like the UKs Digital Economy Act

Bernd: Most people don't debate copyright as such, but the duration is in question. So far the law in most countries limits it to "70 years after the death of the author", but the music and film industry are asking for an endless period. Jack Valenti wants this period to be "forever less than one day". Rufus Pollock pegs the "optimal level for copyright" at only 14 years. Do you think this would be sufficient?

Simon: I think this is a debate worth having and I don't know the answer. Does Rufus Pollock mean 14 years from creation or 14 years from the death of the creator? If the latter, then I think a good case could be made - If the former then I am instinctively against artists being denied the right to control use of their work during their lifetimes. The important thing, though, is to have the conversation without the disinformation and self-interest being spread by major media corporations being taken into account. This is not about my or any artist's rights - it is about the future of our societies and should be treated as such.

Bernd: Thank you very much for being so cooperative and helpful. I hope that your new album will be a great success.

Simon: You're welcome.