Undertow Q & A

David Bazan, Headphones, and PTL Discussion

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undertowmusic
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Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Tue May 14, 2013 6:14 am

We have a lot of internal discussions about transparency in our business (and life).
When I say "we" i mean Bazan, me, Undertow, etc.
So much of the music business (and life) is based on hype, delusion and dishonesty.
We try to avoid all of those things. it's not hard... you just don't do those things.
I want to open a discussion so more people can understand our business and motivations.
So, at this point in the show... does anyone have any questions?
Can be about anything. I'll do my best to answer.
- Bob
"Your revolution is over. Condolences. The bums lost."

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby brothermatt » Tue May 14, 2013 6:39 am

i'd like to buy you a beer and listen to epic stories of jeff tweedy and jay farrar breaking beer bottles over each other's heads while grappling for creative control, ending in the great schism. even though i know that's not how it really went down, i want to believe uncle tupelo was destroyed sophocles style. so that takes precedence over anything else i might want to hear from you.

on the management front, for no particular reason, but to provide contrast with my wife's experience in law school and since:

1. long-term contracts with renewals for artists or more (in the albini-chicago style) handshake contracts?
2. do you actively seek out artists now, or do they find you?
3. has there been any blowback from the no-Spotify position (from labels or others)?
4. did you ever see a show at tewligan's in louisville? that and the machine were the places i visited and sneaked into most growing up.

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Tue May 14, 2013 8:52 am

brothermatt wrote:i'd like to buy you a beer and listen to epic stories of jeff tweedy and jay farrar breaking beer bottles over each other's heads while grappling for creative control, ending in the great schism. even though i know that's not how it really went down, i want to believe uncle tupelo was destroyed sophocles style. so that takes precedence over anything else i might want to hear from you.

on the management front, for no particular reason, but to provide contrast with my wife's experience in law school and since:

1. long-term contracts with renewals for artists or more (in the albini-chicago style) handshake contracts?
2. do you actively seek out artists now, or do they find you?
3. has there been any blowback from the no-Spotify position (from labels or others)?
4. did you ever see a show at tewligan's in louisville? that and the machine were the places i visited and sneaked into most growing up.


I don't have much to say about Uncle Tupelo other than it was much more of a slow fade than the big dramatic break-up that's been reported. I think Jay Farrar got a raw deal in the press over the years. Mostly because he never talked about it and the story became a convoluted mix of various things put together from other sources. I will say that I was very bummed about my part in the Wilco book a few years ago. I don't think the book is an accurate account of how it all went down.

i don't believe in contracts. i don't do any sort of management contacts between me and the artists. purely handshake. I do my job, i get paid the agreed commission. pretty simple. If they don't like the work I do they can move on without any restrictions or hassles. I don't get fired very often.

And I don't like record contracts either. It's took a lot of years and experience to figure this out. I feel contracts restrict artistic freedom and sometimes limit the way an artist can make a living. I don't think i ever said "wow! i'm glad you signed this contract." I'm not saying I don't value what a good record label can do to help artists. There are a lot of positive aspects of working with a good label. But would prefer to do so on a per-record kind of situation that does not restrict the artist in any ways.

I don't actively seek new artists. since we work with bands that are in it for the long haul, we rarely have turn-over on the roster. i've been working with Bazan for 10 years, Will Johnson for 15 years, The Bottle Rockets for 20 years, etc. So it's more a matter having enough time to do a good job for everyone. Whenever I feel like we can help a band and we love their music and it's won't negatively affect the job we're doing for the other bands... we can take on something new. And then it's usually someone we already have a relationship with through other bands, friends, etc. In addition to being a fan of the music we have to like and respect the person making the music. Taking on more bands is not my growth strategy. Helping the bands we already have do better is what I try to do.

other than a few "why is your stuff not on Spotify" tweets or Facebook posts... we've seen no negative blowback. Touring numbers are up, record sales are whatever they usually are, etc. In fact, we've seen more positive comments from fans since pulling the catalog. An important part of that is David and I explaining to fans why we don't participate in Spotify.

I have never been to Tewligan's.
"Your revolution is over. Condolences. The bums lost."

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby FatalWound » Tue May 14, 2013 1:44 pm

1. Given the somewhat bleak financial realities of the modern music industry, how do you think the relationship between art and commerce has changed? Have you and artists you work with had to make compromises you would rather not have made?

2. With some of the younger/newer artists you work with, what have been the most effective avenues of gaining exposure and cultivating a fan base?

Thanks.
I'm just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind.

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby Parmpin » Tue May 14, 2013 2:07 pm

When are we gonna see Dave perform on Kimmel?

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby SkeletonRock » Tue May 14, 2013 5:46 pm

I'll preface my questions with a statement, one that might not be entirely appropriate since you aren't an professional artist, but rather a manager, but here goes anyway.

Less than a year ago I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. When I think of Van Gogh, I think of a serious, perhaps tortured, artist who was making very serious work. I doesn't get much more legitimate than Van Gogh. However, I was shocked to learn that the motivation behind many of his paintings was simply that he was trying to make stuff he thought someone might buy. In his notes about certain paintings he is quoted as saying, "People like these kinds of paintings so I am going to paint some and see if we can't sell them".

If Van Gogh can embrace the fact that there is a commercial aspect to his art, that he is putting his unique and creative take on something but is in fact making a product, why not your artists? Why not encourage your artists to embrace more of the commercial side of this business and get on some TV shows or something? How could it do anything other than benefit their career?

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby andrewswafford » Tue May 14, 2013 9:08 pm

I saw Father John Misty play a fantastic show last night and I've been thinking about the relative success of the various Washington indie rock acts which seem to have crossed paths at one point or another in the 2000's. I'm thinking about Pedro, Death Cab, Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman, The Long Winters, etc.

Some of those bands are extremely huge by indie standards (Death Cab and Fleet Foxes) while others seem to be/have been marginally successful (Tillman, Long Winters, Pedro) but it seems that David's solo work has never gotten any sort of major exposure. The most spotlight he seems to get is in the form of a Pitchfork review or two, which are almost always negative because of the guy's past associations with "Christian rock" or whatever else. Most of the interviews he does are with fringe outlets--hell, he did an interview with the school blog that I worked for a few years back, which I was glad for but certainly didn't win him hundreds of fans.

Sooo I suppose my question is similar to SkeletonRock's. Tillman played on Letterman a few months back. Why is it that David doesn't seem to get any spotlight via mainstream media channels? Is it a personal choice on Dave's part or does it have to do with the type of music he makes? (the rock sound of Strange Negotiations didn't feel very inaccessible to me, it seems pretty marketable)

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby numan_the_son » Wed May 15, 2013 12:27 am

I'm very interested in the answer to andrewswafford's question.
I always wondered why everything around PTL and DB seem to be intentionally low key PR wise. Perhaps it's a personal choice by Dave, maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I always thought. It seems like there are is a lot of potential buzz left, uh, unbuzzed (music videos, social media, singles, (frequent) reddit Q&A's, "accidental" twitter dick pics, etc).

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby sherpa141 » Wed May 15, 2013 6:29 am

Is Q&A over? What's the best pizza for band managers?
Criminals are the people we punish for being a nuisance; artists are the people we reward for being a nuisance; successful businessmen are criminals disguised as artists.
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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Wed May 15, 2013 7:56 am

sherpa141 wrote:Is Q&A over? What's the best pizza for band managers?


Papa Del's on Green Street.
"Your revolution is over. Condolences. The bums lost."

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Wed May 15, 2013 8:04 am

FatalWound wrote:1. Given the somewhat bleak financial realities of the modern music industry, how do you think the relationship between art and commerce has changed? Have you and artists you work with had to make compromises you would rather not have made?

2. With some of the younger/newer artists you work with, what have been the most effective avenues of gaining exposure and cultivating a fan base?

Thanks.


i think as the playing field is leveled for distribution and access to fans... less compromises are made. i can't think of any compromises to the art. if someone external says "oh you need to do this is that to the music" we just say "ok, thanks for the input" and do whatever we want. there's really no one but the artists making creative decisions. at least on our roster. maybe not being super famous by letting people shape and form you is the compromise? but it's not the art.

it sounds corny and simplistic... but really the only things you can do to gain real long-term traction.
1. make good music other people can connect with somehow.
2. make it easy for fans to buy it.
3. make it easy for fans to tell their friends about it.
4. be nice.

and be realistic on what "traction" really is. don't do this to be famous or rich.
"Your revolution is over. Condolences. The bums lost."

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Wed May 15, 2013 9:00 am

andrewswafford wrote:I saw Father John Misty play a fantastic show last night and I've been thinking about the relative success of the various Washington indie rock acts which seem to have crossed paths at one point or another in the 2000's. I'm thinking about Pedro, Death Cab, Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman, The Long Winters, etc.

Some of those bands are extremely huge by indie standards (Death Cab and Fleet Foxes) while others seem to be/have been marginally successful (Tillman, Long Winters, Pedro) but it seems that David's solo work has never gotten any sort of major exposure. The most spotlight he seems to get is in the form of a Pitchfork review or two, which are almost always negative because of the guy's past associations with "Christian rock" or whatever else. Most of the interviews he does are with fringe outlets--hell, he did an interview with the school blog that I worked for a few years back, which I was glad for but certainly didn't win him hundreds of fans.

Sooo I suppose my question is similar to SkeletonRock's. Tillman played on Letterman a few months back. Why is it that David doesn't seem to get any spotlight via mainstream media channels? Is it a personal choice on Dave's part or does it have to do with the type of music he makes? (the rock sound of Strange Negotiations didn't feel very inaccessible to me, it seems pretty marketable)


I have to disagree on Bazan getting less press than Pedro The Lion. Bazan got featured on NPR, cover story in Chicago Reader (that was a big deal), World Cafe, WNYC, features in Paste, American Songwriter, etc. Lots of legit mainstream press in addition to a ton of legit medium and smaller blog features. Not just passing mentions or a photo in the random notes section of Rolling Stone... but actual in-depth coverage. That's the stuff that counts. Plus, we're seeing a lot more unsolicited tour press. We never send press releases for living room tours and we didn't do any press push for the Control tour. Articles in nearly every tour city. That's how it's supposed to be... people should WANT to write about you.

Bazan's publicist sent me a print out of all the press after CYB and SN. both are 2 inches thick. I think Bazan got way more mainstream press than PTL. It seems like Pedro The Lion was more of an underground thing.

A note on Pitchfork. We stop servicing them after the FMP. Which means we don't send them music, press-releases and we don't ask for coverage. If they ever write about Bazan it's because they decided to do it on their own.

TV and commercial radio play are really the only things that don't happen for Bazan. Commercial radio is off the table (that's another conversation). TV is weird. I work with bands that have been on Conan, Letterman and Carson Daly. It really doesn't do anything for you unless you have a lot of other stuff already going on. Not sure why Bazan hasn't been on a TV show? maybe the things you mention? the perception that he's somehow a christian artist (which is dumb because it's pretty easy to figure out he's not), Or the content, or maybe he's not "cool" or whatever? If Bazan was offered a spot on a TV show i can't imagine we'd turn it down. It's a fun experience and his parents would love it. But we're not constantly worried about it either.

As far as some bands getting huge and other not. There's no answer to that. There are so many factors and conditions to consider. And if anyone tells you they know the formula to make a band big, they're full of shit or delusional. All you can do it be prepared if something good happens and not piss it away.

That's not saying you don't do anything. What you do is maximize what you have, seek out opportunities that make sense, filter out opportunities that don't make sense and most importantly, treat fans with respect. We're in business with the fans and no one else. No fans = no business.

I will say that changing "brand names" three times didn't help. From Pedro The Lion to Headphones to Bazan. But that was the right move for personal and artistic reasons. Some people still don't connect the dots between PTL and Bazan. We're still working on that. The tour numbers tanked after the PTL name was retired. But we've built it back up over the last few years and the numbers are as good or better than before.

and what defines success? being big for a few years and then fading away? or making a living and sustaining a career for 30 years? we're working on the latter plan. Last man standing.

And there's a personal choice not to be a press whore. We pass on way more stuff than we say yes to. Part of that is so we don't over expose and make people sick of hearing about Bazan. We go for quality over quantity. We've been talking about press ideas for the next record cycle and how we want to limit it to maybe 10 press interviews and just focus on doing podcasts where he can have in-depth conversations and the context is more accurate. We're trying to find the balance and that constantly changes.

Bob
Last edited by undertowmusic on Thu May 16, 2013 8:36 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby undertowmusic » Wed May 15, 2013 9:14 am

SkeletonRock wrote:I'll preface my questions with a statement, one that might not be entirely appropriate since you aren't an professional artist, but rather a manager, but here goes anyway.

Less than a year ago I went to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. When I think of Van Gogh, I think of a serious, perhaps tortured, artist who was making very serious work. I doesn't get much more legitimate than Van Gogh. However, I was shocked to learn that the motivation behind many of his paintings was simply that he was trying to make stuff he thought someone might buy. In his notes about certain paintings he is quoted as saying, "People like these kinds of paintings so I am going to paint some and see if we can't sell them".

If Van Gogh can embrace the fact that there is a commercial aspect to his art, that he is putting his unique and creative take on something but is in fact making a product, why not your artists? Why not encourage your artists to embrace more of the commercial side of this business and get on some TV shows or something? How could it do anything other than benefit their career?


this is a good question. but i don't know the answer.
i didn't know that about Van Gogh.
i hope Bazan can benefit from his work while he's still alive.
should also be noted that Van Gogh went crazy chasing the money, right?
maybe he would have been happier if he did what he really wanted?
but then we probably would have never heard of him.
ultimately, I want Dave to be able to provide for his family, be a good husband and dad.
we figured out how he can do this by making music he likes... that's a win.
"Your revolution is over. Condolences. The bums lost."

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby andrewswafford » Wed May 15, 2013 2:00 pm

Thanks for the in-depth answer to my question Bob/Undertow. Very informative.

numan_the_son wrote:I'm very interested in the answer to andrewswafford's question.
I always wondered why everything around PTL and DB seem to be intentionally low key PR wise. Perhaps it's a personal choice by Dave, maybe I'm wrong, but that's what I always thought. It seems like there are is a lot of potential buzz left, uh, unbuzzed (music videos, social media, singles, (frequent) reddit Q&A's, "accidental" twitter dick pics, etc).

A Reddit AMA might bring attention, but I can't say for sure.

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Re: Undertow Q & A

Postby sherpa141 » Wed May 15, 2013 4:13 pm

Well, my previous suggestion that Dave post a quirky video cover of "Somebody That I Used to Know" to youtube went unheeded, so, you know, I've kind of washed my hands of things at this point. Wherever his career goes now is his business. I fucking tried. That's all I'm saying. I fucking tried.
Criminals are the people we punish for being a nuisance; artists are the people we reward for being a nuisance; successful businessmen are criminals disguised as artists.

-Adam Phillips


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