interview from summer tour 2013.
1. First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
i'm a songwriter/musician/performer/engineer.
2. 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?
personally i don't think there is any truth to it. those kind of macro statements are pretty difficult to prove, and where the work is actually getting done, from where i sit, the result would be that an artist or entity will have to find their own way. to say that no one can make money off records and everyone will have to make money off of touring is an invalid statement. it depends on the artist, time in question, and various other factors. in other words, if you directly copy someone else's business model, odds are you will probably go broke.
3. Which alternatives for musicians to earn money through record sales seem most promising and will prevail in the future?
i don't have any answer for that. to me, it boils down to ideas. i'm interested in ideas. it seems to me that the world would be benefitted if musicians would just get busy making things and stop trying to predict the future like that. try it and see, if it doesn't work, try something else.
4. What do you think about DIY (do-it-youself) practices, such as fan-funding?
i'm all for DIY, but it's so cheap to do stuff, why bother someone else with that?
5. What benefits and/or disadvantages have arisen from this distribution method? Would you say this method is a realistic possibility for the future of music distribution?
i don't think anything has really risen that is going to solve any of these issues you bring up. folks are trying different stuff and that's cool, that's what creative folks are supposed to do, take creative approaches to things. i think the best response an artist can have is to make the best music they can make.
6. What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
well i'm a big believer in use. what is something designed for? [in sort of a swedenborgian sense]. if i'm trying to carry 1000 songs with me in as small a place as possible i'm going with mp3. my preferred method is cassette because that's my particular frame of reference. i'm a vinyl fan as well. if you listen to a poor idea on a great sounding format, that isn't going to help you very much. if i listen to a fantastic song made on a warbly four track, for some reason, it still sounds fantastic! which leads me to believe that the crux of the biscuit is the idea, and not the trappings.
7. 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?
i don't really have emotion about it one way or the other. there are some great record stores out there and they seem to be always packed so…there you go. i don't think anything has killed anything. i'm finding all kinds of great new music on vinyl and tape. just like when i was 14. i'm 50 now. so, in a sense, nothing has changed.
8. Do you feel that the abundance of recorded music that is easily available on the internet has led people to place more importance on the live experience as the ‘authentic’ way to hear music?
no i don't. i suppose i'm a bit of a post-structuralist in that it would depend on whom you asked. i don't really think these macro trends "mean" anything other than the simple function they serve. if there is an abundance of easily available recorded music, that just means there is an abundance of easily available recorded music. a=a.
9. In your opinion, to what extent should copyright be enforced? Do you believe that downloading and sharing music, as well as remixing it for non commercial purposes should be illegal?
that's a really good question and i don't know the answer.
i would like to hope that the system will morph to help encourage folks to come up with things. but i wouldn't expect that to happen in a macro sense. i know i have devoted my whole work life basically to making up ideas, researching and developing ideas. i know it takes a long long time for an idea to economically compensate the creator. i know i have seen others take ideas i have developed and make lots of money on them. but i suppose i'm too busy making my next batch of ideas to get to worked up about all that one way or the other.
10. 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?
no i don't. principally because myself and my friends and most anyone that i can think of that is smart or interesting, seems to view records in the complete state. so i don't see this undermining and forgetting as being any reality that i can relate to.
11. How has the internet affected what you do? Would you say it’s made your job easier, or more difficult?
well to me it's just just a medium. like if the post office suddenly started coming to your house on a laser motorcycle seventy times a day, you still have to write the letter. you still have to make good ideas and find good ideas. so i would say, things are pretty much exactly the same as they have always been, we still have to work to find good stuff. one thing that is different, is there is an incredible proliferation of mediocre or half-baked concepts that must be waded through. that's new. but it's still about as hard as ever to find the really good music/ideas. and also, the Mechanism has perfected the art of promoting stupidity as a lifestyle, so that is a quite formidable adversary in terms of good/useful/interesting ideas, but creative people always find creative answers, that's what they are here for.
there's been quite a lot written about the superiority of wave files vs. mp3. there exists a certain collective wisdom bandied about in regard to how great waves are and how terrible mp3s are. here are some things to consider about this comparison.
first off, i grew up listening to 45s, and am radios. my first radio [and i want to get another one of these] was a tiny little transistor that i carried about with me and kept glued to my ear. i believe i was about six. if i remember correctly, it came from a garage sale, and was in a tiny little leather case. am only. and i remember how thrilling it was when a song i liked would come on. at night i could tune in [at that point i lived up in vernon texas where it was very flat and in the middle of the country roughly speaking] and get this amazing "skip" whereby i could catch stations from all over the country. i would lie awake under the covers and listen. the first vinyl record i ever had, i got at a harvest festival or fall festival at the elementary school or something where you pay a quarter and you have a fake fishing pole and someone from behind the curtain puts a little gift on there. i got a 45 of etta james singing you got it, and i need it. strangely it had no b side, if i remember correctly, it was the same cut on both sides. i listened to them both. it was a well worn copy. and my player was a little portable mono table top unit made by ge. the point here is that i suppose in a sense, a contemporary ipod is a higher quality audio playback device than what i had in my initial stages of development. yet, the power of the music as i heard it [and i still consume music in those formats] was enough to launch me on a lifetime commitment to exploring the joys of music. the rudimentary playback system was not an impediment to musical enjoyment.
within reason, the quality of the playback device just isn't that big of a deal. i remember back in the day, there were these hi-fi nerds that would have these big systems and could spout the specs of various units. they typically didn't really care for music as much as they just liked have something expensive that could be lorded over others. 5000 dollars worth of audio gear and four records.
i was paying pretty close attention to music all through the late sixties, seventies, eighties, nineties, and the naughts, and here's something to consider: the music is the thing, not the format so much. people love to make lots of opinions about things they can easily count or quantify. [wether or not a song is any good is hard for folks to quantify, what format it is on, and how many copies it has sold is much easier because there is an assigned number to regurgitate.] people also tend to repeat little opinions [they have heard others say] about things as though it were a proven fact and a big deal.
consider this: it would be possible for me to set up a blind test, of a wave file vs. and mp3 that 99% of the population would not be able to pass. perhaps 100% why? because just because something is a wave doesn't mean it was well recorded. and just because it's an mp3 doesn't mean it necessarily sounds defective. it's very simple.
the way i look at it, formats are like tools. a 9mm socket is really good for certain things. however, it's not good for everything. formats have different uses. my main juke is vinyl and cassette. however, i can get a zillion songs in my ipod and carry that on the plane at a very advantageous power to weight ratio. so what? much like the fact that basically speaking, all music exists for me to enjoy at once in the great database of all that exists [fred van eps to architecture in helsinki], i have various formats at my disposal to take advantage of. what a great time to be a music fan. i'm sorry, none of this killed the music industry or ruined anything.
example: of course that prius isn't going to "run." it's designed to get gas mileage. [i use the word run in the southern hot rod slang meaning to go quickly enough to be a threat at the drag strip.] however, trying to drive that big block v8 to la is going to cost a fortune. things are designed according to use. also, the designer typically wants the use to be fairly obvious, so in verbally stating the use, it's not like you've found another moon orbiting jupiter or something. it's a small leap to say, yes mp3s are a compressed format. but they are really cheap to make and easy to email and they don't take up much space. before they were around folks dreamt of them, and now that they are common, folks complain.
how does the format sound? well it depends. there are quite a few musical styles that make great use of that format [check out alva noto]. certainly if you invest in a decent pair of headphones, that will greatly up the quality.
remember, the point is the music itself. to me, the format is like the shirt the artist has on or the day of the week they were born on. who cares? if i find a piece of music that adds meaning to my life, i'll take it in any format i can get my hands on, and then transfer it to whatever i need. easy.
i've heard so many folks phrase that statement as though every wave sounded better than every mp3 and it's simply not so. it depends.
it's really cool the way you can find these demo versions of some classic old albums. like if you hear marc bolan's acoustic versions of electric warrior. it's interesting to me the concept of negative space in music. my point is that ofttimes you can sort of hear the orchestration in a solo performers head as they play. and that part of the music is shared within your imagination and theirs, at the precise moment. that's pretty magical. through the years i've studied lots of solo performers, and the best ones, seems like to me, you can sort of hear a whole orchestra playing behind them. but the orchestra split and left the music behind. i would just about rather see any performer you can name, play solo. to me, it's a much richer experience. the stones? i'd love to see keith richards with an acoustic guitar just sing and play. slayer? i'd love to see kerry king just talk and play. perhaps in my small brain, it narrows things down and gives me a chance to catch up in some way, i'm not sure. but i really like to play solo, and i like to see the great musicians i admire do the same thing. when i write songs, i tend to demo them as full-fledged productions. probably out of fear that they aren't any good so i want to dress them up as much as i can, so they go boom in the first bar. i was caught a little off guard when my manager called me and asked me to record a version of my new record just solo with me and the banjo. i had already recorded the record twice. once as a demo, once at the village down in LA in a more formal arrangement. who records a record three times? plus, i don't know if you've ever tried to engineer an acoustic record but it's really hard. in my home set-up, i record very processed and lo-fi on purpose. and if someone slams a car door up the street when i have an open condenser mic, i'll sample it and make it into a bass drum hit. so i incorporate ambient noise into my own laboratory work. however with something like this, to try and make an acoustic recording…yikes one can't do that can one? also we have this feature of my work, where sometimes unscrupulous buyers freak out about a guy showing up with a banjo and a laptop or whatever, and employ a bit of the wedding band mentality ["well gee, can i get another horn player for an extra fifty bucks?" music by the pound. quantity.] so i guess i approach solo stuff at all with my tail between my legs as it were. even though, to be frank, it is my preferred method of working because it is the most creative for me. so it was with some stress that i sat down to work. my !@@#$%%^ neighbors have no idea of the crap they put me through on this stuff hahah! like this one family has this hound dog they put out at about 7am. and he does this little bay barking thing every 23 seconds for about the next six hours. again in my laboratory work, i sample him and use him and become disappointed if it's raining and they keep him inside. but for this kind of thing, shucks. it will drive you crazy. plus from an engineering side, if you sit in a chair in a pier and beam house for a period of time, the floor will eventually readjust, causing a very audible bump. also when the sun shines on windows, they make this pop sound as they warm up. so you start hearing all these noises. boom. pop. bark. crack. thump. it's like audio whack-a-mole. then we come to the issue of trying to get a performance. recording is like this. you want to get the primo performance on proverbial tape. so if you sit down to play a song, at first you run through it…and it gets better and better. then it starts getting worse and worse. and sometimes if you sit down, the first run through is badass, and all the subsequent ones are terrible. so you chase that around. also, when i work in my laboratory, i don't watch the shot clock. in other words there's no time element. i can just work until it's right. but in this case we were nearing release date and this thing, if it was to be done had to be done with all due haste. so between the unwanted noises, and the trying to get a good performance, i was pretty stressed. see, rich guys have an engineer help them with this. i drive a 300 dollar pick up truck [though i do have a great motorcycle.] all i could do is what i always do. i just keep working. things get rough? i just work. things get great? i keep working. don't know what to do? i just work. i don't have any other response to any stimulus other than that. all i have is music and when all you have is a hammer the whole world looks like a nail as it is said. so in order to cut down the noise i would work at about 230am. i just got up and started going, though i was afraid. i just worked. and did the best i could. my goal was really to get performances and let scott hull the mastering guy sweat the noise haha. also, in studying music, i've learned there's a real science to what mistakes to leave in. so, i worked on that feature of things…leave the right mistakes in. i just set up with a 55 dynamic for voice and the 313 ribbon on the banjo [both shures] straight into the laptop into ableton [my favorite audio software ever made…well except for max/msp]. unplugged the fridge. gave the dogs chews and put them in the back room, except for skillet she slept curled up on the floor beside me. made a lot of really strong coffee and ate several peanut butter sandwiches. i handed in my work with a bit of worry. not sure if i passed the test or not. i walked away from the tracks and didn't listen and went back out on the road. a few weeks later i got a call from scott and i'm thinking "oh no here it goes, problem city". but he was in a really good mood and seemed like he was juking on it. and we talked a bit, and he goes back to work. so a few days later i get the mastered stuff and i was really happy with it. it turned out really cool, even though i sweated. it's a pretty nice vibe playing around your kitchen table i guess. he really made things pop really good. my thanks goes out to my manager on this. there have been several times, i believe this is number four, where he has said something that i kicked and screamed about, and he turned out to be 100% right. those folks are very valuable to us. i would never have done this without his suggestion. i really appreciate his trip. in the end i'm really pleased with how this turned out. you can kind of hear just the naked ideas of my music, and how all this orchestration is in my head and i can allude to various parts of it throughout the song. also the emotion of the poetry is just right there to pick up on so that's nice. here it is, with the proper mistakes well in place. - danny
Any musician who when given the opportunity to describe his work uses one word—"art"—is someone who not only has a command of the impact of language, but a sense of humor about his ability.
But brevity does not characterize other people's descriptions of Austin, Texas,-based Danny Barnes' talent on the banjo. In the advance publicity of Barnes' album "Pizza Box," musician Dave Matthews said it's his favorite new music, favorite rock record and favorite country record.
"From the first time he sat down and played me 'Road', I knew his next record was going to be great, but I didn't expect this," Matthews stated. "The music is smart and soulful, and the lyrics are profound. It is heaven and earth. It is Americana, from the back porch to the pulpit, shattered dreams on angel's wings. I can't stop listening. In the haze of over-produced, 'perfect' recordings, Danny Barnes spent less than two weeks banging out an album that may well save your soul."
'One' from Danny Barnes' latest release 'Rocket' is currently featured on the Acoustic Café.
The track appears on Segment 5 for the week of 11/14/11-11/20/11 in show #879, alongside Peter Gabriel, Dawes, Bruce Springsteen, Ani Difranco, and Glen Campbell (among others.) View the entire playlist and listen to it from the acafe.com website.
Danny Barnes will be featured on etown.org for two consecutive weeks along with Cake and Eliza Gilkyson.
Show #1146 aires on November 16, 2011 and show #1147 airs on November 23. Be sure to tune in starting next week at this link.