Nov 18, 2016 Niko Vartiainen
Snow is falling on a dark Thursday evening in Helsinki – completely the opposite what it looks like 9 000 kilometres away in Los Angeles. November snow often melts away fast – or it turns into slush – but snow’s nonetheless one of the things Matt Helders, the drummer of Grammy-nominated rock group Arctic Monkeys, is excited about when preparing his trip to Slush Music in Helsinki at the end of November.
Most of all he’s excited about the things he’s going to learn and see at the music technology conference.
“Just going there, I’m sure I’m going to see some jawdropping things that will inspire me,” Helders says while strolling around his yard on a bright, sunny California morning.
Helders is crossing the Arctic to Helsinki with his friends at the creative agency Idean to talk about music technology and industry from a musician’s perspective. Having published five acclaimed albums and won numerous prizes with his band, Helders is certainly someone who’s seen a lot of the industry for a 30-year-old.
On top of that, he’s enthusiastic about the possibilities technology creates for musicians and fans, and seeks to invest in new ideas that would bring about new ways of distributing music.
The biggest ideas Helders finds interesting involve the experience the audience receives when investing in music. Now that physical objects are not as essential in music, especially when talking about pop groups aimed at younger audiences, something else has to come in play.
“You buy a record and you get an experience. Like getting something like augmented reality, or something on your phone. It’s not something for everybody, and you can’t imagine every rock band being into that, but that’s something certain parts of the industry could benefit from,” Helders says.
Still, being a rock musician and being concerned with rock music’s notions of authenticity, Helders finds a combination of the old and the new important.
“Our band will always put out a vinyl, but you can always get a code to download the files as well. It’s a simple thing but I think it’s important. I think the same way about photographs and film. It’s a format I can think of in 50 years and still look at it,” says Helders, a talented photographer in his own right.
And he should know – after all, Arctic Monkeys broke through in 2004–2005, when MySpace was a thing and streaming was only developing. The band was learning internet and social media as things happened, and Helders emphasises that all the internet buzz was fan based.
“We’d just be playing shows and then we’d see people come to a show who knew the words to the songs. And we’d be like ‘How’d this happen? We only burned like 25 CD’s.’ The MySpace – we didn’t even control it, our friends did it.”
They were at the right place at the right time, Helders says. Even only five years earlier getting the right people to notice you was a different sort of work.
”I think then people were doing fanzines and physical things, and I think that’s cool – there’s just a digital version of that now. It’s hard, but it’s a fine line between maintaining integrity as a band and using tech.”
That’s the most important issue in music now, too, as everybody can throw their stuff online and see if it sticks. There’s a lot more of everything, which forces people to try harder.
“I could make a song this afternoon, put it online and people might hear it. It might be terrible, but at the same time, you don’t want it to be. The internet has made people’s access to what you’re doing a lot easier. And that can’t be a bad thing.”
One of the speakers at Slush Music, Helders’ countrywoman Imogen Heap, has founded a company called Mycelia, which promotes the use of blockchain technology to create a more fair future for musicians and to distribute the music directly to the fans, without middle men like record labels.
Technology will definitely alter the music industry in the upcoming years. That will involve record labels too, and while Helders admits they might not be a suitable model for everybody, he’s happy to be with Domino Records because “they have good opinions and are helpful”.
The bottom line for artists is to get people to see and hear what they’re doing. The dilemma is to have a sustainable way of getting the music out, because artists still need to find ways to make money.
“You just don’t have to be greedy about it. You can be fair about it.”
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