Interview with Kristopher Battilana by Dave Wolff
I recently noticed a post on your Facebook profile describing an experience with companies who exploit artists and calling for the formation of a non for profit music review and charting group. Can you elaborate on this some more?
Basically, I'm at a point where I'm feeling very disheartened, pay to win is kinda hated in every industry and it seems rife throughout this industry worse than others. What an independent artist would "pay" for scam services because they don’t know better would never be earned back in the streaming revenue, or probably not even from exposure from the said chart. For instance, the service that emailed me was asking $199 USD... that's a lot of money for an artwork that essentially doesn't pay the artist back. If anything, some of the parole-style services can actually get the artist punished and their music deleted, so I also believe the policies and punishment is directed at the wrong recipients also. That said, I have never paid for any of these services... luckily I was warned before I did.
To elaborate further, I did call for independent not-for-profit charting and promotion services. And I know these do exist, but what I notice, is the only people paying any attention to this are the artists who nominate themselves... I'm really feeling stumped as to how to get the public interested in independence as opposed to the daily radio repeats... we need a way to force-feed them as that's how they function.
Do you think that openly discussing these companies and their methods of charging is making a difference with bands who don’t want to pay to be heard?
I think discussing anything in an open forum will always make a difference in building awareness. It is an ever-changing industry with new technologies and new Web platforms, and obviously, companies will evolve in order to retain profits in a new environment.
I'm unsure about other places, but local people here listen to about two radio stations. Then if we look. at their Spotify library, it is much the same... as they don't know anything else, it's not put before them.
I think artists are doing all they can, I think the streaming services are awesome in that they provide a platform on which to be heard.
I feel we need to change the listening habits of the public. Commercial radio and television had alluded that it has the "goods", it's good stagecraft to create an illusion, stagecraft is their trade, and they sell the illusion that they have the goods. So people listen. They're rewarded with mutual content to talk about.
Maybe the reason these charging services exist is that the web is slowly replacing major labels and larger companies have to compensate for more revenue?
I love underground indie music, and perhaps it's naive and counterintuitive to want underground music to be more known... I guess that would make it not underground.
Also, it could be my location/geography, here in Geraldton it is not densely populated, the music industry is quiet and small, and there are rarely any big rock shows or festivals here, so there is less opportunity all around for indie artists.
Being quite a busy person with children, a full-time job, and single, and trying to pursue a few musical projects, I find I’m limited on time and money to do much promotion. I believe any platform allowing small artists to upload for free is definitely helping the artists... but I think underground music needs more support in the mainstream. Even one song a day on commercial radio would be better than how it is here at the moment. I heard INXS six times in 24 hours the other day.... that's five slots for Indies. I think the listening habits need to change, and I think they are, but I also think it’s a given that companies with try to retain profits in a new environment, and that is expected.
What of the streaming services on the net where bands can upload their work without additional cost to them? How much are those outlets helping independent artists make a name?
Nothing is ever free, a painter still needs to buy paint use tools and time, and pay for gallery space. But galleries are physical places and the art is in front of the eyes. Music is a little different. I've even considered some kinda flea market stand where collaborating of Indies all have their merchandise and a listening station like in the old-school cd stores. Was gonna call it Music Finder. And hit as many flea markets as possible with physical products and public steaming of the music so people interested In buying local cottage industry goods will remember that music is also local independent "produce" that's good for your soul and community and should be supported. The problem I think isn't actually the payola services, it's more that there doesn't appear to be any other ways to get seen heard or charted. Me and my friends used to spend much of our teen years in cd stores listening to new music with the intention of finding something to buy. This culture is lost. I'm unsure if it's a scam or not, there are a bunch of Spotify playlists that claim they are playing the music in cafes under a commercial license... the cafes pay a fee and have access to hours of music... These lists get heaps of streams, if it's true it's good and this sort of thing might help a lot. But the word in the chat forums is that they are a scam and they're bot streams... perhaps even some type of ombudsman service to weed out the scam services would be beneficial... though again... someone would want payment for that service.
Concerning whether a band is “not underground” anymore if they achieve mainstream success, maybe that’s oversimplifying it a little. A band breaking aboveground isn’t selling out any more than a band is forsaking success if they stay closer to the grassroots. It depends on each band and where their heads are at. Some bands stay humble and respectful to the fans who helped put them aboveground, while others develop big heads and become marketing tools.
Some bands remain underground, and some start making headway and “sell out” becoming, like you say, marketing tools for Adidas slippers, and hair products. Some change motives and others stay close to their roots and still become successful, and the formula of doing that is elusive... for instance Tool and Maynard are IMO a large successful underground act that just does themselves. They ain't selling soda pop with the music.
I think maybe some artists do not even notice their conversion, as we naturally gravitate towards what makes us feel good, and suddenly selling streams or records or shirts would feel good. So naturally one might slip down that path of “sell out” should it become available... and that is not dishonest, that is capitalizing on your time on earth. Why not?
One of my favourite artists I do follow I believe has totally manipulated the independent scene and became his own brand despite record companies. I find Devin Townsend to be extremely motivational in that respect.
Also names like Nick Cave who has remained underground and obscure but still pops up in the mainstream in songs with kylie Minogue etc.
I find the artists that successfully do this have a very dynamic style to begin with. And don't need to change a sound or motivation, and success falls into both categories, in mainstream and underground. Now I question myself... how did they do it?
I would love to be able to continue an "underground" music career but see success on this level... perhaps it takes genius and hard work.
I think it takes honesty self and confidence in your product despite numbers.
What I find is the misconception of the public that the “underground” is a small scene with lower quality. But it's actually a larger scene with more diverse sounds.
I admit it’s very tongue in cheek to diss the mainstream, as we artists all know a small break in the mainstream could make our career, and the opportunity of that I doubt would be cast aside by any aspiring artist.
I guess maybe that's how Devy felt when Steve Vai hired him. From underground to world-class tours almost overnight. I don't dislike mainstream, and I don't think bands really “sell out” as opposed to purely pursuing success in a short life.
My complaint with mainstream coverage is they do not support the grassroots that feed them.
The majority of metal festivals are run by fans or indie labels, helping to establish underground scenes as self-sustaining without mainstream backing. Do you have chances to attend any, and how do you think they help indie bands?
There is very little in the way of metal festivals here. Perth gets a few but most don't come here anymore as we're isolated, and it seems our state makes organizers jump through flaming hoops, it's easier for them to abandon Perth as I think they see it as only costly to come here. Locally we have a small organization called Midwest sounds, they offer a meeting point for artists, some workshops and open stage nights, plus they back a few things like the battle of the bands and Sunday sounds, which is open-air live music every week. But that doesn't really accommodate heavy music. That's about all we have. Then it's cover bands at about two pubs. Battle of the bands does support heavy music and the judges this year did vote a heavy act to win... I did not enter. They do help indie bands here get some local exposure in our small market.
In addition to streaming services and underground metal fests, what would help indie artists make a name and exert more control over their own work?
I don't think indie artists lack any control over their work as it is. But what could provide them more? I still like my idea of a franchised flea market-style setup, with a listening station. Demo stock and a shop site for people to order from. It'd need to be set up in multiple market zones in every city. Operated by the musicians... we could showcase unplugged music, have listening stations and the band's products/QR codes that link to shop sites, Bandcamps etc. I don’t really know the business side of a franchise... but I think the lack of CD/record stores has become a problem, the franchises that are here like Sanity for instance stock top 50 and then just DVDs and Blurays. That's all we have here. I feel streaming is a very disconnected passive way to listen. I think it’s not the industry that is broken, I think it's people's listening habits, but it's up to the industry to fix that problem.
Describe the projects you are working on and how they benefit independent music. When one of your projects releases something, how much distribution do you usually have?
I've been developing a solo sound over the years, as I spend depression time playing guitar and recording originals mainly to vent and decipher feelings. Much of this music is the result of processing a massive trauma in my life in which I was hacked to death by an assailant wielding two massive knives. So the music comes out very raw emotionally and doesn't really adhere to any one style, yet I feel my individual fingerprint is noticeable.
Also through networking with other artists and collaborating on our artist playlists etc I did meet a guy from Brazil [Gustavo Camargo]. He liked my voice and asked if I'd sing a death metal song for him. So I did. We ended up making six songs and released a five-track EP called “Abysmal Dimension
”. We have three more songs in that project, music is written, lyrical concept developing... it's about a man in purgatory building the house he is murdered in. This might change. Bit dark eh.
I also run a small playlisting group called Underconstruction Playlists. There I make new lists about every two months, I don’t make lists with things I like, I scour the internet for submissions based on genre, we fill a list with unknown music then we share the list around, listen to each other’s songs etc. The group page is a place for people to share their music and videos, ask for presaves etc... It is predominantly focused on any style of rock music through to very heavy.
It helps us all a little, and through it both me and I'm sure others have made a few useful contacts. For instance, a member of the group contacted me last week to ask if I'd record a cover for a tribute album. “Definitely!” We have a few ways to legitimately boost our algorithms without cheating with bots etc.
Another idea of mine in the group was a Youtube feeder, where we all feed each other’s names into the Youtube search engine to help with our Youtube algorithm, as playing from links is not as effective as playing and subscribing from a search, so I've researched.
That said it's only small algorithm boosting, it might get our music shown to a few more people but my reach is not very wide... but it is free and a good place to network. Perhaps it's growing. Another project we are slowly getting off the ground is like a blues rock band called “6530”. It's made of me, my uncle and whoever the hell else is around who wants to Jump in. We're trying to build a local network of jamming artists. We want to do regular shows where we all play each other’s music as a jamming band. If someone away at work or not available there will be another person to jump in... So it's a big transient band playing a shipload of original local music. It's a work in progress, there have been a few jams so far. And some original music is already made just not distributed yet.
The 6530 project is really my uncle’s thing. The way that works is we want a bunch of musicians just all to jam each other’s originals at local homes of all these bands' places etc... like BBQ gigs. Playing all and anyone's music... called 6530.
Anyways then as we line up actual venue gigs and industry shit... a fuckload of us already rehearsed in it so whoever is an can do it that night will do it. As the problem here is getting the whole band available at the same time... So we will clone ourselves haha.
I only use Distrokid... I have not looked further into this... in all honesty, I've only been digging through this indie music industry for three years... I'm totally overwhelmed and have a lot to learn. And will happily take on any advice from those more experienced.
Is Underconstruction Playlists an outlet where you can contact artists for submissions or do you choose everything to playlist by searches? How often can you connect with other artists there?
Yeah, it's all via submissions, I hit a few Facebook groups when I build. I find and judge people's music. It's first is first served as long as the genre is loosely accurate. Each list has a chat group so artists can communicate/collaborate, share, follow, and request updated songs etc.
A question I often ask bands in interviews: Has underground music in general reached its limit of creativity or is there still room for experimentation and more ground to cover? What are your projects doing to expand boundaries and what bands have you heard of who do the same?
I don’t think any music has reached a limit of creativity. To say creativity has a limit would render the concept of creation irrelevant.
Instruments are constantly evolving, like the Sustainiac pickups for instance adds a small different element to guitar playing... style comparisons can be made and there is a lot of ground being ‘re’travelled, I guess that results in the honing of styles and genres.
I think my project; “The Raven & The Robot”, is an example of uniqueness and the new ground covered, as I've not seen a project trying to achieve what this one does. And I want to try this again yet on a bigger scale
“The Raven &.The Robot” is like a digital storybook. Best viewed on Youtube, it is broken into eight core parts plus a few extra pieces of music/versions at the end. It is a story that uses both lyric AND text literature AND conceptual AI art. The videos consist of AI art depicting characters and events in the story, alongside the art the videos also have both lyrics and an actual fictional text story. It follows a chronological order of events, it combines the storytelling elements of novels, with the storytelling methods of music, with this all depicted in animated AI artworks... it was a shipload of work to achieve as one person, and it is getting great reactions. One reviewer said he's “never reviewed anything like this before” and he really did like it, So I believe if I can create something unique and new, then there is definitely room for more.
Other bands breaking new grounds of creativity... that's difficult for me right now to answer, racking my brain. I liked that Mongolian outfit that mixed traditional instruments with some very awesome metal, their name escapes me at this moment. I always to go back to Devin Townsend, perhaps it's considered old now, but Ziltoid with the Web episodes and puppet shows in a comical rock metal opera style... I think was very unique and unlike much else, we can find. Also, his album Empath combines so many styles seamlessly.
Music to me I see as organic, like the world it grows and dies and resprouts, each reformation of a nostalgic style brings new resistances and new strengths and maybe new vulnerabilities created by its environment. I wholeheartedly believe creativity cannot reach a limit, it is always organically evolving. Though even after saying this I scratch my head to think of band names being so innovatively creative...
For the last three days, I've been unable to stop streaming the new album by the Australian band “The Poor”. Now people might say it's nothing new, hard rock with guitar solos... omg this album is freaking great, and yesterday as listening I realized it could be regarded as a Revolution album, and when viewed that way it really does give goosebumps. When was the last GOOD Revolution album? I think the guitar work in it is second to none and should be noted as an innovation of modern hard rock. I don't think an album will top this for me in 2023.
Another Aussie Cassidy Paris, people may say it's not an innovation in music as it’s a traditional hard rock format, but I think not, I think she's making classic hard rock cool for young girls, where it's lately been a genre for middle-aged men. I see many pop elements in it, perhaps showing Cassidy's young age, so I am very interested to watch her develop. She's great.
Way off the genre. One of my favourites on the entire planet at the moment is “Look Mum No Computer”. Essentially this guy does not use computers to create. He is an amazing sound technician, synth “designer”? And I believe his work will NOT be forgotten. This guy is a freakin awesome and a wealth of knowledge.
I guess a simpler shorter answer would be, I think there's “is” a lot of innovation and originality throughout the indie and underground scenes... Check out the Underconstruction playlists as a bunch of examples.
How much of your material was conceptualized and composed in solitude, and how has this helped your originality? How much more ground do you think can be covered in underground/independent music?
Probably 90% of it is done in solitude. I do work more proficiently alone. Though am trying to get better at working with others. I think my name is on about eighty songs and I think only eight of them are collaborations. Mainly due to a busy life, things get written in the darkest hours of the night. For instance, I found myself awake at 2.30am yesterday, so instead of rolling back to sleep I got up and played the dulcimer guitar. And then mixed and did the final master of our first collaborative of my uncles and my new single before sunrise.
Most of the ideas come when I'm working. Painting is labour-intensive but leaves a great time for the idle mind to conceptualize. And essentially since the trauma of surviving murder, I've become very much a hermit after work hours... it's difficult to want to associate with people socially these days. I rather wind down alone with my instruments. I usually play as therapy and sometimes a song forms.
I think this has helped my originality flourish, yet I have always had a wandering mind, even as a child I did think differently from my peers. So even if surrounded by people I still feel very alone... not practicing covers I also believe has helped with developing originality, although definitely slowed the learning process. Also, the injuries in the fretting hand, having two immobile fingers because they were chopped off, has forced me to develop my own style of playing... a lot of the “guitar wank methods” I simply don't have the dexterity for, so I work around that, and my soloing is developing its own style also I think.
I believe underground music covers a lot of ground. I don't think we've seen it all yet, I believe there is more greatness to come, the best thing about covering new ground is we don't know what bit looks like until we are there. But I have a feeling underground music is on the brink of bigger things, the digital world has changed the market and I think it’s primed for Indies and underground at the moment.
Who are the musicians you have been working with, say in the past year or so?
Being someone who suffers from PTSD and a low level of social anxiety, I find it very difficult to work with others. I’m emotionally driven and sometimes a bit raw. This causes me to hermitize myself a lot. But forcing myself to work with others out of my comfort zone has proven to evolve music and skill. My first collaboration was one year ago.
GUSTAVO CAMARGO of the band Mortal Ways out of Brazil approached me via social media asking me.to put vocals on one of his songs. We released a full ep that year, and are working on another right now. MEJA ALDRICH a local woman I met whilst painting (day jobs) I got to sing in a few songs here and there, mainly on the song “For The Realm”. Meja was previously not appearing in any recordings and has experience through choir-style singing. That song also featured the harmonizing voices of Hans Peter Kaggerud
and his daughter Lilja Kaggerud
. Both are from Norway. And again Gustavo Camargo does guitar solo on it. Also I have an old family friend Desmond Shiosaki from the duo Shakbats playing a bit of lead on the song “Take Me To Your Post Apocalypse
Also the loveliest positive soul I’ve ever been graced to know; Ashe Burns has performed crystal singing bowls for two pieces of music, the ambient track “The Mechanic” plus a meditation piece called “My Dharma”. And we plan to make more material along these lines as a new yet-to-be-named project.
Other than those official appearances and collabs I jam with a bunch of families, my uncle Kevin, Shiosaki, and my father Maurice sing on the Shakbats material. And at times others come and go, these jam sessions are what is going to become the 6530 collaborations that will encompass all the musicians in our postcode 6530, should they want to be part of it.
Underground music first broke into the mainstream around the late eighties and early nineties, a time when people said it wouldn’t last. Since then it’s been easier for bands to be heard aboveground. If this should be compounded again, will it be good or bad for free creative expression?
I think getting the underground heard is only a good thing. One cannot deny the motivation provided by recognition, and without recognition one cannot measure how much great independent music becomes abandoned. I think it cannot take from free creative expression; l think exposure and recognition could only inspire and reinforce undergrounds creative prowess which I feel feeds its originality to the evolution of mainstream. I’d like to see the lines blurred.
It was change when Cannibal Corpse and Cradle of Filth reached mainstream markets. This opened the public to cutting-edge bands like Sigh (Japan), Arcturus (Norway), Hail Spirit Noir (Greece), and Oranssi Pazuzu (Finland). Have you seen bands who choose how to leave their comfort zones find new directions rather than rehashing ground? How much do you see those lines being blurred?
I always wonder how these bands like Cannibal and Cradle, being so obscure styles and underground culture, made that step into mainstream exposure? Was it the shock value of the art and subject matter? Was it just the style at that time that seemed to work... or was it a mainstream PR campaign that told the world to listen? There’s always one or two underground sounds that seem to acquire the Golden Fleece.
In terms of examples of outfits I’ve seen that have found new directions, apart from those previously mentioned?.. I’ll admit I’m a little stumped and need to think... Ghost is a band that I feel is of the underground, yet they are making some mainstream success, and I feel their direction has gone from psychedelic to a bit more of a “nwocr” sound, (or that’s what I took from the last release).
Where I live the line is distinct, there is no community radio that actually supports local music, there is no podcasters giving local music a reputation, or indie labels pushing local music to the radios and events. So from my perspective, there is a distinct hard line still prominent. Indie music or underground music or grassroots music is absolutely ignored in my geographic location.
Now in history, I think it’s been up to the artists to make the movement. For instance, I’ve only read about the early punk movement in the UK, the times of Sex Pistols and Generation X, and all of that, and the grunge movement out of Seattle seemed to be a snowball effect created by a bunch of artists. And obviously, that gained the attention of many a journalist.
Hence the “yet to be firmly named” 6530 project... To sign and distribute his music, I am currently in the process of opening a small local indie distribution label to sign it and other local underground music. This and 6530 are part of us trying to emulate one of these music revolutions at least for our local scene.
Give us some more details about the label and distributor you plan to open. What bands and projects in addition to yours will you be supporting through it, and what will your requirements for signing be, if any?
Essentially I first realized making a distribution label was probably beneficial for myself, as I’m already using the two available artist slots on my Distrokid distribution. Already we plan to release an ambient project with Ashe Burns, and the 6530 collaborations will need distribution. Instead of each artist needing a separate distro for one song (as most of these artists are not distributed yet) we can get them all on the label as and save perhaps hundreds in signup fees. So it’s mainly for my collaborations to begin with. I’m still researching what it takes to be a “good” indie label. And do want to expand it to other artists.
Early days and it really only has an art concept so far, I’m unsure of the prerequisites yet to join. An albums work of material would be a good start, and I think I’ll offer custom deals to suit the artists' budgets, i.e. free signup but a small split paid to the label, or signup fee nonsplits, plus a few services I’d add on like custom lyric video creation and art creation (unlike the cloned templates we all get from Distrokid). It’s not going to be genre specific, but I do want to concentrate on the rock genre as it feels more credible and real to promote what I like and have a little knowledge of. My dreams are always big and when I look at them I see I create a lot of work! Haha.
Where are you turning to for research on running a label and distro? Are you likewise researching promotion and advertising to push your work?
I am so far just observing other labels and will use good old google, and basically try to pick the brains of any others that may have advice or experience. I saw a short the other day that said education can be free if you know how to research. Though time is always a constraint... Right now I have no new solo material in the DAW, I do have a few inspirations for new music just nothing recorded yet.
There is a handful of new Abysmal Dimension songs and concepts, I just need to order my vocal zone tea and get to writing the words. That stuff is great for protecting the tubes when belting out death vocal... I hope that’s out before the end of the year. Also, there may be a cover made for an upcoming tribute album. But I can’t say too much about that.
All of my own music I hope is an example of not compromising the self, and I hope it’s no different moving forward. I’ve never written with the aim to please a scene or adhere to a genre. And I hope a little success in my camp provides an example that music can still be honest and successful, it’s not necessary to compromise the self.
I’ve looked into some artist promotions previously, and in honesty, it is difficult to pick the real methods and promoters vs the scam and bot stuff. One or two bad experiences with playlisting websites and freelance promotion have made me step back for now and try a new route. As it all seeks costly or ineffective. I think running some social media ads over Instagram and Facebook will be cool, a local zine/rag would be cool. At this point, it’s still only an art concept and feels a little like a pipe dream still. I need to build a social media presence, and an actual website, and get something to promote. Over the next few weeks, I think this will be more grown up. I do believe the label will be official this week with a little music on it. I’ll keep you posted.
Are you working on new material for your current projects or a few new projects? In what ways will future releases serve as an example for artists to express themselves and speak to listeners on that level rather than compromise themselves?
The future 6530 collaborations and jams are directed at allowing other local musicians to explore and hone their music in a live situation, hopefully providing a bunch of musicians to play "their" and "your" songs, and rehearse them, allowing the artist to hopefully reach levels they couldn’t reach alone. In 6530 we hope to be a network of original musicians, but not only players; the network of people would provide grassroots style support like private venue gigs, recording and production opportunities, and I hope to provide not only jamming space but also green screen and film/photography space. Plus offering distribution through the label, I’d hope it’s a one stop shop for indies to find artists, space, production, and distribution, all allowing them freedom in their creativity and showing them there is support. Hopefully provoking non compromising art.