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Moby: Now and Then

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I really like Moby as an artist and dude: he may be a geek, but he’s a cool and sincere one. He’s also very intelligent and talented, and he’s been around. I was very sorry to hear he was assaulted Wednesday night in Boston – quoting his site:

    Curious, Why?
    12/12/2002 – Boston

    brief update…
    we played a concert tonight at a small club in boston, the paradise club. and after the show i went outside to get into my car. and there were a few people waiting for autographs, so as usual i stopped to sign a few things.
    and then all of a sudden i was attacked by (i believe) 3 men with mace.
    they punched me from behind and i really had no idea what was going on.
    i assumed that a bar-fight had spilled out of the bar and that somehow i had gotten caught in the middle of it.
    but no. after being punched in the head from behind a few times i turned around to see what was going on and one of them punched me in the face a couple of times and then they all ran away.
    so now i’m sitting here bloody and beaten up and waiting to file a police report.
    the assault could’ve been a lot worse. but i’m very curious as to why 3 men would coordinate an attack on me? you know, 3 against 1? and the’one’ in question is me, hardly the most physically threatening person in the world. so if one or more of the people who attacked me tonight happen to be reading this, i’d be really curious to know why you attacked me.
    you could anonymously sign on to the boards and describe the attack from your perspective. i’m honestly very curious.
    and if anyone sees me in the next couple of weeks and i have some big bruises or stitches on my face, well at least you know why.
    thanks.
    moby

Maybe they were friends of Eminem. Asshole pussy fuckheads – wish I’d been there. It took three of you limpwads to beat up on a pacifist vegan who weighs about 40 lbs?? AND you attacked him from behind? You are manly men indeed – how much Viagra and Ripple did it take to get up for that assault? You will get yours, I am certain. Once again: you are pussies, cowards, eunuch scum of the lowest kind. Eat shit and die.

I interviewed Moby almost exactly ten years ago for my Networking In the Music Industry (Rockpress, 1993) book. He was already America’s biggest techno star. Now he’s one of America’s biggest music stars. And he’s cool – I hope you are well soon.

    Moby, New York (January, 1993)

    Briefly discuss your career please.

    I studied music for a long time. I spent a good many years in my own bedroom studio just making music for my friends. I always hoped to make records, but I saw that as sort-of a pipe dream. I was a DJ also. I think that it is really difficult to get into dance music unless you have at least some background as a DJ. I won’t say that it is impossible, but being a DJ helps an awful lot; it gives you a sensitivity to dance music, and also exposes you to new things.

    Career-wise, whatever success that I have had has been a result of the two classics: hard work and luck. I was very persistent. I worked hard for a long time and I took tapes around to lots of people. Eventually there was a small label in NY called Instinct Records who, at the time of my signing, hadn’t even put out a record yet, and didn’t even have an office. It was an idea of a record company. I signed a pretty bad contract. The first bit of advice that I would give is that before signing a contract, spend the money, even borrow it, to get a good lawyer. It saves you tons of headaches in the long run.

    Why was your contract bad?

    I got a very bad royalty rate. The contract was for too long a period of time. The things to look for are a high royalty rate, and a short term contract – the shorter the better – especially with an indie label. Don’t give away your publishing. Don’t give away your merchandising. There shouldn’t be that much recoupable. There are certain things that the record company will charge you back for, and in my contract there are a lot of things that are recoupable, but shouldn’t be. I’m getting charged-back for things that if I had had a good lawyer, I wouldn’t be getting charged back with. The other thing is, if you have never signed a contract before, when you are presented with a recording contract, they are going to take advantage of the fact that they know you are desperate to sign. Don’t let on that you are desperate. Be patient. If one company is interested, you can be almost guaranteed that another company will be interested. Don’t worry about alienating the people who have presented you with a contract. They might try to make you feel guilty, or try to steamroll you into signing quickly. Don’t let them put that kind of pressure on you. Rushing into a contract is always a mistake.

    Why are you the most successful American techno artist?

    I first started making records long before there was any interest in techno music in the US (apart from maybe N.Y. and L.A.), so I never expected to sell these records. The first single that started to do well was “Go”, which was the second-or-third single that I put out. It just built and built and built. I originally expected it to sell maybe 3,000 copies, and now the single itself has sold about 200,000 copies worldwide. It has also been licensed to compilations. Altogether it has probably sold close to a million. That’s an awful lot more than I expected. A lot of the sales came from being in the right place at the right time. I had a really high-profile techno record just as people all over the world became interested, en-masse, in techno. One of the other things that helped me was that I was a face and a personality. I did interviews and played live and did all of the standard promotional things that help to establish artists, but that most techno artists don’t bother to do.

    I was out in the marketplace. I DJ’d a lot. I got a few lucky breaks. It can be very difficult to get a DJ job in NY city. It’s more about personalities than it is about talent. At least that’s the way it was four years ago; maybe it’s changed a little since then. You can’t expect people to know who you are or what you’re doing if you don’t present yourself to them. It can be very frustrating because in the early stages of a career record companies, and managers, and agents, etc., don’t want to know about unknown artists. They want someone else to do their legwork for them. Therefore, you have to be determined, and be prepared for a lot of humiliation. You also have to keep in mind that the music that you are making now isn’t nearly as good as the music that you will be making two-or-three years from now. If people aren’t too interested in your music, it doesn’t mean that you are no good, or that you shouldn’t keep trying. You always have to keep trying to get better. Don’t ever get self-satisfied. A musician’s goal should be to always make better music and to develop his craft.

    What are the differences between making techno and making traditional rock music?

    The traditional method of making a record is that you get a band together; you write a song; you rehearse it; you get it to the point where you are happy with it; you go into the studio with it where they put mikes in front of everything, and they record you. The difference with techno is that the studio is the instrument in many ways. With techno, or with dance music in general, you develop the music in the studio. You don’t develop it in the basement somewhere and then bring it to the studio. Dance music is studio-based music. It’s all sequenced and computer-generated. The musician will play a part and then record it on a computer. The computer then plays it back and you play other parts over it.

    As far as the tools of the trade, the most important piece of equipment for making a techno record is the sampler. Second to that is probably a good synthesizer. A drum-machine can help, but if you have a sampler, you don’t really need a drum-machine. Then there are some groovy little things that people like to have around, like all of the old Roland stuff from around 1979-1983, like the 909 the 303, the Jupiter 6, the 106, the 808.

    How have you used networking?

    There are tons of networks, or systems out there, and the key to success is to avail yourself of those systems instead of trying to do it all by yourself. If you are a band, find a good booking agent because a booking agencies’ expertise is setting up shows. You can go around to the clubs or call, but first of all, a club owner isn’t going to take you seriously unless you have a popular record, or unless you are well known. Part of becoming successful is delegating responsibility: having a manager who oversees things and gives you advice, having a booking agent who sets up tours, having a record company where their specialty is putting out records, having a publicity person whose job it is to get you interviews. You could try to do it all yourself, and I know lots of people who do, but invariably they fail.

    To illustrate, lets harken back to the days when I was in a punk band. I put out a 7″ single with my first-ever punk band. We pressed it ourselves, and did the art work ourselves. It sold maybe 300 copies. Whatever success it had was a result of plugging it into systems: like sending it to magazines, whatever. Here we were trying to be a record company, write new music, set up shows, etc., etc.. We tried to do it all ourselves and we failed. The reason that I am where I am now, wherever that is, is because I have learned to use systems. If I want to do a show somewhere, it is very easy for me to set that in motion by calling someone. It’s a five-minute conversation; I tell them what work I need done.

    Another example: before I had a manager, I was trying to negotiate remix fees, set up tours, check up on the record company, trying to do it all myself. I did it very poorly. Once I got a manager who was expert at it my remix fees doubled, the production aspects of my live performances got ten-times better, the shows became better, everything got a lot easier because it was all about getting experts to do the work that experts do. A musician’s job, ultimately, is to make music, and to develop at that level. Most musicians aren’t qualified to do much more than that.

    How do you select those experts?

    The first thing to do is to ask around. If you need a manager, start by asking people who are in similar genres whom they recommend. Word of mouth is the most reliable source. That’s where networking comes in: in finding out who is the best at what job. It doesn’t always prove true because there are always going to be people who are unknown who are going to be great at a job. The best managers are often people who weren’t managers when they started working with a band. But asking around is still the most reliable source of information. Avail yourself of the experience that other people have had, the mistakes that they have made, and the success that they have had. If someone tells you, “I was with that agency or that and they didn’t pay any attention to me,” then for the most part you can probably stay away from that company. The next step is to meet with people and go with your instincts.

    The most important thing to do whenever you are entering into any kind of relationship is to limit the amount of damage that it can do to you. That should be the title of your book. Write that down on the opening page: if you start a relationship with a booking agency, don’t sign an exclusive agreement with them right away. I learned from my record deal. I’ve been through in one year: three or four different managers. The first two managers were very eager for me to sign a management contract, and if I had, I would be stuck with them. I’m very grateful that I’m not, because a month into each one I knew that it wasn’t going to work. I’ve held out when it comes to booking agencies and I’m still in the process of finding the best agency to work with.

    Be patient. Patience can be financially rewarding, too, especially with publishing. If you are a fledging artist, a lot of people will come to you for your publishing. They will make you ridiculously low offers; which might seem like high offers if you have been working a nine-to-five job making $350 per week, and suddenly someone comes to you and offers you $5,000 for your publishing, and you retain 40% for five years. You may think, “Wow ! $5,000 for my publishing.” Well, the truth is that once you’ve had an even reasonably successful record, you can ask for $200,000 for your publishing and retain 75%. So, patience pays off.

    Another important point to remember is to always question people’s motivation. What do they stand to gain from their association with you? If someone is giving you advice and that advice stands to benefit them: question it. The advice still may be good, but you can’t accept it blindly.

    What are the benefits of indies versus major labels?

    There is nothing wrong with starting with an indie. A majority of the success stories in the business seem to be bands that started out with indies. A small label is usually a lot more aggressive and will work harder at developing you than a big label. Big labels are really good at selling records and generating art work: all of the big things. But they are not really good at developing careers. A small label will be more on the street and work more intensely with you. I advise you to go with an indie, but limit their ability to control your career.

    Go with an indie for two albums, or go with an indie for a year-or-two. My deal was a five-year singles deal. I have to deliver two-or-three singles every year. Other than maybe in hip hop, indies are farm teams for the majors, and the way that they make money is through overrides. When they sign one of their artists to a major, they get a huge chunk of money to relinquish the rights to their contract. That’s how they stay afloat. That is why it is really important that you limit the term of your contract; because say that a major pays your indie label $200,000 to relinquish your contract. That money is ultimately recoupable from your future sales. That money comes directly out of your pocket.

    There are a lot of shrewd businessmen out there who will take advantage of you and not even necessarily think of it as that. Don’t trust anyone until they have earned your trust. It’s a horrible thing to say but don’t give anyone the benefit of the doubt, at least where your career is concerned.

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About Eric Olsen