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November 6, 2003
DOWNHILL BATTLE: You're the first big independent label to speak out against the RIAA lawsuits and you've been vocal in criticizing the major labels. Why is your label out ahead on this?
GREG: We spoke out because I was sick of the perception that the RIAA represented the opinion of all record labels, and I didn't want to be lumped in with the ones they do. I felt that the RIAA went too far when they decided to sue individuals, and I had to speak up. There are probably other labels that wanted to do something too, who were probably scared or didn't really understand the situation. The truth is that I don't believe downloading is as big a problem as the RIAA claims. The real problem is people burning exact copies of CDs for each other. Simply put, not many people I know have downloaded music, but everyone I know has at least one burned copy of a CD.
DOWNHILL BATTLE: Does the way the major labels operate affect your business?
GREG: Not really, other than they control almost all the avenues of mainstream promotion that exist today, such as radio, television, support slots for bigger tours, etc. It forces labels like Go-Kart to be creative with how we market and promote our bands so that eventually they can steal our good ideas and make them useless to us. (How's that for cynical?)
DOWNHILL BATTLE: How does major label payola work? How does it affect Go-Kart?
GREG: Radio is controlled through payola (known in its modern form as "consultants"), the print media is controlled through quid-pro-quo agreements (advertisements bought in exchange for coverage and vice-versa), retail is controlled by co-op dollars (which also includes in-store play for videos), and they even buy their artists way on to opening slots on tours. In large part, the major labels (as well as indie labels that aspire to be just like the majors) have even co-opted the traditionally "DIY" network and infrastructure that is the backbone of punk rock and independent music as we know it. So, with very few exceptions, the five major labels control the fans' access to new music. No one can control what people download, though! All they can try to do is control the fans' access to downloadable music, or scare them outright.
DOWNHILL BATTLE: Major labels' sales are down 30% in the last three years, and some of the big 5 are scrambling to merge with each other. What's happening with the independent market?
GREG: The bottom hasn't dropped out yet, although it seems close. The major issue the independents face is that three of the biggest independent distributors are actually owned by the majors. Caroline is owned by EMI, RED is owned by Sony and ADA is owned by Time-Warner. Unfortunately, if you want to have your records in the chain stores you have no choice but to deal with those entities. With more and more independent "Mom & Pop" record stores vanishing every year thanks to Best Buy, WalMart, etc.a label needs to have its releases on those stores' shelves or face going out of business. Also, for all the majors' talk about mergers, the future of their independent distributors is not so clear. For instance, if Warner and EMI merge their music departments, where does that leave Caroline and ADA?
DOWNHILL BATTLE: Independent labels sometimes get a reputation as being elitist or pretentious. Go-Kart doesn't seem to have that tone. Is that a conscious decision?
GREG: What? How dare you! You're lucky I am even talking to you. Ummm, actually, I don't think we are smart enough to be elitist or pretentious. Maybe we could be a part of the "hip" scene, especially here in NYC, if our bands could try a little harder to get featured in fashion magazines. We need less good music and more mesh hats and vintage clothes!
DOWNHILL BATTLE: What's the relative importance of record sales, money from concerts, and merchandise for the bands on your label? Are you doing the free mp3 albums as an experiment or is clear that the publicity will help the bands?
GREG: We don't make any money from the bands' live performances, and while we do sell merchandise on our website, it's a small part of our business. We make our money from record sales for the most part. The bands we choose to give away were the bands that were less well known and needed exposure, so we hope that some people like what they hear and buy an album, check out our other releases, etc. Essentially, what we are hoping is that free downloads will start a chain reaction of people who hear the songs and like them, tell their friends, and maybe go see the band. Then maybe the bands' shows will be a little bigger, and we can get them on bigger tours. More people will then see them live and then check out the album, and so on, and so on... or something like that.
DOWNHILL BATTLE: Is music on Go-Kart better than music on the major labels? If yes, is that your personal opinion or is it just better?
GREG: Are you kidding? Have you listened to the crap we put out? Uh, just kidding. To be honest, some of my favorite records were released by majors- for example, the Smiths. The problem with the majors is that they no longer bother developing their bands. They just crank out cookie-cutter replicas of whatever the latest trend is, which is reactive instead of proactive. When they do venture out and sign bands, not "products," they never work with them so that they can grow and build an audience. So, lots of great music released on the majors never gets heard either. Also, to be frank, there are some good people working at the majors as well. The crap, though, constantly overshadows all the worthwhile effort put forth by those people. I think our bands are great, and I hope others do as well, but I realize that most of what we do won't appeal to the masses. Some will, and I hope people get to hear them, but not everything. That's the strength of an independent label, though. We can release a record that we love and know that it won't sell a ton, but according to our economic model, it doesn't have to. Someday maybe everyone will catch up to our taste! Or maybe not.
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