DIGITAL HERO(ES) The Future Of Music Coalition Summit & Damian Kulash

 

“The goal is to chase
the creative muse”: OK Go frontman speaks about net neutrality and more at the
recent gathering in D.C.

 

BY ROBERT FULTON

 

The 10th Annual
Future of Music Coalition’s Policy Summit
wrapped up in Washington, DC,
last Tuesday (it ran Oct. 3-5; official website here) with some insight from OK
Go front man Damian Kulash on net neutrality and the changing landscape of the
music industry. In conversation with Neda Ulaby of NPR in Lohrfink Auditorium
on the campus of Georgetown University,
Kulash discussed net neutrality, the role of “gatekeepers,” and his band’s
inventive videos.

 

“It specifically means the possibility of innovation, such
as more interesting things will happen in the future than [if] we make stuff
and giant gatekeepers get to tell us what will be successful and how we get
paid,” Kulash said, in explaining net neutrality.

 

Net neutrality – the support of no restrictions to accessing
on-line content – is a passion of Kulash’s. The proponent has written op-eds for both the New York Times and the Washington Post advocating net neutrality,
and has testified before Congress on the subject.

 

“I don’t think we need to have a system in which the
distributors themselves have all the power,” said Kulash, 35, during the
discussion at the FMC summit. He added that attitudes about music as a product
have evolved. Whereas everything once revolved around selling a song or album –
from touring to radio play to promotional videos – that is no longer the case.

 

“As everyone knows, people don’t really pay for recordings
any more, so the one thing in the music industry that has completely imploded
is the one thing they append value to,” he said, stressing that multiple
revenue streams are key to an artist’s survival. “As far as I can tell, most of
the discussion around the future of the music industry and the handling of how
we’re going to find money comes from the basic problem that we want to keep
finding a singular source of value, and it would be really convenient if it
still was the recording.”

 

***

 

OK Go formed in the
late ’90s,
and released its first, self-titled, album in 2002, and followed
that up with 2006’s Oh No. While OK
Go enjoyed moderate success with its first two albums, the band received
critical and public acclaimed for its inventive videos. What is commonly
referred to as “the treadmill video” for the song “Here it Goes Again” is the
most well-known of the band’s video-making prowess. The band continues to
create music videos, and in keeping with current trends, Kulash mentioned a new
3D video the band will be releasing.

 

Growing up in D.C., advocacy was always a common thing to
Kulash.

 

“Everything was cultural and political and musical and I
didn’t recognize the distinction between those things,” Kulash said, of growing
up in the area, before moving to Chicago. The musician sees
the organizational abilities of some interest groups and wishes he could apply
those qualities to music: “We have a
congregation every night who are motivated and give a shit and really care what
we think, and most people don’t want to say anything.”

 

Earlier this year, OK Go
left Capitol Records and formed its own independent label Paracadute. While the
move was voluntary, Kulash does acknowledge the advantage of having label
backing when it comes to funding projects.

 

“We don’t need major
labels for distribution, we don’t need major labels for promotion,” he said.
“We may need engines for those things, but they certainly don’t need to be the
same people who fucked it up the first time. But what we do need is an investment
structure. The sustainable structure we will need at some point is going to
need some sort of body of investment. Not everything is going to succeed.”

 

***

 

The Future of Music Coalition is a national
nonprofit
that has worked “to
ensure a diverse musical culture where artists flourish, are compensated fairly
for their work, and where fans can find the music they want,” according to its
web site. The Policy Summit included speakers such as Pandora founder Tim
Westergren, T Bone Burnett and Chuck D; as well as “supersession” panels
discussing topics such as music access charges and using music for social
change.

 

Future of Music
Coalition Communications Director and Policy Strategist Casey Rae-Hunter said
that Peter Jenner of Sincere Management and Jesse von Doom of Cash Music were
highlights. “It’s always been a place to get people in a room together,”
Rae-Hunter said, adding that the recent summit was more forward looking than in
previous years. “This year, the atmosphere took away a lot more positive stuff
than in years past.”

 

Rae-Hunter also likened
Kulash to a “digital hero,” adding, “Damian is an inspiration in a lot of ways
for a lot of people.”

 

Keith Center, frontman of D.C. area band The Dreamscapes
Project, participated in the summit’s “Genius Bar,” which provided one-on-one
consultation on music-industry issues. He felt the diverse range of
participants and attendees contributed to the make up of the event.

 

“I enjoyed the conference,”
Center said. “Other ones I’ve been to do a good job of explaining where the
industry is now. This one I thought it fit the name of the organization – where
the industry is headed.”

 

***

 

And just where the industry is headed is to be
determined.
In the ever-changing
landscape that is the modern music industry, Kulash is passionate about
creating. It’s what context that creativity comes in and the freedom to do so
that the musician is most focused on.

 

What we really like doing is making stuff that
makes us excited,” he said. “There’s an extra thrill to being able to do it
again and to know that next time we have even more creative freedom and more
resources from which to work.

 

“To be able to chase the
creative muse and not have someone in the way saying ‘that’s not going to work
in commercial radio,’ that’s the goal for us.”

 

 [Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons; user: Dbergere]

Leave a Reply