At the end of last month I had the opportunity to interview Pedro Winter (aka Busy P, head of Ed Banger Records & former manager of Daft Punk) following Miller's GFC (Global Fresh Collective) Vision event (a series of panel discussions curated by Pedro, focusing on both global and local issues affecting music) which you can read all about over on BrooklynVegan.
One topic that generated much debate at GFC Vision was piracy. Check out some of Pedro's thoughts on it, how Ed Banger Records has been affected by it, and how Pedro has been responding to changes in the music industry in the interview below:
Earlier when Matt Mason was talking in the first session about piracy you said you didn't like how kids are being made out as thieves when it comes to illegally downloading music. You said they were just consuming music in a different way. Can you explain that a little bit more?
Especially in France, but I think it's the same everywhere...politicians and society are trying to explain that when you're (illegally) downloading it's like you're stealing a cd in a shop or stealing a car or robbing something and it's not the same. I'm not a judge but I'm just saying be careful with using words like "thieves" and "stealing" because our society is already completely lost. We don't have any more boundaries and scaring kids even more will make them even more crazy and I think they are crazy enough. I'm saying all this just as an answer to all the politicians and all the major companies who oftentimes are trying to be a bit like the police. I prefer to be on the side of the kids.
Have you found that piracy is hurting Ed Banger?
Of course. I should not say "of course", I should say probably. It's too easy an excuse for major companies or artists who are not selling records anymore, who are not smart enough to find and to propose some new things. I think it's the role of the artists and the producers and the whole artistic team to scratch their heads and try to propose something...add some value to music.
Earlier we were talking about the value of music. Who is going to decide the value of music? The old value was a $20 cd or a $15 cd which was crazy at the time, and nowadays we realize it was nonsense. So when it comes to valuing one MP3 at $1, who decides if it's cheap or if it's not? Of course it's overpriced! $1 for nothing, for a digital thing! But we are living in a society and we need rules in order to all live together. With the the value of music there are definitely no rules.
What I'm dreaming up and I think we are lucky to be part of this, are new companies who can react to the market and who can react, more than the market, to our time, and this is what we're doing with Ed Banger. In the beginning my main money was coming from the sales of 12-inches. I used to sell a lot. Nowadays I am selling less and less...around 1500, which is nothing. It's still cool nowadays because most of the labels are selling around 500, so we are still selling but now I decided for about 6 months now when you are buying a 12" from Ed Banger you are getting a free digital. This is something we just came up with this because we realized it was a good thing. It's not forcing the kids, but it's telling them, follow us and we're making moves for you to also be happy and get your music on your ipod. With Justice we still sold 400,000 records worldwide which is still an amazing figure but I imagine if we would have been around in '97 we would have sold 1 million I think. I'm happy to speak about that but I'm happy to live nowadays. Some people can regret not being in the good old times, but I'm so happy to be in my time now.
What made you start offering the digital files along with the vinyl releases? Did it just seem like a good idea?
Yeah, it's a good idea. I've seen it with someone else - I didn't invent it. I think I've seen it with a Sonic Youth album or Radiohead...I don't remember exactly. I think I've even seen it at Other Music or a store like that. I looked at the sleeve and there was a sticker "free digital download". I thought it was a good idea and then I asked my team if we could make it happen. So now in all the Ed Banger records there is a little card with a private code to download the songs. It's a smart idea. It's a natural idea, a natural thing. Sometimes people are thinking too much or analyzing too much - they don't think about the simplest thing. Giving away a digital thing while people are buying a concrete cd or album - I think it's a smart idea.
It's just a smart thing. Me, I'm not scared about all this, about all those changes. It's good to change. There were way too many bad habits. I'm sure it's the same in the US - in France we are making fun of show business. We're making fun of 80's show business, how it was all about spending money. Like, "you want to go in the studio? Yeah, I'll pay for the studio." and artists asking for millions in advances.
At Ed Banger have you been doing anything specifically to deal with the piracy problems?
No. I didn't do anything to fight against it. I created more content, more attractive stuff to "fight" it. I will not go against it because, to be honest, I think it's way too late. There is no way we can stop it. I'm not going to fight against it. What we are to do is improve our creativity and what we are offering. I told you how I'm doing 12-inches with the download codes but I didn't tell you how now I'm not even doing normal 12 inches, I'm doing picture discs with the download codes, making it a special object. The kids are following us. I didn't speak enough about it today but it's important and I think this is what we managed to create with Ed Banger - to get the kids to feel they are part of a family, part of a movement and i think this is what is protecting us from the kids just downloading. They are happy to be part of Ed Banger because they have the cd at home. They have the t-shirt. They have whatever. I'm pretty happy. I didn't plan it, but I'm happy. It's all working out. But don't tell that I didn't plan it, because I like people to think I am a genius at marketing.
During Matt Mason's discussion, there was talk about the whole business model changing in terms of the music industry. Where do you think it's going to head in general and do you think it's different at all specifically for electronic and dance music?
To answer the last part I'm sure electronic and dance music is a special thing rather than urban hip-hop like Rihanna which is pop nowadays. We are still alternative music and I want to feel like that. This is how I feel Ed Banger is. I feel Ed Banger is more like an indie label rather than another dance label. I prefer to be next to Domino, XL...those labels, rather than other, boring, electro labels who are just putting out club hits. But again, it's a bit too early for me to speak about it now. We are only 6 years-old. We have stuff to prove and a lot of work to do, but I get feedback because I know the people at Domino. I know the people at XL and both labels welcome us as their little brother and I am happy with that.
The business model is definitely changing. We've been talking about it all day. To go where I have no idea, to go where I don't have a crystal ball and to be honest with you... I know the business side of it because I've been doing it for 15 years, but i don't care. Also because I'm in a good situation I manage to make projects that get enough money to reinvest and keep going. Maybe in one or two years I will wake up and my bank will call me and say "Pedro, you're out of money" and then I will be scared, but nowadays I have enough money. I set up my label with the money I made from working with Daft Punk. Then I got money from Justice and reinvested it back into the label. People know about Justice and Daft Punk, but they don't know about Krazy Baldhead, Mr. Flash, SebastiAn, Feadz, or DJ Mehdi, and I have a lot of other smaller projects that I hope are going to be big soon, but I'm not in a rush. I'm doing projects that don't make money, but I'm happy with it. The time when you would spend a lot of money on marketing or advertising and things like that is finished - there's no point. Having an advert in a magazine doesn't help anything. It's cool for you and the artist - "Oh, you have an ad in this magazine!" - it's nice, but it doesn't do anything. It's good for the head.
Is there any specific direction that you see Ed Banger heading in the future?
I just follow the flow. To be honest with you I am starting to feel a bit fed-up myself about all the noisy electro stuff we've been doing for the last few years, so now even when I'm deejaying I'm playing more techno, calming down a bit more. We are finishing albums from Uffie and SebastiAn at the moment and I hope we are going to surprise people. I'm pretty confident with what we've been doing, but we'll see. We'll let the people judge once it's out. Of course we're going to, not change - it's not a question of changing, but evaluate and grow up. But it's true, Ed Banger is definitely not going too much more into distorted disco stuff .
Can you talk a little bit more about your Cool Cats project that just started?
Cool Cats is a brand. Let's say it is a sub-label of Ed Banger Records - usually a music label can't give birth to a clothes brand but we did it this way. We created it in February, so it's still brand new. The simple aim is to be in a proper position with our merchandising. We've been doing it old school and a bit stupidly and now we've decided to do it well because there is a demand. There are so many people asking for it. We had to react.
Also, as with the label, it's just fun to do it. I'm not a clothes designer, but right now it's easy just to choose the t-shirt and So Me is designing. Now we are working on jackets and some more complicated stuff. It takes time but we are not in a rush. We'll grow slowly and slowly.
It's also a way to balance with the lack of record sales. It's a whole package. A lot of people are telling me we bring Ed Banger as a brand rather than just another music label and I'm cool with that. We have to be careful not to be overexposed, but again this is not something we are choosing much. The most important is that we manage to keep producing stuff that makes us happy and then after that we'll see if the kids are following it.
The Cool Cats website has you, DJ Mehdi, and all the other Cool Cats (Fafi, So Me, and Michael from La MJC) blogging - is that just to engage people? What made you add that element to the site?
For a long time I wanted to do a fanzine, but nowadays there is no reason to do a fanzine. We have our blogs. It's crazy because I used to blog on two other sites. I used to blog on the Japanese site, Honeyee, and for the Los Angeles based, Arkitip which I loved. It was cool and I said while I'm blogging for these other people we should do our own. It's the Cool Cats blog and it's just a funny way to share just a little bit more of what we are doing, with our fans and people who don't know us. It's a funny thing too. I like doing it it goes with the whole package of being accessible. It's something new. It's something that is possible nowadays, like a couple of years ago with Myspace and Facebook and all of that, where finally people are able to reach the artists. We've been pretty good at this game. Kids like the fact that they can be friends with us. At our stage it's still cool...it's not like we're as big as Justin Timberlake or someone like that. At our stage, this is what I like with this kind of fame thing with Ed Banger especially with Justice or with Uffie. People really relate to our artists and I like this new thing we've done with electro artists having a face. I know what I'm talking about because I've done it with Daft Punk. They were hiding and it was all about the music, all about the concept. Nowadays it's changed. Now I think the kids want to understand who's behind the decks, who's behind the machines and I like the relationship with the fans. When they stop you in the streets it's always lovely and funny, rather than just people that have seen you on tv. They don't know who you are and what you do - "Ah, you're the guy from tv". That would be so sad. I know that Daft Punk were scared about it, about this kind of fame, but nowadays with all these blogs relating our life, "Oh I was there yesterday. I was doing this. I am doing that." we are creating a bit of a normal relationship.
In the last part of the discussions today there was a lot of talk about collaborating and also merchandising and co-branding. Do you think that with music and labels now, sometimes you run the risk of those other things overshadowing the music itself?
No, no I'm not scared of this anymore. If you would have asked me this question ten years ago I would have told you the opposite, but nowadays it's not a problem anymore. Both brands and labels or artists understand they can find a good way for each other to take advantage of the collaboration. On the artists' side it's good to take the money as we don't have any more money from record sales. Brands spend half the money they used to spend on ad agencies and they go directly to the artists. Every week I have brands approach me to do things with Ed Banger...Coca Cola, Nike, Uniqlo, Eastpak.
Talking about the co-branding & collaboration overshadowing the music - I'm not scared of that because I am confident in the music that we are doing, but there is a negative point. I realized it myself. One day I was looking at myself and said we are going too far. I was deejaying with the Ed Banger headphones. My cd case was Ed Banger. I was wearing an Ed Banger backpack. I was wearing a Cool Cats t-shirt. I was wearing the Busy P Nike's. My girlfriend told me this actually - she told me, "Pedro I think it's too much now". It made me realize this is the point where we have to be careful. We make mistakes sometimes, but I'm not scared about co-branding and stuff like that. We have to make it original. But of course there is danger.