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Band Interview #1 – The Dirty 9s

This post kicks off a series of band interviews which we hope to continue on a monthly basis. We want to know how bands are approaching the task of marketing themselves both online and off and what they have learnt from the experience. If you are in a band yourself you might just learn something here.
 
In our first interview we talk to Cian McCarthy from Dublin rock outfit The Dirty 9s who launched their slickly produced debut ‘Stop Screaming Start Dreaming’ this Easter Sunday. Well if it’s a good enough day for Jesus….
 
 Amp: Firstly, congratulations on the recent release of your debut album ‘Stop Screaming Start Dreaming’. You got to work with acclaimed producer Greg Haver (Super Furry Animals, Manic Street Preachers). How did that come about and how long was the album in the making?
 
 The Dirty 9s: Thanks, well we took part in a competition on TG4 back in 2008 it was a TV show called Deis Roc. The idea was that you had to write and perform songs in Irish, the overall prize was €10,000. To our surprise we won the competition. We knew straight away that we wanted to put the money towards recording our album but were a little bit clueless as to how to go about that. Up to that point we’d mostly recorded ourselves using home studio equipment we were given a loan of by our friends Rohan & David Virgin. While happy with the results we wanted to try recording our songs in a studio to get a fuller sound. A good friend of ours Paul Walsh (singer with Royseven) knew Greg Haver and recommended us to him. Luckily Greg happened to be getting a connecting flight through Dublin very early one morning. He agreed to meet myself and Fergal for a chat. The meeting went well and we agreed in principal to record an album together. We then spent practically every day from May to September in the rehearsal room writing and arranging all the songs for the album. They’re a mix of very old ones myself & Fergal had written when we first started playing together in college and songs we all wrote together in the rehearsal studio over that summer.
 
 At the end of September 2008 we spent just over two weeks in the Nutshed Studio in Clara recording the album with Greg. The months leading up to the recording had been tough but once we got to the studio the recording process with Greg was pretty painless and good fun.
 
 Amp: Having done all that hard work to write, record and release the album independently, now it’s down to marketing and selling it to fans. Do you have an overall approach or plan for your marketing? How important is the online environment versus, say playing live and selling CDs at your gigs?
 
 The Dirty 9s: Our overall approach is to have our music available to people in as many formats as possible. That means making sure it’s easily available online, in the record stores and of course available for people to buy at gigs. It’s hard work covering all those areas but I think we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot if we just concentrated on one particular way of making the album available.
 
 I’m sure there are people who’ve downloaded our album who have never bought a CD in their lives, while there are still people who prefer to go into HMV to get their copy. They might have different approaches to how they get their music but the common denominator is they are music fans so we have to make sure the music is available to them in the way they like it. This might all change in the future with our next release when we have more of on idea of how people like to get our music, but when it’s your debut album you have to get yourself out there in every format available.
 
 Amp: We totally agree with the approach of making your music as available in as many formats as possible. 
 You guys seem to use internet tools quite effectively to connect with your fans. Is there one tool which out-performs others in terms of making those connections or do you feel it necessary to use every resource out there to get the best response from fans?
 
 The Dirty 9s: Again you’ve got to have yourself everywhere as the most popular social networking sites seem to change quite a lot. As well as this, some of the sites are better in certain areas than others. For example the music player on Myspace is better than the one on Facebook but on Facebook it’s much easier to contact your fans. At the moment I’d say Facebook is performing the best for us but that could all change in a month if something new comes along. What I would say is that it’s vital to have your own .net or .com site and use that as the hub for all other pages you have.
 
Amp: Good point about the strengths and weaknesses of some sites versus others and again we would  totally agree with you on the necessity of having a hub or central website.
 Given the amount of sites and profiles you have then, how do you manage them all? Is it something that one individual in the group takes responsibility for or do you share it out among group members? What advice would you have for other bands who are just starting to get their Twitter and Facebook profiles up?
 
 The Dirty 9s: First off make sure all your Facebook updates automatically go on your Twitter, it’ll save you a lot of time! In our band we tend to put one person in charge of the different sites, for example Fergal would be our Myspace President while me & Keith are the Presidents of Facebook (I know its sad that we call ourselves the President of something but it makes it more exciting!)
 
We’re also very lucky that our friend Ken set up and looks after our website for us, he set it up on WordPress which is quite user friendly so I’d recommend bands set up a site through that. It doesn’t have to be too fancy and if you have a friend into web design who’d like to help all the better.
 
 Amp: WordPress is what we recommend for artists working with us. It’s a great tool and really easy to manage afterwards without the need for a specialist webmaster.
 In terms of actually selling your music online, how easy or difficult was it for you to do this independently? Do you feel that the giants of music e-retail iTunes give artists a fair deal?
 
The Dirty 9s: To be honest actually making our music available online through iTunes wasn’t that difficult. The problem is, once it’s out there it’s cast into a vast ocean. Because it’s so easy to get your music on iTunes it means it’s very hard to stand out from the crowd, I think there’s definitely room for improvement in how independent bands can advertise their music for sale online. And yes I think the cuts the bands get from the sales on sites like iTunes could be improved in the bands favour.
 
 Amp: One of our beliefs here in Amp is that artists can make money while providing free content to their fans because sharing music freely is a great way for bands to get their music heard by more people. Would you agree with this approach and what would you say to the major labels who feel that filesharing is killing the music industry?
 
The Dirty 9s: Well I think they’ll have to change in the future because people aren’t going to stop filesharing and it’s more or less impossible to police. While I don’t think anyone has found the answer yet, I think the idea of providing free content while still making money is a good one. Funnily enough the major labels are in the best position to make that idea work. They represent the most popular acts so they could start looking at the idea of providing free music and come to an agreement with their acts where they take a cut of the profit from tours and merchandise. People will still pay to see their favourite bands play live so there’ll always be money there to keep the industry going. The problem really is for the new & independent bands who only break even from touring, if all your music is being downloaded for free how can you make enough money to record the next album? There’s no point in being all doom and gloom about it though – the positives of it being so easy to make your music available to people, now outweigh the negatives.
 
Amp: On that point of album releases; lots of people are saying that the days of artists making full length albums is coming to an end, given the rise in filesharing coupled with studio and production costs. What are your thoughts on this and would you ever consider adopting a rolling release model which for example Ash have adopted for their A-Z series?
 
The Dirty 9s: It’s clearly worked for Ash because there’s been a better energy on their latest singles. However you have to keep in mind that they have the luxury of owning their own studio in New York which makes it easier for them to adopt a rolling release model. Personally I like the idea of having an album, as it records a certain period of your musical life and is a good way of watching a band develop (or not!). So I’d always like the idea of sticking to recording albums, I think it keeps you more focused. But it could just be a musician thing, whether or not the general public care if you’re doing an album or just constantly releasing singles is another thing.
 
Amp: That’s true, I know that other bands such as Arctic Monkeys have said the album format is still the one they prefer to work in. Well, thanks so much for the interview Cian and best of luck with the new album!

1 Comment

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