Coming from Chicago, Benn Jordan alias The Flashbulb is a multitalented musician and composer. Proficient in several instruments, he manages to evolve in different musical genres. Soundtrack To A Vacant Life is the perfect example of what the multi-faceted artist is able to do, mixing classical, jazzy or electronic sonorities that result in a complex and beautiful album. Eight years ago, the album was originally released digitally on the Alphabasic label but when Jordan realised that some retailer networks were selling out his album without any permission, he decided to upload it directly on a piracy network. Thus he gave free access to it, suggesting his listeners to support his work and buy the tracks if they desire to do so. The wishlist project of Soundtrack To A Vacant Life was very successful on Diggers Factory platform. Indeed, the album has now reached out the first pressing step, allowing the two hundreds first supporters to get a 3xLP format copy of it. This great success has encouraged us to start the interview series of our new blog with The Flashbulb...
Back to the end of the 20th century Chicago was a big hub for music and in particular house and acid music, how was it to be raised into such a city as a kid attracted by music? To which level has this boiling environment influenced your work?
I didn’t realize until I was an adult how segregated the city was. Acid house was popular in the African American communities on the south side of the city where I lived, and punk rock was popular on the north side. I literally didn’t go anywhere north in the city until I was 16 or 17, so everything I heard as a kid was either jazz or early house.
At the same time, I was a pretty anti-social kid. I wasn’t raised with any siblings and the neighbourhood I lived in was pretty violent, so I spent most of my free time playing the guitar. I think that combination probably resulted in me being more independent than most in the way I make and market music.
*"I was a pretty anti-social kid"*
Did you have an idea of the whole album before starting to record or did you continuously create while going through the recording process?
Definitely before. I needed something cohesive to tie everything together, and I figured it’d be interesting to try and tell my life story with mostly instrumental music.
You play many instruments, what are the one you have used in this album? What tool did you use to record them?
Off the top of my head: Guitar, bass, piano, drums, oud, and kalimba to name a few. The violins in the album were performed by Greg Hirte. If my memory serves me, I believe the entire album was recorded in my home studio. I don’t recall ever having to utilize a bigger studio for the sessions.
As mentioned in the introduction, you have decided to upload for free your album after some retailers start selling it without permission. Unauthorized commercialisation of music seems to be one of the major drawbacks to music digitalisation, was this record project also a way for you to strike against this phenomenon? And therefore, is it why you chose to submit this album in particular?
At the time, a large portion of my catalogue was on iTunes, and I wasn’t receiving any royalty from Apple, nor did I submit my music to them. I tried to contact Apple about it for over a year and didn’t get a response until “Artist Pirated By iTunes” made stories in mainstream press. It turns out that a “digital distributor” called IODA (now rebranded as “The Orchard” and purchased by Sony) was submitting the music for a label that no longer existed and collecting the money on the artist’s behalf.
The whole thing was a huge, unnecessary mess, and a lot of it still is. I can send you a file myself, and you can send me money. But people buy music through iTunes or Amazon, who take a 3rd of that money and doesn’t even deal with artists. Independent artists have to pay recurring album fees to a “digital distributor” like Tunecore or CDBaby to put music on those networks.
I’m hardly a mainstream artist, but over the course of my career that money really adds up. We’re talking 6 figures just to make my music accessible, that’s like, my retirement. Meanwhile, “pirates” have an extremely organized system on private trackers that was far superior in both organization and selection to iTunes in 2008. So I uploaded my stuff myself and said “Hey, if you like this and want to support me, here’s my Paypal.”. It’s just simple.
The reason I chose Soundtrack To A Vacant Life was just timing and the fact that it was on my own label. I definitely couldn’t have done that earlier as I was releasing music on record labels that were too busy fighting piracy to see the benefit of understanding the reality of music listeners at the time.
Credit: Richie Hines / http://hinesart.com/
Credit: Richie Hines / http://hinesart.com/
The development of paying streaming platform (such as Spotify) or the massive raise in vinyl sales these past few years are two proofs that actually more and more listeners are willing to pay to get access to high quality music. As an artist do you also see an improvement in the listener behaviour and more generally in the industry?
Spotify has its kinks to work out, but it really is an answer to a big problem that existed between musicians and listeners. $10 a month is entirely reasonable to most people, and their interface is more convenient than downloading torrents for the average listener. They pay quite fairly, and even curate music well. My gripe is that I still have to pay a “digital distributor” like Tunecore to use their service, and I hope that changes in the future.
I hate to say this, and I realize this is the worst possible place to say it, but I personally wish physical mediums like CDs and vinyl become less standard. As long as people want music delivered to them that way, I’m happy to oblige. But I like the idea of moving beyond albums the way we know them. There’s a time limit, and a time minimum, but more importantly, it seems like a tombstone to me. It’s this permanent thing that can never be changed, improved, or revised. The only reason it has to be that way is because of physical medium, and that’s in a society where most people are listening to music digitally. Of course this applies to digital services as well, as they adhere to the format standards set by physical medium and 20th century technology.
*"The only reason it has to be that way is because of physical medium,and that’s in a society where most people are listening to music digitally."*
So I think it’s fun, and I certainly appreciate the value of records. But I think I’m too focused on what comes next to be enthusiastic about it myself. But like I said earlier, I will strive to deliver my music in whatever format people want it in. I’m grateful that people want to buy my work. I guess what I’m trying to say, is that I’d like physical medium to be project based and optional, rather than necessary for an album to seem legitimate.
Is their any message you want to share with the people who have supported or will support your project through Diggers Factory platform?
Thank you. I’m always humbled with things like this, and I can’t express how grateful I am that I’m able to make a living doing what I love the most in the world.