CARL STONE:I think what scares the record companies the most maybe is not the loss of income, is that now people really have a control which they’ve never really had before about how their work is distributed, how it’s promoted, how it’s marketed, how it’s licensed, etc. Those were the “services” that record companies provided, but often badly.
FRANK J. OTERI:They were also giving you a way to spread the word about yourself. The same holds true of publishers.
CARL STONE:That’s right.
FRANK J. OTERI:Now that we have personal computers, and desktop publishing, and we can record CDRs. In a way the role of these entities has to change. It has to become more promotional. Obviously a composer who is with a big record label or a big publisher has the name of that company behind him or her.
CARL STONE:It’s like being recommended by Duncan Hines. You get a certain ratification. If you’re a composer signed to Sony Classics, you have that sort of imprimature of that corporate entity and all that comes with it. As opposed to being composer Jane Doe on the street… You may be able to press your own CDs and get them out there, but you have to cut through a lot of noise to get yourself heard and that’s what these companies are supposed to help do. And probably what’s going to happen, and it’s already starting to happen now, is that you have this kind of behemoth Internet site that people in general will turn to first to get some kind of guidance as to what to listen to or to what to read, and they’ll have a certain amount of power, but at the same time there will be all these small, independent, little brooks and rivers and valleys in the landscape that those of us who have a little more experimental bent, and taste, will probably spend our time wading around in.
FRANK J. OTERI:I certainly know that in terms of how I got exposed to your music, it was first through your one giant corporation release on the great huge company known as New Albion Records. (Both laugh) But you know New Albion has, in the new music community, an identity, and a profile, and I know if Foster puts out something, 9 times out of 10 it’s going to be pretty damn great.
CARL STONE:Well, yeah, New Albion also provided an organized distribution system that I couldn’t do on my own that’s different from, let’s say, the distribution systems say for the releases that I have out in Italy or in Japan. And that’s why especially here in America you’re more likely to see my release on New Albion than anything else.
FRANK J. OTERI:And I did an Amazon search recently, we’re going to get into Amazon a bit, and I looked up your name just to see what they carry, and they carry Mom’s, and a record that you’re not even on.
CARL STONE:Ooh, that’s bad.
FRANK J. OTERI:It was orchestral miniatures, it was Carl somebody else, not Stone….
CARL STONE:I see. Well, Amazon is a problem because, I guess you did a search on classical for me. If you go to other categories you find other releases of mine. And there’s absolutely no reason why one would fall into one category versus another.
FRANK J. OTERI:Yeah. We’re living in a post-stylistic world, yet Amazon, this great arbiter of how people buy music, still divides the world into popular and classical. And if you’re jazz, you’re popular. Albert Ayler is popular music whereas Arthur Fiedler is classical. It’s very strange.
CARL STONE:Well, they shouldn’t do it. It’s very simple, they shouldn’t do it.
FRANK J. OTERI:They should just have music, and you look up a name, and there it is.
CARL STONE:It’s like the LA Times, I don’t think they do this anymore, but in the old days when they had all their calendar listings, they had this category called Music, which was all the classical music, and then there was Jazz or Rock as if those things were not music. But it’s impossible to categorize things now, there’s so much cross-over, and the kind of implicit high-art versus low-art distinctions between classical and popular music are completely irrelevant now.
FRANK J. OTERI:And certainly the sound world that you create in many ways is closer on some levels to things that Aphex Twin, Moby, or Beck does. There are even some elements of hip hop in your work, it certainly sounds closer to that than to what we normally think of as “classical music”: Mozart and the gang.
CARL STONE:Yes in sound. Right, in the sound world I think my music is closer to those artists that you mention, but my use of form is maybe closer to classical music, so I think I’m one of many examples where it doesn’t really work to create these categories.
FRANK J. OTERI:Theoretically somebody who’s listening to Beck or somebody who’s picked up DJ Shadow would love your stuff, regardless of form and theory. So how can you try to reach that audience?
CARL STONE:Yeah, well how do I try to reach these people? First of all by sending occasional tweeky notes to Amazon proposing that they either cross categorize artists, or do away with this artificial distinction all together. Aside from that, I don’t know, you just have to get the music out there somehow and hope that the people who like it will find it. I haven’t targeted an audience and then tried to reach it. I simply do the music that I do and see what happens. I think that audiences for music like mine exists, but again you cannot say there’s a particular demographic, or a certain age range, or a specific income bracket or anything like that. I don’t think those kind of marketing categorizations are possible with a lot of experimental music because experimental music is by it’s very nature very uncategorizable. The kind of experimental music that can be categorized is almost not experimental music anymore.
FRANK J. OTERI:It’s like the original concept of alternative rock. All of suddenly the term connoted a genre that was very specific and codified. But how could alternative rock have a specific sound if it’s alternative?
CARL STONE:That’s right. But you see how these things get subsumed. You see it became large enough to represent a certain commercial force and it got taken over. Look at all the examples of how terms which came basically from the experimental tradition, whether it was from experimental music, or contemporary music, alternative music, all got co-opted by commercial music. I remember Ron Carter, who was on the Board of the American Music Center reacted strongly to our use of the term contemporary music which comes from a long tradition going back to the earliest 20th century in classical music, but in popular music it now connotes a sort of easy listening music, adult contemporary, smooth jazz. All these terms have been co-opted.
FRANK J. OTERI:So how do you get your stuff out there? How do you cross those barriers? You were one of the first composers to be active on the Web. Do people find you through your Website? Do you keep track of your hits and your user sessions?
CARL STONE:Yeah I do, I have sort of kept in eye on that, although not deep analysis. At some point I would really like to sit down and see how people read through my site. Where they tend to go from the starting point, what paths they follow, when they exit, when they come in, etc. I wrote a little program that tracks whether people find my site because it’s hyperlinked to someone else’s site, or they search for Carl Stone, or maybe they are searching for some content that is not directly related to my own music and so that some people come in because they are looking for somebody else.
CARL STONE:Yes. So people come in that way, and I’d like to know how many of those people who come in looking for something else, find out about me through that and stick around or maybe listen to some sounds. There are a lot of tools out there, a lot of capability for doing that kind of research, and I’m also curious as to where my hits come from because, well it’s not easy, Frank as you know, but it’s possible to find out which country people are coming from and so on.
CARL STONE:Right. (laughs)
FRANK J. OTERI:What advise would you give people out there who are trying to establish a voice in doing an alternative music? What’s the best thing for them economically? What’s the best thing for them promotionally? Do these two areas have to be at loggerheads with each other?
CARL STONE:I think that in my own experience, they are not at loggerheads. The idea of using the Web as a promotional tool which may include free components and free music and so on is a very, very good way to get people to come in, to start coming to your concerts, to hear you live, to buy your CDs, etc. I think the two things can co-exist with great peace, peace with honor. I think that the Web and all the tools and technology such as what we talked about before, CD burners, and color laser jet printers, really made a great step towards the democratization of music, and self-publishing. I think that in a way we’re at the edge of a really great time for music makers, now may not be such a great time for publishers and record companies, but I think that composers are in a better position than they’ve been in a long time to make music, distribute it, publicize it and promote their own careers. It’s never been better.