Jets Overhead at the Hard Rock Cafe, Toronto
September 15th, 2009
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN FAZER MAGAZINE
by Aaron Binder
Deep in the bowels of Yonge and Dundas Square, downtown Toronto, there is a little place called the Hard Rock Café. In reality it is a microcosm of the rock world; the walls are plastered with guitars, cymbals, records and other rock paraphernalia from across the ages.
Once you head upstairs, the world takes a step to the left; you’re still standing inside of the microcosm, but only at the fringe. The fringe is the area where the makers reside, the unconventional, the ones that not only hold the strange strings of success, but the ones that create it. Walking into the upstairs venue at the Hard Rock during the TIFF music café was walking into a who’s who of the film music industry.
The TIFF Music Café is an event set up to give Canadian musicians and bands a chance to open themselves up to the power brokers of the Hollywood music world; the ones that hold power to license and create the next big thing. The showcase itself is a relatively low-key event, but the deals made there can change the course of history for any band.
One band in attendance that day was Jets Overhead, one of British Columbia’s most respected and hard-working ensembles. If the name sounds familiar, it may be from the furor that was caused by the release of their album Bridges. A year and a half before Radiohead released In Rainbows for free on their website; Bridges had been utilizing the donations for the music model with a large amount of success.
Since the release of that album, they have managed to win crowds across North America with their devotion toward playing as many live shows as they can possibly fit under their belts. The most recent one at the TIFF Music Café was a little unconventional for the band, but it definitely allowed them the opportunity to stand out and shine as one of the next, great Canadian acts.
I sat down with Adam Kittredge and Antonia Freybe-Smith for a conversation after their set and the results were an incredible learning experience. Being slightly controversial in their remarks and actions toward the traditional CD industry led to a great talk about the state of the internet, the future of music sales and where Jets Overhead fits into the grand scheme. Enjoy.
Aaron: This is a really cool event for you guys to be at because you’ve been handpicked by a panel of judges to come play this music café at TIFF for a bunch of film execs and producers. How did it feel to receive that acceptance letter?
Antonia: It was great, it was exciting. It’s great to be able to play different types of shows in front of different crowds. That’s the best thing we can do at this point, so something like this is different; its part of TIFF and it’s neat.
Adam: Well, the truth is, is that the current state of music is that making money selling CDs doesn’t really happen anymore. But making money-licensing songs to television shows is lucrative and helps bands to keep surviving. The so-called sell-out days are now the only way.
Aaron: Well you can’t make a living selling 100,000 CDs from traditional means anymore, but you make 500,000 sales by having your song on The OC.
Antonia: Totally, it’s true.
Adam: Although it would be nice if we sold 100,000 CDs too.
Antonia: Yeah, that would also be very nice. It’s true that movie placement and commercials and stuff like that is huge.
Adam: And it’s good exposure too, obviously. You get a shot at a soundtrack for a huge summer movie and you’re bound to pick up a good chunk of change.
Aaron: It’s interesting you guys mention that because there is a lot of that schmooze going on this week in Toronto. Where do you think you’ll stand when the dust settles after TIFF?
Antonia: I’m a pessimist, just for the record. Adam is an optimist, so we have a bit of a clash going on.
Adam: I don’t see any point in saying, “No, we’re not going to get anything out of this”. Som yes, I think we’re going to stick around and you’re going to see our music in movies.
Aaron: Your new record was just released earlier this year and it received a few negative reviews. Do you kind of see yourselves as the underdogs of the café because of that?
Adam: Well, I haven’t really seen many bad reviews, apart from Chart Attack, that was the only negative one I’ve seen and they have the word attack in there, so they’re out for blood. People can read what they want and believe what they want, but I think these people at this event have been around long enough that they know what they like, and they know the way to truly find what they like is to pay attention themselves, look into the music themselves, check out the band live. I don’t think a lot of people in the business necessarily rely on reviews, aside from the odd insider music critic like Bob Lefsetz, who actually gave the album an extremely good review, which is probably part of the reason we’re here. The Lefsetz Letter, as far as we’re concerned, is one of the better reviews we’ve gotten.
Aaron: I ask because there are always going to be negatives and it’s interesting to see how every band reacts…
Antonia: That’s not really something we keep up to dote on. There’s really no point. A review doesn’t have as much weight as it once did. Everything is word of mouth and you can listen to everything so you can make your own decision for yourself and that’s great. In the past, Rolling Stone giving out a review was like “This is it!” if it was good.
Aaron: You guys actually have something cool with your website where you give away one of your albums for free, or a small donation. You can get anything for free on the internet, but what made you guys go that way?
Adam: That was actually our old album. So with donations now, we’re not necessarily going that route. Partially because Radiohead sucked the wind out of those sails, so to speak. We got a lot of attention for giving away Bridges, and that was a year and a half before, it was the same model essentially, before they did it. Ultimately, we do believe that if people want to get music, they want to get it for free no matter what, so why not at least give them the ability, if that’s their thing, to give them quality versions of our songs; and check out our website, maybe tie it up, join our mailing list and become fans of the band and eventually, hopefully, milk a little money out of them down the road when we come to their city and play a show, maybe they’ll buy a shirt or something.
So that was the concept and it got us some attention. Now we’re moving forward, personally, we like shopping on iTunes, we appreciate that experience, and that’s happening more and more. We actually sold a lot, Bridges, we sold lots of downloads on iTunes, over 10,000 like that, paid for downloads, ironically enough they were up for free on our website. That model is there, people appreciate that experience, the value of giving value to something, and then valuing it even more when they purchase it. We also deal with Creative Commons.
Aaron: Why don’t you talk a little bit about that, it’s a great platform that our readers would probably want to know about.
Adam: It’s a simple concept really; it’s just like the property of people writing songs, or books for education or whatever. If someone is just using it to share that information and not necessarily profit from that information, it seems a bit bizarre I think, to the majority of us that they should be persecuted for it. You know, sued by a company or having a company come after them, wagging their finger saying you can’t do that. I.E. Finding you made a home video of a dog dancing around and you throw a Bob Marley song on the video and suddenly Island Records or whoever owns that song comes along and says shut that down and takes that song off your beautiful video you made of your dog. It’s just ridiculous, how is that hurting their income?
Antonia: It’s helping.
Adam: It gives somebody another sentimental association with that song that’s going to make them listen to that song more. It’s a bit ridiculous. That’s what Creative Commons is trying to alleviate. So our new record No Nations, our idea is right now we’re just offering donations for the song. Anyone can download and use it as long as their not pressing copies of it and selling it at the local Saturday market. We’re planning on adding to that with instrumentals and that kind of thing where the fan will get excited and utilize parts of the song for their own projects or whatever.
Aaron: So you guys think that as we enter this new era of music, this is going to become a sustainable model, not just for Jets Overhead but for bands as well, being able to sell their music online without having their label go all sue crazy.
Adam: It’s not going to be on the same level, it’s not gonna be the same sales as before where big labels are going to be spending millions and millions and pumping those dollars into one person’s pocket. Something like iTunes has developed a really user-friendly interface that you can’t help but get excited when you go and use your iPod and you plug it in and download something. And you pay that 99 cents or you pay that 9.99 or you buy that movie or whatever it is, you assign a value to it, you value it more that way. I think that’s an intrinsic part of human nature that will not be lost on the digital age; it’ll just be a little more diluted.
Aaron: You guys have something really neat there; you have something where, as you become more popular you will become sustainable in the new internet age of being able to find music for a very nominal cost. This is just another step here at TIFF, being able to license your music as well takes you closer to losing the day job thing. As you play more shows, more and more people keep coming out. That’s been a really great avenue for a lot of bands as well, how important is the live show to Jets Overhead?
Antonia: The live show…it’s everything to us, it’s the reason we do it, really. Obviously song writing together, making records together is really fun and great way to spend your time, but we love playing shows. Showcases are weird, during the day but like I said, it’s good to play different types of shows and we just want to play as many shows as we can. That’s what we want to do, we love it and you learn something new every time you do it and we get better every time we do it I think and hopefully we end up playing lots and lots of shows.
Adam: Absolutely. I think it’s essential for all bands now, more than ever, to get on the network of building a fan-base via touring and playing on TV shows or movies or whatever, websites, we’ve played a few of those as well. That’s always fun. The record is one thing, but playing the songs live, they’re always ever changing and that makes it more interesting for us as we go about our gestation of the finished album, instead of just regurgitating. That’s a lovely image, we just made another album, and now we’re regurgitating it. Anyway, that part of it is pretty essential for us as a band.
Aaron: So this is a pretty cool stepping-stone, what else is coming up for Jets Overhead over the next year or so?
Antonia: Well, we have some pretty sweet shows coming up; we’re playing the Bridge School Benefit in San Francisco in October with No Doubt, and we’re really excited about that. But we just want to keep playing shows and we’ve got a pretty neat tour in the works and we just want to keep touring the fair world of ours and have some cool experiences and make new fans and please old ones.
Aaron: Cool, thanks for talking guys.
Antonia: Thank you.
Adam: Yeah, thanks.