An interview with Kerchoonz co-founder and Scotland-based, singer-songwriter Indiana Gregg (part 1 of 2)
Imagine working for years developing your music career. You’ve released several albums, signed with an indie label, inked licensing deals, and received love from the press and radio, all while you’ve toured the country. An indie artist’s dream! That is until you find out that your latest release has been illegally downloaded over 250,000 times off of major pirate sites like The Pirate Bay.
This is the nightmare Glasgow, Scotland-based, singer-songwriter Indiana Gregg faced about 18 months ago when she released her album “Woman at Work.” The level of piracy was actually threatening the financial viability of her independent label Gr8Pop. So Gregg decided to take matters in her own hands and fight back. She contacted the UK-based Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) and British Phonographic Industry (BPI), as well as contacting the various websites linking to the illegal copies of her album. While nearly all the sites complied with the link removal request, file-sharing website The Pirate Bay responded with a “cyber-bullying” campaign, publicly releasing Indiana’s email that resulted in a malicious deluge from the site’s supporters.
Instead of getting mad, Indiana - with her manager and husband Ian Morrow - decided to get even on behalf of all artists. To accomplish this, she has set out to create a site that would pay artists for every stream of their music; and even pay when the artist would want to offer their music for free download. Slated for beta launch later this month, Kerchoonz.com has already attracted the attention of media outlets like the BBC and Digital Media Wire, as well pirate forums such as TorrentFreak and suprbay.org.
MusicDish e-Journal sat down with Indiana to find out more about Kerchoonz and how it might just tilt the music industry balance in favor of musicians.
[Eric de Fontenay] Where did the idea behind Kerchoonz originate?
[Indiana Gregg] I’ve always believed that art and music should be free and accessible to the people who can perhaps not afford it. However, it shouldn’t be at the expense of the people who create music and film. Since the late 90’s, billions of copyrighted files have been downloaded illegally. Free art is a great concept, but musician’s can’t live on “thin air” and it’s hard to make music without some investment. Music, film and art costs money, time and dedication to produce. We believe that if this continues, nobody will want to invest in new creativity, and we can’t let that happen. Brainstorming took place, and Kerchoonz is what we decided to offer as a solution.
I spoke with my partner/producer Ian Morrow, and we started to put this idea into motion. We began developing the site in late 2006 and in April 2008, we founded a new Scottish-based company, Kerchoonz Ltd. We’ve been working on the site around the clock with developers from all over the world (and every time zone!). You might say we’re workaholics, but it’s actually been terribly creative, fun and exciting despite the long hours we’ve put in. So, Kerchoonz is a site where artistic creators can give their music away for free and still get paid!
[de Fontenay] Obviously, piracy was a driving force behind Kerchoonz’ drive to compensate artists. In what other ways has piracy influenced the site?
[Gregg] To be honest, piracy is only a tiny part of what has influenced the development of Kerchoonz. In the early days, even before social sites like MySpace and YouTube came into the mainstream, we were discussing paying artists for streams and how social networks were using music to draw traffic to their sites. Having millions of people visit my own social networking pages, I thought it would be cool if we were able to pay artists for their streams.
You know, there is a fine line between a band getting “free promotion” on the internet and crossing over to that point where sites are really more or less “freely exploiting” a band’s work. Many sites are making millions in advertising each year from delivering the “goods” (music, film, software, games), however, the creative people whose work is being exploited earn absolutely nothing from these sites.
If a label or musician doesn’t want to give their music away as a free download, they can still be paid for their streams and even provide a link to iTunes or wherever their music is available for sale.
The bottom line is we need to protect the future of art and we hope that people will make the choice to support artists simply by listening or downloading for free.
I believe that on-demand streaming of music will be one of the main ways people access music in the future. Kerchoonz is a site where people can access music and create playlists on-demand at any time they want via the Internet or mobile phones.
So, really, I’d have to say that we’ve developed Kerchoonz primarily to cater to this huge shift in how people are choosing to access music. Was it due to piracy or the birth of social networking? Maybe a bit of both. People are changing the way they access music now and, to be honest, that’s been the strongest influence upon the creation of Kerchoonz.
[de Fontenay] Kerchoonz’ website mentions that Kerchoonz does not use DRM or embedded ads in download files. How does Kerchoonz generate the revenue to compensate artists? Do you feel that DRM and embedded ads will still be around in five years?
[Gregg] Advertisers want to reach specific numbers of people within a specific demographic. We want Kerchoonz to be fun and informative, and advertising is a way of finding out about new products and services. It’s also the way we plan to help compensate artists. But, we won’t be using pop-up ads or ads attached to the downloadable files.
Kerchoonz advertising is done in a way that’s more attractive and even entertaining for the user. We use a system where video adverts are played during downloads but they are not “attached” to them. There are no annoying force-fed ads. However, advertisers get their message, products and services across to their target demographic on the site, and that’s what’s important for this kind of ad-funded model.
Whether or not DRM or embedded ads will be necessary five years from now (or if they are even necessary now) depends upon the future of downloading. I have a feeling we are moving towards an era of ‘on-demand’ where people won’t want or need to actually “own” the files. So, it’s hard to say.
[de Fontenay] Do you feel that the industry’s approach to tackling piracy has been effective? What would you want to see proposed that would help you in developing a revenue channel for artists?
[Gregg] The music industry has suffered a tsunami of change over the past decade. It’s becoming more and more difficult for bands to compete by selling music alongside the huge popularity of “free.”
Has the industry been effective in tackling piracy? I don’t know. I think this is a difficult one to assess. I can only say that from my personal experiences, some of the pirate sites have been rather antagonistic in their approach towards musicians. They say that the industry is trying to force their old model on people. However, those same sites are the ones who are trying to force musicians into accepting “nothing” as an option.
As a result, the file-sharers have been targeted by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). I don’t know how effective that has been. However, recently more ISPs are getting involved and perhaps they will help reduce the problem.
Next week, in part 2 of MusicDish e-Journal’s interview with Indiana Gregg, we learn more about Kerchoonz, the site’s multiple features and it’s Choonz origins.