There used to be a time in the music biz when artists had the option to not go out on tour if they so chose, a time when album sales would (or might) generate enough funds to carry an artist financially. Those days are long gone. Nowadays touring is not just an option for artists, it's a necessity.
Not only that, but the rules of the game have been totally flipped around. Once upon a time a tour supported an album, but these days an artist's new album is merely a tool to promote his/her tour.
Case in point is longtime East Bay artist/producer/emcee Del The Funky Homosapien (of Hieroglyphics and Gorillaz/Deltron 3030 fame etc.), whose brand new album, Funkman (FunnyMan Entertainment), released today, April 7th, is being given away completely free as a digital download exclusively on his site and is being utilized as a tool to promote the artist's national tour which kicks off tomorrow, April 8th, in San Luis Obispo and runs through May 22nd.
Unlike Radiohead, who so famously gave away their last album by making it downloadable for free or (preferably) whatever amount of money fans chose to donate based on what they thought the music was worth, Del isn't asking a penny for the music. Foolish? Not at all. On the contrary, Del, who you will recall along with his Hiero collective was among the earliest hip-hoppers in the mid 1990's to jump on the Internet as way to distribute music, has always been ahead of the curve when it comes to music market analysis. Besides, he knows that today's pirating generation of music fans don't expect to spend money on new music and are most likely going to steal it anyway. So, he figured, why not just give it to them anyway and stay in control of the situation?
Topically presented as Del's "Stimulus Package" release for these cash-strapped times, the 13 track Funkman is artist's seventh album and follow up to last year's Def Jux release Eleventh Hour. The new album was officially announced via video clip a few weeks ago with the artist shown as "The President of Funk" atop a podium with a large Red Bull logo, informing fans of his "13 point stimulus plan that is guaranteed to restore funk to our Government," along with the good news that he was giving away this new album for free as of April 7th.
The fan response to the video upon its posting to YouTube was unanimously positive. Immediately there were comments like "Del has love for the fans, that's definitely something I can respect. Much love to Del," and "Del, thanks for giving us a new album for FREE! Your fans really appreciate it, I can't wait to hear it."
And the good news is that the new, smoldering, funk-fueled Funkman album is all that too, and shows Del in no-nonsense lyrical form telling it like it is on tracks such as "King of Fighters" and "Straight From The Big Bad West Coast" (in which he calls out studio enhanced chart seekers to "take that Auto-Tune off/Leave the gimmicks at home/You ain't foolin' nobody"). Furthermore, Del also self-produced all but one of the new album tracks, "Simple Satisfaction," which was produced by Zac Hendrix, who additonally provided all the album's cuts and added vibes.
Earlier today I caught up with Del The Funky Homosapien, who has been working round the clock the last few days in an effort to get all his business in order before tomorrow, when he embarks on his intensive 31-date, six week national tour. One of the things he had to complete, he informed me, included recording a track with emcee Psalm One for her next album just yesterday. I asked Del four questions about the new album and was not disappointed with the artist's in depth and insightful answers.
Amoeblog: How exactly did the idea to give your album away for free come about?
Del: The idea to give the LP for free basically came about out of necessity. I figured, since no one is gonna buy it anyway, or at least not enough to warrent trying to release it that way, I may as well give it free of will instead of tryin to track down or scare people over tha downloads. I know what times we are living in, anyway. People have little disposable income, so it was a gesture as well. I also have a lot of confidence in my new musical material, so much that I'm pretty much daring anyone to find any glaring deficiencies in it. I'm basically saying, I'll give it to you for free, now check me out compared to the stuff people have the nerve to ask money for; you're gonna have to respect my effort.
Amoeblog: What role do Red Bull play in the release? Are they sponsoring the album or the tour or both?
Del: They are sponsoring us partially. Also, I am closely involved with them with the (Red Bull) Music Academy and their work with people on an educational level. Through that, we approached them with the idea and they are helping us out because they believe in the music. My manager, BukueOne, who's also an artist as well, is the one between us who is facilitating the business. My vision creatively is to restore some positive energy back in our music. I feel that people have been bullshitting for too long, and [Red Bull] feel the same way and are fans of my musical movement as well. Business-wise, we both feel we could gain from the association, but it's deeper than just business. If it were just about money, I could've approached anyone with interest.
Amoeblog: How long will be posted for free and will it be released later via Def Jux or Hiero Imperium or sold as MP3s online?
Del: As far as I can see, forever. That doesn't mean that we won't have them on tour at tha merch booth; if people want to help and pitch in, since it does cost me to produce tha product, they can do that. But of course, we aren't pointing a pistol at them. It's totally up to them, but I feel that tha music is strong and has a lot to offer them. From my first reactions I'm getting, people are really stoked about it being free and it not being just some stuff I had laying around and decided this was a good way to make use of it. No, this is a real LP. I spent time with this, years. Barely two, but still...it's not a mixtape CD. There are no plans right now to release it through any other company now or in the future, but my manager may have other ideas. As of now, we haven't really thought of that. You see, I make so much new music that there's really no need to try to squeeze all the life out of one LP anyway. And besides, I'd be bored out of my skull. I create some kind of new music every single day. I have hundreds of pieces of music. I really do this, not for money at all, I don't need to. I figure that the value of my work is professional and that in itself will bring me money if I so choose to pursue that. My attitude toward music took a change completely once I studied music theory; all the fear about profit and whether people would like it vanished, as it should. I'm a professional, not the same kid banging out beats on a drum machine ages ago.
Amoeblog: It seems like things sure have changed a lot since you started out in the music biz all those years ago. Before, tours supported albums. Now it seems like albums support tours. Would you agree?
Del: Hahahahaha, you are perceptive, Billy! And we definitely have been around long enough to see a lot of changes. But also we both know that the touring has always been tha meat and potatoes of tha whole deal. Unless you are selling millions of LP's, you really ain't gonna see that much gwap. So in that regard, albums always supported tha tours, [and] bands were expected to be able to perform tha material to a level that would exceed the entertainment value of tha recording, since it is a recording and not tha actual thing.
But see, with multi-track recording, there came the ability to create artistically complex material. Also it allowed recordings to be pieced together: no longer did tha whole band have to be tight enough to at least get through tha recording once with [few] errors. They didn't even all have to be present at tha same time, and that's a technological breakthrough. But the more complex the recording, tha harder it is to transfer that to tha stage.
That's one thing to think about. But the idea is that it's always a performance, whether it's live or recorded. But the record industry and lazy acts have basically used tha system to make millions with little artistic effort. So within that framework, yes I would say that tha tours were used more as a way to get people to buy tha albums, which is tha physical product that tha companies could actually sell. They can't sell the artists themselves (in this day and age, anyway). But people are dissillusioned and fed up with tha phony people. Man, I am too, shit. I've seen the art form I loved just become a tool for what? To show off and act stupid, as far as I'm concerned. Not everybody, but a whole lot of people who said I was insane in school trying to rap (this is figurative, I'm only speaking of a mindstate here) have used the game as an easy way to the top. So it's back to where we started: artists are gonna have to prove to the public that they are what they claim to be. and this time, we won't be fooled so easily-- it'll take a whole lotta convincing after tha charade that [has gone] on since the '70s at least.
-----------------------For details on Del's tour, whose line-up includes Mike Relm, BukueOne and others, visit his MySpace.