Adult Problems - Art Is Just A Job: Musician And Label-Owner Justin Pearson On The Music IndustryBy Zachary Lipez
Photos by Nick Zinner
I’ll keep this intro short. Justin Pearson has been in some of the best hardcore/grind/artfuckery bands of the last fifteen or so years, from Struggle to The Locust to Head Wound City to his current work in RETOX. He is one of the founders of Three One G Records. He also has a reputation as a loudmouthed prick. As he’s no stranger to bearing the brunt of idiotic attacks on the internet and as I’m pretty partial to loudmouthed pricks, I couldn’t wait to talk him about the recent (in real life terms if not the internet’s) Twitter storm in an intercut that was David Lowery’s jeremiad against online theft and twenty-year-old interns. It would take a much longer interview to really do the topic justice, but Justin, who despite his entirely undeserved reputation (at least the “prick” part) I think added a different perspective than either the “free stuff for me forever ‘cuz I’m not an olds! LOL!” camp and the “I’m essentially an A&R guy. Public Libraries should have to pay for back issues of Rolling Stone” camp. Okay. I made those camps up. But Pearson still had plenty worthwhile to say.
Hey JP, I know we're a little late to the party on this, but parties are terrible and this may be the worst party of them all, so....did you read the David Lowery piece? What did you think? Let's fight!
I'm not sure where to start. This topic is fairly massive and I agree with almost all of what was written in the article. We can certainly fight if ya got something for me. I'm certainly not going to align myself with Lars on this matter.
Okay, fine. Maybe the guy is right, but I can't really move past the fact that, despite his "I'm not trying to shame you in this public attack" claims, the chosen representative of all that is evil in the music industry is...an NPR intern. I just couldn't help thinking, "This dude wouldn't be taking on Steve Albini."
And what's the difference between his position and Lars'? Besides that he was in a band that isn't looked down on by the intelligentsia and Lars is in Metallica, who aren't really taken too seriously as, you know, thinkers and shit.
The entire argument can easily be chalked up to a first world problem, especially if it’s from the mouth of a filthy rich mediocre drummer. I agree, though; the writer seems like a prick here and there. I think he is spot on and makes his points but certainly takes plenty of jabs. I suppose, personally, I refrain from complaining because the issue is so massive. Art and music in particular have certainly been devalued over time, and it's only become amplified with the internet.
Sure, it sucks that I will never see royalty checks for all I do, but I look at it like this: at least I have the means to play music and tour. I wish I didn't have to scrape by like I do. But hell, I don't donate to NPR. I guess if this lady was buying my music along with the rest of her like-minded humans, I would be making money and wouldn't have to turn my radio off when they do those lame-ass fundraisers.
You're being so reasonable. Now I feel like a swine for all my ill will towards Lowery. I think I may have let the crybaby factor of the comments affect my critical thinking.
BUT I do believe there's an element of "house servant thinking" to the piece. Dude worked essentially as middle management for major labels for years. He wasn't on Dischord and he didn't Do It His Own Damn Self. And he had no problem with that system. Now he's missing his silver and is pissed...Shit, I'm being mean again. For the record, I sort of liked Cracker.
Anyway, I agree with you that art has been devalued over time. I just don't know how I feel about it. I always agreed with the New Bomb Turks' "art is just a job," but that can buy into either argument—either "Yep it's a job...Pay us, motherfucker" or "It's a job, artist motherfucker. If you can't get paid for it, that's on you." I am glad, however, that people are talking about art in a purely non-romantic fashion. I think that's good in the long run. Even if it's incorrect. Art is fucking hard, but I don’t want to be precious about it.
Sorry, I'm all over the place. I'm still working through all this.
I don't donate to NPR either. Nor do I listen to it. I only listen to podcasts of aging hardcore guys talking shit.
I think there should be an order as to how to approach this massive topic. I would like to start with the fact that, for some reason, music is devalued and the "struggles" of the artists are not considered, for the most part. The old idea of how "labels are bad" has been thrown out there, but what about the good labels? I, for one, feel it on both ends, running Three One G. So I get double-screwed sometimes. Or, better yet, I have artists who I release record by assume I am just dicking around and not paying or pushing them as I should be.
That's fair. That actually leads to a relevant question: Do people buy things from 31G? Has there been a massive downturn for you guys specifically? Obviously for CDs, but for vinyl too?
It's weird; people buy stuff from our website mostly. Not a lot gets into stores, which is just sad. Vinyl has picked up, however, and it's great. Now I just need to figure out how to re-press and release new things.
Is money the issue, or the artists? And I want to get back to an earlier point: the "struggles" of the artist. They're not considered by whom? Mass culture? Elite culture? And so what? Whose struggles ARE considered? It's not like David Lowery (or you and me, for that matter) was spearheading a movement to unionize in the '90s. Who's supposed to be attaching the value? The consumers? Should they set it? The labels, what's left of them? The interns?
The thing is, money and the artist are the issue. But I also think the issue is certainly the conditioning and maybe the control that the industry standards set for the people who "consume" the music. It's one thing to follow, say, Ian MacKay's ethics and keep it legit, cheap, and so on. Or be a prick, jack up the prices, and go that route. See, both sides get screwed. So that is really the point in my eyes. It's like robbing someone's home and stealing from Wal Mart; they certainly are not the same.
Lowery, you, I, or whomever can't really change or spearhead the situation. It has gained way too much momentum. For instance, people are so concerned with getting the new iPhone, when the previous one was just fine. But nope, everyone needs it. So who wants to spend money on a CD when they blew their hard-earned money on some strategically updated device that simply is the place to store the "free" shit. We are talking about class issues here, in my eyes. Working class is on one side, and then you have the corporations on the other. And the people or consumers/cheap skates in the middle. Just kidding on that comment there...sort of.
Now the emphasis is not on legit art, or the musicians who, in some people's opinions, should get paid what they deserve. The emphasis is on sponsorships, and some fake douchebag playing a sea of artists' material on his laptop and stage diving for a fuck-load of money, or even a second rate reunion that sucked the first time around.
See, this shit is massive. I say we level it all and whoever is left standing or has the balls/ovaries to push forward and do it with dignity and integrity will certainly place some sort of moral standards on music and art for people to appreciate.
Thanks, Justin. I like your hopeful fatalism. I will join you in anticipation of the great leveling...as long as it doesn't endanger my gig as an online music journalist.
Hey! We've been emailing back and forth for a few days...It's the 4th of July! I'm celebrating by watching Thor and eating Indian food by myself! What are you doing? And, seeing as we broached on the subject of reunions earlier, on this day of celebration of the greatest hardcore band of them all, America, what bands are you MOST excited about reuniting? And when can we expect the Swing Kids Kickstarter campaign?
I'm in Montreal, where people have no clue as to the "holiday," which is rad. I just played at Vans, ate rad food, and then drove a few hours towards Toronto. I'm beat.
As for the topic of reunions...There will be no Swing Kids Kickstarter campaign. Swing Kids did that one benefit show a few years back in relation to the book Burning Fight. The line-up warranted us playing (Unbroken, Undertow, Festival of Dead Deer) and, being that we raised 25K for charity, I felt like I could hold onto my integrity. However, there was an incarnation or something called Blue Note, which was the remaining members of Swing Kids and our friend Nathan Joyner, who has done some live shows playing the songs of Blue Note. The project was updated and made relevant, in my opinion, by taking these steps. I don't know that the original version of Swing Kids holds up, at least with the musicianship of our time when we first started. And I think things have evolved, for the most part, so we updated what we had done in the past and pushed forward, changing the name and stuff, especially since Eric Allen, the original guitarist, passed away.
I'm not sure Kickstarter would make sense in my case. I mean, I would feel like a shit-head asking for free music to bring an old band back from the dead. And I am totally down to sort of shoot ourselves in the foot by altering our name and changing the line up and doing something a bit more modern. I, by all means, would not want to do what we did in the past. I'll leave that to the second or third-rate bands who stumbled upon Antioch Arrow and Born Against a bit late and are now cashing in. That stuff is just boring.
The Locust is working on the Molecular Genetics From The Gold Standard Labs album, which is a collection of the material released by GSL, but has all been remixed and remastered and will come out on Anti later this summer.
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