Interview with Mike Darlington, CEO of Monstercat
With allegations of copyright infringement continually surfacing in the dance music community, Vancouver-based label Monstercat decided to make a public statement of their views on the matter. The Monstercat Manifesto was posted as a staple set of beliefs that the label’s staff shared on the borrowing of sounds and ideas and the legality of accessing artists’ work. Monstercat released this statement alongside their newest compilation album, Monstercat 018 - Frontier, to highlight the importance of positive progression in the music industry as the industry continues to change under the influence of the internet. Mike Darlington, CEO and co-founder of Monstercat discusses the views he shares with his team on the process of sampling, bootlegging, and socially posting music within the label, and how the Manifesto will serve as basis for everything Monstercat does moving forward.
What exactly brought about the writing of the Monstercat Manifesto?
I think it’s something that’s kind of always been on our minds--we’ve integrated the concept into our projects and branding. But it was something that we hadn’t taken much of a public stance on. It just seemed right at the time when we were developing the album campaign and discussing with our team what the album meant to us. We realized that a lot of the things we believe internally, we never have really publicized. So, instead of writing a blog post or just posting something on the website or on Twitter, it felt more fitting that we’d do it in a creative manner where it was more our tenets, our direct beliefs made out really clearly for everybody. I also think there’s a lot of misconceptions that people had about us and our way of doing things that we kind of wanted to clear up. I remember reading somewhere that people were talking about us being angry with somebody because they were torrenting our music—that one of the artists was putting their music up for torrent. And I just didn’t want that to be something people were thinking about us, when really it’s the complete opposite. If anything, we host a lot of torrents of our music and seed them ourselves.
Right, and this statement not only pertains to the artists involved in sharing themselves, but also the fans who want to share this music on social media, right?
Yeah, I think part of it is how it relates to people’s YouTube and Soundcloud accounts, and especially when it comes to people doing bootlegs and mixes. I just want people to know that we’ve got no problem with them. If anything, we encourage it. I love seeing people using our music in their mixes. It’s a way for our music to get out there. We’re still really developing our artists and brand. We also don’t have guys that are the industry standard type of thing for music, so whenever we get an opportunity where people can showcase our music in a creative way, I want to take advantage of that, and for people to not be afraid that in doing so, it’s going to have negative repercussions on themselves.
How do you think the music industry has really changed over the past few years, with the internet and social media?
Everything’s much faster. Everything is more accessible. There are more options all the time, and, really, people are starting to see through the bullshit a lot faster than ever. In the past, it was so much easier to tell people, “This is the hit, you have to like this, it’s the next big thing.” Now that there’s just too much information, it’s easy for people to see through that. I do believe that there is a shifting trend, especially when it comes to social networking and piracy. I think the overall concept is that people are starting to become more aware of the potentials and not being so limiting—and maybe being creative in the ways of monetizing content. We all know that music sales are not the be-all and end-all that they once were. If we’re creative and open to change, we can create new revenue streams that never existed before. I think in general, most people are accepting in that and ready to move. It’s just how easy it is to make that change. When you’re in a small independent label, it’s really easy to sit in a couple meetings and make a decision and go in that direction. But when you’re in a major label, or you’re in a sub label to a major, for a decision to make it from the top and make it trickle all the way down to the bottom, it still takes a long, long time.
What are the other main differences between major labels and independent labels?
Well, I definitely think that one point there is a major one. We’re able to be flexible; we’re able to kind of pivot, depending on the times. I think another difference between the majors and the independents is that majors—when they go in on a project—invest heavily into that project, and there’s a large cash investment type of thing into the average artist. So, they’ve got distribution channels and methodologies that are in place that they know relatively work, and they’re going to make that their investment and hopefully make money. That’s their goal. When you’re an independent, you can kind of use a bit more science to it in the sense that you can have a hypothesis, test it, and see if it works. And if it doesn’t work, you know it, and you’re able to learn from it and do it differently. I don’t think there’s as much room for really testing different methodologies in the major labels until there’s direct proof of it working and there can be the calculation needed to recoup on the investment. Yeah, I just think it’s about being flexible. Of course there’s a lot of advantages to the major labels in them having those distribution channels and having those relationships with radio promoters. Those are things that independents don’t generally have, and it takes a long time for them to get to that point.
Okay, so when you sign an artist’s track, you guys have full copyright to that.
We exclusively license the master, however the artist maintains ownership of their copyright.