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Tim Charles Ne Obliviscaris - Interview
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Ne Obliviscaris

The state of the music industry as it stands in 2016 is as many people are very aware, in a bit of a unique position which many will say is a bit of a mess. With music sales at an all time low, bands today rely heavily on touring but what people may not be aware of is the costs involved being on the road and even off the road too. As a major headlining band who are well established, this isn't so much of a problem compared to the smaller bands who have not reached that point yet. Melbourne metallers Ne Obliviscaris are one of many bands today who are at that level of touring around the world supporting some of the biggest names in the business but sadly have been caught in that position of not being able to sustain the lifestyle financially. The band just came back from a U.S. tour with Cradle Of Filth so we caught up with vocalist Tim Charles to discuss a revolutionary new concept that the band launched with their Patreon campaign.



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Andrew: I guess the first thing I want to discuss is the Patreon campaign, it's a pretty cool idea and I've been following it since you announced it. Just tell me a little bit about the whole idea behind it and how it came together and where did the idea come from in the first place.

Tim: Sure. I guess what we're doing is we have setup what is essentially the combination of a monthly fanclub where people can get involved in the band for different sets of rewards and benefits and incentives and all that sort of stuff, exclusive content, all these sorts of things whilst at the same time combine it with this aspect of patreons of the arts and of music. Why we have done this in the first place is to address what we view as a black hole in revenue from bands and artists, especially at that mid-tier level where we are touring internationally and we have tens of thousands of fans across the world but we're not at that stage where we are able to make any money at all basically and a lot of bands like us are treading this fine line between investing our career and giving ourselves opportunities to keep getting bigger while at the same time running the risk of going broke and ending up in very difficult financial positions. Because we've spent 6 of the last 10 months on the road and because of that, all of us have been fired from our day jobs and as anyone can imagine, if you don't have any work to come home to and you're not getting paid when you're on the road, it's pretty difficult to work out a way to pay your bills. We've all had to be pretty creative to find solutions to keep things going but it really wasn't something that was really sustainable. One thing we learned the longer we looked into things and the more we talked to other bands was that it wasn't just us, it wasn't anything that was specific to the way we were going about things, it was something that was rife in the industry and basically how many bands the public think are making money, it's not even close to what you think. I mean even being in the industry there are bands that I thought were making money just a year ago but now I realize they are not making any money either or they are not making very much, there are so many bands sacrificing so much. So I guess we were looking for a solution to find a way to make ends meet, we had more tours on the horizon that we wanted to do and we were like, 'How do we keep this going, how do we keep on the road, how do we keep advancing our career', so that we can get an opportunity to maybe get to the level where we are a headline act and maybe start to make a bit of money. We were really confident that our fans wanted to be involved and they wanted to see our band succeed, we've had a long history with what we've been doing in engaging our fans and supporting our career. We had a hugely successful world tour crowdfunding campaign 18 months ago which is the reason we had the money to do such an enormous international touring, far and beyond what most bands at the level we were at were able to do and we really felt that they were there to support us but we needed to give them an avenue to do so.

The thing that really struck me and formed I guess, kind of the eureka moment of the idea was just before Christmas when C.J. (Mcmahon) from Thy Art Is Murder quit the band and cited the financial reasons. And here is a band that internationally are more well known than us and still not making enough to be a full time wage. A guy basically the same age as me who was talking about wanting to get married and have kids and myself, I have a 4 year old daughter here at home and just realizing that even with this band who is bigger than us, they're still struggling and there was such a surprise from the fans of Thy Art Is Murder and from the general public that they weren't earning more money. I thought that this was quite ironic that the fans were the ones that were so surprised and so disappointed in this when they're actually the ones that finance the band. Every dollar a band ever makes is from the fans, if you buy a CD at a store or merch or live show sales, every dollar a band makes is from the fans and so it's up to the fans how much money a band makes or that they don't make. And that made me feel that the fact there was such a disconnect there, I started to get more and more frustrated at the way the industry was setup because you have all these fans that say they want to support Thy Art Is Murder but Thy Art Is Murder aren't getting the financial remuneration from these fans. So we started to look at, well what if we could do this sort of monthly subscription service, what if we could get people involved and what if we could say to our fans, 'Hey this is the reality of our situation, if you love what we do, if you want to see what we do to keep going, then this is a way you can get involved to ensure that'. Because a lot of other bands they just quit or people leave the band or whatever and we didn't want to do that, we didn't want to complain, we didn't want to give up. We wanted to look for a new solution, a new way forward and this was what we came up with.

Andrew: Like you mentioned a few times there, I guess the biggest misconception that people have, everyone, fans and the like, is that there is a lot of money made from even some of the bigger bands which is not true. So as you pointed out, that's the biggest misconception and I guess it's one of the reasons why you wanted to do this since people aren't paying for music anymore so what choice do you have?

Tim: Yeah that's exactly right. The reality is that money from shows and from merchandise has essentially stayed the same in the last 20 years but income from CD sales has dropped dramatically. So essentially you have one area of the music industry where revenue has dropped dramatically and there's nothing coming to replace it and that's where something like this takes advantage of the incredible connectivity that we have in this digital social media age. Like I said before, we're not trying to complain about the industry, instead what we want to do is push a new way forward and say, 'Look the old structures don't work anymore'. So rather than try and force it and say, 'Hey everyone you gotta buy CD's because all the bands are going broke', people have been doing that for 20 years. The reality is that ship has sailed, there's no point trying to convince people to buy CD's in the numbers that they used to, instead you got to take advantage of the positives and the positives are there are a lot of people across the world who only discovered Ne Obliviscaris because they could get our music for free whether it was through a torrent or just from checking us out on youtube and then deciding to become a fan after that. So there's a lot of positives out of the changes that the internet have brought on but there have also been these negatives and it's been trying to work out how to take away these financial negatives and use the positives of having all this great connectivity with the fans.

Andrew: And it's been successful for you guys, you have obviously reached your goal probably better than you maybe expected. But one of the things that has come up with the whole crowdfunding thing and I'm sure you are aware, is that there has been some backlash as far as what the motives are for a band doing this. I personally think it's a great idea and think bands need to do these kinds of ideas in order for them to survive but there are those that think the other way around so how do you respond to that kind of criticism?

Tim: I guess the short way to summarise how to respond to that is we really don't care because the reality is that what will live out in the long run is the story of the success of this project and this initiative. And so moving forward, people won't remember the debate or anything surrounding the launch, what people will remember is whether it was successful or not and whether or not it ended up being a successful solution to the problem that I'm talking about. The other thing that makes it easy to discount a lot of the negativity that some people have brought upon it is the reality that a lot of it is ignorance, that they don't understand the stuff that we're talking about. I've read comments from people that are in maybe local bands who have never toured internationally talking about, 'Well a band like you guys should be making money and if you're not, then you're obviously doing something wrong in the way you're budgeting' or something like that and it's like, well if you can tell me how to get a U.S. entertainment visa cheaper or if you can tell me how to get 7 people to the other side of the world and back cheaper...A lot of these things are fixed costs that you can't get around, we don't tour with roadies, we don't even tour with a lighting engineer. We sell our own merch so we don't have a merch person to pay, the only person we take on tour with us is our sound engineer. We do everything as cheap as we can and I think the reality is that not everyone understands the way things work, I actually saw a comment from a fan online saying that he thought it was a bad look to to be asking for fan involvement in this sort of way because people presume we're making lots of money because we're touring with such great artists like Cradle Of Filth. I responded to that particular fan saying that's exactly the problem! The problem is that there is this fake imagery of bands with huge successes that is not backed up by financial reality so the act that he viewed us as a band that is making a lot of money because we're touring with a lot of these bands, well we're here I guess to put a pin in that balloon and say, 'Look I'm sorry to blow it for everyone but most support tours like that get paid nothing'. A lot of opening bands on big tours get paid as little as $100-$200 a night, a good payment might be $300- $500 a night and that's not per person, that's for the whole band and then you might pay a couple hundred dollars or maybe $150 or whatever to your sound engineer. You might have to pay for a lighting engineer, some venues in the U.S. take up to 20 percent gross of your merchandise sales. A lot of people aren't aware of that so hopefully through interviews like this and through talking about it more and more, hopefully more people will become educated on the reality of how things work. We're just trying to be open and transparent about things so that more people understand because we think once people do understand, they will be really supportive of not just us doing this but of any band that they enjoy doing something similar like this in the future.

Andrew: Yeah absolutely, I think it's one of the things that people need to be aware of because it's not just coming down to bands of your size but also to bands at the next level. They're not making money and so they're finding different ways, they're doing the crowdfunding thing as well. Bands like Megadeth and the like were doing it in their own way. But it's interesting that you mentioned at the beginning that this is sort of done in a fanclub style, is that they way that you view it? That it is essentially like a fanclub?

Tim: Kind of. Essentially what we're asking for is to get people involved in the band and connected with the band in different ways. I mean essentially what we are running is I guess a reinvented version of a fanclub but it is in the social media digital age where the sort of interaction you can have with fans really far surpasses what people used to have back in the day. That's one of the things we're excited about because we have basically gone, 'What can we do with modern technology to engage with our fans in ways that bands haven't really done before', and that's something we've been pushing so we view it from that aspect. But we've also been pushing the aspect of patreonage of the arts because Patreon is sort of set up their basis of people paying for free content but they enjoy because they want to see it continue. So there's a lot of youtube bloggers on Patreon for example who released content that people watch for free and was basically a way of saying, 'Well in order for these people to afford to keep doing that, here's a way you can support this person that you get enjoyment out of to ensure that they keep going.'

Andrew: I've been trying to understand more about it because I've been reading a bit about it but there's some things that maybe some people out there including myself that don't quite understand exactly how it works as far as payments are concerned. For example is it a monthly thing or a yearly thing? How does that work?

Tim: Well basically it's on a once a month basis and people can change their pledge level at any time, they can opt out at any time. What's happened at the moment, we've got about $7500 US in subscriptions which is just under $10,000 AUS per month. That gets processed on the first of every month so the first payments will be process on April 1st and after that, people can opt out at any time and they can change their levels so if people's financial situation changes, they can increase or decrease what they're pledging and what membership benefits they get changes depending on how much money they're subscribing with their membership level.

Andrew: OK cool so I guess there's the benefit of the flexibility of it, I guess some people may be afraid of getting into some kind of contract where they get stuck into it for a year or something but it's not like that. People can opt out after a few months or they can keep going with it or whatever.

Tim: That's exactly right and we wanted to make sure it's flexible for people so that people can get involved when it works for them. We're confident that over time the interest in what we're doing and support for what we're doing will continue to go up and we're really excited to see how it all pans out because so far the launch has been an enormous success. I really can't understate how much this is transforming our career because for us where we now have an extra $120,00 projected annual income from our patreon and that's just where we are standing from so far that we hope continues to go up. And that means we can continue to plan for all of our tours and our recording and all that stuff with confidence that we're going to have that money to keep investing what we're doing as a band.

Andrew: Have you been getting any feedback from other bands who may be interested in doing the same kind of thing as you guys?

Tim: Yeah we've had a lot of feedback and we've had a lot of great support from other bands, bands who have posted up about what we are doing. I was just looking this morning on my facebook page and I saw that Sky Harbour who are a band that I'm a big fan of, posted our Patreon thing and started a discussion with their fans. Caligula's Horse, Jim (Grey) their singer, put up a post talking about how it was such a great thing what we were doing, there's also other bands who have contacted us privately saying, 'Hey we are in the same position as you guys and we are really interested in trying to take up this initiative and maybe copy what you guys are doing', and that's something that's been really encouraging and really happy to talk to people about because there are a lot of bands we're friends with and there's a lot of bands that I'm a fan of that I know are in the same position and the last thing I would want as a fan is to see one of my favorite bands quit because they can't affor to go on. I know if there's bands that I love that setup a similar idea like this, I would more than happily contribute money to their Patreon campaign to ensure that they keep doing what I love to hear from them.

Andrew: Yeah it is unfortunate that some bands are forced to quit because they can't afford to do it but hopefully this idea that you have will inspire other bands to get onto it, it's a very cool idea. Congratulations on all the success of it and I really do hope the whole thing really takes off for the future of you guys. Thanks for your time today, it's really appreciated.

Tim: My pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to talk about this and I'm really excited not only for how this goes for us but to see how this hopefully can impact a lot of other bands across the world moving forward.

More info and Patreon campaign details can be found HERE.

Interview by Andrew "Schizodeluxe" Massie on March 25th 2016