In a film as heavily driven by music as this one, the most part of the pre-production had to do with researching into music. The film was inspired by a particular genre, and I had chosen the task to recreate this feeling and add to it through the medium of the film.
I had downloaded the full catalogue of releases by the netlabel, and I was listening to it extensively. I found all the music videos for their tracks I could, to get a sense of how this music works on a visual level, and I was following how the artists were communicating, what they were sharing, etc. in their community. As mentioned earlier, last year I was invited to their internal Facebook group, where they discuss everything that has to do with the netlabel, share their new tracks, ask for feedback for stuff that is work-in-progress, and have general conversations. Since this is an online community, that is the main way they communicate and it was absolutely priceless for my research to follow their conversations (and join in) for such a long time.
It helped me to also see what problems they are having that I might mention in the interviews, I was able to get to know their points of reference, see what they like and don’t like, etc. For example, I witnessed discussions about music licensing and rights management, selling beats to rappers, dealing with other labels and collaborations, invites for group compilations, remixes and guest starring, photoshoot arrangements, offline and streaming gigs, and interesting cases of dealing with the music industry, trying to distinguish themselves as a Creative Commons and not ‘indie’ label – which has been truly eye-opening.
I have also managed to help out a bit at the netlabel, giving feedback, advice, and providing my photography archive (released under a Creative Commons license) for cover art.
Things that stayed out of the film, but that were a big influence and made an impact on how the film would shape, was for example the debut release of one of the netlabel’s core members – Tamas Toth aka Ribbonmouthrabbit. I am following his ‘career’ very closely, almost since the beginning – he started mixing other people’s music a year and a half ago, and now, he has already had his second release, he is now DJ-ing regularly at a few clubs, and his music has been featured in a few high-profile compilations. He even took the 32nd place in the Mixcloud’s Best of 2012 competition, ahead of mainstream artists such as Above and Beyond. It only took the community’s support, a few interested fans, Mitko’s mentoring – and he became a music producer.
Another story that was only mentioned briefly in the film was the American artist (currently living in Switzerland) Anitek – who has been releasing albums like crazy, and getting a ton of licenses for advertisements, commercial videos, documentaries, etc. A small part of his licensing clients include Sony Japan, Google, Nike, Bank of America, National Geographic, The BBC, MTV, Audi, Honda, Dove, PBS, Samsung, Disney, American Express. This is a guy that releases all his music for free, so all the listeners and even non-commercial projects like mine can use it, and he only charges commercial clients. One of the best examples of the new business model in music, driven by the Creative Commons movement, and fully embracing digital.
One more story that wasn’t included in the film is the one of The Smugglers Collective – a group of people, some of them members of the netlabel, that are now organising vintage / swing / electro swing parties throughout Bulgaria and the Balkans, producing radio shows and podcasts, inviting big names from the scene, organising swing dance classes, and selling vintage clothes in a themed shop. One more proof that inspiration *can* have a healthy relationship with the commercial world, and not feel like a rip-off.
Even though I wasn’t able to tell their stories in the film, I am now certain this is one direction in filmmaking I would pursue – telling the stories of how seemingly ‘alternative’, ‘underground’, ‘off the radar’ artists are actually doing quite well on a commercial level, while staying small and accessible for their fans and listeners. I already have a specific idea what story I would like to tell next, how and why. What is more, I can now see the unthinkable – I can imagine myself making a 60- or 90-minute documentary, or even a couple of them.