Success story Internet? – Gavin Castleton and “Won over Frequency”

(Artwork by Aaron Nagel)

I have mentioned Gavin Castleton twice before on this blog. I like his music, which is hard to classify somewhere between pop, R&B and progressive rock but always well-thought-out and often very moving. I discovered him with the release of his album Home in 2009 and recently checked out what he has been up to, only to discover that he was busy getting his next album Won over Frequency financed by his fans, luring them with such prizes as hair from his dog (whom he calls his furry brown son) Lumas and specially-written songs for the supporters. For a donation of $480, he was even willing to give away Lumas, provided his new owners would pay for hip surgery.

I pledged my $ 20 at Kickstarter and asked Gavin for an interview before he went on tour. The album turned out great, but apparently the tour didn’t. I’m glad he still found the time to answer my questions about being a professional musician with internet support two weeks ago. Not surprisingly, his answers display the same mix of earnestness and dry humor prevalent in his lyrics and facebook status updates.

Do you consider Gavin Castleton an internet success story? What about “Won Over Frequency”, is that an internet success story in your eyes?

If an “internet success story” is something that was completed as a result of the internet, then I’d say my Won Over Frequency fundraiser was an “internet success story.” I don’t believe I am personally an “internet success story.”

What is the story behind using Kickstarter to finance the rest of the album?

I opted to use their well-designed interface to run my campaign. Time was an issue, so it seemed more time efficient than building my own interface. There is a lot of small print that I did not pay enough attention to. There are many positive and negative aspects of Kickstarter, but sort of a whole blog’s worth. Maybe I’ll write one up and post it at my blog (Ed.: Please do! I guess other musicians could only profit from it).

How did the more unusual pledges work out? Did you actually give away Lumas to someone who could promise him hip replacement surgery? Have you received any lyrics yet to turn into a song?

The wonderful couple who “purchased” my son assured me (in a weird note comprised of cutout letters) that they had no intention of taking my son for the time being, but that if the hits ever stopped coming, they would swoop in like a falcon and extract him. So we’re good for now. I’ve received only one set of lyrics for the collaborative Reward category.

Before and after the Kickstarter campaign, how did/do you use the internet to promote your music?


What does that mean, exactly?

I have profiles on all social networks, and I publish regularly to Blogspot, Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Twitter, and Purevolume. I run a webstore for several artists at, I run three mailing lists, and sell my work through all major digital outlets. I use the internet to interact with my listeners and other artists, book shows, and promote my work to blogs, DJs, and magazines.

In “The Crier”, a song on Won over Frequency, you talk about “cryptic status updates posted to invoke the most sympathy” and life in the “feedback loop” of social networking. How do you feel about your public-private online life and creating a virtual brand around yourself?

I think there are pros and cons to making yourself very accessible to people via the internet. The more “human” I am with people, the more potential there is for my work to inspire them to follow their own path. The more they feel like they know me and recognize me as an open, honest person, the more my work will resonate with them. On the flipside, the more accessible I am, the more I invite unsolicited criticism, invasive interactions, and emotional baggage from people I don’t know all that well. As far as branding myself, I find that most consumers prefer to invest in entities, rather than singular people with normal names. Call it the result of a society centered around corporations. If I called myself “HorseWolf” I would probably sell more shirts and CDs.

Were you always an internet person?

I’m not sure what the definition of an “internet person” is, but I did always take a big interest in the internet – from the moment I first saw it in 1994.

The Kickstarter apparently was a success. Can you imagine actually making an okay living off your music with campagins like these?

It was sort of a success in that I reached my initially published goal. But I am still $3200 short of covering my costs, let alone making a profit. I do think pre-orders are a viable way for me to fund future albums, but this is no kind of “living.” My younger sister buys my groceries, my collaborators don’t get paid what they deserve, and I don’t have health insurance.

Do you think you can improve on this balance in the future, though?

I’ve been working on fine-tuning that balance for six years now (not counting the 10 before that in Gruvis Malt, in which I didn’t really make a conscious effort to make a sustainable business). It just so happens that these past six years have been anarchy in the music industry. So trying to create a profitable system in the midst of so much change has proven nearly impossible for me. I’ve reached the limit of debt that I’m capable of handling, so I won’t be able to tour anymore in the foreseeable future. I’m currently applying for full-time jobs outside of the music industry.

Before the physical version of Won over Frequency was available, you send download links to your funders and asked them politely not to leak the album to filesharing sites. Did they comply?

As far as I know most of them did. Two people with usernames “KOWHeigel” and “ricoolies” (who claim to live in Afghanistan and France respectively) have decided that their share ratios are more important than my financial survival.

What is your general prognosis for musicians working in the future. Can the web help?

I can’t really think of field of work in the music industry where the web doesn’t offer some sort of assistance.

Do you sometimes wish you could change something about the way the web works? What is it?

I wish a higher emphasis and value would be put on content providers instead of content aggregators.

This post is part 6 of the series Success Story Internet?
The series talks with people, in whose lives the internet has changed something, about the internet.

DVD Lovers Do It with Audio Commentary: Gavin Castleton’s Home

The digital age proves again and again that it can be a great catalyst for creative ways to deal with a given source material. The DVD audio commentary, which was supposed to be the actual focus of this series, is one of those ways. But how about a commentary for a music album? Gavin Castleton has done just that, and it’s pretty awesome.*

Castleton’s 2009 album Home is a concept album, on which he autobiographically works through the beginnings of a failed six year relationship and then introduces – a zombie attack, from which he is eventually saved by – beetles. As crazy as that sounds, it actually makes for a great art pop album with lots of hooks over intricate rhythmic arrangements.

On his home page, Castleton has now included the possibility to listen to the album in full – with audio commentary. In the commentary, he not only explains what musical influences went into which part of the album and why. He also gives some more background on the events of the story and how he tried to reflect them in the music. One rarely gets a chance to have an artist talk the listener through a piece of music like that. It is well worth listening to for everyone who likes to investigate creative processes while they are unfolding in front of his eyes, or ears in this case.

* He is probably not the first, but the first one that I took note of.

Warum es großartig ist, im Internetzeitalter zu leben

Als ich meine Interviewserie “Erfolgsstory Internet” startete (von der es hoffentlich bald neue Folgen gibt), wollte ich aufzeigen, wie das Internet die persönliche Welt von Menschen zum Guten wenden kann. Dieses Wochenende ist mir auch meinem persönlichen Leben mal wieder enorm aufgefallen, welch einen Mehrwert dieses Medium, das manche immer noch sehr skeptisch betrachten, bringen kann.

Meine Lieblingsband, die kalifornische Progrock-Truppe Spock’s Beard ist derzeit auf Tour in Europa. Freitag und Samstag war ich auf zweien ihrer Konzerte in Rüsselsheim und Aschaffenburg. Ich bin auf beide Konzerte eigentlich alleine gegangen*, das war aber kein Problem – denn ich wusste vorher, dass ich dort jede Menge Menschen treffen würde, die ich kenne. Die Mitglieder der deutschen Spock’s Beard-Fancommunity The Bearded, mit denen ich fast 365 Tage im Jahr über Musik spreche, und mit denen ich inzwischen auch befreundet bin – obwohl wir Anfangs eigentlich nur den gleichen Musikgeschmack teilten.

Doch damit nicht genug: Auf beiden Konzerten präsentierten Spock’s Beard ihr neues Album X. Für dieses Album hatte die Band mit ihrer alten Plattenfirma gebrochen und ihren loyalen Fankreis um Hilfe bei der Vorfinanzierung gebeten. Es gab verschiedene Stufen der Beteiligung, mit T-Shirt, ohne T-Shirt oder für 200 Dollar eine ganze Reihe sinnloser Goodies und einen Song, in dem der eigene Name gesungen würde. 130 Leute (ich nicht) haben das Premium-Paket gewählt und sind jetzt Teil der Musikgeschichte.

Als ich am Sonntag von meinem Konzertwochenende nach Hause kam, wartete eine weitere Nachricht auf mich: Auch Gavin Castleton (hoffentlich mein nächster Interviewpartner) hatte sein neues Album fertig. Auch dieses hatte ich im Vorhinein mitfinanziert und obwohl ich meine CD auch in zwei Wochen bekomme, hatte Gavin seinen Fans schon einen Download-Link geschickt – dachte er. Es gab ein paar Probleme, doch er reagierte auf seiner Facebook-Seite prompt, und eine Stunde später hatte ich Won over Frequency auf meinem iPod.**

Heute schließlich stieß ich über Ulrike Langers Blog auf ein Projekt, das Christian Jakubetz nun startet: Ein neues, modernes Lehrbuch für Journalistenschüler, das er ebenfalls über Unterstützer finanzieren möchte. Ich empfahl es zunächst weiter, dann entschied ich mich nach kurzer Überlegung, auch einen ersten Obolus dazu beizutragen.

Es war toll, zu lesen, wie “überwältigt vom Feedback” Jakubetz schon nach wenigen Stunden war. Genau wie es toll war, Musik live auf der Bühne zu sehen, die ohne die Unterstützung der Internetgemeinde nicht zustande gekommen wäre. Auch von Gavin Castleton Dankesmails und schnell neu generierte Codes zu bekommen war toll.

Jedes Mal war ich froh, ein Teil von etwas Größerem zu sein. Und ich war froh, dass ich im Internetzeitalter lebe, wo so etwas ganz einfach möglich ist.

* streng genommen hatte ich am Freitag einen Nicht-Internet-Freund dabei, aber das war eher Zufall. In der Regel gehe ich fast immer “alleine” auf Konzerte.
** Inzwischen ist das für Nicht-Mainstream-Bands ein reguläres Finanzierungsmodell geworden. Die Webseite Pledge Music, zum Beispiel, widmet sich exklusiv dem Vorfinanzieren von neuen Albumprojekten.