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Blake Fleming: The Kickstarter Paradigm

blake fleming

While it’s the on-again off-again duties with The Mars Volta for which most fans know him, drummer Blake Fleming (he literally added the Mars to the Volta) can also claim avant-garde cred with Laddio Bolocko, Dazzling Killmen, and other art-rock bands from the ’90s, which still have cult followings. When not teaching percussion at State University Of New York or deigning to play on a pop album, the drummologist is helping to up-end the music industry. The drummer’s new solo release, Time’s Up, an explosion of mouthwatering beats that doesn’t feel like typical drum indulgence, he recorded in fantastically low-tech fashion in the basement of a 150-year-old church in the Catskills – and fans paid him for the privilege via a Kickstarter campaign, the apparent future of funding for the DIY music-maker.

All Hail The New Music Business Model

What Kickstarter does is put fans more or less in direct contact with the creators of the art project. So for Time’s Up I gave myself 30 days to raise $3,000, and much to my bewilderment, I raised that in less than 48 hours and people are still pledging and contributing. Part of that money now will go to manufacturing vinyl [editions] for Time’s Up, part is going to be used to fulfill my rewards and incentives because I have to pay for the mailing and the packaging. My most popular reward and incentive was at the $25 level where people get a hand-numbered copy of my record, a pair of my signature sticks from Vic Firth, and they also get their name included on the liner notes.

A Win-Win-Win Situation

The beautiful thing about Kickstarter is it’s an all-or-nothing endeavor. If you don’t reach your goal, no money is exchanged at all. And that would be a real bummer, obviously, but anything above and beyond that is also yours. But 10 percent of that comes right off the top: 5 percent goes to Kickstarter and 5 percent goes to Amazon payments. After fulfilling the rewards and incentives from my campaign, anything left I can use to help fund my next release or upgrade some equipment. It’s funny too because I’ve made more money from Kickstarter in total than any record company has paid me before.

Killing The Elevator

Time’s Up is vastly different than most other drum-based records because it has a rawness to it. It was recorded using a Fostex 4-track as a preamp for some analog distortion going into an Mbox going into my laptop. It was recorded in a pretty raw, untreated space and the most expensive mike cost about $150. I wasn’t just concerned with drum performances but with the whole picture. Listen to drum solos from festivals or from some well-known drummers’ instructional DVDs. They all have this very Weckl-ish or Colaiuta type of sound. I’m not putting down these monster players at all, just objecting to everyone wanting their recordings to sound that way. I love guys like Phil Spector, Joe Meek, Brian Wilson, Les Paul, etc. They weren’t only great musicians, they were sonic pioneers and architects. I tried to reach that level where the sonics are just as interesting as the musical content.

Deconstructing “The Ballad Of Double Beard”

One of my former students down in Brooklyn wrote to me on Facebook the other day, and said that is one of his favorite [Time’s Up] tracks. And I said, “It’s a riddle.” And he goes, “What do you mean?” And I said, “See if you can figure it out, Grasshopper.” For lack of a better word, it’s the most f__ked up piece on there, but the premise behind it is extremely simple. The drumbeat that starts off the piece and that finishes the piece, it’s the same drumbeat throughout the entire thing, except eight bars into it the tempo goes from one drum kit and one djembe playing 90 bpm, and another drum kit and another djembe playing 91 bpm. It’s the same exact groove, one bpm off from each other. And what you hear is this cycle of consonance and dissonance. Every time you hear consonance, it’s cycling through each individual sixteenth-note in a 4/4 bar. So the first consonance is on 1. The second time you hear consonance, where they’re actually just [slightly] off from each other, is the e of 1, then it cycles to the & of 1, the ah of 1, 2, and so on. So by the time you get back to the downbeat of that, you’ve gone through a four-minute cycle before everything lines back up, and then it locks back into 90 bpm.

They Call Him The Working Man

I know that I haven’t been playing with anyone famous lately. But I still keep really busy. I do a ton of work in New York City. I play with a bunch of up-and-coming songwriters and bands. I teach and I do whatever I can to help spread the word of the companies that I endorse. I’m like a blue-collar drummer, man. I’m just trying to pay my bills by doing all this crazy stuff and I’m hoping with my record that will change things. I could be a really successful clinician. I’m not afraid to talk in front of people. Instead of me getting up there, blowing chops, and being like, “Any questions?” people are going to walk away from my clinics being able to apply real skills, not something esoteric. No, man, this is blue-collar stuff. You can do this too.

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