After releasing his third full-length album Passing by Behind Your Eyes in October, Pretty Lights (Derek Vincent Smith), started 2010 with a bang. He recently posted a new EP, Making up a Changing Mind, on his website, with two more EP’s to follow this year (on June 15 and October 12). The new EP, like all of Pretty Light’s music, is available for download on his website. Smith was interviewed on March, 3; the day after the EP was released, as well as the day it was announced he will be playing Camp Bisco for a second time. Below Smith talks about Making up a Changing Mind, his original decision to release albums for free, and his spring and summer schedule including festivals and an announcement about headlining a major Colorado amphitheatre.
What made you decide to release three EP’s throughout the year instead of a full-length album?
A lot of the decision was based on my schedule for the year, so I basically had a meeting with my booking agent, and stuff like that and we discussed where I was going to be playing shows, and what kind of opportunities lay ahead for the year. And I realized that if I was going to do a lot of the things that I had the opportunity to do, I wasn’t going to have any sort of big chunk of time to work on a record. With my last record before that I didn’t have that either, but what I didn’t like about that release is that maybe two-thirds of the record I have been playing live already before it came out. So I wanted to make a release where all the music was in fact brand new to the people who were listening to it, and they hadn’t heard it before. I really liked getting records when I hadn’t heard the music before. And then at the same time I wanted to accomplish that, and I also wanted to be able to bring new music to the stage as soon as possible after it’s written, because that makes it more exciting for me, and keeps it fresher for me. So basically, I just wanted to try something new, and it achieved both those goals—which were to put out music before people had heard it live, and to have a more exciting fresh performance. I just wanted to do that multiple times throughout the year, so I can make use of the small periods of time I have off.
Were these songs left over from Passing by Behind Your Eyes because it seems like that album just came out.
Actually, no, I produced all of them between January and February. So I was working really hard for that time period because I knew I wanted to put this EP out. So, no, they weren’t left over they were all new songs.
What were you trying to accomplish on this new EP and how is it different from Passing by Behind Your Eyes?
Well I feel like it goes back a little more toward, on at least a handful of tracks, it goes back to the more soulful, down-tempo-esque element. But then it also uses the harder sort of elements of hip hop and dub step, and electro music and stuff like that. So it’s just me trying to continue pushing the concept of electro/hip hop/soul music.
It seems like it balances the more down tempo/soulfulness of your earlier work, and your more dub step influenced party music that you play live more.
Yeah exactly, that’s exactly what I want to say, is that it’s just trying to balance that out, and create a fusion of those two styles.
And what about the two other EPs, did you start working on those yet?
I started today man. It came out yesterday; I am already working on the next one.
You have released all your music for free. Why did you put all of your music online?
Well, the idea to do that came to me a few years ago before the first album came out, and I guess I can explain to you my mentality at the time, and why I chose to do that, and then also tell you why I continue to do that. So first, the idea was no one knows the music I make, no one knows who Pretty Lights is. So what I want to do is get the music out to as many stereos as possible. For a long time I had been a downloader of music. I went to BU when Napster was really big. I just knew that the people I know, a lot of the people I know, were going to get music for free anyway. That was just how it worked. And I figured people were going to get it anyway but mainly at the time, it was just me wanting to get it into as many people’s stereos as possible and have people hear it, so they could see what I was doing, and hopefully be down with it. So I put up the website, put the album up, and then spent a lot of time messaging people on MySpace, sort of like personal messages, to who I thought would be into that kind of music, because of the other stuff they said they liked. A couple things happened from that that I didn’t really foresee I suppose, which was the word of mouth spread like really big, so when I put my second album out, it jumped from probably like 200 downloads a month, to 10,000 in that one month, and it was a one month jump.
And all of a sudden when that happened, I realized that somehow word had been getting around. My shows in other places, where I had never been, started packing out. I had never been to Richmond, Virginia and we sold out an 800 person room the first time we were there. So it definitely helped with the live shows, it made them pop up a lot more. And then also I decided to put up higher quality versions of the songs on iTunes because I was getting a lot of requests from DJ’s for things like that. Until I put them up and I realized that people spreading the word because the music is free, it also spread the word to people who just preferred to get the music on iTunes because that’s how they get all their music anyway. So it has helped me sell more records than I ever would have if it wasn’t for free. Obviously that’s just kind of like a side note of it. But I mean the reason I keep doing it, is because it’s created a really sort of loyal fan base where there is this two way respect between me and a lot of the fans of the music. Also in this sort of time, when no one can really tell what’s going to happen with the future of the music industry, I just want to be as progressive as possible, and I really think people are going to get it anyway so I should have that quality control and give it to them. It’s not like I’m not gonna survive comfortably off my performances and shows, and there’s other ways for me to generate income. So a big part of it, is not really knowing what the future holds for the music industry and the way it works in general. And this seems to be the right thing for me to do so I’m gonna continue doing it.
It seems like you kind of sidestepped a lot of the problems that are facing the music industry because you put everything online.
Yeah, and I know some people are like, “Why do you do that? It makes it harder for me to sell my record.” And I feel like maybe that’s the case, but if the music is good enough people are going to buy your record if they have to buy your record. I did start putting up the donation link because I realized that when it got to a certain volume of downloads, when the bandwidth was getting much larger than I ever expected it to, it actually became a significant expense. So for me to actually make my records available for free, it can be kind of expensive because that’s a lot of megabytes being downloaded off my server—and it’s not actually coming off my server anymore because it can’t handle that flow of my information, but it is definitely costing me some money to keep offering it for free, but the people have been generous and I definitely get a fair amount of donations from people who want to support the cause, which in turn pays for the bandwidth.
Are there any drawbacks to this online formula that will make you look at record labels, or change what you’re going to do for the next record?
I don’t really know. The model is so completely different. With a typical record label, most of the time they don’t even put a date on the release until the record is finished, so they can have enough time to do the press and publicity, and get it into all the right hands before the record comes out. Whereas I finished one of the tracks a week before the release, so we could do a press release and stuff like that. But literally I was still working on the EP three and a half hours before got released. I was still working on it at noon on March 2nd, and it got put out on 4 pm on March 2nd.
Sounds like a last minute cram session.
Oh, it definitely was.