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2014-10-05 – The Orange Press / MegaphoneOz (Interview)

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Queensland musician Ben Craven describes himself as a cinematic progressive-rock singer-songwriter-performer-producer. But internationally he is regarded as a true Prog Lord.

His last album – Great and Terrible Potions – was entirely created, performed and recorded by Craven. Great and Terrible Potions gained kudos from the international progressive rock community, including Beach Boys’ collaborator Van Dyke Parks. Cover art was designed by YES album-art wizard, Roger Dean and Craven’s album track ‘No Specific Harm’ was included on a UK PROG magazine cover-mount CD.

‘No Specific Harm’ sounded powerful and lush on its own, but set amongst the beautifully sequenced suite that is Great and Terrible Potions – complete with overture and coda-outdo – it is something else again: part of an experience as rich and dramatic as a film or novel. It is meant to be heard as part of the larger work – but in today’s world of fragmented, half-digested, fast-forward pop culture stream that experience seems almost lost.

Ben Craven has gone beyond just creating astounding, world-class music. He has applied some truly progressive thinking and some impressive web skills to creating his own digital music platform, TuneLeak – a unique hybrid of individual tracks and album-consciousness that allows listeners to absorb the album as it is being built, ever mindful of the symphonic architecture of the thing.

I asked Ben a half-dozen questions on this idea (and others). He was generous with his responses.

1. What is TuneLeak?
TuneLeak is a release and funding platform for albums. It features albums as they’re being recorded. It allows artists to “leak” early versions of tracks, and fans to download and purchase them. When the album comes out, fans get a discount equal to the total amount they spent purchasing the leaked tracks.

2. What is the idea behind it?
I’ve been watching fan-funding models with interest for a long time. The ones I’ve supported in the past generally involve the artist asking for funds up-front, then they disappear for a while and eventually deliver an album, or a book, or whatever it might be.

I’m not all that comfortable asking people for money up-front. And I think the radio silence that can happen between funding and delivery is a wasted opportunity. I’d much rather see people get something for their money immediately, and often.

This idea fits in perfectly with the way I record albums. That is, I tend to take my time. The downside is for most of that time I’m sitting on music that I’m pretty excited about but have to keep to myself. TuneLeak is the excuse I need to release songs as I record them, safe in the knowledge that they don’t have to be completely finished yet. Plus I get to engage with people during the whole recording process, so it becomes an event rather than a secretive activity.

3. Why is the idea of the ‘album’ so important to you?
I spent an unreasonable amount of my childhood and teenage years listening to music, both in the foreground and the background. I took many long journeys, figuratively speaking, absorbing albums from start to finish and embedding them in my consciousness. Most major events in my life I can remember by which album I was listening to at the time.

And that was before I started recording music myself. Now I see the album as a snapshot in time of a musician’s journey through life, and hopefully an important cohesive artistic statement.

Not everyone sees it that way of course, and it was much easier when I was younger and had a much smaller music collection to invest the time to appreciate it. One thing I’m trying to do with TuneLeak is to recreate some of those circumstances where someone can get to know an album gradually over a meaningful period of time.

4. Do you think platforms such as iTunes and Spotify are hurting music – or can all platforms, yours included, co-exist in a valid way?

Unfortunately for musicians, a new generation of listeners has grown up not paying for music. The horse has already bolted. Music now has no value. Spotify reinforces this notion by tapping into what’s left of the market and making it uneconomical for people to even bother pirating music. It’s terrific for consumers and might be a useful tool for discovery. But I don’t think any artist can reasonably expect to make any significant income from Spotify unless it’s part of a greater business model that includes touring, being a judge on television shows and endorsing fast food.

Another one of the aims of TuneLeak is to get listeners involved early-on during the recording process, so they can appreciate and feel invested in the hard work that goes on behind the scenes. Maybe that way we can help promote the idea that music still has value.

5. Your chosen genre of Progressive Rock has seen many changes since its inception in the 1970s. What are your thoughts on the current state of the genre form?

I don’t know what the current state of the genre really is. On the one hand we have “progressive rock” which refers to an ambitious but static style of music that peaked in the early-to-mid seventies and featured fantasy-landscape artwork. And then we have “progressive rock” which is now applied to anything from metal to post-rock, whatever that is!

Today though I suppose “progressive rock” is a rallying cry to a specific audience which enjoyed the 70’s prog bands and finds little pleasure in any music in the charts today. That audience can be incredibly loyal and incredibly demanding, not least because most of them are probably musicians themselves. It’s not hard to imagine some of the classic prog bands feeling trapped within the genre, yet they’re incredibly lucky to have such devoted fans.

But ask anyone outside of that fanbase what “progressive rock” is and they’ll probably stare blankly at you.

6. And finally, what are you thoughts on music today in general?
There is still great new music being produced. It’s just harder than ever to find it amongst all the background noise. The old adage they tell you, that in the end it all comes down to the song, is wrong. It doesn’t matter one bit if you don’t have anyone’s attention.