For some audiophiles, Counting Crows and The Wallflowers will forever be associated with the mid-1990s–along with Netscape Navigator, Hotmail, and of course, Windows 95. But don’t call their joint summer outing a nostalgia trip. Velvet-tongued Counting Crows vocalist Adam Duritz, hot off the heels of The Outlaw Roadshow (alongside a slew of new indie bands), prefers to view his comparatively intimate Wallflowers double bill as a much-needed respite.
Other than sharing a decade, the comradely combos have shared previous tours, a track (Duritz sang on The Wallflowers’ “6th Avenue Heartache”), and even a producer (T-Bone Burnett, back in the day)–and their friendship dates back even earlier. So when Duritz was asked to tour again, it was simply an offer he couldn’t refuse.
Now, the “Mr. Jones” and “Round Here” singer, who was nominated for an Oscar for “Accidentally in Love” from “Shrek 2″ and whose latest album “Underwater Sunshine” recently cracked the top 5 on the Billboard 200, talks to Download.com about, among other things, getting creative over social media, his favorite apps for those lonely nights on the road, and how BitTorrent can be a band’s best friend.
With more consumers downloading music on iTunes, discovering it on Spotify, and watching videos on YouTube, we consume music in vastly different ways than in the record store/radio/MTV days of 1993, when Counting Crows first hit it big. Have we lost anything in the transition?
I guess you can say the act of paying for it [laughs], but I actually do think that all of that makes it easier to get music out to people. The Internet is the world’s biggest free billboard. It makes it a lot easier for an indie band to get their music out there without a major label to record them. With Bandcamp, and all the bloggers, the availability of distribution is so much easier now. It’s actually a much better time to be a musician than it was before.
But does the same hold true for an already established band like Counting Crows?
Well, I think that for an established band you’re more facing a loss of income, because less than half of people are paying for things now. But the only reason that that’s a factor for us was because we had it the other way, when people actually did pay for things. I personally think that the good outweighs the bad because now we don’t need record companies anymore. We’re free to make our own way in the world now.
Do you have any ideas about how bands can better monetize their music?
Well, you start by getting it out there. You use Twitter, Bandcamp, and Kickstarter, and you make friends with all the bloggers. It used to be that you needed a label for that. And the fact that you can give away free downloads means that you can give it away without incurring expenses.
All those things seem like small things, but they’re not, because cost would have prohibited them before. Most bands either got signed or fell apart after a year or two. Now bands can make five or six albums and have never been signed, so they have a long time to get better, and hopefully monetize it. But you still have to overcome people’s general unwillingness to pay for things that they value.
What are your preferred online tools for promoting your music?
Twitter and Facebook, although I think that of the best ways to communicate at the moment, that BitTorrent can be better than all of them put together at some point. It could be more useful, like a good radio station, if it didn’t allow people to just take stuff. At the moment that’s the problem. But it’s a conduit, a connection between you and everyone else in the world. You can get things to them, but they can take things from you.
How could BitTorrent be better suited to a band’s needs?
Well, it already is, because it can distribute massively. There are so many people using it, so you can put a song up there for a free download and that just turns BitTorrent into the biggest radio station there is. It works quite well for doing that. I think it works quite well for stealing things, too. But that’s not BitTorrent’s fault, because it’s just a tool. That’s people’s morals.
I think that when the Internet first opened everything up to everyone, people tried to protect the rights of everything so strongly that they occasionally forgot that there were things that they should give away. In the old days, radio stations gave songs away everyday–that’s what radio is and that’s why it never seemed to me that downloads were a bad thing, especially if you could control them and put them out there, yourself.
Relinquishing some creative control, you invited your Facebook fans to come up with album artwork for your last album.
I’m not a big fan of that stuff, personally. I know that the publicity is great, and I know that the fans have a good time with it, but I do think that your art’s your art. That said, we did an art contest for the last record, and I did like how it turned out. But I would question doing that too often with things like records, because as an artist, what people want out of you is your art. And if you make your art their art, then they’re not getting what they came for. And do you really want your art to be their art? It’s a dicey habit to get into because you’re giving up responsibility for your creativity.
Has your Bay Area background informed your interest in software?
No, I was always interested in that, even way before the tech boom. I was doing computer programming when I was 12, writing DOS and BASIC, pre-Mac.
When I moved to L.A., in 1995, I realized that AOL had a series of chat rooms and forums for different bands. I’d go on the Counting Crows board and watch all these fans talking to each other, and this was a way for me to communicate directly with a fan–in 1995–before Twitter and Facebook. We eventually connected those forums with CountingCrows.com and that became the first fan community for us–and that was almost 20 years ago.
Do you feel like musicians today are becoming too accessible to their fans via social media apps?
For me, it’s interesting to see into people. Twitter is an interesting way to follow people with interesting opinions and be privy to them. But like all of them, you only have as much access as they want to give you.
Which social apps are you most active on?
Twitter, Facebook, Foursquare, Instagram, WhoSay, and Formspring, occasionally.
Of those, which is your favorite?
I go back and forth, because when I started doing Twitter, we had 60 followers on our Twitter feed; but after I took it over, now we have a million and a half. And I was good on Twitter back then. I was really funny and creative about it and I feel like lately I’ve been more creative with the Instagram stuff. Facebook is so social with personal stuff, but with band stuff it’s pages, so you’re just putting stuff out there and there’s comments. But I like how with the @s, Twitter provides a back-and-forth communication–as much as you want to pay attention to it…and I do.
When you’re on the road, which mobile apps are you using the most?
Probably PhotoToaster, because I use it to mess with my photos before I put them on Instagram, and I do that a lot. Instagram, too, but it’s more of a conduit, because I like to use PhotoToaster and Instagram to post things.
Of all the photo editing apps, why PhotoToaster, in particular?
It’s a lot more in-depth than Instagram or Hipstamatic, because you can mess with a photo afterwards, which I like. It has a lot of presets you can work with. But it also allows you to break the preset into color and definition, and you can actually manipulate minutia. I find it very useful for me to create cool types of photos.
Are there apps on your phone that you use when musical inspiration strikes?
I’m not the greatest at playing piano, so I hum into the voice recorder on my iPhone 5 a lot to make sure I don’t forget [melodies] and can get back to them later. I do that an awful lot.
Have you ever tried using a keyboard app on an
I was playing around with one, but it had a weird delay, so I was going to look for a better one. It’s really hard for me on the road because I don’t play guitar and therefore can’t bring an instrument back to the hotel with me. So I’ve been hoping that a keyboard app would come along that would work better for me. I tried an app with an autoharp. A friend of mine recommended it. She said she writes on an autoharp because it’s easy to play, or a metronome app.
Which apps do you use to discover new music?
The one I use the most is probably Shazam. That program amazes me, because you can always figure out what you’re listening to and then buy it.
I think Pandora’s genome is incredible. One of my favorite things to do is to try and create those perfect radio stations, like pick a couple bands and see which will make the perfect radio station for me. I have a station that is the Pixies and Big Star and it’s the greatest radio station, because of the nature of those two bands–a lot of indie-sounding stuff, and unknown bands with great songwriting. It’s a great thing they do, introducing you to so many new bands. I also like the Daytrotter app because there’s so much music on it.
You’ve spoken in previous interviews about suffering from a dissociative disorder called “depersonalization disorder.” I know that there are apps available to help treat a wide variety of disorders. Is there anything on the App Store that you’ve discovered that’s been helpful for you?
iTunes. It doesn’t help in a real way. But it’s just that I like music, so when things are shitty, it helps to have all the records you like with you.
Also, the more that closes you off from the world, the scarier it gets. So the iPhone’s texting capabilities, and Skype: You spend all this time in hotel rooms, far from everyone you know, but you can now talk to them and see them. There were times when my ex-girlfriend and I would fall asleep over Skype. And I’d wake up in the middle of the night and there’s my girlfriend peacefully sleeping next to me. That actually does help a lot because you’re not so isolated when you can see someone and talk to them–and that’s a pretty big deal. It made a pretty big difference to me. Isolation is one of the worst parts of it, and my job causes more of it, because of the nature of travel. So having a program that allows you to talk to people and see them is kind of great.