By Lee Cahill
In the ever-evolving music business of today, how does a band break through the noise to reach fans? How do you get them to listen to more than just one song? And even if a band reaches fans, how will they make enough money to live if no one’s buying records anymore? These are the questions that all of us music industry folk have been trying to answer over the past decade due to game-changers like Napster, myspace, blogs, and internet and satellite radio. First time director, Devin DiMattia, examines these questions through interviews with popular indie label heads, bands, bloggers and DJs in his film Firewall Of Sound.
Some people call a certain type of writers “writer’s writer”; DiMattia is a musician’s music-documentary-director (doesn’t have the same ring to it, I know). If you’re a musician, an industry buff, or if you just want to know what all your musician friends are whining about, this film is for you.
Q: What was the impetus for making this film?
A: I wanted to make a movie that combined my love of music with my desire to learn more about the industry. Firewall of Sound began as a 15-minute short I did as a honors project my senior year at UNCW, and, after I graduated, I told a couple of musician friends of mine (J. Neil Blackman and Daniel Rogers) that I was adamant about making a feature-length version, and they wanted to be involved. So, they ended up becoming co-producers and helping me organize trips to Athens, GA and New York and Boston.
Q: How did you pick which people to interview and how did you end up getting in contact with them?
A: Basically, who I got to interview depended on two criteria: (1) who would be interesting to talk to about this subject, and (2) who would respond to my e-mails. I sent a TON of e-mail requests to people, and to their credit, rarely did I receive a flat-out “no.” Most of the people we interviewed had personally responded to my e-mails, so that was how we kept up correspondence before we filmed them. Occasionally (as was the case with Julian Koster), I had to be persistent in my communication with them because there would be moments where they would just stop responding to my e-mails and I would worry that they were silently backing out of the project. Patience and persistence is the name of the game when trying to organize interviews with eccentric musicians!
Q: Is there anyone you wish you could have interviewed for the film, but didn’t have the chance?
A: I was very adamant about getting to interview Vincent Moon, the guy behind the Take Away Shows on La Blogotheque. I even asked Bertis Downs (R.E.M.’s manager) a bunch of questions about Vincent’s work on the promotion of Accelerate, in the hopes that we would get to interview Vincent at a later date. But, unfortunately, our schedules never matched up, so we weren’t able to get him in the movie. Same with Pitchfork managing editor Mark Richardson, who had expressed interest when we went up to Chicago, but couldn’t participate because of schedule conflicts.
Q: Some of the industry folk in your film have a pessimistic outlook on the future of the music industry… Are we all doomed?
A: Well, if your goal when you get into the music industry is to make a ton of money, then yes, you’re doomed.
Q: The film has a very DIY look. Why choose that approach over a more conventional style?
A: Because all the subjects we interviewed had their own DIY aesthetic for how they did things, it just made sense to continue that aesthetic in our filming of them. A typical crew for one of our interview shoots consisted of me, a cameraman, and one of our co-producers to act as a soundman. The biggest crew we had during production was five people for the New York and Boston shoots.
Q: How did you finance this film?
A: Mainly through a website called Kickstarter. I pitched the idea for the film on their site, and we were successfully able to raise roughly $1,200, which took care of our expenses for the New York and Boston shoots. The rest of our funding came from my family, who have shown an insane amount of support for this project, and I am forever grateful for their help.
Q: Why did you choose film as the medium for this project?
A: Film is the language that I am most comfortable with. I also felt that, since film festivals are already populated with people who are musically inclined, that a film about this subject would receive more exposure than if I had chosen another medium
Q: What’s your new favorite band and how did you hear them through the “firewall of sound?”
A: One of the bands I became a fan of while making this film was Helado Negro. I knew nothing about Roberto Lange before we interviewed him. He was referred to us through his A&R guy at Asthmatic Kitty, so I immediately bought his album “Awe Owe” and listened to it several times before sitting down with him, just so I could feel like I wasn’t interviewing a complete stranger. Since that interview, I got to see him perform at an art studio in Greensboro (my hometown) and it was an awesome experience. Another band I got into post-Firewall was A Bit Much, who performs the song before the end credits. They just put out an EP on their Bandcamp page (abitmuch.bandcamp.com) and it is awesome! I highly recommend it.
Q: Do you make music yourself or are you just a fan?
A: Just a fan. I’ve made some attempts at writing and recording music, but nothing serious. My most recent attempt is a mash-up I did of Coldplay’s “Fix You” and that new Smith Westerns song “All Die Young.” (http://bit.ly/i9e9kc) As you can see, I should probably stick to making movies.
Q: OMFG this interview was great, so where can I see your film next?!
A: Right now we’re focusing on the festival tour of Firewall and (hopefully) getting it distributed. If you want to get the latest on where and when you can see Firewall of Sound next, I recommend following us on Twitter (@firewallofsound).