Part two of our chat with Dave McPherson of Centiment and InMe
Back in February we published the first part of an epic chat with the one and only Dave McPherson of InMe, and more recently gamer metal band Centiment. A many fingers/many pies sort of chap, he’s above all a lovely man and also quite intereting to chat to.
Last time he and Simon covered his group projects; in this, they mainly talk solo work and crowdfunding.
You have recently done some online shows?
Yeah, I forget who brought Stageit to my attention. I’d thought about it, with Skype, whether it would be possible to play online. Someone brought it to my attention, I really should thank them because now I do one every two weeks on average, I think. I get about 40 people, and make it ‘Pay What You Can’. Stageit requires you to pay $5, because they need to make their money as a platform, but then for my show, the minimum is 10 notes… and you’ll get about fifty of my shows for five dollars. You don’t want to charge people for just watching you on the computer… but, they have to pay about ten cents. But then you do these prizes, which are totally optional. And then I’ve earned £200 for fifty minutes work, on my sofa, playing music and chatting to people.
It’s great, it feels comfortable to me. My girlfriend asks me if I’m going to be in the bedroom or the lounge, because she has to be in the other rooms. I can play in front of her, obviously, but I can’t play to my laptop, talking to people I can’t see, with a real person there. It freaks me out, so I’m pretty strict about it. Some people I’m sure would be cool with it, but for me it’s one or the other.
It’s not there, really, as an earner – but it’s quite crazy that it does earn money. It kind of goes into that whole pledge thing of ‘if they wanna, they can’. When they do, its really helpful – especially in January!
We did it with InMe last June or July, but we had to go to a proper studio. We spent all day rehearsing, making sure everything sounds perfect through just this one little jack. Then you plug it into your laptop – and then the StageIt admin came along and we were goofing about in soundcheck, and we were like ‘Oh, they can see us?!?!’ and they said we had to take the gain down, as it was a bit distorted, but then it was perfect. We made the engineer watch the show as a punter would, with his brother. And they thought it was the most amazing thing, because it was surreal – a proper engineered gig, into a webcam, and people paying whatever they want, and tipping if they wanted to tip.
Then at the end we did a Q&A – normally when I do a Q&A I can manage it, but the four of us couldn’t. We were sat there and it was just brrrrrrr – firing and firing away. That was the first one, and its growing. I’m doing one a week now, because my acoustic night is cancelled. Last one I did was 30 people, but its usually twenty join for the last half hour. But this one I launched today and five people joined straight away, so hopefully it will build and become a thing. They obviously like it and it’s not a rip off. If there was a completely free raffle, I’d do that – but the StageIt one is pretty cool. Everything works like a gig – everyone’s chatting and building a little community. There’s an encore session if you want it. And you’re in your own home, which is a bit weird.
I guess it must take a bit of time to get used to.
The first one, I was sweating and running around, frantic. But then I was like ‘Why are you scared? What’s the worst that could happen?’. There’s been one that I had to cancel, because I’d had such a bender the night before! I was rushing back from London, I probably went to bed about 10 a.m….. Oh, no, I did do the show, I just couldn’t do what I said I would do because that needed some rehearsal beforehand. I was like (slurred) “Sorry guys, I’m still drunk, this is what you’ve got!” (laughs) and there was one where I just suddenly felt a bit ill, a bit faint – which would have been weird.
Yeah, if you’d just sort of keeled over…
Yeah – “Sorry, guys, Dave’s just gone for a while!” But it is a lot more personable than a normal show, you don’t do the “hey, how you doing?!?!” stuff you’d do on stage, just talk like you would in your living room, and that’s quite cool.
That moves us neatly on to your solo stuff more generally, and there seems to be a number of strains within that as well.
I did the first album, which was amazing. I toured with Charlie Simpson, then with Devin Townsend. It started to get a bit bigger, so I was a known act outside of InMe. I’m so proud of the second album, but it kind of did the same, so I’m not going to aspire to be the next Frank Turner, or whatever; I’m just going to do it how I do it – which is obviously a bit overboard with releases!
But I just like the freedom of nobody being able to tell me what to do, so I can work on something and release it that day. I did that ‘365’ thing, I can’t remember what my mindset was to do that initially. It was an amazing experience, I miss it. By the end of it I had a routine. I’d record ideas into my phone all week, music and lyrics. Then, come Monday I’d properly record all the music, and Tuesday all the vocals, send it, and do the same every week for 52 weeks. Obviously, it wasn’t all gold…
But you must now have this huge repertoire of music.
Exactly, and I don’t think that people will mind if I take the odd great melody that I came up with, and still like six months later, and put it in the next proper release. I learnt a lot about my own music, about songwriting and what I think works and doesn’t work. So I tried certain things and learned that’s not really where my strengths lie.
But on a financial level, I would have been screwed without that last year. In 2012, I did 206 shows, and in 2013 I did 109 shows, not necessarily out of personal choice. I wanted to lay low a bit, but I wanted to do a bit more than that, as that’s where my income is. So £36.50 for 365 songs, from 500 people gave me a reasonable wage last year.
And you did a few shows of solo material with a full band as well?
Yeah, I loved it. We tried it, but I don’t think it quite warrants the cost at my level. We did more rehearsals than shows last year, probably twice as many. We got really good at it. I got Simon and Gaz, I knew they could do it. We did seven shows in a tour, then we did a London show and a festival, which was a cool way to end the mini-campaign. We all loved it, and it was cool for Mike, who produces all the InMe stuff, and did the last two solo albums and the Centiment album. He’s not a bassist, but he was in Fei Comodo as a guitarist. Although he’s chosen production and recording as his career now, I asked if he wanted to do it for a bit.
We know we can pick it up again if we want, the shows sold pretty well, but I don’t think it warrants it at the moment. I just paid them all a wage, because I didn’t want them to do it for free so I gave them what I could afford to give them. But another part of it is that I’ve learned playing solo acoustic since 2006, so that it my main show, and this was just a little experiment.
So was the Devin show in London the biggest solo acoustic show you’ve done?
I think Charlie is a little bigger, that was Islington Academy. But where was Devin’s?
It was at the ULU, for the Ki show of the By A Thread series.
Yeah, that was pretty big. That was a bit different to the acoustic tour I did with him.
That must have been pretty daunting.
Not really, because it’s quite a mellow album, and that was completely different to what he did when I did some dates with him, starting in Brighton. With no disrespect, he was just goofing about, having fun and playing whatever he felt like, whatever people shouted out. London was a meticulously planned show. I maybe didn’t enjoy that one as much, but I already knew that Devin fans are cool. Even if they don’t like you, they’re not going to be twats about it.
But when I played the Brighton show, I immediately knew it was a warm crowd. They could see my strengths and weren’t picking at every little thing. Devin then said “How am I meant to follow that?” which was very kind of him.
They were great shows, I saw three of them in total and I hope they happen again.
Yeah, I hope I get on them again, too.
So this year, you have a slightly lower-impact solo project, with four songs a month?
Yeah (laughs). I just wanted to carry it on – four songs, rather than an average of thirty a month, means I can try more stuff and focus on the songs a bit more. The songs I did last year were raw and rushed, a bit spontaneous, so this will hopefully be a bit different.
But I just met some bloke on the train – he was really lovely to me and helped me out with something, so then I was noting down people who helped me out when I was touring on my own. So I went into a cinema with my luggage, a suitcase of merch and my guitar and this guy says ‘before you go in, put your stuff in here and come and find me afterwards, go and watch the film without anything on you.’
And then I went to a hotel and they were fully booked. I just wanted a shower, but they went away and spoke to the manager, and said I could sneak up to this room quickly, have a nice shower and then they’d sort the room out afterwards, for free. So it came from the idea of strangers being kind for no reason whatsoever.
It’s a smaller version of the previous project. I might do it again, but it sent me a bit insane! I was waking up in the middle of the night, singing into my phone because I had dreamt an idea. After a while I couldn’t tell what was good and what wasn’t (laughs) I can’t tell until, like, two months afterwards.
Did it start to feel like work?
It didn’t feel like work, the 365 thing, but I did go a bit strange, a bit squiffy. (Laughs)
So that does take us into the whole crowd-funding thing, which you’ve really embraced. What was the first pledge campaign you did?
The Hardship Diaries, in January 2011. I’ll just be honest, I’m not a millionaire. We set the target at £5,000 within ninety days. We hit it in 24 hours. So I was like “OK, that works!” Then the intelligent people there can figure out that we finally hit 500%. I didn’t see anything from it, other than my MacBook Pro, which I really needed to work on. But everything else ultimately funded the campaign that helped make me known as someone other than the singer of InMe.
I learned a lot from it, like what not to do. Because it took me way beyond when I was supposed to have fulfilled everything, way longer than I should have. I didn’t realise it was going to be such hard work! 100 lyric sheets – I’ve watched so many films doing that. You can only do, like ten at a time else you start to think you’re doing lines!
Then the second one we did, the InMe one, and we went too far. We just wanted to make the biggest list possible, let’s give them everything, every possible combination. I think we did seventy incentives in the end. To start with, they only allowed sixty, and we asked to add a few more. That was way too big and – no disrespect to the guys – I already knew what I was doing, so I did most of the work.
Then, with Dreamoirs, I pretty much had it under control and then we’ve nailed it with Centiment. We’ll have this finished well before the fulfilment time, we’ve already done 60% of it or so. It’s just a learning curve. So the next one, which will be a solo album in September or something, will be a 30 day campaign, quite small and DIY. I’m toying with ideas on how to make it. We’ve got this manufacturer who can make the CDs fine. But then there’s these people who make, like, origami CD cases, so I was thinking I could do that and then I could paint them, or make them really personal. I don’t care about them charting or being in the shops.
To be honest, I know that some people think that musicians earning is some kind of dirty thing. They think they can download it for free because we’re already millionaires. But we need to figure this out somehow, because otherwise – like most of our peers – I’ll have to go and get a job, which is why I do weddings and private parties. That was why I did them initially, but actually I quite enjoy them. You don’t have to worry about pissing off a promoter at a wedding, because no-one’s turned up!
So that must be predominantly InMe fans booking you?
Yeah, they’ve reached that age, of weddings! This is my busiest year for weddings.
I can imagine, for a fan of a band, it must be fantastic to have their lead singer come and sing at their wedding.
It’s amazing. They ask me what I do, and I have about 500 covers I’ve learned so I’m flexible! I send them a list of my repertoire, and say I don’t want to play just InMe songs, because most of your family aren’t going to know who I am. The fee’s always reasonable, and I don’t mind that – you can get food there, some of them are really expensive! My fee only differs slightly for location, so in Scotland, it’ll cost an extra £100 or so. I’m happy with what I earn from those things, and the experience, because it’s usually a laugh.
It seems like a really nice thing to be able to do.
Often, they’ll put me up in a little room, so all I have to do is play, then get pissed with people who want to get pissed with me! I get to show them that I’m just a bloke, once they’ve got passed the whole ‘It’s Dave McPherson from InMe’ thing.
I suppose being able to have this sort of dialogue with your fans does help to break down this idea of a rock god sat in an ivory castle somewhere.
Some people won’t get over it with some musicians, but I don’t feel like I’m a big enough musician. Unless it’s an InMe gig with a thousand people there, I don’t have much bother – and I’m usually pretty straight up with people. If someone’s being rude or a bit scary, I’ll make an excuse and wander off, but 95% of the people who like my music seem to be nice, easy going people to talk to. Once you break down that barrier, they’re just like ‘Oh, it’s just Dave’!
Just to get back to the crowdfunding, I’m interested in the sort of ‘premium’ options, the really expensive ones. Do you get much take-up of the items at the bottom of the list, so to speak?
That’s the scary stuff. That’s the stuff I worry about. I’ve said before that £200 was the maximum, but Pledge did say that I needed a few more high-end items. So you have to figure out how to value them, and initiall, some of the things I put on there weren’t really good value. I didn’t know what I was doing, still finding my feet – selling hats and stuff for twice the price I bought them for. Although the person getting them might have been happy, you do have to think morally about it.
So the last pledge campaign I did, Dreamoirs, one guy bought every high-end item and spent about £1,500. Every time he did something, I’d say ‘Mate, don’t bankrupt yourself’, but he really wanted the stuff and he must have disposable cash. He paid more than 1/25th of all the pledged money in the end. Some people do have an issue with crowd-funding, but it’s their choice. Eight quid will get you more than 300 songs, if you want to download them all, or you can download whichever ones you want. If people don’t like that, then they don’t really understand free will!
I’m a massive advocate of crowdfunding, and for a band in the position InMe is in it is perfect, so I think it is a logical step.
I think that with a conventional purchase, buying an album from iTunes or HMV, you get the album for twelve quid and that’s it, but crowdfunding is completely individual to the artist, however they want to run their campaign. Some bands might not want to give away 300 songs away. I’m a music addict and I’ve got a lot of stuff that no-one’s ever heard, so if the fans want to hear it, they can hear it.
The first time I did Pledge, I got people to pay to get their names in the thanks list – but that’s a bit much, as it doesn’t cost me anything to print some names in the booklet. So now every pledger goes in the thanks list automatically. It’s just a learning curve, it’s a new thing.
Now we’ve basically gone ‘Fuck the conventional model’ – I can’t be arsed to just release twelve songs every two years. I make music the way I want to make it. Obviously I have to reign it in a bit…says the guy who wrote 365 songs in a year!…but, there’s no rules and there shouldn’t be any rules. But it felt a lot like there were rules – you have to have a label, you have to have a manager, you have to spend all this money, you have to work six months on an album, release it and tour it and so on. Say what you want about them, I like them personally, but Enter Shikari just release stuff, because they’re in charge.
Do you think that being signed to Music For Nations earlier in your career helped you out with what you’re doing now?
I loved them – Laura, the person who signed us up originally is probably the reason I’m talking to you now. She’s dead now, sadly, but she gave us our shot. It’s very easy for me to say that crowd-funding is the way, but for a small band without a fanbase, they’re like ‘where do I start?’. So without Music For Nations’ initial input, I wouldn’t have been able to use the crowd-funding thing so effectively.
I saw that the Centiment album hit the torrent sites almost immediately – isn’t it sort of doubly personal given you’ve released it completely independently via Pledge?
Luckily, because it is word of mouth and its growing slowly, most people have probably bought it anyway. I don’t know why people put stuff on these sites, but it’s just ignorant, really.
It was a Russian site, I think, I couldn’t understand the language, but you can see how many times its been downloaded. But then, with things like Spotify, people say that it’s great exposure, or it gives people access to your music. But the problem is that the percentage sucks ass for an artist at my level. I will never earn a penny from that. So, if we all endorse that, the next generation are just going to think that all music should be free, just because they’ve figured out how to fucking steal it.
But those people say that it’s OK because I’m a millionaire, or that I earn all my money from touring and merchandise, and neither of those are true. I earn money because I’ve been clever about adapting to all this shit!
There does seem to be quite a romantic view of just how much bands make on tour, especially support bands on tour.
Yeah, support bands make nothing. We didn’t even break even doing support tours in 2012. We were paying for hostels and a camper van – which didn’t work out because we had too much weight. You could go on about it forever, but basically ignorance causes people to think that stealing is OK.
It feels to me like a post-hoc rationalisation. People have decided that they’re going to steal the music, then figured out why it’s OK to do so.
It annoys me when people who work in the industry, or are musicians themselves, stream or download films, but then they complain that Blockbuster and HMV have closed down. You have to not be ignorant, morally, and you can’t complain if it affects you when you do exactly the same thing to another industry.
And that’s where Pledge comes in – you can have the album, just like you would illegally download, but we’ll also give you this other stuff, and you won’t be able to download that. And we’ll give you loads of other stuff beforehand. But music fans don’t do it anyway. When I was a kid, I would record the top forty off the radio, or tapes films off the telly, but as you get older, you start to think that you want to buy it, that you want the whole album and you don’t want the DJ talking over the end of the song. But now people just take it for granted, because it’s so easy. At shitty quality, I would imagine. I’ve never done it, because I don’t trust the websites to not fuck up my computer. Go to download an album, and get some viruses, malware or even something horrific like illegal porn instead. I want to buy something and know what I’m getting.
People say that there are still massive films being made, but they’re all remakes. The studios are playing it pretty safe at the moment. It’s not the actors that are being affected, it’s the grips, best boys and make-up artists, people like that. They’re losing their jobs, or work for half the pay. It all affects everything. But, there are kickstarter films, fan-funded films starting to happen now, so we will see where that takes us.
Big thanks to Dave. Here are the various social media ding-dongs for his projects. Go support them!