For some of our younger readers, you may not know who Billie Ray Martin is, but if you were a club-goer in the 90s, no doubt you'll have heard her dance smash hit, "Your Loving Arms" more than just a few times while busting some serious shapes. At the time, Billie Ray Martin received critical acclaim for her soulful voice laid upon some rather danceable and quite good dance beats and she's been working on music ever since.
A few weeks ago, Billie Ray Martin announced that she would be releasing her new music collaboration "The Crackdown Project" for free over torrent download site Mininova.org – which is a daring and brave move if you ask me. It speaks volumes about the philosophy surrounding the future of recorded music and coming from an artist who has received success in a day and age when people paid for music, I was more than keen to chat to her about this controversial subject and to catch up with an artist whose music helped shaped some formative years in my life during college. I hope you enjoy this chat with the "queen of electronica soul" – Billie Ray Martin.
EQ: Hello Billie – How are you today?
Billie Ray Martin: I am still on my first coffee this morning, sitting in the little office and trying to wake up.
So I must say, I was very interested to learn that you were releasing your new project "The Crackdown Project" on torrent website Mininova – what led you to this decision? It's very forward-thinking and I've received some comments from other indie artists saying how they wish they would have thought of that idea…
It's about trying to generate some interest in the project. releasing something on mininova or other torrent sites gets you thousands of downloads. I am talking a lot with people who run important blogs so i'm up to scratch as much as possible on how things work. Although I learn every day. Apparently I'm the first "known" artist to do this, although many unknown bands have done it before – heavy metal bands from finland etc.
You obviously have a lot of strong feelings about the current state of the music industry. Do you think the industry now is suffering from decades of excess and bad decisions or is it just the product of advances in technology that they weren't prepared for?
I only have strong views by necessity. Which artist wouldn't rather just make music, than being a business person. There's no choice nowadays. The days where a record label nurtures you and holds your hand, even pays you, are well and truly over. So you're on your own. Yes I think on the one hand, major record companies have churned out sub-standard songs for years, telling bands that they only have one chance at a hit single, after which they were back out on the streets. So songwriting, development etc. was not on the agenda. It had to backfire in the end. And yes, advanced technology has it's good and bad sides. The bad side is that it has created a mass of spoiled kids expecting to get music free at a mouse click. Music has been devalued. On the other hand it's empowering. I would probably not be putting out music if it wasn't for that mouse click that allows me to get my songs out there.
As an artist making music today, do you feel it's now your responsibility to think creatively to find new ways of reaching people and making new fans with your art?
Sure. I have to re-evaluate what i'm doing every day. It can be a lot of fun, reaching people who had not heard of me before. It can also be frustrating to put something great out, for free of course, and no one cares. The internet can be a short-lived and cruel place. on Hypefm.com you have three days to gather votes, after that you're out. Comparing that with the month it takes me to create a track, involving lots of other people, coming up with money for the mastering, literally sweating and slaving over the quality of my track, you ask yourself if it's worth it, on a daily basis.
I am really curious to hear your point of view, how far does a hit single back in the 90s go these days? Do you still get royalties that you can live off of, or is it just a small amount of income these days?
Yes it still pays the rent, luckily. But it's not from a "past hit" it is from the current use of this hit. Radio play, cover versions, inclusions on compilations etc.
When I was in college, every Saturday night I went out they always played "Your Loving Arms" at every gay nightclub without fail. Do you mind that "Your Loving Arms" will always be the most famous song you are known for? Do you ever get tired of listening or performing it?
No I never get tired of it. My skin tingles every time I perform it. I only perform it on request, meaning that it is not in my set, which only includes new material, but when asked i'm glad to oblige. As to being known for this mostly, yes it can be a bother. But again I notice that people on the internet that I communicate with do know my other stuff.
As an artist living in Berlin now, What's the music scene like there now? Are there some undiscovered German electronic/pop artists that we should be listening to?
I have no idea. I just live here. Berlin is weird.
So tell me more about "The Crackdown Project". If we go grab it from Mininova and give it a spin, what are we going to experience?
There's more now. The original version of "Just fascination" is on Fairtilizer now and more tracks as well as a dj mix of many of the mixes can be heard on my website as well as many others. There are about 20 mixes or so – from nu-disco to dubstep and tech-house. It was not planned that way but the mixes were so good that not a single one was ditched by me. So there will be two albums worth of mixes. There's the joke that I sold Cabaret Voltaire out to disco but then, when you listen to vol. 2 of the release it's all 'dark' and moody. I wanted to show that the distinction between what's deemed commercial or disco and credible electronic music, that will be liked by the intellectual fraternity does not exist. I believe that this is why I do not fit in and never have. I am trying to create music that's a melange between the pop-song and the experimental and I had no intention of stopping at Cabaret Voltaire. But I do hope to please everyone with the package really. Bands like The Human League and the other Sheffield electronic acts knew the connection between pop and experimental music. This is why that time was so thrilling, they wanted to write pop songs. Yazoo knew it, Eurythmics knew it. One of my favourite quotes from Phil Oakey is: "All I ever wanted to be was Diana Ross". People like La Roux are bringing back the pop song in connection with electronic music.
And if we like what we hear, how can we support your music? How can we contribute to you and your music so that you can continue making more?
Yes please! On the 15th of February and 15th of March the two volumes are out digitally and available through every store worldwide, including iTunes, Amazon, Beatport etc. Buy it, buy it. In May I release "The Opiates Album" and sometime around then my new solo single will also come out. So I would be pleased if people signed up to the newsletter and things like that to keep up with it all. You can find bits of it on www.myspace.com/opiatesmusic and there are Facebook and Opiates pages as well.
Well thank you Billie for taking the time to answer our questions – any parting words for our EQ readers?
Thanks for the support. See you at a disco near you!