If you’ve been on the Internet, especially if you’re reading Geekosystem, chances are good that you’ve heard the “unique brand of pop cultural rap” made by Eugene Ahn a.k.a. Adam WarRock. He’s been featured numerous times here since entering the game back in 2010. We interviewed him back then, but we decided it was time to do so again and see how three years of releasing music for free managed to become a business model.
Part of the way WarRock continues to make a living is through yearly donation drives, the third of which is currently ongoing. You can check it out, and donate, over at his site. As part of this, we’re happy to be the first to exclusively share with you the song “Ratatouille” off the Donation Drive album. Have a listen:
Rollin Bishop: Last time we spoke with you was back in 2010 right after you had stopped being a lawyer. Obviously it’s been three years now. Give us kind of an overview, where you came from, what has been kind of you’re biggest challenges the past couple years?
Adam WarRock: I guess the biggest challenge has been kind of figuring out the balance being like a traditional musician but also like an Internet thing, you know? There’s no real school or guidebook on how to be an Internet thing. It’s kind of a weird —
How do Internet?
Yeah, you just kind of happen into it and realize that there’s this pattern that forms, and you just keep hoping that — It’s this weird sense of “This could all be over the next time I do something.” People might not care anymore.
There’s this like sense of just trying to keep up this streak of doing things people like, and becoming a known entity, rather than just That Guy That Did That One Thing, and then you never think about that person again. While trying to squeeze in touring, and making physical things like merchandise, and albums, and stuff like that. It’s this weird balance. I find that I probably get along better with or have the same kind of logic with people who run like webcomics or bloggers more than I do with traditional musicians, cause I don’t really agree with a lot of traditional music model stuff.
I was about to say, I believe I’d read a Twitter rant from you about people were complaining that you release music so often?
Yeah! I get that complaint a lot. In a perfect world, I would never have an archive. It would just be kind of like when you discover what I do, you start from that point forward and just know that a lot of stuff is coming. It’s kind of like where you get onto this train and you don’t go backwards, but you know it’s that completionist kind of geek thing that makes people want to go back and listen to stuff. So, I kind of have to have it up there.
I don’t really have a sense of what’s too much, because I don’t really think everybody should listen to every single thing that I put out — which is weird to say as a musician.
At the same time, going back to the blogger, not everything you do is going to be interesting to everybody.
Yeah, and it’s not even like — I look at a lot of blogs and stuff, and it’s really interesting when you see certain blogs that have the share numbers on it, you know?
And you break down a really prolific blogger on io9 or Kotaku, and really only like — they post like 30 to 50 things a week, and only a couple of them actually have a huge number of likes or huge number comments. A lot of them are just like news bits or little things that are just kind of out there. They like get a couple hundred here or there, or something like that.
You have to do that much volume to get a response because — you post it on Twitter, you post it on Facebook, you post it on Tumblr — if people aren’t looking at it, and I don’t really think there’s that many people that go back and read their entire Twitter stream from the whole day. I don’t think anybody does that. You don’t catch everybody, so you just kind of have to keep having a reason to put something up on the front page.
Right, there’s no real formula to Internet success no matter what your endeavor actually is.
Yeah, and it’s something that a lot of musicians don’t understand. It’s not about making the best music, which is really heartbreaking for a lot of people to learn about now. It’s about making a consistently good thing and understanding that sometimes the thing that you think is good, no one’s going to care about, and being okay with that.
Obviously this has sort of worked out for you. You have, what, a yearly donation drive?
Well, it’s really only been the past two years, because the first year I don’t think I really called it that. I just kind of posted up a single, and it was just pay what you want. But it’s this ever growing sense of like…
It started because people always — I release so much free music, I don’t even know how much. Somebody else counted, and it was like gigabytes worth of it. People were always asking me why I don’t put a donate button up. I don’t put it up because I don’t…want to? I don’t really think that — I’m not making a bunch of free music so that people will pay me money. I’m making a bunch of stuff because I just want to make the stuff, you know?
If people want to support, I kind of had to funnel it all into one week where I’d say, “All right, this week there’s a donation button. If you donate, you’ll get all this stuff, and after that the donation button will disappear forever, and you can’t donate anymore.” It became kind of like a party, a little event, where people still could donate and get a lot of stuff worth their money.
It’s kind of worked out well. It’s weirdly more rallying because I think when people have a personal investment in you as a person and as a personality, they kind of want you to succeed. And so, this is kind of like a way to succeed plus a celebration of your success at the same time.
Makes sense. Without talking actual numbers or stuff, the donation drive supports you for the rest of the year?
I’d say that it accounts for like a third to half of my yearly revenue. Or last year it did, when it first kind of got to a bigger place. It grew over the past three years because I was becoming more visible, obviously. That and touring and merch and stuff. It just an example of a way to kind of funnel all of it into one week or one event rather than sprinkling it randomly throughout the year.
I do get emails a lot where people are like, “can I donate?” And I’m just like, “wait till the end of June.” And that’s what I just tell everybody. So they’re all kind of waiting for it too. You don’t make money off of selling music anymore, as every musician kind of knows now.
It definitely seems like every year your name has progressively increased in visibility. Do you have kind of like a road plan? Where’s Adam WarRock in three years now?
I have like a six month to a year — I break it down by month, or I kind of know generally stuff I’d ideally like to do. But most of the stuff that gets big is stuff that kind of just breaks — is very impulsive.
The last big thing that I did, I had a song up on Wired that was after the Game of Thrones Red Wedding episode, and I literally made that song the night after I watched “Rains of Castamere” because it was so crazy. I was like, “I’m going to make a song about this,” and then it kind of hit the right tone.
[Editor’s Note: Here’s the song he’s talking about.]
A lot of times you can’t predict what you should make stuff about, it just kind of happens, and you kind of respond to it. Like I was saying, it kind of becomes like I’m blogging about stuff, just in music form.
I think people should — it’s weird to say this as someone who is actually doing a donation drive — but you should expect artists to win over your support.
There’s this weird movement kind of moving back towards expecting fans to support artists from the get go about everything. I think a lot of artists that are coming into it today expect that there’s going to be a fan base there, and there’s going to be money there. Whether it’s like fundraising or Kickstarter, anything like that. I think that fans should be discerning.
A lot of the stuff I focus on is making sure that — I bust my ass to make sure that I release enough free and good music that when the donation drive comes along you’re not wondering if you should give money. You know that it’s a worthy investment. I hope that’s what the donation drive represents to people; I hope it’s not just like a panhandling kind of thing.
I think that there’s so much free stuff on the Internet that I totally am the same way. I think people should be very discerning about who they support, and I hope if they support me, then I’ve earned it.
(image via Victoria Ruan)