Kevin Arnold, the founder of Noise Pop Industries, was featured in a new video series Ticketfly (SF-based Ticketmaster competitor) created to feature promoters around the country. Arnold started Noise Pop 23 years ago while he was still a database manager at Oracle and has since grown the festival into a beloved Bay Area music scene fixture. He is also one of the organizers of Treasure Island Music Festival.
The whole thing isn't really the most independently minded thing to do, but “indie” music hasn't really been about any of that stuff for a while. And I'd rather Ticketfly throw money and time at creating these cool little minute-long videos about people like Arnold, who work behind the scenes to bring exciting acts to their cities, than create typical yawn-inducing advertisements. But if you want some more in-depth insight on the rise of Noise Pop, check out this old (but still really interesting) cover story we ran in 2012 by Ian Port (“Indie on Top: Noise Pop Celebrates 20 Years of Independent Music,” Feb. 22, 2012). It details the festival's accomplishments and challenges over the years, including the battle to keep Noise Pop's underdog spirit and distinct taste alive.
Below is a first look at the video interview (part of the Step Into the Moment series) and accompanying Q&A.
[jump] What is Noise Pop and how did you come up with the concept?
Our focus has always been to shine a spotlight on the San Francisco underground music scene, but Noise Pop events have grown to encompass a broader spectrum of what we consider independent culture. Our sweet spot is small, intimate events at clubs and theaters like Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, Bimbos, The Chapel and Rickshaw Stop. We started in 1993 as a one-night celebration featuring five bands that I personally loved at the Kennel Club, which is now The Independent. Today, we do a film series across the city and feature shows with more than 100 artists across all genres of music—indie rock at the core, some EDM and electronic music, down to folk or hip hop.
What makes Noise Pop special? What’s the experience you want to create for fans?
Noise Pop isn’t your everyday, average show. What we want to provide to the fan through any Noise Pop event is a unique and memorable experience that they’re going to take home and cherish. I feel like we shine and are really able to connect with the audience when we’re able to provide something they’re not going to see anywhere else. It’s not just about meeting the technical requirements and putting bands on stage. You need to do more these days, because that’s what fans want.
What are the live experiences that blew your mind or changed you?
I always have to go back to reference our first Noise Pop show, which gave me the first taste of having something go way better than expected and made me want to come back and improve upon that. For me, inspiration comes from the artists from my youth that made me pick up a guitar in the first place. From Hüsker Dü's Bob Mould, who’s been a part of the festival many times, to the Flaming Lips, there are so many bands who are super rewarding to work with. It’s an honor to be a part of their overall stories.
You’ve been in the music industry for over 20 years. How has technology changed live events in your opinion?
Technology has opened a whole new world to venues, promoters, and audiences, especially the web and social. An independent artist is now able to record music more cheaply and efficiently than ever before. Venue owners can reach, target, and quantify their marketing efforts. The traditional barriers to distribution and promotion have changed, so you’re no longer limited to trying to get your record onto the shelves of a Tower or Virgin; you can put it out through a platform like Bandcamp. You can build a worldwide fanbase and communicate directly with fans without the barriers of terrestrial radio. It’s a huge challenge for any band to get out there, and today you don’t need to follow those traditional paths to reach fans. At the same time there is more risk. Iterations of success and failure are much more sped up. You can go as quickly as you come. Fundamentally, I think all of that is net-positive in helping artists and indie musicians fulfill their dreams. As the recorded music business changes, and artists tend to earn a lot less money from album sales than they may have in the past, the live experience has become that much more important for artists. Live events are real and irreplaceable.