Isaac came across as someone who has indeed been doing this a long time—but still loves almost every minute of it.
I got a chance to speak with Isaac Hanson—the oldest member of the band Hanson—just before their show in St. Louis in early August. They became well-known in the late 1990s with their album Middle of Nowhere, and have continued releasing albums and touring in the 10-plus years since then, with the oldest member still just shy of his 30 birthday. Considering how long they’ve been making music, it was good to get a chance to chat with Isaac and hear his thoughts on the way music—and the music industry—has changed. Over the course of our conversation, we touched on a number of subjects, and he answered with genuine enthusiasm. He seemed effortlessly chatty and came across as someone who has indeed been doing this a long time—but still loves almost every minute of it.
One of the first things we talked about was the Internet and the changing role it plays in how bands interact with fans. Back when Middle of Nowhere was released in 1997 (the band’s first major-label album but third release overall), the Internet wasn’t nearly as widespread nor did it operate at the speeds we see now. Hanson had a website at the time, one with a chat room. Isaac seems to recall the time with both fondness and a bit of incredulity at the amount of attention their website got. The chat room became a problem, though—he describes it as “a sort of real-time Twitter on crack”—and the lack of ability to control what was there led to the chat room being removed. Said Isaac, “The Internet, in the end, has been an incredible advantage in all areas. There are some unfortunate things that go along with the Internet, such as privacy becomes a problem, and piracy has been a problem.”
The mention of piracy brings us into where we spent the majority of our conversation. Many people are of the mind that piracy simply comes from people wanting something for free. Free music is ultimately better than paying for it, right? Also, the music business can’t be blamed for piracy, can it? Isaac sees things a bit differently. He likens the spread of piracy to proprietors of a candy shop leaving the door unlocked, then becoming angry when they come in the next morning and candy was missing. What they didn’t see, though, was what was being taken. He says that piracy really has a lot to do with the music business as a whole “looking the other way and not caring about their fans.” Isaac explains, “That lack of confidence in the quality of the music prompted many people to want to take one, two, three songs from a record that they liked because they didn’t want to pay $16, $18 for a record. They didn’t feel it was worth it.” He doesn’t think that justifies the piracy, but says that examining what was taken and why leads to a better understanding of what the audience sees as missing from the music industry.
From there, he moves into an exploration of the fact that people often only download parts of an album—and that shows that maybe we need to get away from making albums and move more toward EPs. Having a band record their five best songs is cheaper, both financially and time-wise, than having them invest in recording a full-length album. With that being said, I asked him if he had a problem with places like iTunes or Amazon where you can buy a song or two off of an album. He didn’t have an issue with that, but said, still, “it’s a bummer on some levels.” It’s not all distressing, though; he says he believes in the quality of music, though he is aware of the subjectivity of it. He says, “Not everybody thinks something’s great. But you know what? Who cares?” He thinks there’s enough room for all of the differing opinions. As he says in closing, “I’m not exactly a huge Nickelback fan, but they’ve sold a lot of records.” | Teresa Montgomery