If you read a lot of comics - and I read more than I'm sometimes comfortable admitting - then in any given month you might see the same advertisement a few dozen times over. Most of these ads are pretty standard: they're pitching a video game, a toy line, other comics, a movie, et cetera. Some, though, stand out because they don't fit into the prescribed model, and this was certainly the case in November of 2009 (cover date January 2012) when all DC Comics prominently featured the above ad, reading "Beats for Reading Comic Books To" and featuring a link to a website for someone called "MDMacro".
At first, the ad was a curiosity to me and not much else. But like I said, when you read a lot of comics, you tend to see the same ads over and over again. After seeing it often enough, I started to think about the content and the ambiguous nature of the ad, which featured a faceless person is a Yankees hat and a number of seemingly important aspects blurred out.
A few months later, I wrote a post on this blog about the advertisement, one which enjoyed a few hits and then sunk into the archives. A little while ago, though, I noticed that the post was seeing more visitors, and many of them were directed right from MDMacro's own website. Doing about 30 seconds of research led me to discover that the MDMacro website had a link to that original post.
This was, of course, a bit surprising. I found MD's e-mail address and sent him a message, and in the few times we've spoken since then, I managed to convince him to consent to an interview, one in which we cover the topics of not just the advertisement, but his music and comic books in general.
I've posted a few Q&A sessions before, and when I do I often break them up into more than one post. I do this for length, but also because I shamelessly want people who find this site by doing a Google search for, say, Tim Seeley, to come back more than once. This time, though, I thought that it would be best if I kept everything contained to one post. So if you're going to take the Internet challenge and read through all of this at once, perhaps you should get a snack or go to the bathroom first. It's a long one (hell, my introduction is already unforgivably long), but I think that it comes across well. So now, without too much more frivolous delay, let's start my interview with MDMacro. As always, my questions are in bold text.
JM: First of all, tell me about your music, specifically your Beats for Reading Comic Books to album. What are you trying to accomplish? Who are you trying to reach? What's your overall goal?
MD: I dropped my first album, Beats by the Ear, in 2008. The title essentially sums up my process for beatmaking - at the time and for the most part now too. I basically just capture what sounds nice to my ear. Beats for Reading Comic Books to was the followup to that album, but this time I wanted to have more of a theme and kind of tailor the music toward something specific. I got back into reading comics - this was around Jason Todd's return and Infinite Crisis - so that became the theme. So as far as what I was trying to accomplish, Beats for Reading Comic Books to was sort of a challenge to myserlf ot create a thematically unified album. Once I had the concept, the marketing pretty much just fell into place - if I'm trying to reach comic book readers, not much better place than an issue of Batman, right?
JM: Explain, if you can, the process that goes into putting a song together. It seems that you're using a synthesizer for the majority of your sounds, but I do hear vocals every once in a while.
MD: I make Hip-Hop music, and to me, Hip-Hop is sample-based. So every sound you hear existed as something else before I used it for my own purposes. Because of that, it's kind of hard to describe a process - it's a lot of trial and error, hear was works kind of thing. By the ear. I listen to a lot of music - not to find samples, but for the experience of hearing music. Eventually, it gets to a point where I'm like, "how would this sound over this or with this?" I'm pretty much just experimenting until I have something to build a song around.
MD: There's definitely an inspiration for "Passed Tense" and you're on the right track to figuring out what it is from the things you've identified about it.
JM: What kind of comics to you follow? In the stack of graphic novels/trades pictured on the interior of your album, I see lots of X-Men and Batman, but there are also some more indy titles like Elk's Run and Action Philosophers. Are you a fan of a particular character, creator or book? Have your tastes changed in the three years since Beats came out?
MD: I'm a DC fan from childhood, mainly from Super Friends and the Christopher Reeve Superman movies, so I like to stay up on what's happening in the DCU. That said, I dropped off around 52 - I have no idea what's been happening since then. Batman's my all-time favorite character, but I've still got a lot of catching up there, too...the last thing I read was Ra's al Ghul getting institutionalized and the beginning of Grant Morrison's run. I never really got into marvel beyond X-Men, but I checked out Civil War. With DC and Marvel, it's hard to keep up. It's not like when books were a buck and maybe you had a crossover or two per month...it seems like something's happening every week now and across every title. It gets overwhelming. So like everyone else, I'll wait for the trades to make it easier.
But yeah, as I've kind of lost track of the mainstream storylines, I've moved over to checking for more indy or non-"universe" related material. Stuff with an ending. I'm a big fan of Alan Moore's work...Watchmen, V for Vendetta, Promethea...that's standard reading. I really like the Adrian Tomine stuff I've read. The Action Philosophers series was hilarious. My library stocks a lot of great books, so in the last few years I've got to read some different things like One Bad Rat, Paul Moves Out...I'll give anything from Drawn and Quarterly a try. I go to shows when I can and try to pick up something with I do - grabbed Elk's Run after meeting Noel Tuazon and Sexy Chix after hearing Diana Schutz speak. No regrets on either. I'm like Frank Costanza...I like to go in fresh, whether it's comics, music, whatever. With indy stuff, you're pretty much going in fresh every time.
Couple more favorites I want to mention: Berke Breathed and Jim Aparo. I really could go on for days on this stuff and I'm not even that huge of a comic head.
JM: Tell me about the album cover for Beats for Reading Comic Books to. Beats by the Ear (a vegetable pun!) has a photo cover, but your more recent album has an illustrated cover. What were you hoping to evoke with the image you chose?
MD: It's my tribute to Gary Larson.
JM: One thing that perplexed me about Beats for Reading Comic Books to is the track list - specifically, the titles of the songs. I was expecting "Ode to Reed Richards" or "Kryptonie Kastle" or something that invoked particular comic book themes. Is there a reason you stayed away from those types of titles for this album? Too obvious, maybe?
MD: The titles are definitely vital to understanding the album. Without giving away exactly what I mean, I guess I would say, listen to the album as if you were reading a comic book. Hopefully that makes sense.
That's an interesting idea, though - maybe I'll use that concept for a sequel. What does the Fortress of Solitude sound like? Probably pretty quiet. Then again, which Fortress? That one in Peru was probably pretty wild.
JM: Earlier this month, you released the album Beats for Posse Cuts. What kind of connection do you want to create between this new album and the previous two?
MD: There isn't any explicit connection between the albums...although I would say that the sound of Beats for Posse Cuts is going to be more in line with Beats by the Ear than Beats for Reading Comic Books to. I'd say the main connection between the albums would be the progression of my beatmaking techniques.
JM: Let's talk about the comic book advertisement for a little bit, now. First off, where/when did this ad run?
MD: It ran in DC Comics issues cover dated January 2010 and in the first issue of WWE Heroes by Titan Publishing.
JM: Did you place the ad in any other print mediums, or did you just stick to comics?
MD: Strictly comics.
JM: What gave you the initiative to go straight for the top in your ad placement? Did you consider smaller companies, or was it always DC in your mind? Who did you contact about getting your ad placed?
MD: I looked at Dark Horse and some smaller publishers, but after I thought about it, I figured I might as well just go with DC because they've got such a huge reach - plus I'm a DCU head. So I contacted DC's advertising department and just took it from there. I guess I've got this "go big or go home" thing about me going on, too.
JM: To be honest, I was a little big confused when I saw the ad at first, and then as I kept seeing in book after book, that confusion turned to curiosity. This wasn't the average comic book ad that I was used to seeing. What were you trying to accomplish with your ad?
MD: It's funny, what you wrote about the ad in January, 2010 is pretty much the reaction I was looking for. "Confusion to curiosity" is a good way to put it. I think the vagueness of the ad worked for me as an unknown...if you were interested, you had to put in effort on your site to satisfy that curiosity. That I could pique interest enough to incite action was really what I was trying to accomplish.
JM: Your ad was censored fairly heavily when it ran - your Yankees hat and the stack of books for your side - even the book you're reading is pixilated (assuming that is you in the picture). Did you anticipate the level of censorship your ad received, and how did you think it affected others' reactions to it?
MD: The original ad I submitted was rejected due to property rights issues (I'll give you a hint - I might not have had the same issue had I run the ad with Marvel). This was really close to the deadline date for the ad to be put in to DC, so I had to fully scrap what I had intended to use - there was no fix I could do to make it work. So then I had to switch gears and come up with something completely different in a very short time frame. I think I went for a drive and just thought on it, and eventually came up with the ad that ran. I had already pixelated the logo on my hat, I knew that would be a problem, and then DC requested I block out some more logos...we went back and forth a few times with other changes they wanted me to make. There's one change that had nothing to do with logos that's pretty major, but I doubt anyone would notice it unless you know that comic shop or have the digipack copy of the album.
I didn't really mind the pixelization because it gave me this "no logos in the shot" shot kind of aesthetic that was common in '90s rap videos. I was already going for that with my cap anyway. I think as far as reaction, it just added to the vagueness factor...it was another thing separating me from the other ads in the books, which were all expectedly professionally polished. DC had commissioned an artists to do a comic-style version of the ad, I assume because they were bewildered by the whole thing. It looked great, but if i had gone with it I think I would have lost that "shock" effect...it would have blended in with the rest of the ads and even the comic itself.
JM: What kind of reaction did you get to the ad, both in terms of feedback and in terms of followthrough? I rad that your site received over 50,000 visits in the month following the ad's placement - is that true?
MD: Yeah, that's accurate. There was definitely a lot of interest, a lot of curiosity. I did no promotion for my first album to having gigabytes of my songs downloaded - for months on new comic day, there would be a spike of hits and downloads. Feedback-wise, almost everything I got, other than sales, was from people who were doing their own creative thing with comics and wanted permission to use a track for an intro to a podcast of whatever. So that was encouraging, having avid comic book fans engaging with the ad and then the music. But yeah, as far as seeing people coming back week after week for new tracks, that was definitely going on.
JM: If this is completely inappropriate, just say so, but can I ask how much you paid for your ad buy? You don't see individuals buying ad space in Action Comics very often, so it was interesting to see from that perspective.
MD: I don't want to give an exact number, but it definitely wasn't cheap. It was an investment, though...that explanation usually justifies most expenses. I hope.
JM: Do you think your ad was successful? How would you define success in a situation like this one?
MD: I think so. If yours is the typical reaction, that's great, that's exactly what I wanted. I've sold physical CDs, which I think it pretty impressive nowadays - people don't buy the music of the people they're fans of, let alone a complete unknown. I wanted to differentiate myself and I think on that level, it worked, too. A lot of people probably downloaded one track or two and lost interest or whatever, but for the people who were interested in hearing the album and came back on a weekly basis to check for new tracks...there were 23 tracks on the album, so to hear the whole thing, that's like going on a 23-week journey. That people would be willing to take that journey is a success to me.
More people will buy the first issue of a comic than the 23rd, that's usually given, but if you have people still coming back at issue #23, you have to figure something clicked with those people. So on that level of being a complete unknown entity presenting a creation to people and getting response to that creation, I think it was successful.
JM: If a comic fan goes to your site and listens to some of your music, specifically the Beats for Reading Comic Books to album, what do you want them to take away from it?
MD: Hopefully they enjoy the music. Beyond that, the best you could hope for is that people connect with the thought process behind it, figure out what it is, what I was thinking when I made this song, or album, or whatever. If you can, then I've communicated my ideas effectively, even though I haven't communicated them explicitly. In a way, that's what art is.
JM: Any additional comments or things you want to plug?
MD: Beats for Posse Cuts - first track came out August 9th - check that out. I'm also working on a collaboration album with my man Genuine Groove from Toronto - watch for that in 2013.
I hooked up with Play De Record in Toronto to do a promotion for Beats for Reading Comic Books to, so if you're in downtown Toronto, head over to the store, say "MD" at the register, and you'll get a limited-edition promotional copy of the album. Spend $20 and get a promo copy of Beats by the Ear, too. Both hand signed.
The only other thing I was to plug is the Interpretations section of my site. I was to help spark other people's work. Anybody creatively bent, if you get inspired by a beat or whatever, create something and I'll put it up, hopefully getting your some exposure. An artist named "'Bald' Pat" got in touch with me after seeing the ad and checking out the beats - it sparked him to put together a couple videos. The first was mainly a sampler of some of his art, but for the second one, he took the track "Combat" and came up with a mini-comic, which he put into video form. That's all him. He listened to the track and it sparked his thoughts to create something new...that kind of thing blows my mind. So yeah, if any of my stuff sparks your imagination and you feel like creating something based on it, definitely send it my way.
JM: Thanks so much for agreeing to this interview. Best of luck! And, you know, if you happen to create a Yeti Beats track for your next album, I promise not to take too much of the credit!
MD: Thanks for reaching out! I'll do a Yeti track if the Yeti lays down some vocals on it. Keep your eyes open for the new single, "What Happened to Teddy?" by MD and the Yeti. PEACE!
Visit MDMacro's website and listen to all three of his albums on his official website: http://www.mdmacro.com.