(Photo: Rob Hatch-Miller)
According to various studies, 30% to 80% of American small businesses will not survive the pandemic. And would they all receive documentary honors as lovingly and artfully designed as the ones Puloma Basu and Rob Hatch-Miller did for the closed New York record store Other Music?
Other Music opened in 1995, just across from Tower Records on East 4th Street Street in Lower Manhattan, and was more than just a record store. It was a place for exciting cultural discovery, a place for musical training, a center of community. Until its closure in 2016, when a new generation of music fans had migrated entirely online for not just media but their conversation as well, Other Music was curating and promoting – through charming, hand-lettered descriptive cards and passionate and chatty on-the-ground workers – the amazingly new ones alongside the deepest cuts. As Other Music documents in the film, the store got some of its basic spirit from the beginnings of the legendary East Village rental business Kim & # 39; s Video. Just as Kim introduced a both idiosyncratic and micro-cataloged cataloging system, Other Music organized its CDs in sections with monikers like "Then", "Krautrock", "In", "Out" and "Decadanse" (the latter mainly) 60s- Years section with French pop like Serge Gainsbourg, Francoise Hardy and Bridget Bardot as well as the Italian singer Lucio Battisti and the Brazilian bossa nova by João Gilberto.
As Other Music grew, it added in-store performances (here as documentation material Mogwai, The Go Between, Yo La Tengo, Neutral Milk Hotel and more), an email newsletter (Pre-Pitchfork, a key source of information that the subtly laced) critical assessments within its lush prose) and, after iTunes popularized digital music, its own digital storefront. At its peak in 2000, Other Music had sales of approximately $ 3.1 million. As the documentary notes, within this number was a large percentage of the record sales of individual bands. However, at the time of its closure, Other Music was exposed to macroeconomic forces that were beyond its control. The rent in Manhattan had more than doubled while sales had halved.
With its success in the New York business, September 11th opens the beginning of Other Music's troubles. The film makes this clear, and at that moment the Doc also identifies the artistic discovery: advocating William Basinski's elegiac disintegration loops through the business. Indeed, the film elegantly interweaves stories about art and commerce. As much as the story of Other Music is a nearly twenty-year history of the New York music scene, it is also about a small business – the long hours, the sweaty justice, and the personal relationships that go with such ventures. (Directed by a married couple team, Other Music knowingly counterpoints the story of store founders Josh Madell and Chris Vanderloo with comments from their wives Dawn Madell and Lydia Vanderloo.)
"It's a great film and it made me very sad," said an audience after the screening at the premiere of the Tribeca Film Festival. As a regular customer and someone whose tastes the owners, especially Chris, knew, I felt the same way. (I also brought so many film directors to this store – my partner Robin O'Hara and I worked a lot with European directors who had come to New York for short filming. If their presence in the office got too big, Robin Do it Always turn to me and say, "Can't you just take her to other music?" And when I was working with Focus Features on their FilmInFocus website, Jamie Stuart and I made a little video about the in the store Soundtrack to Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control.) I begin my conversation with directors Basu and Hatch-Miller with this feeling as I acknowledge that the sadness that the film touches at this moment has even more dimensions.
Other music can now be digitally downloaded and rented on all common platforms.
Filmmakers: As a long-time customer of Other Music and a contributor to the Kickstarter campaign, I went to Tribeca for the premiere of your film. I loved the movie, but it was also a very melancholy experience to think about the shop, his loss and the time in my own life that he corresponded with. I've just watched the film again and of course it's even bittersweet. The celebration of personal interaction with physical media is still over, but now we're in a world where the kind of concert that wraps up your film is a thing of the past, at least for now. Small businesses are also dying in New York due to the pandemic. What is it like for you as a creator if the film comes out at that moment?
Puloma Basu: When we made the film, not only did we want to preserve what other music is and preserve the history of the business, but we also hoped that the film would make people think about and appreciate similar places, and hopefully, respect them support that are important to them in their own communities. But we never would have thought that suddenly nobody would be able to be physically in a room that interests them in order to support them personally.
Rob Hatch-Miller: We always wanted to use other music as an example of what is lost as life goes more and more online. When we were filming, we thought that despite the vinyl resurgence, independent record stores would have a hard time surviving in the future. At least the way we grew up with record stores, as an important way for people to discover new music and meet friends or maybe start a band. All that stuff. But at the time we thought that many other aspects of the music industry were alive and well. Certainly there was no danger for live music. Artists made money on the go – maybe they weren't making much money streaming, but the independent music scene was still thriving in ways that this pandemic has challenged. For example, when we were making the film, we never imagined that the Bowery Ballroom, where we shot the farewell concert for Other Music, could not be open for a whole year. So it's definitely weird.
Basu: In the end, I think we're as sad as it is that things have turned out in such a way that the message of the film resonates more with people. Because suddenly it's not just this one place, but many places that may be closed. Or have already closed. If some people see this movie now, they may be inspired to help places that are struggling to stay alive right now.
Hatch-Miller: – and inspire them to make sure they patronize these places, digitally now if they can or physically once this pandemic is over. We hope the people who see our movie will think twice about staying home and watching a movie on Netflix, and maybe support their local cinema instead when it reopens. Or instead of just streaming an album on Spotify, they go to a store and buy it. Or you better go to a store and ask the people who work there for a recommendation on something they haven't heard before.
Filmmakers: They both have ties to the Other Music business. When did you first come across the business and what did you take away from it as an employee / customer? And how has that affected your own taste in music?
Basu: I think I first heard about other music when I was in college in Massachusetts in 2000. I've met some people who used to travel to New York City to go to Other Music. Back then it was mostly CDs, and everyone lent each other their music so they could hear new things. And I really wanted to visit the store – I think I went there for the first time in early 2001. And it was like no other place I had ever been before, but it was also really scary because there were so many artists I had never heard of. How it affected my musical tastes was … I saw the variety of types of music they had, almost every genre you could think of. And the people who worked in the store seemed really open to all genres and heard all kinds of things. I think it made me more daring to buy things I've never heard of.
Hatch-Miller: The first time I went to Other Music was my first week as a freshman at NYU. My dorm was right on Washington Square Park, so it was maybe five blocks to get to Tower Records on Broadway, and there was Other Music across the street. I must have read about it in a Time Out New York "Guide To NYC Record Stores" or something. When I first went in, I knew very little about what almost everything was in the store, aside from things like Neutral Milk Hotel, Pavement, Guided By Voices, and maybe some things like Kraftwerk or Aphex Twin and Big Star. But that was just a tiny drop in the ocean from Other Music on the shelves. And the names of the artists on the trash cards were completely mysterious to me, which was scary but exciting because it seemed like there was this whole world to explore. I kept going back and it became the only record store I went to. I think I went to Kim's too, but mostly went because Kim's video rental was up on Saint Mark & # 39; s Place. And at some point I got a job at Other Music and it taught me so much about all kinds of music. I feel like I really knew next to nothing about music before I started working there.
Filmmakers: Were there any archival challenges in obtaining the various recordings in your film? And what about music rights? I know from experience that even most indie artists can pose business challenges. Was there any footage or music that you wanted to record but couldn't?
Basu: In terms of footage, we originally had an Animal Collective clip on the Letterman show. And it was really, really expensive. So we replaced it with a clip of theirs playing the same song "Summertime Clothes" at Pitchfork Fest, which was a better clip anyway.
Hatch-Miller: Yes, and luckily we had Pitchfork right before the Condé Nast takeover made things a lot more complicated there and a lot of people got laid off. I think if we'd tried to find the Animal Collective Pitchfork footage a few months later, everyone who'd given us access to it would have disappeared. So that was lucky, at least for us. In relation to other archive footage in the film, the vast majority of the footage is footage shot by a guy named Derek Yip in the late 90s and early 2000s. He volunteered to videotape a number of artist performances in the store, and Puloma already knew Derek. He was an accountant on several feature films and television shows that she worked on in the location department. Derek was great to work with, the store had its VHS dubs, but he helped us get access to all of his original master tapes for digitization. And in the end we gave him producer credit on the film because he was such a key member of our team. I think all of the footage in the store really brought the movie to life – even some "random" set-up and b-roll shots that it shot. He never intended to take pictures of people shopping in the store or the like, he was only there for the concerts in the store. But he accidentally took a few shots just because he was there with a camera, and that was really useful for us to edit.
There are a few other archive recordings, such as a documentary about the Mönche, a German band that signed an album with Other Music. The filmmakers gave us access to raw footage they shot, and that gave us our only scene in the movie with the business's third co-founder speaking on camera. He's not otherwise in the movie, except through stills and other people talking about him. There's also a documentary about Gary Wilson whose in-store performance is included in the film, and we were able to edit Derek's single-camera tape in the store with their raw two-camera footage that they never used to make it a little more exciting and exciting visually. And of course there are also clips from some stores shot by Natalie Johns with a multi-camera team – artists like St. Vincent, No Age and the Dirtbombs, Conor Oberst.
Basu: And then, in terms of music, Rob and I had previously made a music documentary and learned a lot about how music licenses can destroy a documentary and prevent it from being released. We were very careful about only using music from artists who were close to the business or who had heavily promoted and helped in their careers. And we were just trying to cater or curate it the way other music curated music itself. We actually used the weekly email update for the new release from Other Music. We searched these archives online to select the music that was included in the film.
Hatch-Miller: And perhaps more important than the selection of artists the store supports, we have chosen artists who didn't have a big label connection. Everything that had a major label association was an instant red flag, and we decided early on that only things that absolutely had to be in the movie could have a major label association. Otherwise, it would just have been too much headache or an impossibility to get rid of it. Artists like Jackson C. Frank, Vashti Bunyan and, surprisingly, Neutral Milk Hotel were some of the few great artists associated with the label that we had to license. That made things easier as we only had to deal with big labels for less than five out of around 65 songs in the overall film. Dealing with independent labels is obviously a better experience, and they better understand the budget constraints of a documentary.
Filmmakers: The doc moves purposefully through moments of cultural importance – for example the William Basinski Disintegration Loops section – to moments related to social and technological change, such as the music industry's transition to digital and the impact on business. And then a pretty sizable chunk of the document – around 25% – is based on the deal closure. Tell me about your choices regarding the structure of the document. Was the structure recognizable from the start? Were there clips or sections that had to fall out? Is there anything you would like to add?
Basu: I think there were some story points that we knew we wanted to hit, like the Disintegration Loops. We knew we had to talk about it because it was a work of art that really spoke at a specific time in New York history, and we could very easily connect that to the history of Other Music. So we knew that had to be in there.
Hatch-Miller: We benefited from having worked in the store. And Puloma was very close, just because he'd been shopping there for a long time and being friends with people who worked there. She was really familiar with the things they were selling. There was never time for any research – we started filming after the store announced it was going to close. And we didn't have time to familiarize ourselves with the story, so we had to get started right away. I don't think we could have done it without already having a lot of different things in place that were important to the history of the business. When we started, as Puloma said, we knew the disintegration loops were really relevant, and we knew the rock revival "Meet Me In The Bathroom" would be after 9/11 with Strokes and TV on the radio and Yeah Yeahs Yeahs somehow was born out of other music. At least the store was a very important place for this music scene. And of course we knew that we had to ask people about Animal Collective to take pictures of their old show planes in the back room and the like. So we had some of these beats in mind, even if there wasn't any formal outline or anything like that. There were other artists we knew would be important, like Jackson C. Frank and Vashti Bunyan. And we knew that the film had to tell two parallel stories at the same time, the history of the past, how the store started and what it meant for New York music history, and the current story of its final days. I think we got a pretty good feel for the structure. But as much as we had a sense of what the structure would look like, our editors Amy Scott and Greg King were key partners in developing that structure. As much of the structure of a documentary, as much planning and research as possible, is always discovered in the editing room.
Basu: We started filming maybe two or three days after the announcement that Other Music was going to close. And from the day we started filming, we filmed all day every day. We knew we wanted to show what it's like when the madness ends after so many years, but we also wanted to live there to show what it's like on a normal day at Other Music.
Hatch-Miller: And luckily, in the six weeks between the announcement and the actual shutdown, they were in the middle for a couple of weeks when the atmosphere wasn't that charged. And it just felt like a piece of life. We're in a record shop filming everyday life. It was very important for us to be able to work with this footage to get a sense of the mood of other music on a normal day when people weren't crying all the time about the store closing. Because that's not how it was for most of its 21-year history!
Basu: One section that had to be canceled was: We had so many interviews with people who told us how they had met their spouses through other music, or through other music, or because of something they had bought from other music. We really wanted to kind of include that, but it just didn't fit. We thought it would be really cute to record that and just do a quick montage of all the different people – including someone like Bill Callahan who met his wife at Other Music and talked about it on stage at the farewell concert we were filming.
Hatch-Miller: And it's worth noting that Puloma and I met In a way, different music. We met because Puloma is friends with Duane Harriott, who I worked with in the store, and we met through Duane. So the film is not about our relationship, but about the place where our relationship existed. I have a feeling that inevitably seeped in in some way.
Filmmakers: Well, I wanted to ask … One of the themes in the film is couples and the impact of a small business on a relationship. You're a couple, too, and an independent film is a small business. How do you work as a filmmaker couple in terms of your approach to the job? Is there a division of labor or do you do everything together? What recommendations do you have for artists who are couples and create together? And how has your own perspective here affected your approach to this story?
Hatch-Miller: As a couple, this is our first feature document that we staged together. We had previously co-governed some music videos and other short projects and these had less division of labor. On a shorter project, it's easier to both be on the set together at all times, both do all the planning together, both sit together for all the editing. For this film we were much more separate from each other. Because in the six weeks that the store closed and we were filming, I had a full-time job and Puloma was between freelance jobs in movies and TV shows. And for this reason, she spent the weekdays alone in the store as a one-man tape camera and sound crew. And then I came in the evening and took over until the last employee left the shop for the night – also as a “one-man band” cameraman and recorded the sound myself. We were both there on the weekends and exchanged all day long, when one of us got tired of holding the camera and needed a break. On the weekends, we were able to do more employee interviews in the back room of the store, where I held the camera and Puloma held the boom microphone and asked most of the questions from a standard list we kept in the Notes app on our phones. After the store closed it was different and we did more interviews with celebrities and musicians. We were both able to be there for a lot of these interviews, though there were a handful when it was just one of us. As with the Tunde Adebimpe interview, Puloma couldn't be there and I couldn't be there for Matt Berninger. When we got to the post office, I was back in a full-time job and Puloma wasn't. So she was first and foremost the one who sat with our editors all day every day, and I saw more scene meetings and gave feedback on things that were already worked on and gave directors' notes for larger pictures. But I also did a lot of the assistant editing work in Premiere myself on the weekends and did a lot of research on the music, and was very directly involved in the music monitoring process and things like clearing fair usage.
Basu: You asked what recommendations we have for artists who are couples and create together? Don't kill each other.
Hatch-Miller: I think not everyone is tough to work together as a couple. Not every couple has it all. It only works for some people and not for others. And it works for us most of the time.
Basu: We worked together pretty quickly when we met. Much of our relationship has been built on working together as part of it from the start. I think that kind of thing made it organic where that was already built into our relationship.
Hatch-Miller: Yeah, it probably wouldn't have worked so well if we'd been together for two years and then said, "Hey, let's try to make a movie together."
Basu: We were on our first shoot together, I think a week after we met. And we were together and we worked together and we all got to know each other at the same time. So we developed a lot of work habits together without even thinking about it. So it's really hard. I am not sure what advice we can give.
Hatch-Miller: Do you think we approached this story differently because we're a couple?
Basu: I think we have really different personalities and we think differently about things. For example, when we interviewed Regina Spektor, Rob tried to ask her question and she thought he was telling her what to say in her response. It was just a miscommunication on both sides where he didn't actually tell her what to say but she misunderstood and I had to come in and explain, "Okay, no, that's what he said." I think when you're directing someone, it helps to define what your stronger abilities are, then focus on those things, and then know that the other person is focusing on different things.
Hatch-Miller: I would also say that we are not an "author theory". We've both worked on many things in different capacities and we know that it is very rare for one person to have complete control over a movie. Film is a very collaborative medium. It doesn't matter if it's a director working with a producer or multiple producers, or a director, a screenwriter and a separate editor. We're definitely not going to do things single-mindedly, and I think it's helpful to have a partner to exchange ideas with. Especially someone who approaches things differently from you. It's always good to have more perspectives than less.
Basu: I think for our specific dynamic of being a woman and a man directing together, there are definitely differences in the way we perceive things. Which helps for the overall picture.
Hatch-Miller: Regarding us as directors as a couple and how that relates thematically to the film … I hadn't thought about that before. This is kind of an original question which is surprising since our film was shown at festivals a year and a half ago and we answered a lot of questions between then and now! I think the film is in a way about a couple. Josh and Chris, the two owners of the store and how they work with their different personalities. The nature of the "marriage" of these two people made the place so special for everyone who worked and shopped there.
Basu: And then their own relationships with their wives who supported them and made sure this place stayed open as long as it did. It was a family oriented place and everyone was very close.
Hatch-Miller: In a way, it's a movie about the family – a kind of family. I think a lot of the staff were young people who worked for Josh and Chris and saw them as parenting characters.
Basu: Oh yes, we have so much interview material from the staff talking about how they looked up to them and were influenced by them.