About a month ago, like any other person who follows the tech news cycle, I saw that Kim Dotcom— former Megaupload founder and entertainment industry public enemy number one— was gearing up to unleash a new music service called Baboom.
I figured anyone who could create something as massive and well-liked as Megaupload was probably onto something, and this was right around the time the much-hyped Beats Music streaming service was getting ready to launch, so I checked it out.
What I found, somewhat disappointingly, was that Baboom wasn’t fully up yet. The site was still in pre-beta. But what was there was the ability to download Kim Dotcom’s debut album Good Times.
Now of course the initial thinking when hearing that a German-Finnish hacker-cum-entrepreneur fighting RICO charges from the United States Department of Justice has made an album is, well, how could this record possibly be good? I mean, what are the odds of that? Turns out, they’re pretty damn good.
I downloaded Good Times with absolutely no expectations, but found myself almost instantly captivated by its cheerful and fun sound. Without much thought at all, I realized after a few days that I was listening to it a lot. Was this the best pop album I’d heard in a while? Potentially.
I scanned the Internet for articles about Kim Dotcom’s new LP and noticed that in the United States, not a single serious music outlet had published anything about it. If there was mention of it at all, it was a short blog post about Baboom and then a link to the record. Nothing else.
There were some reviews that came out of Europe, but they were mostly negative. It seemed like reviewers were writing off the record because music critics like to write off anything that sounds remotely accessible. They definitely don’t take well to people outside of the ‘serious’ music community making good music. That made me want to do this story even more. At a point, it was all I could think about.
So on a lark and without commitment of a media brand to publish a story, I sent an email to the address on Kim Dotcom’s twitter account, telling him a little about myself and how I was interested in interviewing him. At no point at all did I think that my email would be ignored. I’m sure that Kim gets a million emails a day, but I was pretty convinced he would see this one. I have no idea why; call it a hunch.
But just for posterity’s sake, after I sent the email, I tweeted at him to let him know I’d reached out, like I’m sure many people do. Lo and behold, a friend of mine— Pep, a creative branding and marketing consultant, whom I know something like 10 years— saw the tweet, and sent me a direct message. He told me that he was actually already talking to the people behind Baboom, and that he could put me directly in touch with them. I told him what my ideas for an interview were, he reached out to the appropriate party, and just like that, it was game on.
I mention this part about Twitter because journalists often have this thing about secrecy on big stories, this idea that they shouldn’t let you know what they’re working on. When I worked full time in magazines, it was all about keeping the cover a secret. God forbid anyone find out what you’re doing! These days, awash in media everywhere, it’s the complete opposite. You almost have to let the cat out of the bag to get things done. It helps galvanize the community of friends and supporters that surround your brand, and finds people helping out when you least expect. You never know who’s watching. I love it.
Because I wanted to talk to him about something that obviously meant a lot to him, something he was doing that other people weren’t taking seriously, Kim Dotcom agreed to be interviewed. Often, writers request interviews with notable people and somehow gloss over what it is that the person actually does. Like talking to a movie star about everything except the movie. I get that readers want the salacious stuff, and writers have to get the juicy bits, but the reality of it is you have to first establish some level of trust with your subject before you travel down that road. Nobody will talk to you if they know you are out to trash them. It seems so basic, but if you treat someone’s work with respect, they will often do the same. This often gets lost in the interview process, somehow.
My biggest problem after Kim agreed was that I still didn’t have a media outlet interested in the story. So I quickly made a list of 4-5 premium brands that would be potentially interested, and started firing off emails to editors.
Considering the fact that 60 Minutes ran a story on Kim in early January, and that the guy was basically untouchable, I thought editors would leap at the chance to get in on this. I mean, this is a guy who, two years ago, found his New Zealand mansion raided like an Al Quaeda compound over pirated movies, music and software. Why wouldn’t you want to talk to him? That’s a story!
But the state of media in the United States is, I dunno… not in a good place. Kim is vilified as this guy who was once behind a major piracy organization, and people didn’t really want to touch this thing. In my interview with him, he said that behind-the-scenes he’s been labeled as ‘toxic,’ and that’s the sense I got from talking to editors. Everyone was acting like they were 5-years-old. Like Kim Dotcom had ‘cooties.’
Well, everyone except Complex. I have to hand it to them. I gave them my pitch, and while everyone else was happy to tell me to fuck off, they were into this, and so they became my brand partner on presenting this story. I shouldn’t have been surprised. I have a long history of publishing hard-hitting journalism with Complex. It’s obvious why they’re winning. If you have a decent idea and at least some modicum of talent, they’re in. I’m extremely proud it’s published there.
A few days later, I hopped on Skype with Kim Dotcom. It was 3 AM in New Zealand, and he was settling in after a long day. We talked for about two hours and he was extremely forthcoming and chatty about pretty much anything that I wanted to ask him.
We talked about his music, about the N.S.A., about Google, censorship, the music industry, copyright law, the Department of Justice and the future of the Internet. I’m usually fairly reserved with praise— it’s easy to be impressed when you’re the one asking all the questions— but I definitely got the sense that Kim knows where things are going.
Listen to this story instead here.
Paul Cantor is a writer, editor and music producer based in New York. Formerly an editor at AOL Music, his writing has appeared at Rolling Stone, MTV News, VICE and Billboard, among others outlets. Throughout his 10-year career he’s written/produced records for dozens of artists and provided creative services to brands like Disney, the CW Network, Verizon, Converse and HBO. His commentary has been tapped by the likes of CNN and Al Jazeera, and a selection of his recent work can be found HERE.