Pretty Lights

Although a few established acts have dabbled in the free download game, Radiohead and NIN are obvious examples, ‘Pretty Lights’ Derek Vincent Smith built his entire career that way–from the ground up. The Fort Collins-based producer is practically in a league of his own in that regard. Name one other artist who’s never made a single penny on recorded music and is now capable of packing Red Rocks–a feat Smith is reprising this Saturday. It’s a trajectory many will inevitably imitate. Girl Talk might his only near-peer–business model-wise–but unless Crickets Chirping is the handle of a band not yet on my radar, the answer is clear.

Like DJ Shadow, Smith is a crate digger. A crate digger is someone who weeds through dusty, long forgotten music–often in vinyl format–to find obscure gems worth reviving. Moby’s multi-platinum platter Play is a touchstone of sorts, in this case, as Pretty Lights’ vibe relies heavily on ghostly blues and jazz vocals from another time and place. Jesus allegedly brought Lazarus back to life; Smith brings singers back from the dead on the regular with a primarily hip hop and downtempo electronica palette. It’s not immediately clear whether his samples are cleared or not–another solid reason not to profit off the releases. Girl Talk’s Gregg Gillis relies much more heavily on other people’s music, but operates in the same legal gray area.

What should ticket holders to Saturday’s sold to the gills Red Rocks gig expect? Smith’s Pretty Lights’ moniker is not exactly false advertising–in case you were curious. Besides employing a flesh and blood drummer to flesh out his bedroom productions, Smith’s got some kind of wunderkind behind the lighting board. Pretty Lights’ flashing lights could give Pink Floyd a run for their money in the visuals department. Seriously. Your eyeballs will have a ball.

Commandeer Pretty Lights’ latest Spilling Over Every Side here.

3 Responses

  1. Ian Danielson

    so if one does not profit off of sales of uncleared samples, but (I’m assuming) one DOES profit off of packing red rock with said uncleared samples, how does one fair legally?

  2. George Peele

    Good question. As I stated in the story, I’m not entirely certain (having not yet interviewed Smith) whether his samples are uncleared or not. Often, it depends on the obscurity of the samples and the popularity of the artists who employs them. Live performance royalties are paid on an estimated average, though, as performing rights organizations can’t possibly keep track of every cover song and/or sample played at every single venue.

  3. Ian Danielson

    Eloquently explicated, Mr. Peele, thank you. It was all so much simpler back in the days of Paul’s Boutique. Kanye certainly tried to ruin it for everyone, but it’s encouraging that the art persists despite financial and legal obstacles.


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