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The Sound

For Lynch, music’s future is Unknown

6/5/2013

Unknown Component plays at the Raccoon River Brewing Company on Saturday, June 8.

Unknown Component plays at the Raccoon River Brewing Company on Saturday, June 8.

Keith Lynch is frustrated. As the sole perpetrator behind dream pop act Unknown Component, Lynch one of the few musicians around who not only handles every aspect of his music — from songwriting to album production — but he does so with enough success to call music his full-time profession.

But it’s not an easy row to hoe, and on this particular day, Lynch isn’t afraid to vent a little.

“It’s a struggle,” he said. “Everything (in the music industry) is changing. I’m just trying to figure out where it’s going and getting ahead of it. So far it’s working. I just get frustrated because I want to expand out, and I know where I should be, but I’m not there. So it’s frustrating.”

Last October, Lynch released his album “Blood v. Electricity.” The album was well received critically, garnering positive reviews everywhere from Des Moines to the U.K., with music videos being spotlighted by Huffington Post. But none of that has translated into sales.

“That’s the thing,” said Lynch. “How do you make money now? People can listen to anything now for free. Why buy an album? Why buy a song? So it’s kind of over, as far as making money from the actual music itself.

“I think about what Radiohead did (with its pay-what-you-want album). I was so happy they did that. I was like, ‘Wow, that’s such an innovative move.’ Now I’m wondering, did they really mess up by doing that? Because they essentially said, ‘Pay what you want, music itself isn’t really worth anything anymore.’ ”

Lynch continues to make the majority of his money off his live shows. Even in the best of times, Lynch’s music can be a difficult sell, but he manages to find enough shows every year to live without the need for a 9-5 gig.

“I bring all my own sound equipment, so that helps (cut costs). I try to find venues where I can play four hours, so I provide a whole night’s worth of a show. If I can find enough of those kinds of shows, which I’ve been able to for the last three or four years, I get by.”

Lynch is something of an anomaly. He’s a living, breathing embodiment of the romanticized kind of “starving artist” that you didn’t think really existed anywhere. For Lynch, it really is all about his creation and nothing else. He’s singular in his vision and stunningly, almost self-defeatingly, insistent upon a certain level of creative purity.

“As soon as something is successful, that’s all that matters,” he said. “It’s not how good it is; it’s how many units they can sell, how many shows they can make, how many Kardashians they can mate with.

“There’s no heart left. We’re watching ‘American Idol’ and ‘The Voice,’ and people are finding new music through commercials. I’m a thoughtful person, and I’m willing to hear other sides, but when something is used in a commercial…”

His voice trails off, before regrouping.

“Because where does it stop? It becomes easier to say, ‘Well, I’ll give Pepsi a little more of my integrity’ until there’s nothing left. Would I be happy (with a platinum album)? Probably. Would I feel like I cheated somehow? Yeah. Someway, somehow, I’d feel like I’d probably cut some corner. The whole system is flawed.”

But Lynch continues to hone his craft, because he legitimately feels like it’s what he was put here for.

“I’m not going to stop doing what I do, you know? I’ll find a way to make it work.” CV

Chad Taylor is an award-winning news journalist and music writer from Des Moines.

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