Talk to any record/CD hoarding metal elitist and they’ll have you believing that anyone who’s ever downloaded an album illegally might as well be stealing money directly out of a band’s pocket like an orphan out of Oliver Twist. Don’t get me wrong. Illegally downloading music is a somewhat unsavory action, akin to stealing change out of a friend’s glove box, or farting on your roommate’s pillow. I would definitely encourage a “scene supporter” to either buy CDs directly from a band, or MP3s from Bandcamp or directly from labels. But illegal downloading isn’t the epidemic that CD collecting snobs would have you believe, nor is even the main contributor to the current pay to play culture within the metal zeitgeist.
People have been listening to music for free since forever. All the metal veterans who constantly harken back to the glory days of tape trading were basically just downloading music illegally. CD collectors who buy anything at used record stores are basically stealing from the band as well. Do you stream music on Youtube or Spotify? You fucking thief! The fact of the matter is, that unless you purchase a CD, MP3, or record directly from a label or at a show from the band, there’s really no guarantee that the band is getting any money from the sale.
So if record sales never really made a huge impact on a band’s income, what does? Well first off underground metal bands really never made that much money. As a general rule, metal bands don’t experience mainstream success and radio play because of the extreme nature of their sound. Cannibal Corpse released three albums before they could even quit their day jobs. But today the idea of a band being able to quit their day job is practically unheard of. Bands used to make money off of ticket sales, merch sales, interviews, and appearences. But today most underground bands literally pay to play. So what changed? When did ticket and merch sales go down so dramatically that bands simply couldn’t make a profit let alone sustain themselves? And why?
The problem does not stem from illegal downloading or even over accessibility via the internet, although admittedly those two elements might contribute it. The true problem in the scene, however, is over saturation. Twenty and thirty years ago, thrash, death, and black metal were still groundbreaking genres within metal. Every week bands were pushing boundaries and playing heavier and faster than their predecessors. Bands like Death, Slayer, Possessed, Deicide, Destruction, Mayhem, Darkthrone, Ulver, Sepultura, and Morbid Angel paved the way for countless other bands. New genres, like doom, folk, and grind were born. Genres began coalescing and blackened thrash, and death grind were born. Death metal became brutal, then melodic. Black metal became raw, then pagan. New things were happening and it was exciting. Bands had a signature sound.
Bands continued to push the limits until sooner or later, everything had been done. That, however, didn’t stop people from continuing to write music. Instead of trying to be completely original, since that became an impossibility, musicians began drawing from their influences. Eventually metal became the massive, worldwide phenomenon it is today. While that’s unbelievably awesome for the average fan, it creates a problem for would be musicians because of an increase in competition. There are simply too many bands. With as many bands as there are, one would think that the streets would be swarming with metal musicians everywhere you looked. It’s actually almost weird that kind of fucking lame that that is not the case, but I digress.
The thing is that there are simply too many bands for even the truest fan to keep up with. Tell me one band you like, and I can name about ten more that you’d like based on that. Like Dissection? You should check out Vinterland, Eternal Lies, Nalgfar, Istapp, Lord Belial, Thulcandra etc, etc…. Like Destroyer 666? You’ll probably like Slaughter Messiah, Aura Noir, Frosthelm, Excidium, Lord etc.. We just have too many choices anymore and that’s both good and bad. Because metalheads are both eclectic and not fickle, it means that we never usually let go of our favorite albums, even after the band has broken up, and we’re always open to listen to another band that’s true to our preferences. But since there are so many bands, no one can keep up. A pair of friends can be talking about bands at a show and mention ten bands each that their friend has never heard of. Neither’s cred even comes into question. I’ve seen it happen. I’ve had it happen to me. It’s ridiculous. It’s a problem. So how do we rectify this problem?
It’s probably too late but there are a few things we can do. First of all, some of you need to put down your instruments. Look, I know you’re passionate, and you want to create, but most of you are mediocre and you’re not contributing much to the scene with your music. If you want to be involved in the scene, there are so many other ways to involve yourself. Book shows, draw sick art, write reviews, take photographs of nature, print shirts, open a record store, do lights……I could go on and on. Maybe starting band isn’t for everyone. Some of you just need to be fans. There’s nothing more ridiculous than being at a show that’s literally bands watching bands. That shit happens all the damn time.
If you’re in a band, stop with the goddamn side projects. So you’re in a thrash band but you’ve really been getting into DSBM and you’re thinking about starting a one man project? No, just no! Either quit the thrash band and focus on the DSBM project or vice versa. For God’s sake don’t do both. The only reason there are so many bands but metal musicians aren’t filling the streets is because everyone is in three bands. Just stop. Focus on one thing and make it great. Try and be original as hard as that can be. Try and have a signature sound. Pour your blood into your project. Make an impact on the scene.
Fans, really need to start getting to know bands and their material. This can be difficult with so much music to choose from just a click away on youtube, but it’s a trend that needs to resurface. Back in the 90’s, we’d buy every Death album, or whomever, and listen to those albums over and over until they became ingrained in our memory, and we knew every word, and every solo by heart. Today, there’s so much music readily available, we’ve all developed musical ADD. We practically forget what a band sounds like right after listening to them. We’re already on the next band. This needs to stop. Fandom and obsession needs to be reborn. Of course, everyone has their favorite bands that they already behave like fanboys around, all I’m suggesting is that we do this more. There are artists I have liked a lot that I never just never got around to listening to more than one or two albums from, let alone their entire discography, simply because of the sheer volume of my music collection.
And the last, and most important factor is to go to shows. Go to as many as possible Buy merch while you’re there. Get drunk and have a good time. Be a fan. Even if you’re in a band, go see other bands. Bring your friends and get the word out. This is where bands make their money. on merch and ticket sales. Show your support!
So I suppose my conclusion is that, metal has way more problems than illegal downloading. If you own a thousand records but you never get out and see live music, I hate to break it to you but you are not a scene supporter. All that means is that you are willing to designate a large portion of your apartment space to your huge music collection. If you downloaded a few albums because you’re poor, you’re not the worst person ever either. As long as you go to shows, and buy a t-shirt here or there, you fucking rule! Let’s all stop the guilt tripping then and just try to create something original. With that in mind, let’s bang our heads to some old Slayer, a truly original band in their time. Your band couldn’t touch what they did.