Poverty is the Price for Metal Stardom

The Talk:

Every metal musician needs to have “The Talk” at some point or another and for some of you, this will be that moment.  In the world of metal, “The Talk” is the soul crashing, dream obliterating conversation where one learns the valuable lesson that you can’t get rich playing extreme metal.  It’s heartbreaking and defeating but better learned sooner than later.  And since a young ambitious musician isn’t necessarily considering the logistics, lifestyle goals, etc. of their future before they drill on that pentagram neck tattoo, I want to make sure readers of DMU are abundantly clear on what to expect on the financial front when engaging in life as a touring musician.

I was fortunate to be given “the talk” at the ambitious age of 17, when the vocalist of a melodic death metal band called Beyond the Flesh- popular in our suburban New Jersey hometown but relatively unheard of anywhere else- explained to me that almost every single death and black metal band ever has a shitty day job.

“But what about Mayhem, Carcass, I mean they’re huge right?  They’re super famous in the metal world!” I responded, unable to accept the heinous truth bestowed upon me.

“No, all of them work.  Morbid Angel might not (they produced the highest selling death metal album, Covenant), Deicide might not, maybe Cannibal Corpse (who tour an unbelievable amount of days) but that’s about it.”  I was in shock… I saw all the documentaries on Motley Crue and Guns N’ Roses and assumed it was the same for all metal.  But in reality, that was a time of peak income for metal and those heights have never and will never be reached again.

The Truth is Spreading:

After seeing this interview, many were shocked to see just how small Motorhead mastermind Lemmy Kilmister’s apartment was.

Many in the youngest generation of metalheads got a taste of this truth about two years ago, when the singer of uber-popular deathcore flavor-of-the-week band Thy Art is Murder quit over the lack of finances.  In a bold and brutally honest
statement, he admitted the truth about his band’s financial struggles:

With a mix of both negative and positive emotions, I inform you all that I have parted ways with my band Thy Art Is Murder… My reasons for leaving: I spend too much time away from my fiancé , family and friends, touring has taken a massive mental, emotional and physical toll on me. One of the biggest reasons is money, I / we have been broke for years and being 32 years old I can’t live like this anymore. I am getting married next year and plan on having a family, these things cost money, to put the finances into perspective for you I /we have earned between $16k-$18k each over 6-7 years, I feel there is something massively wrong with this, I will not live like this anymore.

In America, 2017’s poverty line is $12,000.  But keep in mind, Thy Art is Murder has over 500,000 Facebook likes (an unfortunate but mostly accurate means of measuring an underground band’s popularity).  That’s more than Cryptopsy, At the Gates, Mayhem, Watain, Gorgoroth, Dark Tranquility, Necrophagist, and Immolation- meaning all of those bands likely earn significantly less.   Now, let’s assume this to be an accurate metric (which, in reality may or may not be accurate, though I would place my chips on accurate), and assume that members of bands with a million followers like Behemoth, Cannibal Corpse, Cradle of Filth, Children of Bodom, and Whitechapel make double that- about $32,000 per member per year.

Now keep in mind- most of those bands listed are the most untrue sell outs for as far as sell outs will get you in death/black/hardcore metal.  Therefore, any band making good/true/innovative/honest material is earning significantly less- a pale fraction of that.  Anyway, at a $32,000 salary, you’re looking at about $450 per week.  Though there are no taxes coming out, this is adjusted to meet the lump sum you’ll be forced to pay during tax season.  This does not factor health insurance, which you’re unlikely to find or be able to afford (this killed Death’s Chuck Schuldiner and will kill you just as quickly).  With almost half of your paycheck going to rent you can afford a 1 bedroom apartment in a dangerous, high crime city like Newark NJ for $850 a month.  There are other, more safe regions with that metric as well- but will you be able to survive in rural America without a car?  Because you won’t have much left over to insure it.  It would be a pretty tough sell if you have to walk an hour and a half each way to the grocery store.  Now again keep in mind- these are the trendiest, most sell out, most un metal bands labled “death metal” or “black metal” and they’re limited to 1 bedroom apartments in dangerous cites, or rural areas where they can’t afford a car insurance payment.  Perhaps “selling out” is a misleading term, as selling out doesn’t quite give you luxury or riches.

Another thing to keep in mind is that all of those bands will often tour 10 months out of the year.  Without consistent touring, there isn’t much else the money could possibly come from.  Album sales are down and will likely go mostly towards the cost of the recording.  Furthermore, both record labels and venues- stuck with higher rents and dwindling interest in guitar-based music- are now taking profits from the band’s merch sales through the genocidal 360 deal.  They will count the number of shirts, CDs etc you walk in with each night and the number you walk out with at the end of the show.  These profits once kept bands afloat, but are now being pocketed by everyone else involved in the music business.

See those big logos… why are none of the bands from this decade???

Competition Does Not Favor You

Take a look at the bands headlining the stages in that Hellfest bill, and take a look at the list of those bands I mentioned in the 1 million Facebook likes list.  Do you know what almost every single one of them has in common?  Almost ever single one was formed in the 90s or earlier, when the amount of money in metal peaked.  This is an ugly truth, a dark truth, but an honest truthYou will never make as much as a band that was formed in the 90’s, no matter how popular you are with a younger generation.  This is because record labels, promoters, and venues made more in the 90s- the peak of the music economy- than they ever made or could possibly make again.

Dark funeral dropped off this tour because they demanded their be a tour bus. Guess who was expected to pay for the bus? Inquisition

Now let’s take a quick look at two of the bands from the most popular recent wave of music posing as black/death metal (which would be post black metal)… Liturgy and Krallice.  Do you know what these bands have in common?  Mom and dad are wealthy, and per my anonymous sources, mom and dad are paying the rent of at least one member in each of these bands.  That’s right- you’re going up against trust fund kids with an unlimited bankroll to run pay-for-play with festival promoters and labels.   Today’s young metal scene is full of these types, who look and smell like working class metalheads but somehow have nicer apartments.  There is little to-no-chance that a working class band will be able to stay in competition with a growing number of bands with a healthy revenue stream behind them.  This is because some big festivals and tours will charge openers to play them.  Think your retro death/thrash metal band can outbid skippy mctrustfund to get on that bill?  I’m sorry to tell you this, but this is the reality you will be facing.

For one to be known and remembered as a metal musician, none of this can be attained

Conclusion:

Do you want to own a house?  Do you want to have a good looking wife who doesn’t have STDs or drug addictions?  Do you want to have children you will see more than 2 months per year?  Do you want to own a car made in the last ten years?  Do you want the opportunity to treat an unexpected terminal illness without bankrupting your family?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you will have to have a working job.  You will not be able to achieve a single one of these goals as a full time metal musician.  And in turn, you will never reach the level of fame or popularity that has been achieved by any musician or band you love.

But is this a bad thing?  Do you need to pamper your ego, do you need fame to feel like you matter, do you need to offer your self-worth to such meaningless measures?  Do you need to copy the lives of your idols, who gave everything to metal and got little in return?

Don’t get suckered into the rock n roll lie- you won’t get rich playing metal.  Don’t let the “hold my beer” types trick you into thinking you can “make it,” or live a life of luxury, wealth, meaningless sex, etc.  Any art that pays the bills isn’t really art.  Give up the rockstar dream, but don’t give up the craft.  There is a great need for good, quality metal whether or not its creators gets the credit they deserve for it.  And to those bands and musicians who are more popular than you- don’t show jealousy, bitterness, or envy.  They’re paying a steep price for their “successes.”

Tomorrow’s metal will have it’s innovators and pioneers, but if they try to make metal their full time job, they will doom themselves to a life of poverty.

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33 thoughts on “Poverty is the Price for Metal Stardom”

  1. NWN Tranny Penetrator Cult says:

    You’ll be broke and end up doing hard drugs. Welcome to a brave new world. Sleeping with trannies is a given.

    1. Nicholas Vahdias says:

      Why is war metal associated with transexuals, I always imagined that transexuals preferred Whitney Houston

      1. NWN Level 71 Shemale Sodomizer says:

        War metal is for the man who fucks the trannies so the transsexuals can still keep their Whitney Houston because, uh, Apollonian vs Dionysian stuff. Sodomize the weak! War metal war! Conqueror!

  2. Reduced Without Any Effort says:

    Anyone in it for fame or to get rich is an idiot. The Darkthrone model is the way. No live shows and indefinitely put away the two dollars you make off your album so you aren’t tempted to sell out. Live musicians are even dumber than burger flippers at McDonald’s because not only are they corporate slaves, but they actually pay their masters and go in debt for the privilege of pandering to the lowest common denominator. Every aspect of the music industry from ticket sales to interviews to album reviews is corrupt and bought and paid for by people who do not appreciate music or what it means.

    1. A dick says:

      Or the Burzem model minus the murder and prison time.

      1. Reduced Without Any Effort says:

        The Burzum model isn’t realistic. Varg is still living off Burzum royalties with his trad waifs and million kids. That is the sort of life that is no longer accessible by playing metal music and shouldn’t be why you play music.

      2. Svmmoned says:

        Burzum model including terrorism, murder, political activism minus prison.

      3. Svmmoned says:

        I think that he said that he had some work in the 90s, before prison. If not then switch to Darkthrone in that one field, and just don’t buy a shitload of crap, like Fenriz.

        1. Syphilis says:

          This might be the biggest reason for metal poverty. Most will use their free funds for booze, drugs, the new pink LP from NWN/Dimebag signature guitars, etc.

      4. Ryan says:

        He couldn’t have been a boring writer considering the number of people who’ve drank his koolaid wholesale over the last hundred years. I made it through Capital many years ago and even I’ll admit the guy knew when to punch people in the feels. If you have a mindset susceptible to such manipulation, Marx will suck you in. Besides who’s to say there isn’t some truth to his description of society during the industrial advances of the 18th/19th centuries.

        1. 1917 or Die says:

          He was much less boring than any other non-fiction writer of the same era, and in fact he was and still is pretty spot on.
          Those who find him “boring” are those who look at philosophy to give then a reason to live, while he wrote for those who already know why they want to live and only want to understand how things work (where to money comes from and where it goes…)

  3. LostInTheANUS says:

    Just blast start singing Skrew You whenever one of those rich little turds show up and start playing indie rock with distortion.

  4. Death Metal Gear Solid says:

    This article gets two shit-stained thumbs up, because maybe it will help out other youngsters. I did the whole band-for-a-hobby thing for a while but then just got serious when I got into my 20s because it was obvious that there is no potential money in really any sort of niche music, metal being only one of them. But I watched people keep playing like they were doing something noble with the starving artist shtick, which only gets sadder as you get older. The vocalist who bowed out at 32 chose wisely.

    But you should check your math; if the Thy Art Is Murder guys (is that name supposed to be self depricating or…?) made 18000 each over a total of 6 years (figuring liberally with the numbers he gave), he was only making 3000 a year, which means if the guys from Cannibal Corpse or any other DM band really are making 32000 a year, that’s not bad, all things considered, especially if you live a lifestyle that facilitates being on the road. There are worse ways to earn a living than playing bullshit for people to have a fun time and tard out.

    1. I'm black says:

      Thought that math might be off too but maybe factor in the shitty waiting/bar tending job. Prolly what’s up wit dat. Only way to make any money is to play that nigger music for the “blues lawyer” crowd. Gotta be good at as well!! Fuk that!!

  5. Trashchunk says:

    Most bands that are worth a shit spend a lot of time recording then only a handful or less of select shows a year all while maintaining a family and job. Imprecation comes to mind. But holy fuck, there are so many fucking trust fund kids in NWN/Dark Descent bands, mommy pays for all their gear and rent and drugs, they’re always very easy to spot wit their dumbass stoner uptalking voices.

  6. just come talk to me fuckers we’ll start a band and shit lol

  7. Svmmoned says:

    I’m always amazed by what people consider as poverty… or as dignity in accordance to their profits.

    1. Svmmoned says:

      I’m simply for the optimum, which is probably much less than what people are used to now.

    2. Ignorance says:

      Agreed.
      People are pampered babies who think their plasma T.V.s and “cars made in the last 10 years” are a basic need.

      If you don’t live in a city (you can also like in a small town, not necessarily full “countryside”/”up on the mountain”/”out in the desert”), and know that food, water, cleanliness and warmth are the only actual NEEDS, then you should be able to live (individually) comfortably (though humbly) with 10k-12k a year.

      Also, Varg never owned EXPENSIVE gear. He actually barely even bought any actual “gear”.

      The greatest problem is the wrong idea that first world people seem to have that confounds “poverty” with “essential living” or even “rural life”. I would not be surprised if Varg’s family’s living expenses equals that of a single pampered kid in a U.S. city with a “car made in the last ten years”, actual or fancy gear, and the social expenses to go with those.

      However, agreed with Brock Dorsey: under the 12k these days is still pushing it, especially if you want to have a family.

      1. Ignorance says:

        Also, remember Varg & Marie home school their children.
        Guess how much they save with that? (and skip the liberal propaganda brainwashing too)

        Do the math.
        And consider taking your children off the school system, or home school them besides their lame U.S. public school requirements.

        1. Kekin' @ur lyfe says:

          kek

        2. 1917 or Die says:

          French public school wouldn’t cost then anything beside a paltry sum for the bus if they can’t get to school by own means

  8. Lorenzo Doom Medici says:

    There is an argument to be made for patrons of the arts. The Italians figured this shit out centuries ago. People are quick to knock Patreon, but the concept is rooted in history. You know all those sellouts like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo and William Shakespeare (Wikipedia). I’d be happy to spend my $50 a month on whatever artists I’m enjoying at the moment. The only problem I see with that is the record labels probably forbid it.

  9. Cauterized says:

    Being a touring metal musician is kind of similar to being a truck driver, although some truck drivers may actually earn more, especially ice road truckers.

    1. desu metal says:

      Guarantee that your average over-the-road truckers bring in more individually than a middlingly-succesful metal band, and probably spend more time comfortably at home not having to worry about PR and writing/recording. Besides that, truckers can (or at least used to be able to) retire comfortably, whereas metal musicians age gracelessly before petering out, dropping of the face of the social planet and dying of liver failure.

      1. NWN Level 8 Crab Claw Survivor says:

        Too true. The only “chicks” that will sleep with you will have dicks or crab claws.

        1. desu metal says:

          That’s another thing; truckers most definitely get better pussy than metal musicians. The gnarliest lot lizard is about equal to the average metal chick. If that’s what you’re after though then playing metalcore or fruity/”deep” indie rock is the way to go.

    2. Big Papa Niggle says:

      Follow Antti Boman’s example: release a single, earth-shatteringly good album, then gracefully retire from metal up and become a web developer who plays festivals every now and then for fun.

  10. nameGoesIntheNameField says:

    So you’re basically telling kids to spend their lives working on their careers and just doing music in their spare time as a hobby, while holding them to the standards of 30 years of fulltime working musicians. Granted gear is cheaper than ever thanks to Chinese manufacturing, but full time employment is a 40 hour a week commitment that will drive you insane unless you spend ever other hour forgetting about it.

    So pray tell how the future musicians with far less musical options, a fraction of the time, and 0 chance at sex and drugs will ever hope to compare to the greats who spend 100 per cent of their time either making music or collecting some rewards for said efforts?

  11. Gladius et Scutum says:

    About two decades ago I was a hired gun for a shitty math-core band. Vocalist owned his own construction businesses (he was also our manager, and his business savvy seemed to work in our favour). Everyone else in the band worked shitty factory jobs 40 hours a week. We spent a good 20-30 hours a week practicing/writing/playing local shows. Did three tours; we started with a small mini-tour and expanded our radius each time and more or less broke even on each of them. Got payed a small sum of money to record an EP (I got about as much as I made in a night or two at my job). My girlfriend ended up hating me because I was never around. Tours were physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually crushing (5 dudes sleeping in a van with equipment to save money in some towns). I quit because the band was retarded and not worth the effort I put into it. I am glad I did it, as it forced me to become a better technical musician; I cleaned up my playing a lot, solidified my knowledge of theory, my playing endurance, speed, and precision expanded exponentially. I still occaisionally get tiny royalty cheques with which I can pretend to be a big-wig for my wifey.

    Being a career metal musician is horrifyingly hard work with little tangible reward or remuneration, but it is well worth it if you are making music you love and want to make. It can be done, just don’t quit your day job.

    1. Brock Dorsey says:

      You just described every band I went to high school with.

      It sounds like everyone worked some solid blue collar jobs though which is most certainly better than having no job and just being “in a band” like many attempt. But yep, this is the life you live in 2010s. Glad to hear your lady stuck by ya through that- definitely a keeper!

      1. Gladius et Scutum says:

        Brock Dorsey – Hahahaha, no, that one did not stick by me. She was batshit crazy so it was for the best to be rid of her. Now, Mrs. Gladius et Scutum is quite encouraging of my musical pursuits even though, as a proper woman, she does not understand or like metal music.

        I think there is something to be said about the blue collar approach to music. Trust funders in bands could be doing anything (nothing) so choosing to do music is no real sacrifice. Working some shit job (or a even a good job) and choosing to spend your limited free time working on music definately bonds the group together and gives a ‘band of brothers’ feel to the proceedings. Playing in those bands 20 years ago was some of the greatest times in my life despite the grinding poverty and horrible jobs; brick weed, GPC, Keystone, and beans and rice were great when shared with bandmates before/during/after practices/shows. A trust fund musician will not really care about the quality of his output because he really has sacrificed nothing to produce it. A blue collar musician has limited time and energy so the focus tends to be on doing the best that one can.

        If nothing else, playing in bands -even crappy bands – makes you a better musician. Varg would not have produced the holy 4 had he not been in the shit-fest band Old Funeral.

  12. MattyBHoy says:

    The points made in this article and thread are extremely interesting, thanks to all. Great reading. Especially the point about how there will never be a festival headliner from the new crowd. Nailed right on the head. I haven’t been to festivals in quite a while but whenever I look at lineups I’ve always wondered why its the same old names year after year after year. The most recent band breaking through that ceiling that I can think of is Avenged Sevenfold.

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