Should metal be a hobby or a career?


A recent article on Gene Simmons observed the following:

Rock star Gene Simmons says that when it comes to making money he is like a great white shark.

And that despite being worth more than $300m (£200m), he will never stop wanting to make more.

…”I’ll never stop hunting more money, I’ll never have enough.”

On the other hand, many excellent metal bands are probably clearing $300/month in royalties or less. At that point, we tend to call the making of metal a hobby and talk about their day jobs. The advantage to that approach is that the metal can remain un-tainted by commerce and with consumerism, the need to appeal to an audience by jumping on trend bandwagons or otherwise showing them what they already know they like, sort of like how baby food is ground-up vegetables.

Looking at the other side, it must be nice to be worth $300m and to have the power to do great things with that. Maybe Mr. Simmons has done so. But one might think that at some point, the money becomes more important than the music, which turns metal away from its mission of brutal realism and makes it a friendly, happy, warm and fuzzy product like your average American beer or hamburger.

Perhaps a middle ground exists, where fewer metal bands make $300m but also fewer worthy metal bands subsist on $300. Most metal musicians would be very happy with $60-80,000 a year. They tend not to be materialistic, except for collecting vinyl and guitars, but in the grand scheme of things those aren’t very expensive.

The problem of commercialism in metal


Some will tell you that metal cannot sell out because metal is not a large financial enterprise. The question then is, “What is large?” because if a genre supports dozens of labels, has top-grossing tours, and tens of thousands of bands, it seems that someone is getting paid more than they would otherwise.

But don’t take it from us. Look at what commercialization has done to another genre:

I was so blown away by the first “Star Wars” film when I saw it in 1977, I went back two more times the same week to wallow in its space age fantasy. But here’s the thing: George Lucas’ creation, basically a blown-up Flash Gordon adventure with better special effects, has left all too many people thinking science fiction is some computer graphics-laden space opera/western filled with shootouts, territorial disputes, evil patriarchs and trusty mounts (like the Millennium Falcon).

“Star Wars” has corrupted people’s notion of a literary genre full of ideas, turning it into a Saturday afternoon serial. And that’s more than a shame — it’s an obscenity.

He has a point, and reveals a situation parallel to that of metal. Sci-fi was too hardcore and dry for most readers, but then if you add in princesses in skimpy costumes, wookies and light sabers, suddenly it’s… an action movie with soap opera aspects. The audience can tune into that, and so can all the basement greebos who will cosplay, imitate and nerd it to death.

Metal was also originally too hardcore and dense for most listeners, but then if you added in the drama of burning churches and murders, people could really get into that wacky far-out identity. Suddenly it’s hard rock with distorted vocals and Satan. The audience can tune into that, and so all the basement neckbeards emerge to record collect and/or emo it to death.

Two sides rapidly form in any debate: one side says we should have purity of essence of what is being done, and the other side thinks that this principle should be more malleable in order to support social popularity and commerce. I say stick with the purity of essence: metal was built on years of accumulated knowledge, and turning it into entertainment flushes that all down the drain.