Corporate Metal Labels Caught in a Death Spiral

Earlier this week the publishing catalog of metal mega-label Century Media has been pawned off for an undisclosed sum to Reservoir Media, a publishing boutique holding the royalty rights to songs by a variety of pop artists ranging from Drake to Lady Gaga. In investment terms, a boutique is defined as a financial firm that deals with a specific market, so picture Reservoir as a wealthy Wolf of Wall Street-like conglomerate recklessly gambling with the royalties of musicians. This is common in the modern music market, where suits are making bets on the evolving payout methods streaming services, but the surrender of Century Media’s entire catalog of albums (Death, Paradise Lost, In Flames) to a finance firm playing with house money goes to show how desperate the corporate metal labels of yesteryear have become.

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Dark Economic Truths of Underground Metal

Recently many of the other “metal” websites, blogs, publications et cetera have been doing articles about the business side of music industry. Unsurprisingly none of these articles had the testicular fortitude to address the ugly reality of the underground metal economy as they are written by either slaves to the machine itself or losers who genuinely believe that they have “careers” in music which heavily depend on acceptance by the community. Since the Death Metal Underground staff bow to no masters social or corporate, we are in the rare position give you the truth in its rawest form. So with absolute disregard for the powers that be in metal, let’s take an honest look inside this machine to see how it really works.

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Streaming Now The Primary Method of American Music Consumption

Streaming is now the primary way Americans listen to music according to a year end report by Nielsen, replacing downloads of individual singles.

It’s official: according to a new year-end report released by Nielsen, over the course of 2016, streaming became the primary mode of music consumption in the U.S. Overall on-demand audio streams surpassed 251 billion in 2016 — a 76 percent increase that accounts for 38 percent of the entire music consumption market. Plus, “the on-demand audio streaming share [of total music consumption] has now surpassed total digital sales (digital albums + digital track equivalents) for the first time in history.”

Streaming is the public consciousness recognizing that most of what the mainstream music industry has to offer is disposable. The labels can’t even find or develop potentially good new talent anymore as due to gutting their artists and repertoire departments and what revenue they make flowing upwards towards executives and shareholders. Average consumers never possessed high-fidelity playback chains of dedicated gear to take full advantage of the compact disc and vinyl records anyway; they only had mediocre integrated receivers hooked up to poorly performing speakers and headphones. Furthermore everyone truly into underground or once underground music genres now digs deeper, purchasing releases with zero quality control which commonly have print runs of only a few hundred to a few thousand copies. Classical continues to do okay too as classical listeners still buy the physical album and tend to have marginally better equipment.

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Bardo Methodology Interviews Dead Congregation

Webzine Bardo Methodology interviewed Dead Congregation guitarist and frontman Anastasis Valtsanis. AV touched upon Dead Congregation‘s imitators (even though they worship Immolation and Incantation), record labels forcing bands to conform to release schedules, the decline of Greek black metal in the mid 90s, how most “lost gems” are mediocre, and why the accessibility the internet affords along with the decline of the music industry revenue genericizes metal bands into pedestrian products.

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The Decline of the Compact Disc & Music Industry

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By the 1990s, the CD reigned supreme. As the economy boomed, annual global sales surpassed 1bn in 1992 and 2bn in 1996, and the profit margins were the stuff of dreams. The CD was cheaper than vinyl to manufacture, transport and rack in stores, while selling for up to twice as much. Even as costs fell, prices rose.

The popular music industry peaked financially in 1996 but had creatively begun bottoming out years before that. Digital file sharing of lossily (and later losslessly) compressed formats simply burst the bubble of the industry’s festering corpse the ignorant had mistaken to still be moving as the putrefying gases bloated body cavities.

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Ministry frontman Al Jourgensen starts Patreon campaign

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Sometimes Al Jourgensen seems tangential and unrelated to the DMU mission, but given how many projects he’s had his hands in, you won’t have much trouble finding a lineage between one of them (probably Ministry, since they tend to sound like metal even when the underlying songwriting isn’t aiming for that style) and something more directly related to our usual interests. Al has recently created a page on Patreon full of invective against the music industry and promising video backstage type content in addition to the usual industrial metal stuff in return for financial support. Musicians in general seem to have embraced the Kickstarter/Indiegogo type funding model more rapidly than Patreon; if you ask me, it’s easier to adapt the business model of the former to an LP every 12-36 months than it is to adapt to the more rapid releases that Patreon campaigns benefit from. Either way, the push towards crowdfunding and other means of financing free of major record labels is something our business-oriented readers may want to keep an eye on.

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Media “autoerotic circle” confirms own bias against metal

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We are all familiar with the term: a group of males in a circle, each masturbating, with the collective approval of the act protecting the individual from criticism by others. In theory, this act originated in the days when masturbation was taboo and boys wanted to ensure that others would not inform on them, so got together a gang to self-stimulate together and attack any informers as a group.

For the purposes of this article, such events will be referred to as “autoerotic circles.”

Most metalheads pay no attention to the Grammy awards but for some unknown reason, much of the population seems to attend to these with regularity despite their being the result of a few hundred insiders and their opinions about what we should buy, not what is actually good. Watching the Grammys is like turning on your television to watch a 30-minute commercial (except that many infomercials were actually interesting in comparison).

For decades the Grammys have slighted heavy metal. This is because the media elites do not want you to like or purchase heavy metal. Heavy metal does not play by the rules, which is that every band must make basically the same music but differ in production and surface aspects, so that the great money circle can continue. The record industry makes its money by pumping out the same stuff again and again, having its lapdog “journalists” praise it, and then the clueless audience buy it because it is new and exciting on the surface. Then repeat. Watch money show up like spring rains. The “autoerotic circle” of media and industry became self-referential long ago, approving whatever was put out as a jobs program for journalists, studios, labels, promotions, and bands themselves. Just keep the money flowing, keep the scam going, don’t tell the secret.

Heavy metal breaks this model. It is riff-based, and requires bands to come up with not just killer riffs but the song structures to support them. It does not follow the denialist trend in lyrics, which has two prongs: a “protest song” prong that demands we pursue surrogate activities in lieu of noticing our society is decaying, and a “bohemian” prong which suggests ignoring all problems and focusing on your own pleasure, importance and drama at this one moment. Heavy metal tries to be heavy, both in lyrics and music, which is everything the music industry finds both unprofitable and threatening to its business model.

As a result, the music media elites view the Grammys as a chance to bash metal by mis-identifying it, putting non-metal bands in the category every time. As VH1 notes:

Yesterday in our breakdown of what’s right and wrong about this year’s ‘Best Metal Performance’ Grammy nominees we said musical comedy duo Tenacious D would win. Not should, but would. Why? Because since 1989, the first year they recognized the genre and Jethro Tull infamously beat Metallica, the Grammys have shown time and time again they have no clue and one can only assume little respect for heavy metal music. Nothing against The D, who are without a doubt talented, funny and truly love hard rock and metal, but to award them for ‘Best Metal Performance’ is to fundamentally misunderstand the genre and what makes it great.

Things seemed to have started well enough, as legendary hard rockers AC/DC began the festivities with their high decibel opening performance. But that’s only because most people didn’t know about Tenacious D’s win, since the Grammys don’t even feel the award merits inclusion in their primetime telecast. As word spread of their victory, outrage traveled throughout the metal community. Veterans however reacted with ambivalence, as the slight is just the latest in a history of heavy metal Grammy fails.

Hint to metalheads: the music industry hates you and always has. It tried to replace you with hard rock, then with rap-rock, and now with indie/shoegaze. It is your enemy. This is why metal went underground in the first place, and why it should not only never rely on mainstream media like the Grammys, but also actively reject them. It is not that we do not need these media elite awards, but that they are pretenders to the throne and should be torn down and sent back to the world of hipster posing where they belong.

The destruction of metal has not gone unnoticed. As Guitar World‘s Will Wallner notes, heavy metal is not heavy metal any longer because it has become rock music. Rock music assimilates anything in its path, adopting it first as a “new” style and then dumbing it down until it fits within the rock paradigm, at which point in its neutered form it becomes normed.

Heavy metal has lost all form of legitimacy as musical genre.

I believe it has evolved, or devolved, to the point where it has become something so different from what it once was, that it now is a different genre all together.

People could argue that music trends change constantly with new generations that influence what is popular. However, jazz is still jazz, blues is still blues, but metal is no longer metal. Traditional forms of music such as the ones I mentioned have changed over time, but not as quickly or as drastically as metal. In fact, the only other genre that seems to change so often and with such extremes is pop music.

While the rest of his post makes some assumptions that over-simplify metal, his point is essentially thus: the drive for jazz/progressive overtones in metal has abolished the genre itself, leaving in its place an aggregate of styles that ends up creating an average of them all. The more different elements you put in the pot, the more the result tastes like just plain stew, because the radical extremes balance each other out to the point of negation. If you melt all of your crayons together, you get a grayish-brown. When you dump every trendy music style into metal, you end up with rock that has a few metal riffs.

The music industry has been trying very hard since the 1970s to replace metal with rock. Rock pretends to be rebellious, but its secret is that it is easily controlled. It is all very musically similar, so new favorites can be quickly produced, and while none of them are as good as the founding acts of the genre, the audience cannot tell the difference. And they keep buying and buying. But with metal, the bar is raised and the domination of rock over the airwaves is threatened. That upsets the old hippies, media barons and neurotic journalists who make up the music industry elite, and they will always try to destroy metal for this original sin.

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Baby Boomer rock music needs to die

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Every generation lives as a continuation of what came before, but people today live in the shadow of the 1960s. Our culture, politics and society all changed during that time and we have not changed it back or found anything different. So we circle, repeating the same tired tropes as if they were new or insightful.

The music industry lives in thrall to The Beatles. Those lads were their biggest success, both breaking out rock as a mainstream product, and utterly dominating the charts to this day. Whenever they can, they praise The Beatles.

We are all in the thrall of journalists who like anything that sounds like The Beatles and other 1960s rock despite that music being relevant fifty years ago. From the top down, the whole industry wanks on the bands that were hip then. If you want to get ahead, you have to mention The Beatles at least once in your interviews.

Even though Baby Boomers are now decrepit and old in the “get off my lawn” years, they still want to control us with the image of their music. That image is: no one was better than the 1960s rockers, no one was a bigger rebel than us, and nothing better will ever be made. This nonsense needs to end even if violence must be employed for that purpose.

1960s rock bands stood out in their day only because the music around them was so horribly insipid that it compares to… well, pop today, actually. It was basically the same stuff: standard chord progressions, love and sex topics, pop song format. Nothing has changed there. We all know Nirvana is better than Shakira, but we forget that both can be just as fake but in different ways.

The Beatles wrote their songs around a melody line that unraveled progressively as the song went on. They used key in non-standard ways. They spent a lot of time in the studio figuring out new sounds. They were our first shy-looking, wimpy, sensitive guy superstars. For that we are supposed to praise them into the grave.

In retrospect, what they did was switch audiences. 1950s pop wanted to pitch itself to normal kids who would then go on to have lives in which music served a lesser role. 1960s pop wanted to make its audience identify with it for life, so that even now tedious old fossils will whip out The Beatles LPs like they were a revelation from God.

But many of us do not need weak-looking hipsters to make us accept music. We are comfortable with who we are, whether that is weightlifter or nerd. We just like music for being good. And that part has two components: talent on the surface, and having something of value to contribute beneath.

No one doubts that The Beatles and other 1960s bands had talent on the surface. What they lacked was something of value to communicate. They came up with the image first, and back-wrote the political and social opinions to support that image. Their idea was to be iconoclasts who turned their backs on everything their parents believed. That’s great, if you’re 14. The following year it’s already old.

Instead our music industry remains stuck in perpetual adolescence, repeating these same tired words and ideas, churning out new versions of the same image and music, because the Baby Boomer mentality will simply not die. And so we all repeat the cycle again, hating it but unable to escape.

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