INDEPENDENT MUSIC DOES NOT HAVE SOULS FOR SALE – A CHRONICLE ON THE MUSIC INDUSTRY
On Episode #887 of the podcast ‘The Rogan Experience’, frontman James Hetfield of Metallica is invited to discuss the music industry. I would like to share some reflections on this podcast. The purpose is to give you some insight on how this topic affects an Independent Underground band, in comparison to a commercialized huge machinery that Metallica has become.
For the band that I am fronting and managing since 2003, Decadence, the shift in the music industry made me make tough but important decisions that are necessary to make early on in the music career. These decisions are necessary to be able to independently lead the band forward through the massive fuzz of the music industry, while keeping the band and creativity alive and thriving. The result from these decisions is what Decadence still is representing today while moving on into the future since the comeback in 2016.
“Something was clear for me from the start of my musical career;– Metallic Kitty
ownership of own creations belong to the artist.”
Something was clear for me from the start of my musical career; ownership of own creations belong to the artist. In our case, the songs are written by lead guitarist Kenneth Lantz and/or me. The ownership of the songs would not be negotiable ever. During the years and countless negotiations with record companies, they and other collaborative and potential partners, where frustrated by our way of work. Those landing partnership deals with Decadence had to go through long negotiations, but then again, so did we as a counterpart. This was endured to land best possible deals that would allow the band to keep ownership rights while being able to spread the music around the world in ways we could not do alone.
Besides creating music, Decadence does what large record companies and distributors do, on a smaller scale but independently; recordings, pressing, marketing, selling, distributing and managing. This is a reality when you work independently, a sacrifice you must make to keep ownership of your creations, plain and simple.
As Metallica and Hetfield has had big and important impact on Kenneth and I as musicians, it was interesting to hear Hetfield’s own words and comparing it to the alternative path that we took. Early on in the podcast, Hetfield says: “Back then you would somewhat sell a little bit of your soul to get a bigger something.” Decadence hit the public eye two decades after Metallica, both starting out as Underground Thrash Metal bands. The music industry had begun shifting, but had not yet come to the point where record companies where not needed anymore. For us, it was never the case to sell any part of our soul. Instead, the part of my soul that I gave up, was given away as a conscious decision to carve a way for Decadence to move forward as rebels against the way things where ‘supposed to be done’. That bit of my soul was invested in those countless negotiation and preparation hours for each album and show, to keep ownership in our hands while keep doing what we love to do, music.
Hetfield explains that Metallica’s ownership of their own master recordings/right to their catalog was not returned until several years later. In fact, that happened once Metallica got big enough to get them back. “Basically the record company was a bank and a marketing tool to get you where you wanted to be.” Hetfield says. Decadence chose the alternative path by choice. Our philosophy was to give everything we have got and go where it would lead us, even if it meant remaining as a non-commercialized Underground band. You simply have to set your goals from the start to know where you are heading. Our passion is in creating our own music and everything around it. If you have that same passion, it does not matter if you become world-famous or not. I often hear that Decadence is ‘the most underrated band in Metal’. When I hear that my thought on it is; we decided not to go big, as a consequence we remained Underground. But, we stayed true to our ideology and that for us is what success is.
Hetfield further tells us about Metallica owning their own press and that they can do whatever they want using it. That feeling of total creative freedom is precisely why Decadence’ first two full-length albums where done like that too, all in our own press. These two albums are still sold in this DIY manner. It is also why they lack barcodes and any mentioning of a company behind it. They are actually pressed by us and will remain like that.
Rogan tells Hetfield: “You can do anything.” and Hetfield denies it because it depends. “There is no way we can deal with the distribution in each different country. /…/ “We’ve cut really good deals with other record companies.” For Decadence, this is the case too. There is only so much you can do by yourself to get your music ‘out there’. That is why I decided to start my own music company, Heavy Dose, to do what I could do to push Decadence through. Simply because we had to, to be able to continue creating music.
When our third album reached the public – as our first barcoded, company backed album – our career was peaking. Even more bits of soul had to be invested to make it work, but it was worth every single thing it took. Through partnering up this way, Decadence got worldwide distribution through license deals. The third album was for instance released through three different labels on three different territories during the following three years.
Then came the shift in the music industry around 2007. The anticipated downfall of record companies had arrived, but there was a new player in town – streaming services, like the tycoons Spotify. Also, big music networks such as Myspace were getting replaced by Facebook. As an Independent band, Decadence took a hard hit. In 2009, I thought Decadence had created the last album and by 2012, the last show. It took until 2016 to lick our wounds and heal ourselves enough to get back in the game.
Rogan starts off the podcast by saying: “People are just taking things and putting them online.” and Hetfield rounds off their talk by explaining: “There was a system that worked. And I’m up for bucking the system and making it better. But it didn’t.” Rogan is blaming streaming and Hetfield misses the way the system worked with record companies in the past in comparison to streaming services. My opinion on this is that they are both wrong here, looking at it from an Independent perspective at least. Streaming is not the problem and traditional record companies are not the saviors. Streaming can be done in good enough quality, there are headphones and speakers that can give you a great musical experience without having to be too expensive.
The problem in my opinion, lies in the music models. Hetfield actually ends the talk by saying that too, “It hasn’t been figured out yet how to make a music model work.” That’s exactly right, but what that actually means seems different in the eyes of an Independent band.
I think Hetfield actually answers that in something he says a bit before that: “I’m all for convenience in the technology moving forward. Getting music out to people is the important part. Just make sure that the artist gets what they deserve for it. Because without that it’s going to become a hobby.” For an Independent band like Decadence, that’s exactly what it is, a professional hobby. For us, there is nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t necessarily have to mean that you work with it halfheartedly. On the contrary, it is all that work you put into it while earning money somewhere else and saving the passion for what you love to do with your hobby. There is a charm in that mindset that I love.
Hetfield explains that the way artists get money is by touring and merchandising and that’s how record companies these days are structuring their deals and the only way they can survive now. Rogan’s reply to that is “They shouldn’t be around then.” For Decadence as an Independent band, that is precisely it. What Hetfield is saying about touring and merchandising definitely applies to Independent bands too. The money in the music industry today lies there. However, the purpose of ‘a hobby’ isn’t necessarily to drive sales. The purpose of it is to do what you love to do and share it with people who love it too.
This is my take on this topic and I hope you could find some insights or even inspiration to keep doing what you’re doing, pushing for your cause, regardless of which of these two paths you have decided to take.
Decadence is soon to release our 6th full-length album, created, released, pressed, distributed, marketed, sold as well as streamed for free – independently.
‘METALLIC’ KITTY SARIC