(Initially this piece was pushing 4000 words… but I though maybe it’s best if I edit it some more and split it up into 3 parts to make it easier on you! The word count actually grew – So, here goes Part 1)
Music… something most of us cannot live without, yet it can so easily be devalued in so many ways. From dismissing something as shit because it doesn’t fit your genre preference, to illegally downloading it.
My love of music and movies are very much on a par. And while the music I make usually have a Metal edge or movie soundtrack elements, and music videos or movies I produce and direct have a Horror flavour, my taste in audio and cinema is as wide as Weird Al Yankovic’s prosthetic butt in his “Fat” music video parody of Michael Jackson’s “Bad”… OK, even wider – from Classical music to Grindcore, or Romantic Comedies to Eastern Extreme films – and loads in between.
With the digital and on-line age, access to music (and movies) has become effortless, swift, and also, potentially at no cost…
It’s not up to me to condemn anyone when they decide to grab illegal downloads in stead of buying it, but in that respect can only relay my perspective on it from the other side.
Across the 1980s when we took the weekly pilgrimage into Cape Town’s CBD by train, we’d head straight for Ragtime Records looking for new albums (located in the Old Mutual underground mall, below the Golden Acre on Adderley Street), raiding the import bins, searching for our favorite bands at the time (incl. Kiss, Iron Maiden, W.A.S.P., Metallica, Slayer, Overkill, Megadeth, Anthrax, Manowar, Accept etc.) or discover new ones (sometimes just judging by the killer artwork alone! – often less successfully so, as with the Krokus live album). Still in school, pocket money was tight then, and when you managed to find that gem that very few people would have on their record shelf (with only a few of them flown into the country), you cherished it and savored every note (and I still have most of those vinyl LPs). And when friends and acquaintances surfaced with rarities like Venom’s live Hammersmith Odeon show on Betacam videotape, or Hardcore / Punk EPs from Sweden on 7-inch, these were copied onto cassette (something many compare to the current on-line sharing habits – albeit a much faster, unencumbered and easily proliferated trend than the old-school method).
These trips into the city hunting for music was an adventure with a great reward at the end of it – the music becoming an integral part of our lives, identity and soundtracks to our youth (with albums like Slayer’s “Reign In Blood” and Metallica’s “Master Of Puppets” still as brilliant as they were on their release 3 decades ago, and not just because it has a sense of nostalgia attached to them, but because they really are fantastic albums with great songs and production).
Virtually anything you’re looking for today can be found on-line with a few key strokes. Searching for new music however can become a task as you now have to wade through a vastly increased morass of bands – some brilliant, some good, but most terrible imitations of imitations in a perpetual cycle of regurgitation – buying all of these albums blindly is obviously not practical or financially viable (that’s why there are sample streaming options to check out first as a test drive – like the headphone listening corner record stores used to have). But with technology’s advances everything is speeding up and we all demand everything right here, right now, no waiting period to be tolerated – even on-line stores race to ensure overnight delivery of your physical CDs / DVDs / Blu-rays… I still find an excitement in waiting for something you ordered, like an import taking longer than usual – maybe forgetting about it as you get on with other things, you know, like life – pleasantly surprised when the courier arrives with your package(!)
But, when looking at what it takes to create an album, be it a work of genius or a bland offering, one produced in a home studio or at a multi-million dollar professional facility – is one of lesser value than another?
Then of course the shift towards digital files as opposed to physical CDs are an issue (not just related to cost, accessibility and space). And we all have our preferences – yet I don’t understand why we cannot embrace all of these formats to serve different purposes… Maybe because the hardware producers need a new component to sell us each time, scrapping the previous one in favour of the “new and improved” technology?, and with living spaces shrinking, can we all fit a variety of players on the shelf? (Ours contains: a DVD player, PS3/Blu-ray, X Box, PS2, Wii, HD Media Player, and yes, a VCR – with all the discs, tapes and files to go with it – While I have loads of vinyl records and still a few cassettes from back in the day, I haven’t re-purchased a turntable yet).
It is often assumed that the musicians and moviemakers on these media delivery systems are wealthy… Even Metal bands you consider to be huge are not all millionaires. Industrial acts can be even more niche (unless you’re Trent Reznor or Al Jourgensen, running your own show). Record companies don’t throw money at non-commercial bands and musicians. They have to work their asses off and whatever the record company puts in, they take back tenfold before the musicians can profit from their art. So if the cost outweighs the return – the band can end up owing the record company! (while none of the executives and employees miss a paycheck or bonus). A master-slave relationship often resulting in relentless touring to pay the bills, not necessarily for the joy of playing to fans and making a living at it (some record deals even hijack the band’s merchandise rights). In the early-’90s when my band V.O.D (Voice Of Destruction) was (kind of) signed to local label Inhouse Records, we had to get up to Johannesburg on our own steam, record, play live shows, then having to hint with label owner Philip Nel that we’ll need cash for gas on the long drive back to Cape Town! We never saw any returns from album and compilation sales. When we took the plunge in the mid-’90s and flew off to Europe to record for our new German label Morbid records and do a full Euro tour (with Katatonia and In The Woods), again, all costs had to get covered first.
The indie route is becoming the norm with more freedom, but even so, that places all the burden on the band. It takes focus, determination, double the hard work, and a thick skin to take many hits.
Even though it has a more visceral approach, Metal / Industrial / real alternative music is more challenging and (yes) intellectual than your average shit-pop tunes aimed at the lowest common denominator (although generic satanic content can be negated as equally frivolous as mainstream themes of dancing or proclamations on how much “swag” you have… a line screeching “Satan!” often coming across just as meaningless as “Up in the club!” – but each to their own). The musical input and technical execution of Metal far outranks commercial drivel following whichever trend seems the most likely to cash in with a single release or (the once popular) ringtone download. I accidentally passed Idols while channel flipping and judge Jennifer Lopez’s vacuous new video was being screened – holy shit, the same old pathetic crap with the most soulless “music” behind it, and yes, the “lyrics” are about fuckin’ dancing!. At the end of the day, that song is literally worth gold to her (in revenue earned), however base, simple, dumbed-down or commercially pandering it may be – while to me it isn’t even worth a turd, and I wouldn’t want it for free (even as a legitimate give-away, let alone an illegal download…)
The days of an album that was constructed to take the listener on a journey of musical and emotional highs & lows across 9 to 12 tracks seem to be disappearing in favor of an instant fix. But it looks like Metal is the bastion where this experience would survive (with concept albums also not forgotten).
And besides, Metal was never radio’s friend – Iron Maiden and Metallica built their fan base on the road with a lot of blood and sweat (and I’m sure quite a few tears). While on-line stations have done a lot to get new music heard, not many pay the artists royalties like regular stations (who also knew how to cut corners). So, the discrimination of heavier music being barred from regular airwaves (and removed from the revenue stream where others benefit), increased plays and streaming on-line may get them noticed and heard, but not necessarily paid – so, the hope would be that listeners do further investigation and buy the album if they like it – but, increasingly, in stead opt to find it somewhere for free… So, if your job doesn’t pay that well or payday is still far off, and a cool new album comes along that you can’t afford, how easily do you hit the browser and see where someone has uploaded it?
I’m still puzzled as to how anyone justifies taking someone else’s work, dropping it on-line for anyone to do with as they please… Do they feel they’re doing the musician a favour to get it out there? Or get ego points for being a sharing person, or maybe even get it out there before the official release date? Or even think they’re fulfilling a public service? Is it a power trip? Who knows…
Creating an album however, is not exempt of substantial cost. Even if you record at home – the equipment, software, your instruments and the many hours dedicated to writing, rehearsing, recording, honing your skills, as well as mixing, the mastering, the reproduction (if you press physical CDs), all add up to a handsome sum that has to be covered. Recording in a professional studio ups that even more. Terminatryx has done both of these and the recoup process can sometimes lead to simply taking the hit and writing it off… Is that right and justified? Even with merchandise sales, new T-shirts need to be printed with the income from those sold, so the cycle rolls on.
It costs a lot to do what you love, and to have fun at it! – but debts can take the joy out of making music, and lead to so many bands throwing in the towel.
Drop us a reply if you agree or disagree with any of these ramblings…
To be continued in Parts 2 and 3…