So last night I went to the Revolver Golden Gods awards. I’d never been and it was interesting to say the least. It functions primarily as a heavy metal industry get together, you walk the black carpet and shoot the shit with your guys. It was interesting to watch unfold simply because it made me realize how goddamn incestuous the world of heavy metal and independent music in general can be. There is no limitation as to what a well connected individual can do in the music world because talking to them it seems like anyone who has gotten anywhere has not only worked for a dozen different companies but has all of those companies owing them a significant debt. Is this the model record labels have to follow now? Simply hiring the people who have proven themselves over the years to create an insulated environment? Yeah it kind of is.
Something I heard the other night that really stuck with me came from a major manager in the metal sphere, “Now that there is so much less money it’s only the cool people who have been able to stick around” Of course, deciding who the cool people are is a kind of arbitrary and slightly weird process and one that doesn’t pretend to not be highly exclusionary. It’s one where to break in you need to grind away doing shit for free for years with the hope that you might have the right type of personality to impress one of these people and get them to want to buy into what you have to offer. It’s a world where it’s almost impossible to become the ‘it’ guy only because again, it’s so incestuous. It’s weird to look at the age gap in the music industry. Sure I occasionally meet a few people my age who I like and who are doing cool stuff but the majority of folks are in their 40s and 50s. Why? Because they want to protect their jobs and they want to protect the jobs of their friends. It makes for a rather cutthroat environment you have to be very careful in.
More importantly for the artist it means that every big label you work for is the product of a vast network of alliances and betrayals. Someone was sold out for your A&R guy to have the job he does, and that might even have been the product of his own scheming. Not matter how cool you think he is he’s probably cut a few throats. Remember that it’s very rare that new jobs get created in the music industry so if someone gets hired it means that someone else lost their job and you probably want to figure out why they got their job in the first place. Sometimes yes people move on, but as last night showed me a lot of the time it’s just because they got the chair pulled out from under them I know that sounds kind of bitter and sad but that’s the reality we have to deal with every day. The desire to protect jobs has led to a lot of the lies and bullshit that this world has become so infamous for, and has ramped up in the past couple years, even if it is only the cool people who remain.
This also means that there is a wider gap than ever between the industry and the bands. On top of that this means that the industry people are a lot more willing to lie in order to not face problems further down the line. It’s happened to me time and time again. Because no one likes saying no sometimes you can find yourself talking to your A&R guy enthusiastically for weeks and then suddenly find yourself dropped. Hell, even getting on a label can see similar things happen. I once had a guy, and I don’t hold this against him, who spoke with me every week for a couple of months in a delicate dance to try and get a band I managed to sign to a label he worked at. Then he dropped the bomb on me. The band wouldn’t get signed. He had known for days but had decided to try and be delicate about it, it was frustrating but I see why he did it. He didn’t want to end up burning a bridge with a new manager, even if he no longer has any interest in the band.
This division between artists and industry is strange, it’s something I’m not entirely sure I’m comfortable with but also a bleak reality once you start to see groups that move tens of thousands of copies. In a way it makes sense since after all you need to have specialists on your side if you want to be on a label that does it well. This does not mean that the industry people don’t get it,but there is a reason that they are viewed as ‘suits’. Sure they might know how to play some instruments and have good taste but remember that these folks are trying to make serious money and they can’t just assume that you are going to be safe just because they seem like nice guys on the phone and buy you beers every time you see them in the bar. Hell, sometimes even great bands that make money get dropped for political reasons, that’s why you can’t be an asshole, because people want there bands to reflect well on them.
So yeah – bands get signed due to politics all the time, it’s an unfortunate reality and one we all have to embrace. If you can play it right then you could end up with a far larger guarantee than you are worth. If you play it wrong then you are not going to get anyone paying attention to you and maybe even mocking you. If you try to ignore it all together then perhaps you can get by just by touring a fuckton and looking professional but odds are you will get lost in the fray. These are the bitter realities and this is why I try and document this stuff for you guys. It’s a hard knock life but one that we must always look forward to and realize that we need to be a part of if we want to go out there and sell even just a few thousand copies.