My name is Jason Gardner and I play drums in the band Temptation’s Wings from Asheville NC. I am an avid metal fan and all-around fan of rock/metal history and trends. I also have a podcast called The Alehorn on Patreon that is a music focused discussion podcast featuring guests ranging from music fans to label heads and everyone in between. This is my opinion only and I thank Todd Severin and Ripple effect for hosting me for this editorial.
The re-release of Metallica’s “Black album” has no doubt been in everyone’s newsfeeds since it was announced. It’s not a surprise it’s happening following the trend of their first 4 albums. However, this time around they have a massive compilation album with many different artists covering the songs off the black album releasing alongside the re-release. And the best part is it all goes to charities the artist’s support. While I think it’s a cool idea (and would be cooler if it was metal bands from every subgenre) it got me going back to a question I’ve been asking for many years now. Why do artists release music on platforms that pretty much pay very little to zero before the announced release date? To me putting in all that time writing, recording and promoting just to basically give it away for free a day or two before a release date, and for a media outlet who really gets most of the attention in forms of clicks, just seems very counterproductive. Looking back on decades I can speak about (I was born in 1980 for reference) I remember the tried-and-true formula of album announced with video and the release followed. You were curious what the rest of the album would sound like. Was it going be a banger or did it have no chance of being close to the previous album? The only way to tell was to buy it, and people did at really high prices (even higher adjusted for inflation). Maybe you were on the fence still? Well here comes the second video which many times was a bigger hit than the release single. This method produced massive sales numbers and music was huge back then. Not that it still isn’t, it just didn’t feel disposable like its treated today (No doubt Napster and their garbage rip quality had a part to play in it). If you had a top 20 album on Billboard say 1980-2000 there was a good chance your album sold from 50,000 copies to a million copies or more every week. Nowadays I see albums debut in the top 20 with 5000 copies sold. And that’s counting in the many plays on streaming it takes to equal 1 album sale (1500 plays=1 album sale according to Google). Now don’t get me wrong, being in a band myself I’d take 5000 albums sold any day. The reality is I’ll never see those kinds of numbers cumulative in my lifetime for my band, so don’t read this as 5000 albums sold is a failure. Just to show my point, the latest AC/DC album “Pwr Up” sold 117,000 (111,000 physical) copies and was #1 when released. “Flick of the Switch” from 1983 sold 500,000 to reach #15 first week of release.
So, this takes me back to the Metallica re-release. If this compilation album is for charity, why would you release almost every song on it before the release date? Why wouldn’t they want to release this as a buy only option say for the first month to generate some real money? Some of these artists who contributed have major fanbases that I am sure would purchase this without hesitation for that one rare cover. Who thought it was a good idea to just put out these songs weeks before release date? Would you buy something you could listen to 100 times before you could buy it? I know even 1 play gets some monetary reward, but we all know it takes a whole lot to get even a dollar. To me, too much hype is overkill. By the time September rolls around I probably won’t even remember this is being released due to it saturating my Facebook page everyday (Not only from Metallica’s social media, but the numerous outlets who just regurgitate everything by the band until you can feed it to a baby bird) because I just keep scrolling by for the most part now.
So, on the other edge of the sword, I do see where streaming and YouTube is useful with algorithms bringing you new bands and music you may not have heard of or even knew a band you enjoy had new music out. You can share a band with friends or co-workers like never before with the greatest of ease. It also gives you the chance to try before you buy. If band X changes from thrash to 80’s glam, you are probably going to be thrilled you didn’t buy it. I myself use Spotify and I am 100% guilty of this practice and I have become fans of bands I have gone on to buy vinyl from but back in the day when releases were out on Tuesdays and later Fridays, I was at the closest record store from my high school picking up the latest AC/DC or Ozzy albums on release day. I even skipped class to buy Reload in 97. You walk in the store and see the big cardboard stand with copies of the album next to it and it was so thrilling. You read the hype sticker and glanced over the back reading song titles before going to the register and talking to the clerk asking how you can have the standup when they’re done with it. (I don’t even think they make those anymore so if you have an Angus Young cardboard standup for BallBreaker for sale please let me know)! And I really think the disappearance of record stores and even MTV not playing videos anymore contributes to the low album sales now. There’s just no excitement or anticipation anymore at least in rock/metal for anyone but establishment bands and even that subsides pretty fast after release. Maybe FM radio carries that torch but I really don’t know anyone who listens to modern rock radio these days, but hey It seemed to work for Ghost. As a prediction I am going to guess that Iron Maiden’s new album will debut at number 4 with 68,000 copies sold and the next week will be out of top 12.
For my final point I just want to say what I think about the record industry and bands who complain about low album sales. If you tour, take your music with you for sale on the merch table. Local and regional bands are the best at practicing what I preach. The music is front and center on the table. They do great and you feel really good helping them out! You play an awesome set and people want that in their car or record player asap. Sure, national and worldwide bands have reach and will sell a good amount off name alone and limited-edition vinyl variants, but playing to 50 people or 20,000 people, a blistering set is the best way to sell music hands down. You got to grab them at that moment! I always wonder why more bands don’t sell CDs or vinyl at shows. Even a download card would be better than nothing. You’re a band, you play live to sell your music, so why wouldn’t you sell any music?! (Shirts are awesome but you're not on stage with a sewing machine and a screen printer unless it’s a new sub-genre I’m not aware of yet) The big labels should know to do this and supply their artists with enough copies to sell during tour. Maybe some do, I don’t know the details of every label contract but as an attendant of many, many concerts and looking over a lot of merch tables I don’t see that many CDs or records being sold. But I do have a few tour edition CD’s.
So in closing, bands and labels (excluding Ripple or any other underground DIY endeavors because we all know these guys put their heart and soul into every release already) need to treat their products as if they are gold and not just something to have a few articles or blog reviews written about them. If you treat it as such so will fans. Don’t sell yourselves short. If somebody doesn’t want to buy it, its ok. If they get it for free, chances are they probably won’t listen to it more than once anyway. You have a skill many people do not, you make music so reap your rewards! Push your Bandcamp and your shows, not Spotify. Attend other bands shows and network. Don’t be ashamed to wear your band shirt out! The physical market is still strong, we just need to believe in it! Thank you if you made it to the end of this article. Again, these are solely my opinions but I have a feeling I’m not alone in this thinking. Keep it heavy friends.
Listen To The Alehorn Podcast Here: https://podbay.fm/p/the-alehorn-podcast