There is an interview with Jay Jay French that is doing the rounds at digiday. In the first question, he is asked what tips he would offer young bands today.
“Alter your expectations, because people make the wrong expectations. We adapted our expectations over the years, consistently, and that’s how we survived.”
Classy words and very simple.
Expectations (Alter + Adapt) = Survival
So what do all of our favourite bands/artists keep on doing? They keep on spending a lot of time writing and recording 10 to 15 songs, just so they can group them together and release them as an album. This “expectation” worked once upon a time. However it is not working today. Metal artists are lucky that metal fans are loyal and that we still purchase the “album.”
Of course exceptions exist, and it only works if all the songs are undeniable.
Machine Head hit the nail on the head with “Unto The Locust”. Seven tracks that will stand the test of time. For the new album, 5 song titles have been made available and a few more are in progress. So I think it is safe to assume that we will be getting another 7 to 8 tracks as a long player. Instead of providing an album with the “expected” 10 to 12 tracks, Machine Head are focusing on quality instead of quantity. Altering and adapting.
Did “Unto The Locust” set the sales figures alight? Of course not. It did what it needed to do. It satisfied the hardcore audience of Machine Head. Now if metal bands want to reach the 500,000 to 1,000,000 sales targets then they need to have that undeniable crossover song.
Imagine if Machine Head comes out with their own Crazy Train, Enter Sandman, Symphony Of Destruction or Holy Diver. A song like that will satisfy their hard core fan base and it will also satisfy a lot of other people in the hard rock, power metal, heavy metal, progressive and even pop rock genres.
Check out the following comment from Anita Elberse and her book “Blockbusters: Hit-Making, Risk-Taking, And The Big Business Of Entertainment”. It is probably the best advice that any artist will get.
“…out of a total of 870,000 albums that sold at least one copy in 2011, 13 album titles sold more than a million copies each, together accounting for 19 million copies sold. That’s 0.001 percent of all titles accounting for 7 percent of sales. The top 1,000 albums generated about half of all the sales, and the top 10,000 albums around 80 percent of sales. Deep in the tail, 513,000 titles or nearly 60 percent of the assortment, sold fewer than 10 copies each, together making up half a percent of total sales.”
513,000 album titles sold fewer than 10 copies each. So if you are one of those 513,000 bands that sold less than 10 copies, what do you do?
You obviously expected a better return on your investment. A lot of artists will give up, a lot of bands will break up and then there will be a small percentage who will adapt and alter their expectations. Remember, I have always said that in order to be successful, you need to outlast the competition.
What about singles? I have been saying for a long time to anyone who listens that we live in a single world. As soon as fans got the option to cherry pick what they like, the “tracks” became the rock stars instead of the album. The below is from the same book written by Anita Elberse.
“In 2011, 102 tracks sold more than a million units each, accounting for 15 percent of total sales. That is not a typo: 0.00001 percent of the eight million tracks sold that year generated almost a sixth of all sales. It is hard to overstate the importance of those few blockbusters in the head of the curve. And the trend suggests that hits are gaining in relevance. In 2007, 36 tracks each sold more than a million copies, together these tracks accounted for 7 percent of total market volume. In 2009, 79 tracks reached that milestone; together they make up 12 percent of the sales volume.”
If the above statement doesn’t make the artist realise that we are living in a singles world, then those artists need to re-evaluate their place in the music world. Even Robb Flynn stated in his most recent post that he doesn’t feel like they have written the definitive track like “Halo” and “Locust” for the new album.
In relation to Twisted Sister, the band kept on evolving over a 10 year period and by 1984, with the rise of MTV, the timing was right for them to take full advantage of it. However for Twisted Sister, the success proved nasty as Jay Jay explains;
“The downside of it is we exploded so fast that – even though the band had been together 11 years at that point – the heat of the immense popularity, the worldwide success put so much pressure on the band. The band couldn’t sustain itself and eventually collapsed.”
Dee Snider joined Jay Jay French and Eddie Ojeda in 1976. Jay Jay on the other hand was at it since 1972. He finally found success in 1984. Twelve years slugging it out. Twelve years of rejection and broken promises. Do any of the new artists today have that same kind of thick skin? Do they have the longevity to stick it out. To succeed in the music business, you need to outlast the competition and the competition these days is fierce for listener’s attention.
This is what Metallica has done. This is what Machine Head has done. This is what Motley Crue has done. They are outlasting the competition. They are adapting and evolving.