A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Critical Mass

There are always different kinds of audiences. You have the early adopters, the first to hear about an artist. These early adopters are looking and wanting a different experience than the people who identify as the critical mass market. Early adopters want something fresh, exciting, new and interesting. The critical mass market doesn’t. They want something that that’s familiar.

Metallica when they started had an audience that adopted them early. Some of those fans stood by them all the way, even when they broke through to the mass market in the 90’s and some of those fans just moved on to something new and different.

Motley Crue had an early start in the Sunset Strip look and sound, so the early adopters saw them as the innovators. Meanwhile bands like Ratt and Dokken appeared when metal and rock music reached critical mass.

Sometimes a person in the mass market becomes an early adopter and sometimes the early adopter becomes part of the mass market. It’s all by choice.

And artists are in it for the art first. And if they get an audience, money might start to come in. And money makes it complicated, because money promises a shortcut. A bigger recording budget, a fancy video clip, a big name producer or better marketing budgets or hire session musicians. We use money to hurry up, but it distracts us from what we actually seek to build. Great art. Without the art, the artist has nothing.

And who should the artist please, the early adopters of their music or the mass market?

Does the artist start creating art for profit?

Profits are fine as they allow the artist to invest back into their art. But if profit becomes the main aim, well, nothing and no one benefits if profits are the only thing the artist seeks.

If you want to be as big as the MTV stars of the 80’s and early 90’s you’ll need to hit critical mass. MTV was the critical mass vessel that spread music to the masses. It allowed metal and rock music to go viral before going viral was a thing. In physics, critical mass has a negative meaning as it describes the amount of plutonium you need in a certain amount of space before a reaction goes out of control, leading to a meltdown or explosion. But when you talk about critical mass in a circle of artists, it’s a positive thing.

There is a belief out there that once enough people who know enough people start talking about your music, your fan base will multiply and growth kicks in.

And that is true from a certain point of view. Like “Game of Thrones”, when it hit the right number of conversations, the buzz creates its own buzz and popularity, which in turn creates more buzz and even more popularity. But “Game of Thrones” didn’t start off with critical mass at the start, even though it was marketed heavily. It was people who spread the word. And it was in full swing by Season 3. Same deal with “The Walking Dead”.

Twisted Sister had this buzz with “Under the Blade”, “You Can’t Stop Rock’N’Roll” and reached critical mass with “Stay Hungry”. “Come Out And Play” should have continued the rollercoaster ride, however poor decisions over what songs to release as singles, over exposure of the band (mainly Dee Snider) in the press, competing against album releases of other artists and an MTV ban on the video clip of “Be Cruel To Your School” hurt the band.

Facebook reached 100 users in a Harvard social circle. It was enough people for it to gain traction and it started spreading all over the campus, the town, the state, the country and then, eventually, the world.

And yes, there are routes to popularity which are random or accidental or luck or being in the right place at the right time.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

The Era Of The Song

The whole “we know how our favourite artists look” era is over. Blame MTV for making it happen in the first place.

Music television made the musicians mega stars. They took them from the magazines and the concert stages and put them into our TV rooms. It made an act that would maybe move 100,000 units in the pre-MTV era and turned them into Platinum superstars during the MTV era.

But the MTV era is history.

The era of recognising an artist and mobbing them is history. No one even cares how artists look these days. The song is back at the forefront as it should be.

It’s all about the song. Without it, you have nothing.

Pop Music might be in the press and reality TV shows might get the ink, the good thing (from a metal/rock head perspective) about those products is that their lifespans are limited. Their whole deal is the look. The song is irrelevant.

Meanwhile, the real good rock and metal artists are just working away and crafting their art, year after year. Music is a game of survival.

I remember I had a VIP pass for Coheed and Cambria’s Sydney show a few years ago. At that point in time we (my cousin and I) were not sure if it was going to be a meet and greet or an acoustic show. I was going up to the concert with my cousin and we were talking about the other band members. Apart from the distinctive look of Claude Sanchez, the other band members look like computer programmers.

If we saw the other band members in a line up we wouldn’t be able to make them out.

Which was a far contrast to the month before and the larger than life personas of Motley Crue and Kiss.

So we started talking about other current bands that we like. We both agreed that Robb Flynn and Adam Dutkiewicz are unique enough to be recognisable.

Yesterday’s hero is forgotten today. The internet machine makes them and spits them out. The only thing that survives is the song and that song needs to be great. It’s an artists greatest weapon in the battle for people to pay attention to you and to hang on your every world.

That is why I find Top 10 album lists interesting, because while they place the album high on a list, the ink attached to the album is all about the song on the album that connects with them. On occasions a few songs hit the mark. Very rarely do all of the songs on an album hit the mark.

For example, I am a pretty hard-core Zakk Wylde fan. The first reason was that he paid a true homage to Randy Rhoads (whom I am even a bigger fan off) when he joined Ozzy. While Jake E Lee and Brad Gillis tweaked and changed Randy’s solos, Zakk Wylde played them note for note. I remember a quote he made in “Guitar World” years ago when the magazine interviewer asked what is the thing that he likes the most about being with Ozzy. He said it was like being in a glorified cover band where you get to play your own shit along with songs from Black Sabbath, Randy Rhoads and Jake E.Lee in front of thousands of people each night.

Last year, Black Label Society released “Catacombs Of The Black Vatican”. The song “Angel Of Mercy” stood out right away. It is a constant on my playlist. If I had to do a Top Ten album list, then the album would be in that list purely because of that one song.

I dare anyone to name the full track list of their top ten albums for 2014 without having to refer to a visual aid to remember. It’s because we can’t. I would love too, like times of old, but I guess things change.

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Music, My Stories, Piracy, Unsung Heroes

Metal Without Limits

Hot Metal was a monthly Australian publication that I religiously purchased each month between 1989 and sometime towards the end of 1995.

The issue I am flicking through right now is the August 1991 issue.

In the mag there is an interview with Chris DeGarmo and Michael Wilton from Queensryche taking place during the “Empire” tour. The album by this time had moved over 1.6 million copies in the U.S and MTV had “Silent Lucidity” in constant rotation. By December of the same year, the RIAA would certify the album as 2x Platinum.

Chris DeGarmo interviews well. He comes up with a lot of good quotes and truths.

“Rock records seen to have these long legs. We learned that with Operation Mindcrime.”

So true. Rock and Metal records if done right just continue to stick around. While Pop might rule the airwaves and get the mainstream ink, rock and metal records just keep on sticking around. Let me rephrase that; the great rock and metal records just keep on sticking around.

Look at the Whitesnake 1987 album. It came out in March, 1987. By January 1988, it was certified Platinum x5 (for U.S sales). By July 1992 it was certified Platinum x6, By February 1995, it was certified Platinum x8. It just kept on sticking around almost 8 years after its release.

Go on Spotify and YouTube and you will see counts of 10 million plus for “Here I Go Again”, “Is This Love” and “Still Of The Night”. It’s still sticking around.

There is another issue from July 1989 that also caught my attention and that one has another interview with Chris DeGarmo;

“Who are Queensryche? Why, after years of slogging around, supporting everyone from Bon Jovi to Metallica, has “Operation Mindcrime” suddenly captured the imagination of a whole new world of listeners? “

They caught the mainstream by surprise with “Operation Mindcrime”. No one knew what to do with them. Chris DeGarmo was pressured in the interview to describe Queensryche’s brand of music. This was his answer.

“Hmmm, lets see, aggressive pop music? (laughs). No, I wouldn’t call it that. I guess it would be… metal without limits.”

Not too sure how many people read Guitar World. In a December 1991 issue Dave Mustaine referred to Queensryche as “Yuppie Metal” which I found hilarious. But you know what, DeGarmo is spot on with both of his definitions. How cool does “aggressive pop music” and “metal without limits” sound?

“Promised Land” was their real “metal without limit”s album. The overall sound was still rooted within the hard rock/metal genres, however there was a melancholy undertow simmering underneath that dabbled in different styles and song structures. It didn’t have a crossover hit single, but man, it has some killer moods.

It was very interesting how we had been out there working our asses off for the better part of a year and some people thought this new album had just come out.”

You see even back in 1992. getting the news out there was still a challenge. So when you add to that challenge all the noise that the internet creates, you can see that the difficulty in getting your name out there today has grown exponentially. And for any artist in the music game, getting your name out there is still the challenge. Not P2P.

“In a lot of people’s minds we are a new band and we have to get used to that.”

Spot on.

Hell, a lot of people thought that the 1987 Whitesnake album was Whitesnake’s first album. When I looked at the video clip for “Still Of The Night”, I couldn’t make sense why the album shows one guitarist and the video clip has two. The information travelled slow and for me in Australia it was tied up in expensive import magazines.

Bon Jovi broke out big with “Slippery When Wet” and when these new fans found out that “Slippery” was actually the bands third album, they started snapping up the back catalogue. By February 1987, “7800 Fahrenheit” was certified Platinum, while “Slippery When Wet” reached Platinum x6 at the same time.

For Queensryche, “Rage For Order” and “The Warning” achieved a Gold certification in 1991. And that is because of the “Empire” album and the success of “Silent Lucidity”.

Artists could be huge in certain states or countries however it didn’t mean that the whole world or even their own country knew about them. And this was in the era when the record labels controlled everything and even they couldn’t get the narrative out.

“It’s funny when someone comes up to you and says, ‘I heard that song “Silent Lucidity”. Do you guys have any more songs?’. You don’t want to insult them by saying, ‘Of course we do, you fool. We have been around for ages!’ How are they to know, when no one has ever played any of it?”

The importance of MTV during the eighties and the early nineties was astronomical for a band to get that instant payola. If their clip got constant rotation on the channel, then the platinum armies would come a knocking. So while “Eyes Of A Stranger” opened up the MTV door, it was “Jet City Woman”, “Another Rainy Night” and “Silent Lucidity” that took it to a whole new level. However, it was only those songs that MTV played, so if people didn’t go out and purchase the old catalogue how were they supposed to hear it.

“There wasn’t enough people into Queensryche to support coming to Australia. If we came we would like to bring the whole show, but we’re just not sure of our following there”. 

They never came to Australia during the height of their popularity. The first Queensryche album I got was a cassette recording of “Operation Mindcrime”. “Empire” by default became a blind purchase for me.

I watched Queensryche in 2009, a version of the band that was missing Chris DeGarmo. The venue was at 1500 capacity. The ticket cost $80. The tour was billed as songs from “Rage For Order”, “Empire” and “American Soldier”. It was enjoyable to watch and no time would we have known the bullshit that was going to come.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Stupidity, Unsung Heroes

Disruption Eruption

In life we are being disrupted all the time.

Music is no different.

The biggest challenge to artists is that it’s so much harder to reach people because everyone today has a voice. In the heyday of metal and rock it was all about scarcity. You know the drill. The bands and the labels were all about making it to the top of the heap and then once they got there, they aimed to dominate that heap.

The funny thing is that once the bands got to that heap, they would seem to implode and deliver their least valued work.

Pantera worked for years to get to top of the heap. “Cowboys From Hell” opened the door for domination, “The Vulgar Display Of Power” provided the steps to the top of the heap and “Far Beyond Driven” provided the motion to get to the top of the heap. As Vinnie Paul once said in a Metal Hammer interview, “Pantera could have been metal’s next Rolling Stones”. “The Great Southern Trendkill” came after and continued that domination however the fabric of the band was already tearing apart. “Reinventing The Steel” came next and the band split after that.

Metallica on the other hand delivered their least valued work after they reached the top of the heap with the “Black” album.

Twisted Sister struggled for years to get to the top of the heap. They where selling out local bars however they couldn’t get a record deal. In that Seventies and Eighties era you needed a label to go national. Finally, they got that major label deal. It all started via an Independent label called Secret, which led to the European division of Atlantic Records showing interest and eventually signing them, which then led to the U.S arm of Atlantic taking over.

They got on MTV and went multi-platinum.

Then they lost it all. Dee Snider filed for bankruptcy and so did Jay Jay French.

After the fall from the top, both Dee Snider and Jay Jay French had to pick up and start from the beginning again. An old saying always comes back into my head space. It’s not how hard you fall but how you get back up. In the end, failure is never final, however if you allow it to be, then it will be. Jay Jay had to take a job selling stereos before Sevendust came into the scene in the mid nineties and asked him to produce their first album. Dee Snider ended up with a “Reason To Kill” during this period.

The dirty little secret is that one year’s success does not guarantee the next year’s success. It doesn’t in sport, so why should it be any different when it comes to music. If money was the end game, then Jay Jay French made more money producing the Sevendust album than what he did while he was with Twisted Sister.

So what does that say about the correlation between success and money?

It says that while a band is successful, most of the money is going to others. Only when the band is at the stage of Metallica or Motley Crue who both own their masters/copyrights, do the economics change. Otherwise why do you think Tom Scholz from Boston and Don Henley from the Eagles and Jim Steinman for “Total Eclipse Of The Heart” are putting in motions to get back their copyrights. And why do you think the record labels are resisting even though the law states clearly that the labels have to return the copyrights back to them.

It’s all about negotiation power.

The labels don’t want to lose it and the artists that have the big songs want it.

Which means another disruption is around the corner?

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Metal Evolution – Glam Metal Episode

I watched the Metal Evolution Glam Rock, Thrash and Grunge documentaries a few nights ago. When you play “The Trooper” as your intro riff to the series, how am I not going to like the documentaries. That alone classifies it as a winner to me. The documentaries are great viewing and I recommend them to all fans of the rock and metal genres and also to any other fan who is interested in a good narrative.

YouTube Link

I think the Glam Rock/Metal movement doesn’t get the respect it deserves. If it wasn’t for “Sonic Temple” from The Cult and “Dr Feelgood” from Motley Crue there would be no such thing as the “Black” sound and the millions of metal bands that the Metallica album spawned. Yet this is not mentioned, even though Lars and James have gone on the record to state that the sound of “Dr Feelgood” is what they wanted for the “Black” album and that is why they went with Bob Rock.

However, in the Thrash documentary, Sam Dunn tells Lars he felt betrayed when the Black album was released and Lars responds by saying that it would have been a betrayal if Metallica did Justice Part 2. Brilliant interviewing. Since Sam Dunn is a fan, it was a fan question that a lot of Metallica fans from the first four albums wanted to ask. And Lars actually gave a great response back.

But back to the Glam Metal episode first.

I couldn’t stop laughing at Sam Dunn’s assessment of “Glam Metal”. To him he felt “they were boy bands put together by record label execs”.

There is a good history on the L.A Hard Rock scene and how it goes back to the original pioneers “Van Halen”. It set the style that bands needed to have a real showman for a lead vocalist, a real hot-shot guitarist and a rhythm section tighter than a G-string.

Franki Banali the drummer from Quiet Riot cracked me up with his assessment of Edward Van Halen “the name sounds like a painter”.

It’s good to see Spencer Proffer get recognition for his idea of trying to find a band to record “Cum On Feel The Noize” from Slade. It was a game changer for Quiet Riot even though they resisted it.

Then you have the big heavy metal day on the 1983 U.S festival. It was a game changer for the LA scene and for metal in general.

Randy Rhoads was always a big influence on the LA Glam strip with his guitar playing in Quiet Riot before he joined Ozzy.

MTV also had a perfect vehicle in Glam Metal as all the bands where all about the image and the performance. And MTV was the catalyst for getting bands that would normally sell a hundred thousand albums into the multi-million ranges. The seventies bands that became part of the movement re-invigorated their career and also replenished their fan bases.

John Kalonder was fucking hilarious. When he spoke, I couldn’t stop laughing. He sounded like that baddy voice over dub in the movie “Kung Pow”.

And it was a time of excess. If Tawny Kitaen is to be believed, then the 1987 Whitesnake album cost over $2 million dollars to record and produce.

One thing that is very rarely mentioned in the press is all the gear enhancements that took place during the Eighties era. Rock guitar players were customizing amps and guitars and they were always seeking new sounds.

As a musician it would be great to see how producers and technology shaped each genre. We all love a narrative and we all like to see unsung heroes get their time in the sun. The rise of Mesa Boogie and their Rectifier amps. Tom Werman, Bob Rock, Keith Olsen, Andy Johns, Bruce Fairbairn, Mike Clink and so on, also deserved to be recognised. The polished sounds from the Eighties records played a huge rule in the evolution in the metal and rock genres. The whole Grunge movement used producers that cut their teeth engineering on metal and glam rock albums from the 80’s.

Look at some of the stuff “The Edge” did with Digital Delays and Phasers. Eddie Van Halen is a classic that comes to mind with his innovative “Brown” sound. Warren DeMartini from Ratt had a hot rodded amp that everyone wanted to use.

As a fan of the genre, there needs to be another documentary that brings to light some of the unsung heroes of metals evolution, those guys that altered and enhanced the sounds.

Because in the first episode that covered the origins of metal Dunn touched on the sound aspects and about how a speaker was cut with a razor blade to get a distorted sound and how the invention of the first Marshall amp paved the way for a new style of sound.

Dunn’s reporting of the “Guns N Roses Effect” on glam rock spot on. That is the argument I have had with many people. I always said that Glam Rock died because it got over saturated with inferior bands, along with Gunners showing up the movement with their nod to Seventies classic rock. So when Grunge came along, it offered an alternative to the clichéd glam rock styles and lyrics.

To me the documentaries are also trying to change the culture of the metal fan, you know, get all the elitist judges to be more relaxed and appreciate the different aspects rather than seeing themselves as part of a niche. Get them to appreciate and open their mind and feel united as one big diverse family, to inspire evolution, a Metal Evolution

“Bang you Head…”

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A to Z of Making It, Influenced, Music, My Stories, Unsung Heroes

Are You in Music To Create Art Or For The Money

Blame MTV.

In the Eighties MTV made everyone believe that the music business was all about platinum albums. It made everyone believe that they had an entitlement to be paid if they just created music. It made everyone believe that success was measured on where you sat on the charts and how many records got sold. What got lost in all of this was the real people of the music business. While MTV celebrated the bands and artists that got the platinum and gold awards, it sent out a message to all aspiring artists that if you just write a song and get signed the same thing would happen.

From day dot, musicians always earned their keep by creating first and than performing. A lot of the times they performed for free. Times have always been hard for creative musicians. Just because some artists have Diamond Certifications on their walls does not mean that the rest of the musicians do. And the truth is money has ruined art. It doesn’t matter how good or bad something is, it’s all about how much money it makes. And songs written in that fashion will not last.

Which is a shame as a lot of up and coming artists are all about conformity. They want to be a member of the group. They don’t want to let their freak flag fly. Everyone wants to be liked. All this does is make everybody just like everybody else. The reason why artists became superstars is that they had a uniqueness about them. They had rough edges that connected with people.

And for all of those people who see live music as the saviour obviously haven’t toured. Touring is a tough gig because so many people who shouldn’t take a piece of the pie do. The label gets a cut (why), management gets a cut (why), the booking agent gets a cut (on top of the booking fees they charge the fan), the crew gets a cut (which is expected), the lawyers get a cut (why), the tour budget gets a cut (so that the band rolls from one city to another) and the band gets a cut (to keep up their repayments and for life expenses). But people know all this and they still get involved with music.

Why?

Because they want to create art.

So if you are an artist and you care about money then you don’t belong in the music world. Fakes, artists with no backbone or artists with an entitlement complex, please do not apply. Music is not a safety net or a pension scheme.

If you care about art, then welcome and start creating.

Take a leaf out of the Coheed and Cambria playbook.

They buck social trends with their concept albums, their comic book stories and their creative ways of releasing their albums. Even in a world that is stopping to buy albums, Coheed and Cambria have found unique ways to feed content to their fan base and this results in a ton of cash to them in the process. But it all comes down to the art and now that they are on their own, they are exploring more possibilities. They signed with Columbia Records as a successful indie artist and then when it came time to part ways from the majors, they ventured off on their own and became independent. What they do works for them and their fan base. It doesn’t mean that it will work for everyone.

Artists are more known today for a song or a body of songs instead of a body of albums.

There is a fan base out there that will like the song “Lift Me Up” from Five Finger Death Punch and not know from what album it came from.

There will be fans at a live gig that have never paid for recorded music.

That’s life right now.

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A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories

Some Thoughts On The Music Business

YouTube

YouTube allows you to go directly to your audience whenever they want and you get paid in the process. It might be small now, however it will grow with time. And surely that is better than having your video on MTV and getting squat.

Longevity

The truth is you get wiser as you get older. You learn from experience and life. Artists done need to tell us how great they are or how great the new album is. The fans are smart enough to decide what is great and what isn’t. In the end, you need to have stayed in the game long enough to win.

Music Is Not Scarce Anymore

The days of growing up at the record store and budgeting what album to buy are gone and have been for a long time. Today our favourite artists release new music and we check it out. If we like it we give it a few more spins and then move on. If we don’t like it, we move on straight away. If we really like it, we commit to it.

Back in the day, music was a commitment. After having laid down our cash on a record, we took it home, dropped the needle and spent months digesting it. But today, music is everywhere.

You Survive On Your Audience

You want to be in their consciousness 24/7 and the majority of albums today just don’t hang around long enough. Sure there are exceptions to the rule. Volbeat has been selling their new album since April 2013. Yep, that is almost 20 months ago. Avenged Sevenfold and Five Finger Death Punch are in the same league. Bands like Trivium and Dream Theater had albums that came, got lapped up by the core audience and then disappeared from the conversation. The audience wants to always talk about you, so give them a reason to talk about you.

Information Overload

People are overloaded with information so they’ve only got time for the best and they want more and more of it on a regular basis.

Start With Your friends

They actually know and care about you. If you’re good, they’ll tell their friends, and some of them will eventually be friends/trusted filters of others and people will hear about it that way.

Overnight Sensations

Overnight sensations are a decade plus in the making.

Timing

The timing was right for metal and rock acts to go multi-platinum in the Eighties. MTV was rising. The disenfranchised youths were looking for a voice, something to attach too. They found it in “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, “I Wanna Rock”, “Shout At The Devil” and so on.

Rock Bands Were Never Supposed To Last

The Beatles had about eight years before going solo. Led Zeppelin had about 12 years before calling it quits after the death of John Bonham. Kiss’s original line up had about 8 years before they ended. Motley Crue had 10 years before they fired Vince. Twisted Sister had about 8 years from when the core line up was formed. Rage Against The Machine had 9 years before they split. Soundgarden had about 12 years before calling it quits. That is about the average of a band keeping its original line up in tact before other life events impact the dynamics.

Promote The Why and Not the What

Evergrey went all “why” for the promotion of the “Hymns For The Broken” album. We know the story about how the band was almost over and how the return of two former members gave Englund a new belief to continue. And the fans resonated with this belief.

Protest The Hero sold the why. That is why they the fans pledged over $300,000 to them for “Volition”. We understand as fans why they needed to go down the fan funding route. We understood how the record labels had ripped them off. We believed in their story and wanted to be a part of it.

People will do the things that prove what they believe. We don’t don’t buy what our artists do, we buy why they do it.

Personality

The truth is long-term careers are based on being unique and staying true to who you are.

What seems to happen is that artists try to appeal to everybody and in doing so they rub off their rough edges which is the X factor that makes them unique.

We don’t want fake heroes to believe in. We want real heroes with real personalities.

That is why rock and metal took off in the early Eighties. They represented the working class and the youth that lived under iron fists. The metal and rock got all polished up and all of its uniqueness was planed off.

That is why grunge and alternative took off in the early Nineties. They trail blazed their own path by not sounding just like everybody else. While the metal and rock acts lost their edge and started to sound the same towards the end of the Eighties, the Seattle scene was not afraid to go their own way. They didn’t care if radio didn’t play them and they didn’t care if the media wouldn’t write about them. They forged their own path and made everyone follow them in the process.

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