The website Classic Rock Revisited conducted an interview with Yngwie Malmsteen recently. The interview was aimed at promoting Malmsteen’s new biography. Malmsteen is one musician who is not afraid to share his opinions. His recent opinions on the state of the music industry has polarised the internet. The mere mention of the word “piracy, and music” a reaction is always forthcoming.
“When I started out, it was very much like the guy with the big cigar in a big office saying, “I’ll give you a record deal, boy.” You had tour support, tour buses, local A&R people, the whole nine yards. I did that, but it’s all gone now. It can be for better or worse, because if you don’t have name recognition now.”
This is what used to happen. Any musician that wanted to write songs and have those songs released to an audience, had to meet that “guy with the big cigar.” In no way did a recording contract guarantee an artist success. Yngwie Malmsteen seems to forget that between the period of 1983 to 1988, he released an album each year in order to get name recognition. The reason why he got name recognition is because he had the songs and two great vocalists in Jeff Scott Soto and Joe Lynn Turner. In the end, as good as Malmsteen is on the guitar, if the song sucked and if the vocals sucked, he would have remained in the underground.
“If you want to start out now, how the f!&k do you do it?”
The same way you always have done it. Create great songs. In the end, it is the songs that will sell you. Regardless of how good you play your instrument, if the songs are not making a connection with people, then nothing will happen. The only difference is that bands these days, don’t need to play 2000 shows to get traction.
Look at bands like Heartist and Digital Summer. Heartist is signed to Roadrunner and Digital Summer is all DIY. Both bands have decent traction. Heartist built their following online. Digital Summer did it in a hybrid way. Starting out before the MySpace craze, they did it with feet on the ground, handing out flyers and playing shows. When technology started playing a part in promoting and marketing a band, these new opportunities got filtered in to their workload.
“Back in the day, DEF LEPPARD said if they could get a few singles on MTV, they’d be able to make it, and they did. That happened with a lot of bands who did that back then. Now we have YouTube, but there are billions of videos and musicians on there and if nobody knows your name, nobody’s going to look you up. It’s a little bit weird, but in that sense, the music industry situation is really bad for whoever wants to start out now.”
FACT – MTV used Heavy Metal music as a means to get traction. Look at the clips produced by hard rock / metal bands. Twisted Sister, had “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “I Wanna Rock”. Motley Crue had “Smokin In The Boys Room”. Van Halen had “Hot For Teacher.” All of those clips were game changers in the video format. As soon as MTV got traction, they booted metal music and put it back to a monthly/weekly segment that would become Headbangers Ball.
FACT – Music is getting released on a grand scale today. With so much new music out there fighting for listeners attention, artists need to give fans a reason to listen to their music. By saying that they put their heart and soul into it, just doesn’t cut in this day and age. You need to have great songs.
Look at the band Periphery. The band got traction via message boards. Has piracy stopped the band? I saw them live in Australia this year at the Annandale Hotel in Sydney.
Look at the band Shinedown. They came out in 2005, when piracy was rampant. Has piracy stopped the band from becoming a giant in the hard rock scene? They have two albums that have sold over a million units and two albums that have sold over 500,000 units. Singles on the other had have moved in the multi-millions.
Look at the band Digital Summer. They came out in 2005, when piracy was rampant. Has piracy stopped the band from touring and releasing new music? They are all DIY and have total control over their affairs. Even bands that had major deals have asked the band to represent them.
Look at the band One Less Reason. Another DIY band. One of their albums has gone GOLD. Has piracy stopped the band from touring and releasing new music?
Look at the band Protest The Hero. While they were signed to a label, they were told that never made any money. Finally they broke free from the label and started an Indiegogo campaign, raising over $300K (with the goal being $120K). Has piracy stopped the band from touring and releasing new music?
“The good part is that there is no longer this slavery to a certain format going on, where in the ’80s, if you didn’t follow format, they wouldn’t give you the time of day. You had to conform to get a shot at a record deal. That’s gone now, and it’s bizarre.”
I love Malmsteen however he is a confused albeit funny individual. He is putting a lot of information out there without any thought. If anyone was treated like dirt by record labels, it was Yngwie Malmsteen. Elektra chased him, signed him to a large deal and then dropped him cold after one album. During the Nineties, no label in the U.S would touch him. If it wasn’t for the Japanese market, Yngwie would be broke and destitute and without a career in 2013.
As much as Malmsteen is seen as a musical dictator, he knows it deep down, that if he didn’t conform and write more accessible songs, then his career would have been over. That is the power that the labels held over the artists.
Classic Rock Revisited: The Internet changed a lot for the industry; piracy has certainly had a hand in changing the game. Do you think that piracy can be beneficial to some of those bands starting out? How has it affected you?
Yngwie: How could it possibly be positive? If you go into a store and you see a car that you like, you can’t just drive off with it. The cost and the blood and sweat and tears that go into making music is the same thing, it’s not free. Try telling the engineer and the producer that they have to work for free. It’s utterly bizarre. It’s like just going into a store and taking things off the shelves. It’s stealing. The reason there are no bands coming out now is that the money that was once there is not there anymore. So what happened was, in essence, by pirating music, you kill the music industry. The music industry died because of the piracy, and now all the fans will have no new music. Isn’t that wonderful? It’s a direct consequence of that.
Again, Malmsteen is confusing the recording industry with the music industry. The recording industry is not dying. It has changed. The labels made the most money from selling the LP and then the CD. So when fans could pick and choose what tracks they wanted to buy, the biggest cash cow for the labels became obsolete. Licensed streaming is gaining traction. Unlicensed streaming on YouTube is bigger than ever. If the recording industry listened to advice back in 1998, maybe it would still be as powerful as it was back then. However, they ignored the advice.
The whole stealing analogy has been shot down a billion times. Maybe Scott Ian, Duff McKagan and Yngwie Malmsteen should form a band called “Steeler.” Oh wait, Malmsteen was already in a band called Steeler.
It’s simply economics. Digitised music equals less CD’s. The MP3 made music easy to share and distribute just by the click of a mouse button. Chart success and sales of actual music is not as relevant today as it was back in the Eighties and Nineties. What is relevant today is what music of the band are fans listening too.
Look at the band Shinedown. Call Me is their most streamed track, however they do not play the song live.
Finally, the best part of the interview, the quotes.
“Improvisation is a genesis of composition”
“Music is melody and melody is music”
“One must feel strongly to make others feel strongly”
“When you’re a writer, you write the whole book, when you’re a painter like De Vinci you don’t say to someone, hey come over here and help me with my painting. There are a few reasons why I work this way. First of all, I’m so full of creativity that I don’t need any other input. The other is that I feel so strongly about my work, it’s like a burning passion to create something that is uniquely me.”
Malmsteen on song writing.
“Back in the day the record label was putting up all this money and you had to record whether you were inspired or not. I like to capture the moment.”
Malmsteen on recording now.
“ I don’t live in the past. The best show I’ve ever done is the one I’m going to do next. The best album will be the next one I do. I don’t look back, I look forward. It’s dangerous too, because if an album does well you might get stuck in that one sound for the next couple albums instead of having this evolution of your sound. I like to have the classical stuff on my records, and some blues. An album to me is supposed to be a snapshot of who you are at that time.”
Malmsteen on progress