A to Z of Making It, Music, My Stories, Piracy

It’s Always Been About The Songs

“The biggest thing that surprised me about fame was that it was fleeting. You work so hard to get there and you just assume that it’s some sort of finish line, or you take a victory lap and maybe spike the ball, run around the field screaming ‘Goal,” I don’t know.”
Dee Snider 

It is pretty well-known how long and hard Twisted Sister worked at getting their sound and image out to the masses. It is also pretty well-known how short their fame was in the Eighties and how quickly they faded from the conversation.

You see, the biggest untold story in music is that when an artist hits a high with one album/song, it doesn’t mean that the next album/song will also hit that same high.

“Stay Hungry” sold over 2 million copies when “Come Out And Play” was released in 1985. At that point in time, “Under The Blade” was still selling, “You Can’t Stop Rock ‘N’ Roll” was still selling and so was “Stay Hungry”. Because when an album crosses over into the mainstream, the back catalogue of the artists suddenly become popular.

Then a new album drops and suddenly the sales are not as high as the previous album. It doesn’t mean the band is not famous or popular anymore, it just meant that a re-adjustment was going on with the fans.

A lot of fans were still digesting the back catalogue and a lot of fans moved on to the next flavour of the year.

So instead of Twisted Sister’s management team booking a normal theatre and shed tour, they booked an arena tour for “Come Out And Play”. And when the arena shows failed to sell out, the tour got canned which cost the band money. The merchandise agreement for the tour became null and void which cost the band money.

“The reality is that rock and roll, in the mainstream, it’s in a difficult place right now. People don’t buy music, and they certainly don’t buy rock bands’ music in the way that they used to. And so, for our genre, it’s kind of… We’re limping along when it comes to public appeal. I believe that rock and roll is alive and well. I just think that people need to show their support and let the genre keep thriving.”
Andy Biersack – Black Veil Brides

People never wanted to buy music. I know I never did. I wanted to listen to music. However, corporations got involved with music, and a big business was born from it. Guess how many records Kiss sold from their first album, before they started to record their second album.

If you answered 70,000 units, then you are correct. If you don’t believe me, read Paul Stanley’s “Face The Music”. Metallica’s “Kill Em All” didn’t set any sales records when it came out either. Nine months after the album’s release, Metallica went back into the studio to record “Ride The Lightning”.

But today, bands want instant success. They want their first album to sell like Metallica’s “Black” album or Bon Jovi’s “Slippery When Wet”.

“Metal was really strong in the 80s and kind of had hard times in the 90s. I think we treaded water and kept alive and kept focused on being Testament, and writing songs that we wrote without thinking or trying to change and play with what’s current at the time. It really hurt a lot of bands trying to do that. Fortunately, we didn’t do that. We went opposite. We went a little darker and heavier at that time. Then the metal got healthy again, and coming out the other end, we were in the right spot with the direction we were going, and the history we had, it just carried through. Metal has been real strong since the early 2000s. It’s been gradually picking up. I see the generation changing with a lot more younger fans coming to shows now over the last ten years.”
CHUCK BILLY – Testament

The crux of longevity is the replenishing of your fan base, year after year. And you do that by being in the game. Each album release will do some of the following;

  • Pick up new fans and keep all of the old fans
  • Pick up new fans and lose some of the old fans
  • Pick up new fans and lose all of the old fans
  • Keep all of the old fans
  • Lose some of the old fans

It’s just the way it is. You see for me, I lost interest in Testament after Alex Skolnick left. My cousin Mega, still purchased their albums, I heard them and forgot them. It was just part of getting older. Musical tastes changed for a while. That is why in 2015, my music collection has everything from folk, blues, classic rock, metal, hard rock, glam rock, thrash metal, death metal, metalcore, progressive rock, etc…

So in 2015, the album is just not as important as it was once was. With streaming it is all about the songs. For all the artists that complain about sales, the truth is if you’re popular, people want to listen to your music and they want more of it, if it is good. My kids don’t even care if the songs all came from the same album.

Today, the artists get paid every time we listen.

Elektra sold Metallica’s self-titled album and the band only got paid once for the sale. Today, Metallica is cleaning up, as fans are streaming their tracks over and over again. They are getting paid continuously. And right now payments are low, but they will grow as more people subscribe. And if we are listening to our favourites music, they will get paid forever.

So it all comes down to listens and good songs have a long listening life, a long time to make money.

And it’s always been about good songs.

Metallica did not break big until “Enter Sandman” crossed over. Twisted Sister did not break big until “We’re Not Gonna Take It” crossed over.

We all want more if the artists are great and the hard truth is that very few are.

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Music

Clash Of The Titans

I watched the Big Four DVD recently. I know, I’m about 4 years late to the party, however after seeing those bands live on numerous occasions, I didn’t think it was essential viewing. And I was right. It wasn’t essential viewing.

Regardless of the quality of the live performances, the Big 4 got me thinking about the “Clash Of The Titans” tour that took place back in the early Nineties. After Metallica’s self titled”Black” album blew up all over the charts a funny thing happened in the recording business. The major labels started spending a lot of money to get thrash bands away from their independent labels and onto the major label roster. These labels then spent a lot of money to record new albums from Megadeth, Slayer, Anthrax and Testament. They started to put some serious dollars behind the music videos and the marketing. Some of these clips bordered on hilarious. Testaments “Electric Crown” comes to mind immediately. The clip just didn’t make sense at all with the palm tree paradise like landscape interspersed with footage of a dude that looks like he’s got issues.

Regardless Thrash Metal was strong.

Suddenly bands on independent labels became major label stars. The sub-genre was growing at an exponential rate. Albums from artists that got caught up in the wave were selling 500,000 copies and then a million plus copies. MTV played their videos and the movement skipped borders and went global.

Which brings me to “The Clash Of The Titans” tour.

The first iteration in 1990 featured Megadeth, Slayer, Testament and Suicidal Tendencies. The second iteration in 1991 featured Megadeth, Slayer and Anthrax, as headliners. The funny thing is that a lot of people would probably be surprised to hear that a future superstar band in Alice In Chains was opening.

And how ironic is that. The opening act would end up catching the next musical wave and they would become bigger than all of the thrash acts that they opened for on that tour.

What the tour went on to show was “where do these bands go from here?” All of the bands (except for Suicidal Tendencies and Alice In Chains) had this technical and fast music which was commercially popular but also running low on quality. Metallica stopped re-writing the same record over and over again. Alex Skolnick in the Thrash Metal episode of the Metal Evolution series said it the best;

They made a record that sounded as big as any pop album.

Suddenly, Exodus, Testament, Megadeth and Anthrax all tried to follow the Metallica blueprint. The pressure from their major label backers was relentless. For a lot of these bands, the money aspect proved to be a game changer. Slayer on the other hand, stayed true to their extreme ways.

But then the commercial wave crashed down, and a lot of the bands that had major label deals started to get dropped, or break up.

Fast forward to 2015, all of those bands are around in some shape or form. With different members, but still thrashing.

“Man In The Box” from Alice In Chains has about 11.2 million streams on Spotify. Megadeth’s “Symphony Of Destruction” has over 6.5 million streams. “Madhouse” from Anthrax has 1.8 million streams. “Raining Blood” from Slayer has almost 9 million streams. “Electric Crown” has 721,000 streams.

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A to Z of Making It, Copyright, Music, My Stories, Piracy

Trying Something New and Creative To Engage With Fans

This whole buying shares in a song has been going around for decades, especially in the heyday of record label monopolies. The basic premise at that time was that people would buy shares in a song and then any earnings the song makes goes back to the shareholders.

Fast forward to today and Testament is offering up a chance for the fans to purchase shares in the song “Native Blood”. If they sell every single offering they will have raised $57,000 in capital.

However, while the offering is promoted like a Company IPO Share Offer, it is nothing of the sort. It’s all smoke and mirrors. The fans of the band are buying memorabilia. The band is using the connection that a fan might have with the song as its selling point. Being a shareholder on the “Native Blood” song will not entitle you to any royalty payments (provided that a thrash band with a cult status who make their money from touring would get any) however it will give you a chance to buy limited edition merchandise later on.

An artist music and career is a brand and brands aren’t built in a day. Testament has been at for a while. In the beginning they had some growth initially however that didn’t mean that they made it. Music is a competitive industry and consumers are becoming harder to reach. Every business brand is faced with the same problem. Bands and artist are no different to small businesses.

The difference is if the artist is NOT prepared to find creative ways to reach their fans than complacency will bring about the end. So Testament is trying new creative ways to engage with fans, but it’s still based on the one way model of selling something. But by always going back to the old product selling paradigm is precisely the way to go out of business today.

Markets are always changing and fans of music are always changing. What we value as important is changing and what we want to own is changing. I grew up with the focus to have a house and a car. My kids are growing up with the focus to have the latest tech and live at home.

The fans of music spoke out loud with Napster 15 years ago.

WE WANT ACCESS TO MUSIC.

And what does the recording industry and bands do? They fail to keep pace with the changing demands, values and needs of their fans. They chose to hang onto the past and in 2014 they are left wondering where their fans and profits went.

If we want more proof about the sales model for music slowly fading, look no further than all the MP3 stores that are either being killed off or reporting losses. In Australia, BigPond music was operated by our largest ISP, Telstra and they have now shut it down, focusing on MOG, their streaming service which is trying to compete against Spotify. They get it, consumer behaviour is changing, and Spotify has led the way in providing a service that responds to this shift and has had much success doing so to date.

For bands and artists to prosper they need to do things differently. They need to be genuine and willing to connect with their fans. The fans in the end want transparency, not smoke and mirrors. James Hetfield might cringe at the “Some Kind Of Monster” documentary, however that visual and transparent footage of a massive act breaking apart was touching and moving. Hell, there are people at Metallica shows today that have never purchased a Metallica album.

The value of the recorded music product is not the value that it once was. What is valuable is the service and the partnership. That is why we are living in the era of sharing and access. Sharing provided the service that the fans of music wanted. Which was access all along.

And when will artists learn that partnerships are absolutely key to ensure sustainable growth. If small businesses do it, why can’t artists do it. But everybody lives by selling something. So even though I don’t agree with Testament’s song share plan offer and the lack of transparency around it, they are trying something different which for a metal band that goes back into the era of Eighties is good to see.

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Alternate Reality, Music, My Stories

Top 10 Metal Albums of 1994 According To Guitar World (& then a new Top 10 is born with my additions)

I am in a “dust off” process at the moment. As an avid purchaser of all things musical, especially anything to do with rock and metal, I have a huge collection of magazines from 1986 to today’s date.

At the moment I am flicking through a Guitar World issue from 1995. The first thing that got my attention, is their Top 10 lists for the 1994 year. In the issue, they had a Top 10 list for Rock, Alternative, Metal and Roots/Blues. So here is the list from the esteemed Jeff Gilbert.

1. SOUNDGARDEN – Superunknown (A&M)

“It’s darker than Slayer’s underwear, moodier than Weiland and more depressing than an empty keg. It’s also the best hard music album of the year.”

What a production team of Michael Beinhorn and Brendan O’Brien. Surround yourself with the best and expect them to get great results for you. This is the album that Soundgarden is doing it’s victory lap on. It had a lot of elements that crossed over into the mainstream and it had a lot of elements still rooted in the rock/metal vibe they are known for. The fans agreed, sending the album into the millions. At last count, the album is pushing close to 6 million physical units in the U.S.

2. DANZIG – Danzig 4 (American)

“Danzig kiss the abyss with yet another moon-howling symphony for the devil. All the musical chaos and only one guitar solo. Cool.”

Rick Rubin is on board to produce, along with Glen Danzig. In my view, this shouldn’t be on the list.

3. MEGADETH – Youthanasia (Capitol)

“Dave Mustaine sounds like he’s getting a vacuum cleaner enema, but that’s okay because his riffs and Marty Friedman’s solos are among the best the band has ever spewed forth.”

Youthanasia continued the path away from thrash and more toward a classic rock feel. However the lyrical matter is still dark and depressing, which was perfect for 1994. Max Norman is behind the desk and he completes his trilogy of albums with Megadeth, that also includes Rust In Peace and Countdown To Extinction. In the ends, the fans spoke with their wallets and they liked the mix of rock and metal and another PLATINUM album was on board the “Train of Consequences.”

4. SLAYER – Divine Intervention (American)

“Furious buzz-bomb guitar runs eat away at your face like flesh-eating syndrome. Swarming solos sting you out of your drunken stupor. Slayer know what’s good for us.”

WTF. It’s like a Nostradamus prophecy. I am reading this in 2013, post Jeff Hanneman (RIP) and the term “flesh eating” just sticks out. The next term that sticks out is “drunken”. Knowing what we know now about Jeff Hanneman’s addiction to alcohol and the problems caused by the flesh eating parasite, the review above just doesn’t sit right. Modern metal producer Toby Wright is on hand to produce a 500,000 seller.

5. PANTERA – Far Beyond Driven (EastWest)

“Shits nails and wipes with barbed wire.”

Terry Date is at the boards again and a number one album is released. What can you say about Pantera that hasn’t been said. Due to Dimebag’s passing, we will never see the original band reconcile and perform again, so what we are left is the memories. Who knew back in 1994, that Dimebag would be shot dead 10 years later.

6. SKREW – Dusted (Metal Blade)

“The metallic counterpart of Nine Inch Nails and Ministry and they used one chord on the entire album. What gods!”

Pop, Dance producer Howie Beno is on board for an industrial slab of metal. It’s a peculiar mix, however 1994 was a peculiar time, with a lot of genre mash up’s happening. I don’t remember anything outstanding from this album that would have made me want to play it again.

7. ENTOMBED – Wolverine Blues (Sony)

“Grindcore masters Entombed pay crunching tribute to the coolest member of the X-Men. Maybe we can hook them up with the Silver Surfer and … oh sorry; someones already beat em to it.”

Grindcore was never my thing however the Swede’s sure know how to create something interesting. The thing about this album that I liked is that each song, had certain sections that just killed it. I remember taking out all of those sections from the songs, mashed them up and recorded them all as one track (a note for note rendition). It came to about 7 minutes. Then I started tweaking the song around, moving some riffs into different places, shortening a few and them combining the shorter riffs to form a new riff and so on. Within about three hours, i had a killer 5 minute tune, all inspired by Entombed, however totally unrecognisable.

8. DREAM THEATER – Awake (EastWest)

“Faster than a Silver Bullet, tighter than the jeans i bought six months ago, more powerful than a box of Ex Lax, this shred party left me punch drunk and, for once in my life, fully awake.”

John Purdell and Duane Baron are on board to produce. Again, another peculiar choice from the record label. A progressive band, has been given hard rock / pop metal producers. Not counting the Terry Date produced, “When Dream and Day Unite”, “Images and Words” had David Prater behind the boards. Following up the very unexpected and successful “Images and Words” album, “Awake” already had an uphill battle. For anyone that has read the “Lifting Shadows” book, it is mentioned there, that Derek Oliver was asking for another “Pull Me Under” and the band was trying to oblige.

9. MACHINE HEAD – Burn My Eyes (Roadrunner)

“Machine Head explore the world of religion gone mad with aggressive and severe riffing more dangerous than a cult leader with a vision.”

What a perfect blend of old school thrash and modern metal. Robb Flynn is the star from the outset. He is what ultimately sets Machine Head apart from the competition. Another difference between “Burn My Eyes” and all the rest of the hardcore/grindcore bands from 1994, was that Machine Head could actually write songs and in Robb Flynn, you had a vocalist that could actually sing.

10. KYUSS – Welcome To Sky Valley (Elektra)

“If you ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a laval lamp plugged into a Marshall, this album will take you there. The hairiest thing this side of Kim Thayil’s back.”

This one is a strange addition to a metal list, however it is that good and that varied, it deserves to be on some list. A mix of stoner rock and metal scene with progressive psychedelic elements.

Here are my additions to the above list;

LEVIATHAN – Deepest Secrets Beneath (Rock The Nations)

The best progressive metal album from 1994. It is a very accomplished debut album. While Dream Theater had the backing of a major label, Leviathan was on Rock The Nations, a small independent label. Produced by the excellent Jim Morris (Death, Control Denied, Circle II Circle, Iced Earth and many others).

KORN – Korn (Epic)

Now if this album went platinum or gold in 1994, it would be on the above list. However, this album was a slow burner. It reached GOLD status in 1996, on the back of the “Life Is Peachy” album. Even though I have been a Guitar World subscriber since 1986, it was very typical of what the magazine became renowned for; beholden to the advertisers and the PR companies. This album didn’t rate a mention however years later they trumped it up.

MOTLEY CRUE – Motley Crue (Elektra)

Of course, the Guitar World list is based on what was trending back in 1994 and Motley Crue was not in. However, their self titled album released in 1994, with John Corabi on vocals is heavy as hell and deserves to be on the list. It’s funny that the band that was cool in the Eighties was not cool in 1994. So if you are not cool, don’t expect to get any press from the established magazines. The only magazine that was giving the Crue any press was Metal Edge and then Nikki fucked that up as well.

SAVATAGE – Handful Of Rain (Atlantic)

Another so called “Eighties” band that wasn’t cool in 1994. Reeling from the death of their lead guitarist, Criss Oliva, Paul O’Neill and Jon Oliva wrote the most darkest, sorrowful and heavy as hell album. A worthy addition to any metal list from 1994. Jon Oliva also made his brother proud by recording all the rhythm guitars while gun for hire, Alex Skolnick came in and did the leads.

TESTAMENT – Low (Atlantic)

This is a killer album that got lost in the mix. After the Metallica “Black” album sound of 1992’s “The Ritual” didn’t get a great response, 1994 saw some changes. Guitarist Alex Skolnick and drummer Louie Clemente left. In came James Murphy (Death) and John Tempesta. The end product is “Low.” A different sound and a good one. The songs became lower and faster and groovy. Another slow burner, that kept on selling into 2000 and beyond.

So based on all of the above, here is my top 10 list from 1994;

1. Motley Crue – Motley Crue

What can I say, Bob Rock killed it in the producer’s chair, capturing Motley Crue at their heaviest. It is groove rock, mixed with classic rock, mixed with heavy metal. Listen to the interludes of Droppin Like Flies and Hooligan’s Holiday for supreme Korn like heaviness.

2. Machine Head – Burn My Eyes

Robb Flynn’s vocal style is his life style. A lot of people have tried to imitate it however you have had to have lived his lifestyle in order to pull it off.

3. Leviathan – Deepest Secrets Beneath

A progressive metal band that deserves greater accolades. Think Geddy Lee vocals on a bed of technical metal riffs.

4. Dream Theater – Awake

Worthy follow up to “Images and Words” and the last album to feature the talents of Kevin Moore. Of course Jordan Rudess is a far more accomplished pianist, however to me Kevin Moore is a better band member, due to his lyrical and vocal melody writing.

5. Pantera – Far Beyond Driven

What else can be said about Pantera that hasn’t been said. They kept the flag flying for groove and thrash metal, while other leaders jumped ship or broke up.

6. Korn – Korn

Any album that has an ominous shadow of a man in a kids playground on the cover already has a lot to live up to. In this case, Korn delivered a brutal first album. Not bad for a band that got signed solely based on their demo and no live shows.

7. Savatage – Handful Of Rain

Dark and sorrowful. The best way to pay a tribute to a fallen brother is to keep the music alive. Savatage and especially Jon Oliva, did exactly that.

8. Megadeth – Youthanasia

Dave Mustaine and Megadeth never achieved the “success” in sales as Metallica however to me, they defined and pushed the boundaries of technical thrash metal. Can you ever imagine James Hetfield singing over the “Holy Wars” riff. With “Youthanasia”, Megadeth delivered a killer rock album, which if i had to pick between “Youthanasia” and “Load” from Metallica, “Youthansia” wins hands down.

9. Testament – Low

When a band is more or less written off by the press, that is when they deliver. However due to a lack of label support, the album didn’t get out of the gates properly.

10. Slayer – Divine Intervention

I was going to put Kyuss or Soundgarden here, however my loyalty to Slayer wins out in the end.

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

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Rising Above

Why did guitarists like Yngwie Malmsteen, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, Eric Johnson, Alex Skolnick, John Petrucci and Paul Gilbert rise above all the other shredders of the era that came on the scene between 1984 and 1994?

Guitarists like Tony MacAlpine, Greg Howe and Vinnie Moore are all good guitarists, however they are still relatively unknowns outside of their niche market.

When I saw Steve Vai on the G3 tour, I saw that he had Tony MacAlpine as a backing guitarist. I knew it, however the other guitarists I was with, didn’t know it or know of Tony MacAlpine.

Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore played with Alice Cooper? Does anyone know that Vinnie Moore had Jordan Rudess play on his solo album called Mind Control and that he is currently in UFO?

In the end each artist needed the hits.

Steve Vai had Yankee Rose to launch him. Who can forget the talking at the start song, between Steve Vai’s Ibanez and David Lee Roth’s vocals? It was catchy, it was entrancing and it rippled through the mainstream. The music didn’t fit the format, however back in the Eighties you can say that Yankee Rose went viral.

Yngwie Malmsteen had sweep picking. That was his hit. A simple technique. He followed that up with songs like You Don’t Remember (I’ll Never Forget), On The Run Again and Queen In Love. However it wasn’t until the Joe Lynn Turner fronted Odyssey album that Malmsteen had mainstream hits. Who can forget Heaven Tonight?

Joe Satriani is the surfing alien. Enough said. The Surfing With The Alien song and album is perfection in instrumental circles.

Another piece of perfection is Eric Johnson and his piece d resistance, Cliffs Of Dover. Hear it and the let the goose bumps come.

Alex Skolnick took a big risk back in the Eighties leaving Testament just as they were getting traction on the thrash metal circuit. So what does he do, he goes all instructional and jazzy. He started taking standard rock and metal songs and re-doing them in a jazz format. Brilliant.

John Petrucci shredded when it was uncool to do so. He got popular at a time when it was uncool to be popular for the talent he is. Why? Images and Words. That is the DT victory lap. It is that album that gave them steam in the Nineties. When that victory lap was fading away, Metropolis II came on the scene. That took them into the Two Thousands and with the release of the very metal like Train Of Thought, a new audience was won over.

Paul Gilbert is an enigma. On the Racer X albums he was just another shred clone. Then came Mr Big and he showed what a great songwriter and what a great performer he is. When the world wanted vintage Van Halen in the early nineties, Paul Gilbert stepped up. When the world wanted a shredder of the Malmsteen sense, Gilbert stepped up. I remember John Petrucci referencing a Paul Gilbert instructional video as an important instructional tool for advancing his guitar playing. The quick lead break before the Pull Me Under chorus is all Paul Gilbert played by John Petrucci. Who can forget Technical Difficulties? Paul Gilbert at his best.

All of these artists created something so good that it sold itself. It could have been a song, a technique, an instructional video and instrumental album or re doing metal standards in a jazz format.

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