Let me make things clear right now: This isn’t an article about Metallica. Rather, I use their popularity and influence as the foundation for the very simple statement that there will most likely never be a band that reaches their level ever again. I just can’t see it happening in today’s day and age, not with how band’s showcase their presence and not with how the audience of today functions.
Don’t get me wrong, I’d love nothing more than to see a metal band emerge that writes killer material, mobilizes a rabid following, and, over time, becomes an entity that grows to a larger-than-life status. Such bands are few and far between and the problem is that they are becoming rarer and rarer with each passing day. The days of huge, lasting influential bands may very well be at an end.
Let’s open up with what has changed for bands, shall we?
One of the things that many of the great heavy metal bands had that is completely lost today is mystery. Bands would release albums and the only real insight into their lives and/or passions were the pictures of them in a CD booklet and the interviews that you stumbled upon in a magazine. It felt special knowing some little detail that you could tell all your friends about.
What was so special about that mystery? What made it so important? It’s simple: It made these musicians not human. They became otherworldly entities that crafted fantastic songs that thrilled us, moved us, shaped us. Their mystery was almost along the lines of a supernatural phenomenon. We saw them in concerts and almost committed idolatry with our fanaticism.
Alas, that time is gone. Every interview is available online. Pictures of band members going out shopping can be found in a simple Google image search. The shroud of mystery and the veil of suspense is gone. Keep me in the dark and I’m much more intrigued and likely to pay attention to you.
This is due to something else that changed for bands over the past decade:
A blessing and a curse for bands, social media has redefined the music industry. No longer is it enough to play a bunch of shows (garnering a strong fanbase) and have a solid EP (showing that you are studio material and not just a live act). Nope, nowadays, you need to be committed to your YouTube channel, your Twitter feed, your Facebook audience, etc… Hell, if you can answer a ton of questions via Formspring, that’s another drop in the bucket.
So what does that mean for bands? It means that it is more time that they are investing into social media that they could be investing into songwriting, recording, touring, and more. Many of you might say that hitting up a social network with an update takes only a few seconds. Yes, you are correct. Except when certain things are promoted only via socials, things that can take a lot of time, like studio videos and updates, contests, Twitter interviews, Facebook commenting, and more. To make a much more simple retort, I ask doubtful readers, “How much time do YOU spend on your social media platforms?”
So what other effect does all of this social media have upon bands? To connect it with a previous point, it removes the mystery. “Hey, did you see that [INSERT ARTIST HERE] had a burger for lunch and Instagrammed it? He’s just like us!”
It’s almost getting to a point where I ask, “Why even see you in concert? You post live videos. You upload videos of you interacting with fans, so I know what it’s like to meet you. You answer every question I have in ubiquitous interviews as well as on your own socials.
What is there left for me? What is something that I can personally take as my own?”
If a band really wants to use social media to bring back mystery, get a bit creative and make us fans do a bit of thinking, perhaps even a bit of digging. Show us a picture of a guitar. Post a lyric from an upcoming song. Take a screencap from an upcoming video that doesn’t give away too much but leaves us clamoring for more.
We are your fans. Let us enjoy our passion without you spoon-feeding us every step of the way.
But it’s not all on the band, now is it? I’d be completely remiss were I not to talk a bit about the audience/fans and how they are impeding bands from achieving larger-than-life status.
I had to go here and you know it. Over the past 15 years, music piracy has dramatically changed what it means for a band and their margins of profit. It’s not that bands make a great deal from record sales, because that’s simply not true. However, there is a chain reaction of events that occurs that decreases profits.
You see, if 100,000 people pirate an album, that’s a lot of money that the record label doesn’t recoup (there’s a good bit of investment). That means the labels has less faith investing into a band for a follow-up album because the return isn’t as certain. Ergo, no new album.
Also, that money doesn’t just go to a band. It goes to record label employees who work their asses off to try and help bands, be it through merchandise design, PR and marketing relations, etc…
Then the management and publicity companies that bands utilize to spread their music and name to new audiences can’t get paid, meaning they can’t do their job.
This is only a very simply and basic cause-and-effect run. Trust me when I say that the amount of people involved is vast and that every penny does in fact count, especially when it comes to the smaller labels that strive every day to bring you, the fans, what you love.
This is somewhat related to piracy. When a fan listens to music via YouTube, Pandora, Spotify, etc…, usually they are doing it for free or for a pretty low monthly cost. However, try and take into account the price you pay versus the amount of music you listen to. If you pay $9.99 a month but listen to 40 albums worth of music per month, can you honestly tell me that you believe bands are getting their fair cut from streaming services? It’s simply impossible.
On top of that, people upload songs onto YouTube to create basic, often mistake-filled lyric videos. Many of these videos can get tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of views. The thing is, these views are not reflected in the records of the band as accolades. And what money would’ve been made from ads is lost. If you need to look up the lyrics so much, why not load up a lyric page and read them? I’m almost positive that you can read through lyrics faster than it takes for a song to play.
Bands, it would also behoove you to add the lyrics to your songs onto your website so that people would go to your site and see all the other fabulous resources you have available. Don’t think you are guilt-free in this issue.
This is where I’m really gonna stick it to the fans. Please, stop asking for more, more, more. Art is something you cannot rush. Art is an extension of emotion and feeling, not something that can be systematically and coldly churned out based upon popular demand. If your favorite band writes music that moves you, it’s because they’ve experienced the same pains and joys that you have (generally speaking, of course).
When you, the fan, start making demands, you are pushing a band to create when they might not be ready. All that this will do is result in an inferior product, one that won’t touch your soul the way you hope.
We have the very world at our fingertips these days. Haven’t heard a song in ages and can’t remember the name? Look up that one lyric you remember and you’ve got it. Then, just go to YouTube and you can play it. Look up the band on Wikipedia and you’ve got their entire history. Oh, there’s a side project from the singer? Let’s stream that. Love it. Who are the other members? Wiki it. Find a new band to check out. Stream it. Decide you don’t like it. Go back to side project. Check out other songs. Still love it. Torrent it. Add to MP3 player.
Total time elapsed? Fifteen minutes.
Gone are the days when we really pride what we buy. We pay $1 for a song instead of buying a whole album and devoting time and excitement to hearing it. We listen to compressed music with crappy headphones (Beats by Dre are included in that category, I assure you) on low audio quality MP3 players and expect gold. No wonder music is compressed and EQ-ed to all holy hell. The hardware that we use to enjoy music has changed and therefore the quality of music has changed along with it.
Due to many, many factors, both fans and the bands themselves are holding back the possibility of a next Metallica, Slayer, or Megadeth. We as fans cannot simply continue on the path we are on if we want to see the success of our favorite artists. We have to make sacrifices so that the end result tastes all the sweeter to us. We can have our cake and eat it too but only if we develop patience and appreciation for what we are receiving.
And bands? Help us alter our paths. Don’t cater to our needs but rather cater to your own. If you need to completely expose some parts of the music industry mystery so that our eyes are opened, then do it. Educate us so that we are more aware and cognizant of our actions.