Nov 022012

After the nearly three years since I started NO CLEAN SINGING, what I know about the economics of extreme metal has multiplied by orders of magnitude. There are two caveats that go along with this statement:

First, when I started this blog what I knew about the economics of extreme metal wouldn’t fill an ant’s ass, so what I know now is all relative to that barren starting point.  Second, since I’m not a musician, a producer, a promoter, or involved in running a label, even what I know now is second-hand, incomplete, and undoubtedly inaccurate in at least some respects. My learning has come from a lot of reading and a fair number of discussions with musicians, but that still ain’t the same as living the life. I watch, while others do.

I’m still curious and I’m still trying to learn. My latest bit of learning comes from a long piece written by Chris Grigg, posted on his personal blog last night. Chris Grigg is the founder, vocalist, and guitarist for Woe, a Philadelphia-based black metal band that also includes members of Rumpelstiltskin Grinder. Their last album, Quietly, Undramatically, was released by Candlelight Records in 2010 and they’re working on a new one now. Chris has also been involved with Krieg and The Green Evening Requiem as well as a grindcore outfit named Unrest.

Chris Grigg also runs a recording studio and holds down a full-time job with an IT services company.

In the article I read — which is entitled “The Music Industry Is A Fucking Pit” — he explains in detail why independent musicians do not make money, and who does. He summarizes his thesis thusly:

The music industry, as it has existed to date, is a fucking pit. It is a dead-end. Anyone who expects to play rock music in 2012, follow all the old rules about touring full time and signing with a label and all that shit, AND live off of it is living in a dreamworld because by the time the purse floats down to the bottom of the river, everyone along the way has reached in and taken their share. There is nothing left for you.

This thesis isn’t a new one. I’d say that about 95% of what Chris writes I had read or heard elsewhere at one time or another. But I’m still recommending the piece for three reasons.

First, it’s well-written and credible. The prose is clear, punchy, and entertaining. It’s explained thoroughly and convincingly. And it’s not just a bitter tirade (though there is certainly some humorously acknowledged bitterness included within it). It acknowledges that many of the people other than musicians who do manage to make money in the business aren’t blood-sucking leeches — they provide services — and they expect to be paid for them. When they do get paid, it just happens to mean that musicians are left with less.

Second, at the end of the piece he does offer some advice for bands that makes sense to me — though again, I’m not in a band and so perhaps my impressions need to be taken with a grain of salt. His advice is more along the lines of “this is how to make the best of a miserable situation”, but I thought it could still be useful for bands who haven’t yet figured things out for themselves.

Third, I thought what he had to say was something that fans ought to know, too — especially fans who can afford to pay for music they want, but don’t. I’ve been on my tiny soapbox about this before. I try not to lecture about it too much, because it’s too much like listening to a reformed smoker or a reformed alcoholic or addict rail against the evils of their former vice, and yeah, I had that downloading vice myself for a long time. But it really is a vice that needs to be put behind us as a community.

It’s an undeniable fact that stealing music from artists (and labels) who don’t want to give their music away is something that will NOT be stopped by government action or lawsuits by the recording industry. It WILL be stopped only by a voluntary change in the culture of metal, only when everyone who gives lip service to the ideal of metal solidarity puts the ideal into action by respecting the wishes of the artists who make the music in the first place.

I think that day will come, and I think writers like Chris Grigg are going to make it come sooner rather than later.

There’s a corollary message for bands and labels. It’s a lesson most of them have learned, though not all: Most fans are not going to pay for music they’ve never heard. They need to be given an option for hearing the music without downloading it. There are now many internet services that allow bands and labels to do this easily, with Bandcamp being at the head of the list. People who don’t make their music available for streaming on Bandcamp or something similar to it make it a lot harder to argue that fans should buy their music instead of stealing it.

Please go HERE to read Chris Grigg’s article, and then come on back to NCS and let us now your reactions.

While you read, you can listen to some Woe. This is an improved remix of Quietly, Undramatically that was prepared exclusively for release on Bandcamp about a year ago:

[bandcamp album=3726523833 bgcol=000000 linkcol=4285BB size=grande3]



  1. If you don’t like people stealing your music, just don’t make good music! Fuck, why are musicians so whiny.

  2. As somebody who experiences half of this first-hand and has close friends touring experiencing the other half, Chris speaks a lot of truth here. This is basically EXACTLY how it goes. The days of big advances are looooong gone, as even the big leagues have trouble recouping small advances from merch sales.

    The next time you see a band you like selling their album between 5-10 bucks on bandcamp, just buy that shit. Even as band with extremely low DIY recording costs, we still don’t break even on music sales. You’ll probably be listening to and enjoying that music for (hopefully) YEARS. You can only enjoy your burger and fries once.

    • I’m with you on this. Sure, I don’t play in a band, but I’ve played guitar and drums in the past with a passion and know just how long it takes to train up and learn how to play some of the insane shit you hear coming out these days, not to mention owning the equipment and renting practice space, let alone recording, etc. $5, $10 is nothing. Here in New Zealand you can buy all of 1 beer in a pub for that price.

  3. Thank you for linking to this article, Islander. (Nearly 30 comments already but I think I will be only the second to comment on the actual article instead of the loris air force). This subject is fascinating to me (metal band economics, not Loris Top Gun). The more I talk to musicians about this, the more respect I have for their desire to simply create and play music. I have never run into an extreme metal musician who was under any illusion of making money from their craft. They do it because they love to do it. I only talked to one death metal band, and this was over 15 years ago, whose vocalist told me that he could live off the band revenues. He had a house, a family, and no second job, but he made it clear that he was living a modest economic existence. There are no rock-star riches in extreme metal. Also, he was in one of the biggest death metal bands. The lesson is that the peak is a possible, humble, ability to live off the band. 99% of the time you will not get to that peak.

    Of course, this is true of other areas of music too. Primarily I am thinking of jazz because I also know some musicians in that world. It is the same story there.

    I think Sean’s comment about burgers and fries is right on point. How often do you steal your lunch? Why would you steal an equally-priced work of art that will be a lasting artifact in your life that you can return to again and again for enjoyment? Pay for the music. Go to the show. Buy a shirt when you are at a show (you need an entire rack of black shirts in your closet; but thank you Sourvein for producing shirts in every major color and selling those on your recent tour – I like my green one).

    • We did kind of go off the rails in the preceding comments. First time that’s ever happened around here.

      Great comment, too. And though I don’t pay nearly as much attention to the in’s and out’s of other genres of music, I suspect what Chris Grigg says is true for musicians in virtually every genre of music in the modern age (as you note in the case of jazz), except for those at the very top in terms of popularity.

  4. Also, I like what I hear so far of Woe. Another new band for me.

  5. Very interesting article (also the one embedded in it with the imperative “read it now”). This definitely opens my eyes for what’s coming at these bands.

    20 minutes well spent on better understanding others’ perspectives.

  6. Excellent article by Chris, and excellent writeup Islander. Also the first 30 comments provided an excellent insight in your deeply troubled relationship with Preston.

    The Woe debut A Spell for the Death of Man is available on their Bandcamp. I called it “Pure black metal. Not depressive, not atmospheric, and certainly not symphonic. Thick riffing, unrelenting drumming, and searing melodies. Direct and emotional”. So go now, spend your fucking 5 dollars:

  7. A friend and co-worker of mine once was a guitarist of a nu-metal band who put out two albums on an indie label and were later picked up by Universal. Shortly after Universal acquired the band, the group dissolved due to internal issues. Now the guy works in law enforcement. I’ve asked, in one form or another, over the years how he could go from THAT world, to THIS one. He basically affirms most of what is written above. The music industry is a soulless and unstable monster. You’re up one minute and down the next. He had a girl and a kid on the way and needed a stable income, ASAP. Unless you’re an established artist, there is ZERO financial stability. He gave up his dream to have normalcy and economic regularity. With that said, I don’t exactly feel sorrow for those who try to make a living off that industry and then cry when they’re poor. If it isn’t putting food on the table, stop crying and go get a 9-5, bro!

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