Chimaira frontdude Mark Hunter is no stranger to calling out bullshit. Whether it’s on his Twitter or in subsequent interviews, Mark consistently shows why he is one of the very few forward-thinking metal musicians out there today.
While his much talked about tweets from last September were quite the no-holds-barred reality check for anyone getting into the music biz, Mark reeled it in to give us an honest breakdown of record labels today vs. going the DIY route.
You’ve mentioned the earning gap before where labels pocket 6-7x more from album sales than bands do.
Seeing how many of metal’s top artists rail against “piracy” from music downloading (i.e. the same position as the labels and RIAA), are they turning blind eye by not publicly calling out the labels’ exploitation of artists?
Most like to talk only behind closed doors. Humans fear repercussion. Nobody wants to lose their job for having a big mouth, so the culture accepts the hierarchy.
Before we signed, our mentors bombarded us with tales of horror. I suppose we can blame cognitive dissonance for the desire to swim with the sharks.
But the paradigm is shifting daily, and some bands are at the point where getting “fired” and yapping their trap might be a better option.
Speaking of shifting paradigms, there are lots of hip-hop and electronic artists nowadays embracing “piracy” and launching their careers by giving away all their music for free. They don’t earn a cent from sold music, but the influx of new fans ends up paying off handsomely via sold-out tours and other opportunities.
Why don’t you think metal bands have caught onto this technique?
This could be due to the fact that metal is the oldest of the genres you mentioned. There is an extreme degree of tradition you’re fucking with. It’s a rough birth into the new era – and metal has followed an archetype for ages.
Personally speaking, spending energy yelling at fans of music for their method of intake would be trite, not to mention hypocritical. Chimaira got popular thanks to Napster, Limewire, and various other file-sharing platforms. We embraced YouTube in the beginning, and were one of the first metal bands to make webisodes.
While we follow the metal path musically, we’ve been heavily influenced business-wise by innovations in technology, and learned from all types of artists — from Portishead to Pungent Stench.
Like you mentioned at the end of your first answer, bands who sign to labels sometimes end up in “label hell,” where the label no longer finances their tours or marketing, but still lays claim to X more albums in their XX-album deal.
In this case, would you recommend a band intentionally try to get dropped?
It’s important to look at all angles of the situation. It’s bigger than “label hell.” You have to be clairvoyant in a sense. It’s a big move to switch teams, but at the end of the day, what’s important is your happiness and the experience.
Example: For us, leaving Roadrunner in 2006 was necessary for the band to continue. We didn’t feel part of a team, so I simply asked our A&R Monte Conner to let us go. The pro was we got our freedom; the con was our career in the UK suffered drastically. While we paired up with good company after, Nuclear Blast had less of a presence in the country and our sales (both, album sales and live tickets) dwindled in the UK while they went up in the rest of the world.
I can’t recommend what’s right or wrong, I can only guarantee there will be unforeseen consequences to any path you take. Some labels might have a market cornered — like heavy metal in the UK — so you actually might be better suited to stay in that “hell.”
Labels used to offer vital functions for artists like pressing albums, booking shows, selling merch, and paying for every expense in between.
Since the Internet now is democratizing those functions and making them more DIY, (money-raising via Kickstarter, album distribution via TuneCore, merch shops via IndieMerch.com, etc.) what do labels need to do differently to remain important and vital to artists’ careers?
Hire developers, hackers, and a tech-savvy staff of genuine fans. Offer only the best bands deals which they can survive and flourish with. Invest wisely in their careers and offer fair 50/50 deals.
Since finances are tight for artists, what effective money-saving tips you can suggest for bands to maximize their profit margins? (e.g. self-managing, not bothering with roadies, tour buses, etc.)
Hire a business manager. They will help guide your expenses and make sure you don’t overspend, unless you want to. They will help you with taxes as well.
Obviously, a DIY approach all-around saves the most money, but it will also eat away at your sanity. Outsource from time to time to give yourself a break if you’re on the grind.
And watch your money. This is the essential tool for survival. If your business is not in check, you simply won’t have one.
What do you think is gonna be the next thing — like “illegal downloading” and direct-to-fan connectivity (i.e. social media) in the last 10-15 years – to turn the industry on its head and scare the hell outta record companies?
Software that creates the perfect music for each listener. We will have the ability to create our exact tastes at the click of a button.
Thanks for your time, Mark!