Two weeks ago, Roadrunner Records (arguably the biggest metal label in the world)  saw all of their international offices shut down by parent company Warner Music Group.  It was the proverbial “other shoe [that] dropped” from late 2010, when the Dutch-based Roadrunner was fully bought out by Warner. Officially, it was a cost-cutting move typical of major label restructuring.

It was a pretty traumatic day for the metal biz, and many artists offered their condolences to Roadrunner’s European and Canadian staff.  Indeed, a lot of Roadrunner employees had worked tirelessly over the years to blow up bands like Lamb of GodMachine Head, Slipknot, and even Nickelback (love ‘em or hate ‘em!), and played a crucial role in many artists’ continuing success.

So, how might this affect Roadrunner bands?
Earache Records owner Digby Pearson chimed in quite resoundingly:

Some corporate twonk at Warners thinks promoting Machine Head & Opeth can be done just like Linkin Park & Green Day? #SoWrong #StayIndie

Metal Blade Records owner Brian Slagel espoused a similar #StayIndie sentiment:

What happened today to Roadrunner is one of the biggest reasons I never sold to a major #StayIndie #Freedom

All in all, the talking point from indie metal execs toward the Roadrunner/Warner fiasco is that major labels only care about money, and will slash promotion and personnel for the sake of the bottom line.  Of course, there’s a dirty little secret they’re hiding — indie labels do the exact same thing!

Metal Blade have been exploiting bands for almost two decades.  Back in the 90′s, the Goo Goo Dolls were Metal Blade’s biggest act to date, selling over 2 million copies of their A Boy Named Goo album on the label  (“Name” was my jam!).  Their payout from Metal Blade?  About $6,000 in royalties for each of the band’s three members.  Fed up with their “grossly unfair, one-sided and unenforceable contract,” the Goo Goo Dolls sued Metal Blade to get dropped from their record deal.

That was during the mid-90′s, which was quite the Golden Age for CD sales.
Imagine how stingy Metal Blade must be with bands nowadays!

In fact, Metal Blade bands now are panhandling virtually to raise money to go on tour because their label doesn’t offer them any significant tour support (gas money, van rental, etc.).  Factor in a tradition of lopsided royalty-sharing and an overloaded laundry list of bands, and it’s safe to say that Metal Blade aren’t too different from a greedy major label — they don’t give artists the proper attention to succeed, and still take an overwhelming chunk of their money.

But it’s not just Metal Blade.

Last month, “respected” indie label Nuclear Blast Records pawned the rights for Bay Area metallers All Shall Perish‘s latest album to a Panamanian licensing company, who now are suing downloaders of the album (i.e. the band’s fans) for $150,000 each without even needing the band’s approval.  Yes, Nuclear Blast literally sold out their own artist’s music to God-knows-who  just to make a pretty penny. Sounds like something only a big, money-hungry major label would do, right?

In all honesty, it is in the best interest of these labels to “stay indie” — because they can exploit bands all by themselves, without any help from a major.  Conversely, Roadrunner began selling off to a major in 2007 to pursue greater “commercial successes,” even if it meant cutting dozens of knowledgeable staff to widen the profit margins.

One side “indie,” the other side “major.”
Are they really that much different from each other?