30 Years of Brian Slagel and Metal Blade Part I
By: Mike Sloan
Slagel with King Diamond at this year's Hellfest in France...
Blistering.com: People always say how the music business is dying and has been dying for years. Iíve been hearing this since I was a kid, though I still see artists selling millions and millions of records. What are thoughts on that topic?
Slagel: Well, I donít think itís dying; I think itís changing. Like I sort of mentioned before where itís gone from this massively huge industry that was probably too big. Itís like when CDs came in, everybody had to go back out and re-buy their entire record collection to get them onto CD and that created these huge, gigantic corporations who were running the music business. It just got too big for itself and now itís much smaller. If you just look at the metal scene right now, all of the bands are doing well for the most part. Big bands, small bands are doing well. There are some huge bands that do this for a living. Maybe 25-30 years ago you wouldnít think this but I think itís good. Everything is changing and itís becoming more and more about the music again.
You canít afford to put out a bad record because [with the current technologies] there is less intent to go out and buy it. You canít put out a bad record because most of the people will always hear it before they can buy it whereas before people couldnít [listen] and they had to basically risk buying something bad. The music industry got away with putting out a lot of garbage music and people didnít know it was bad, they bought it, and then felt ripped off. Prices are coming down to more reasonable levels and I think [the industry] is just changing. Companies that embrace the changes will do fine and those that donít wonít.
Blistering.com: How has your vision and mindset changed over the years when trying to sign a young, relatively unknown band?
Slagel: I donít know that itís changed a whole lot because thatís what youíre doing; youíre trying to find something new that nobodyís ever heard of and then attempting to develop them. I think the ways you should do that are somewhat different now. Social media has become such a huge thing and it has really been helping a lot of these younger bands go out and not necessarily prove themselves, but interact with the fans. Some bands really do that well. We have a new band called Battlecross and theyíve used social media phenomenally and theyíve been able to do really well. Theyíve been able to get a real buzz because of that. Thatís very important and that really helps but ultimately we still try and do the same thing and that is to find a band we really like, sign them, develop them, and hope they do really well.
Blistering.com: What do you look for when signing an unproven commodity? Is it raw talent, an image, originality, a shtick? Is there some sort of formula that Metal Blade uses?
Slagel: [Ponders the questions a bit]. Not really. Itís hard to say because there isnít just one sort of thing that we look for in a band. When you listen to the music, there obviously has to be something in the music you like. For me, I like to find things in the music that donít sound like everybody else; something that is different or unique or less what is popular at the moment or something that is cool. And when you talk to the bands, you want to make sure youíre going to deal with people who are actually good people and people who are willing to put in the work and go out on the road and do what they have to do. Those sort of things really help. Thereís no real formula for us to sign bands because every band is totally different; it just helps when you hear something and you like it because then youíll want to work with it.
Blistering.com: What about when a proven, successful band comes calling? Is there a set protocol Metal Blade adheres to when a big band that is in between record labels comes around? Or do you tend to treat each of the various proven bands differently?
Slagel: Yeah, there is a bit of a different [approach] with bands like that. There are some of the same criteria with proven bands like we have to enjoy their music and want to work with them. However, itís also harder working with bands that have been around for a long time because what you end up doing is helping others. What I mean by that is if you sign a band who has five or six records out on another label, you want to sell the new one [with you] but you wind up selling the ďbrandĒ of the band. That is great, but what you wind up doing is selling their other stuff; the newer records typically donít sell as well as the older ones. So what you do is build up the band but youíre also helping their older label make a lot of money and you donít always [make that much money], so that is a challenge. When you sign a band that has been around a long while, you realize that thatís going to happen but you have to do it the right way.
Blistering.com: And if you do sign an established band, youíd want to obtain the rights to their entire back catalog, but that can become time-consuming and pricey.
Slagel: Oh yeah. That makes it almost impossible.
Part II will post on Tuesday, July 10.
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