Sunday, June 28, 2009

Darkthrone, Burzum - bands who made it without touring.

Question: Dig, good day. Would you sign a band that does NOT tour or play at all? Just for their music. Has Peaceville done right to sign Darkthrone? And Burzum/Mysantrhope? Surely these bands are already down in the books as two of the most important bands in the history of metal. Maybe not best sellers, but surely they created important music that will last. From:

Answer: Short answer is no, we'd totally ignore a band these days, if they were vehemently against touring, for personal reasons or even for wanting to be mysterious reasons or for any reason, we've heard them all. We would deem them rank amateurs and basically not ambitious enough for a music career, so its one of the most important questions we put to bands in the negotiations for signings.The more you tour, the more records you sell, its a proven fact, with few exceptions. In this era of Youtube, MySpace etc, we hear from many bands who wish that the internet could be their touring circuit, so they can achieve that highly sought-after fame & fortune, but without the hassle of actually having to leave the house and perform "live".

There is an interesting book by Malcolm Gadwell called Outliers which examines the secrets of the highly successful, be it in business or in science or the arts.His theory is that folks who practice and hone their skills for at least 10,000 hours (which is 20 hrs a week for 10 years) become acknowledged experts in their field through this immense hot-housing of their original talent.He explains how The Beatles played a staggering 1200 shows performing in the tiny clubs of Hamburg between 1960-64, then on their return to England quickly became the biggest selling act of all time, which they remain to this day.

Its a real slog in the early days for brand new bands, playing to uninterested audiences at the bottom of the bill, in many cases the venue itself hardly cares that you have turned up.Headline bands and venues can often act like its an inconvenience that you are there. Touring rewards the ambitious serious bands who thrive upon the scant opportunities on offer, and also weeds out the non-serious bands who find the slog to be too tiring and opt to quit. The touring circuit is pretty much a metaphor for the music business as a whole - ambitious bands who can handle the rigours quickly rise to the top, the rest wonder why they are bothering with all hassle. The large costs of hiring vans, travelling hundreds of miles on the road to play to a handful of people- those bands soon get the message that they have no fans to speak of, they become downcast about their chances, and so quickly fall to the wayside, blaming everybody for their woes on the way. Its incredibly tough and it can be seriously soul destroying for the unwary.

In the past we did indeed sign bands who turned out to never do any shows, but this became apparent after releasing an album or two, so those bands were duly dropped.

You mention Burzum and Darkthrone- dude, they are hardly proper examples of 'bands who made it without touring'.Varg was in prison for 16 years and so touring was not possible anyway.His act of murder meant he has received national newspaper coverage for a decade or more, this sensationalism, plus fans' macabre interest to delve inside the mind of a murderer is what has driven Burzum record sales, not the music.

Darkthrone have also been caught up in the sensationalism of the Black Metal scene- even without committing any murders or arson.Darkthrone have acheived a level of fame and notoriety which is remarkable, and yes it's been achieved without any serious touring stints. Though I thought they at least did a handful of Uk shows early on?


Joaquim said...

Hey Dig this is Joaquim, the author of the old Napalm Death website, we met back in 2004 and it was great, fond memories and I would like to buy you another pint if we have the chance, I asked the original question.

Thanks for the very interesting reply, specially about the mentioning of the book and the ammount of hours necessary to achieve excellence in something. Seems spot on from what I have seen in little over 30 years of life until now.

You make some strong, very pertinent and enlightening points about the practical side of running a label and how making people AWARE of your music takes a toll, and that to get to distribute and cause people to take your music seriously and see you and notice your work you gotta tour.

Joaquim said...

I have some observations to make regarding that, though. Remember I come from Brazil, a third world country that only in the last 20 years or so entered the "touring circuit" for most bands. For instance, yesterday 999 and the Lurkers, two classic English punk bands played here, with some 30 years delay but there they were. The first Stones Concert here was in 1995, your very own Napalm Death played here relatively early in 1990 due to the fact that the underground extreme Brazilian scene was taking strong shape at the time and someone took the guts to bring Napalm after the band only had two albums released and was recording harmony.

My point is I grew up listening to bands that I would only get the records of. The interest in music in countries such as Brazil initially was due to the fact we saw pieces on the press about Punk, metal, hardcore etc and just dug like insane for information and listened to bands like Riistetyt and Celtic Frots without NEVER seeing these bands live. Riistetyt had albuns released here in the 80s and finally toured the country... in 2007! So I think you get my meaning...

A small scene was created by people obsessed with importing records. And researching and digging for information in a very determined way which cared with the art. The first time Slayer played here was in the mid 90s as well. That all created a different relation we had with music from the one you are mentioning.

I'm not saying you are wrong at all, I am saying that some musical output and production comes from listening to albums. Sepultura, the guys hadn't seen a single metal festival or foreign metal bands until they actually TOURED with Sodom when promoting Beneath the Remains, after signing with Roadrunner.

That's how music works to a degree, isn't it? Death Metal starts in California and Florida with Slayer, Death, Autopsy and Possessed and suddenly you have a Swedish Death Metal scene.

The only second observation I would make is specially about Burzum, I absolutely agree that the controversy and the shock/scandals have brought the attention of teenagers who want to be evil to the music, but on the other hand, I do think that varg is a talented musician and has created some quite unique Black Metal there... He brought some melancholy and introspection, even a sense of "progressiveness" that was lacking from what was a very brutal and raw scene, the other bands that didn't follow that were symphonical/grandiose, a bit corny even.... He combine a raw primitive metal force with some raw and primitive introspective downer moments, it is interesting in my opinion and quite singular.

You considered signing him once yourself as well, and you did it for a reason.

So, maybe non-touring artists have something to add creatively to music as art, but probably they do not work in a commercial-rock workframe. Would you say that is correct?

Just developing the Burzum question, you say that at the time you didn't sign him because he came up with straigh nazi talk, which immediately conflicted with your anarcho-liberal-humanist punk background.

Would you sign a band with NS members nowadays if they kept quiet about it and didn't burn record sales making sieg heils etc. In other words, would you artistically and commercially support people that personally preach hatred and supremacy if it didn't get in the way of business?

Digby said...

Hi Joachim- I remember you, how ya doing bro?

Yes I take your point- that if the touring circuit doesnt extend to your country then you- as a fan- have no choice but to decide about the bands and the music you prefer only from the sound and style of the physical records which make it into the import shops at high prices.Thats what happened to you in the 90's. Nowadays of course the internet is the distributor of most bands recordings, not record shops.

I agree, that as a fan, you can't tell from afar which bands have played 200+ gigs that year and which have played zero, same as you can't tell if the band is a one man project playing all the instruments or a fully formed 4 or 5 peice unit.You are making judgements purely on the creative talents of the artist and how they connect to the listener via their art.

I just reckon that the connection made is 10X more powerful if you can see the artist live.

The term you used- "Commercial- Rock framework" is completely true and accurate description of this label. This blog is not about avant-garde experimental musicians making solo works, its about a mid-sized metal label working in the real life commercial rock/extreme metal scene.

Touring is important because we can see its impact on bands careers on a daily basis, and the T-shirt sales also have an impact on their bank balances.

THESYRE said...

So Burzum got famous for the crime and not the music? Seriously, this is bullshit! Yes, Varg got under the media spotlight and record sales "exploded" due to the curiosity Burzum became but you cannot downplay the music. No wonder most bands of the related genre cite Burzum as a MAJOR influence. Same goes for Darkthrone; the only gigs thay played were small club gigs when they were still toying with Death Metal. Those are 2 great exemples of bands not touring and making it "big". What about Bathory?

I guess Earache would have done wonders to get those bands signed knowing how they turned out in the end.

I understand your position on the matter but you can't ask a band to break their lives for over a decade, touring in a van and playing for a handful of people, just to handle them a silly contract in the end and think they'll be happy. Mastodon is the best exemple of a band who did this recently and the only reason they get the recognition they get now is because a Major exposed them to the masses, not because they toured for a decade in shitholes. They did it but they only got underground recognition. No underground label (Relapse) could bring them to the level they're on now based on their touring merits only.

I, Monarch said...

It's kind of sad for me to read that Earache won't sign bands that don't play live. Some of my favorite bands have rarely played live--Pig Destroyer and Discordance Axis are/were hardly regular touring acts yet they're at the top of the grindcore heap in my eyes. I don't buy music based on how well they play live or if they play live, but mainly based on reading up on the internet about album reviews, influences other bands have had, articles, features, etc. It also happens quite often that quality bands don't get recognized while they're still together, but rather get praise and recognition after they've broken up. Not sure why...

Dean said...

I think some misunderstandings or misreadings of Dig's words have taken place in one or two comments.

What I took from Dig's post is, simply put, bands that play live sell records, and the more they play live the more records they sell. I can tell you that this is very true from personal experience. There are a number of bands in Australia that I would never have heard of, leave alone bought music from, if I had not heard them play their wares live. Although I bought Sadistik Exekution's music before I actually heard them live, my experiences of seeing them live when I was young are a big part of why I continue to listen to their recordings. Chalice, I heard live at one five-band show, and not only bought two of their albums in following years, but also bought copies of one album to give to multiple friends. Ya̧nomamö are a more recent example of a band that I am keen as mustard to buy music from after having seen them live.

(Dig, I doubt you would have ever seen Ya̧nomamö live, but it is quite worth it if you get the chance. Their vocalist will, at shows where he can, climb up on audience members and sing right into their faces. He has apparently been punched in the head doing this before. That is dedication few bands or performers ever show.)

I think other commenters either need to step back a bit and look at things a bit more carefully or wait a little while to get some perspective. Did Burzum sell more records as a result of the murder and arson? Sure, but in contrast to AC/DC or Black Sabbath, you can find thirty-five year old people who will flat out wonder who on Earth Burzum even are. This is because if you put together all of the hours AC/DC or Black Sabbath as individual bands have spent rehearsing and playing shows, it would add up to more hours than some of today's most heavily-promoted "musicians" have spent awake.

I think a better way to put it is that in order to sell records, artists have to promote themselves somehow. And when the artist's product qualifies them as an actual artist as opposed to a mouthpiece for what Jello Biafra politely called "sugar-coated mindless garbage", that almost always means touring.