Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Why were Machine Head off Roadrunner and unsigned in 2002-3?

Question from bill (bill_8791@hotmail.com) :

Theres always questions about how to get new bands signed but I have two seperate questions I've often wondered about - How does a band like Machine Head (in the past) have a problem finding a record company willing to sign them? They've always been a band that will sell allot of records by metal standards, have a relativly large fan base in Europe and sell out gigs but at one point, after selling a very successful, if not critically acclaimed record, couldn't get a record deal. Its on record that they were rejected by nearly everyone they approached.

My second question relates to this; why would their label get rid of them in the first place? They were dropped after their last album with that label sold 250k copies, which in metal standards is quite allot! Why would a label drop or not renew a contract of a band which obviously can make a label substantial amounts?

from bill_8791@hotmail.com

Answer: First of all I gotta say I'm a massive Machine Head fan, they are certainly one of the best pure unadulterated metal bands of all time, and here's a little tidbit for ya- Earache actually made offers to sign the band for the USA territory during that crazy 2002-3 period when they were label-less.

It seems insane that a band of their stature could be unsigned, but it happened and I'll try to explain why. In a strange way Machine Head were partly victims of their own early success, their 1994 debut album Burn My Eyes had such monster sales right out the box, it's kinda almost overshadowed all their albums since.

A major factor has been the band's own longevity- it meant they lived through a ton of changes in the scene during the late 90s and early 00s. Their label Roadrunner evolved from a respected Indie to a full-blown mini-major because of Nickelback. Machine Head's 'Supercharger' might have sold 250,000 across the globe, which is decent numbers, but label mates Nickelback were doing 5 Million, Slipknot 1.5 million around that time. I mention these bands to put things into perspective. To the hierarchy in RR's New York office they just were not a big deal anymore, their time was deemed to have passed, especially as a high percentage of the sales were overseas anyway.

The fact is Machine head, along with all other decent selling 1980s and mid-90s heavy bands, were dealt a cruel blow by the major-label-led Nu-Metal explosion of the late 1990's and into the new millenium. Bands like Korn and Limp Bizkit brought in a new cross-genre rap-rock style with massive appeal. Limp Bizkit actually sold a staggering 1 Million copies in a week - yes week - in summer 1999.

Every major label formed a stampede to sign radio-friendly alternative metal or Rap/metal acts with a platinum sales ambition. Through no fault of their own, Machine Head's pure unadulterated metal sound became deeply uncool, especially so in America, where compared to the stratospheric sales of the Nu-metal acts all around them, they'd become comparatively poor sellers too.

Some commenters below have pointed out that the band did flirt heavily with Alterna-metal and Nu-metal for a couple of albums around the turn of the millenium when those scenes were in full swing.
Heres examples:

My guess is the band were susceptible to label pressure to conform to the current big selling nu-metal/alterna-metal sound, because it was all over the radio at that time, and if it caught on, it would undoubtedly propel them into the big league. Like a lot of acts, Machine Head has always been a decent selling band, but never a major league top seller. Therein lies the problem - never being huge enough to just do whatever they damn well liked on their own terms, they had to listen to label advice, however misguided. Effectively the band gambled away their core US metal fanbase for a shot at the lucrative American rock radio gravy train, and failed. Watch the documentary below to hear Robbs take on those dark times.

Luckily for Machine Head, the UK and European metal fans did not desert the band, neither did the European arm of Roadrunner, who cleverly retained their services, so even in their darkest hour, the band were thrown a lifeline from the European metal scene. Eventually the USA Roadrunner arm decided to see sense and carry on with the band.

Now in 2011 Machine Head are metal legends and survivors, having seen off the trends which have come and gone in their 17 year career, and outlived those self same Nu Metal acts which nearly derailed to their career a decade ago.

Catch Machine Head on their UK arena tour in December 2011.

Robb Flynn explains with typical honestly this whole dark period of the band in their amazing documentary, its well worth watching:

Machine head documentary part 1

Machine Head documentary part 2