Interviews

ASH AVILDSEN SPEAKS! HIS TAKE ON SPOTIFY, THE CURRENT STATE OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, AND HIS “BEEF” WITH VINCE NEILSTEIN!

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Well, we’ve arrived at my last post I’ll be making here during my 24 hour take over of Metalsucks.net and this one’s gonna be a doozy.

Before I get started I’d like to extend a sincere thanks to Vince and Axl for allowing me to come into their home and ruin it A.C. Slater style. I really appreciate the opportunity and I hope I didn’t do too shitty of a job.

The contest rules said I could post any-fucking-thing I want but I’m really wondering if this last post will be the “exception” to that rule?!  I will say this, if this is posted in full I will have the utmost respect for Ben Umanov (a.k.a. Vince Neilstein) because he’s gonna have to swallow some pride by allowing it to happen.

Just to be clear I mean no disrespect by anything that follows, it’s just something I personally feel needs to be addressed.

On July 25th, Ash Avildsen-the owner of Sumerian Records-posted a blog expressing his opinion on the whole Spotify/Metalsucks situation that’s been brewing on this site as of late while also taking some pretty strong shots at Metalsucks.net’s owner, Vince Neilstein.  Readers of this site have continually asked for a response from Vince, yet he’s remained silent; something that’s completely unlike him to do.  I strongly feel that Ash’s opinion should be made available to as many people as possible though.  Why?  Because we’re in a time where label after label is failing along with hundreds of thousands of bands and management companies.  Not Sumerian though.  They continue to grow at a pretty alarming rate and I think there is something to be said for that; they must be doing something right.

As an avid reader/loyal fan of Metalsucks I used to dig how Vince would post on a certain topic and give his well thought-out opinion in a calm and collected manor.  A great example of this was when Ash created a video sharing his opinion on music piracy.  Metalsucks featured it in a story along with a very fair analysis of it by Vince where he shared his opinion on what he agreed with along with what he didn’t-all while maintaining a certain level of respect.  That’s what get’s my respect and is a HUGE reason why I love Bob Lefsetz.  He’ll voice his opinion on a topic then when he does his follow up “Mailbag” newsletter he is pretty 50/50 in including ones from readers fully on his side all the way to ones totally tearing him apart; even ones where they say he’s an asshole that doesn’t have a clue what he’s talking about.

With that said I think the whole Spotify debate that’s been raging on this site as of late has gotten really out of hand.  Vince almost seems to become enraged if someone doesn’t agree with his opinion on Spotify.  As the whole has progressed it’s seemed to be getting worse and I’ve started to think that he’s only posting interviews/opinions of others that are inline with his.  Yes, he’s posted responses from parties that disagree with him on the matter but they always seem to be ones that are really weak and easy for him to pick apart which of course makes it easy for him to come out looking completely right in the matter. With that said I think Ash’s blog was VERY well written and really provided some great insights into why it is important for labels to get revenue off of their bands music sales.  It was strong, concise, to the point, and was presented in a very easy to understand manor and I have a feeling that’s why Vince didn’t respond-it really called him out. Keep in mind they had no problem posting Ash’s response when it was attacking The GauntletPersonally, I was anxiously awaiting what he’d have to say and was pretty bummed out when a response never came.

I do realize this is Vince’s site and he can do whatever the fuck he pleases but I also feel like there’s a certain responsibility that should be carried so you don’t come out looking like Fox News.  For many readers this is the ONLY site where they’re getting information on this whole Spotify thing and I strongly feel that they should be able to hear both sides perspectives so they can fairly form their own opinion on the matter.  After all, when a jury’s deciding which side to take in a trial wouldn’t it be a little unfair to the defense if the prosecution were the only ones allowed to make their case?

So first check out Ash’s entire blog which I’ve reposted below and after that you’ll find an interview I conducted with the man himself this week.  I had so many things I wanted to get his in-depth opinion on and he was kind enough to answer everything in full!

As for me, as I said in the beginning it’s my last post-I hope you enjoy it as well as everything else I posted today!  As for this post you may be asking yourself: is this the ultimate troll, a statement on unbiasedness, or a loving attempt at putting out the fire on those bridges?  I’ll let you decide…

Love your favorite guest writer in Metalsucks history,

Justin Gosnell

 

ASH’S BLOG IN FULL:

A lot of people have been asking me about my thoughts on the recent MetalSucks vs Century Media drama in regards to Spotify, the modern day way to run a record label and the livelihood of artists.

First off – I believe all music should be able to be heard for free. This is why every song on Sumerian can be streamed on our YouTube channel, for free. However  I don’t agree with the popular modern trend of  just conditioning humans to always go for the most convenient, quick and lazy way possible to do anything and everything. This happens regardless of the consequences on our culture, the consequences on the quality of the activity, the experience or the product, or the consequences on community and the negative impacts made on the equanimity of society.

I don’t mean just music specifically. You can text your best friend to congratulate him on something incredible happening in his life, or you can call him on the phone and express your feelings with pitch, tone, inflection and human emotion. You can microwave your pizza (i.e. prepare food by means of radiation)  or you can cook it in a conventional oven. I prefer my crust crisp and crunchy. I like a little golden brown goodness on my mozzarella. I have to wait a little longer for a better outcome? No problem. Other people will send the text while eating a nuked, soggy pizza. I recently had an intern send me a hand-written thank you letter in the mail to give his appreciation for his enjoyment of his summer internship. He purposely hand-wrote it and mailed it to make it special and magnify his gratitude. I was beyond stoked with his approach. It definitely worked.

So… about this Century Media vs MetalSucks beef…

I get really tired of people who hide behind aliases on the internet. I get even more fed up with these characters when they attempt to write articles about why their uneducated opinion and perspective on the music business is accurate, factual information. I want to thank  Ben Umanov, aka Vince Neilstein for being so exceptionally ignorant in his latest ramblings towards Oliver Withöft, the owner of Century Media. It has inspired me to throw in my two cents.

Three or four years ago, Ben and his other buddies who also hide behind internet aliases began posting pretentious, overly opinionated blogs on a website called MetalSucks.net and started to get a bunch of people to read them. After awhile, he got enough hits to where he started selling ad space on the site to a lot of metal record labels… record labels who are advertising albums to buy. He got so many labels to write him checks, he then quit his day-job and just ran his mouth as a blogger on metalsucks.net full-time, earning a nice living.

Recently he has been telling Century Media, along with everyone else who looks at his site, that record labels shouldn’t bother to sell recorded music, that the concept of paying to have albums recorded and people buying these albums is a dead thing of the past and that the only real way to survive is for record labels to become management companies for bands. He also said that almost none of these bands can actually live off their music anyway. Hmm, that’s an interesting business model. The bands can’t live off their music but maybe other people can? Like Ben “Vince Neilstein” Umanov?

The fact that he is arguing selling recorded music is no longer a way of life for anyone to live but yet he pays his bills by selling album ads to record labels is just the most painful case of irony since Alanis Morisette circa 1996.  All the labels who spend money on Ben’s site (the ad rates on MetalSucks are expensive)  need to stop and instead use all that money to shoot music videos for their bands and give them financial support to stay on the road. Touring bands who have a great live show and their own distinct identity are who will have careers and who will survive.  There are more artists on Sumerian Records that live off their music than those that do not.  This is because they work hard and have both fans and a label that are there to support them. Talented musicians shouldn’t have to be broke because guys like Vince Neilstein say so.

According to Ben, record labels need to wake up tomorrow and just shift to management companies. Maybe nurses should show up to hospitals tomorrow as surgeons. Until then, let’s talk about Ben’s management career. He has one band on his roster, who happens to be on one of my tours in September. They are a great band and are from Europe. They are coming to the US for the first time and cannot currently yet afford to live off of being in their band. I wonder what he will do to pay for their immigration costs/visas, international flight tickets, van and gear rental. His first phone call will be to their record label. Hopefully they are willing to invest the money in bringing the band over. Hopefully they didn’t blow all the money on metalsucks.net banner ads. In a perfect world, Ben would front the money out of his own pocket to his band as a real deal manager and make sure the show gets on the road. Let’s see what happens. Speaking of seeing things, I see Century Media ads all the time on MetalSucks.. I bet that’ll end quick. I work with bands on CM and they are a label that still spends money on music videos and tour support. Let’s keep it that way.

This guy Ben tried to start his own label a while back. It was called Wrong Records. No, I’m serious. It really was and he couldn’t have picked a more suiting name. I found a quote from him upon the launch of his label.. Ben Umanov, of Wrong Records, said, “Wrong Records is founded on the principal that we put out quality music that we like, and we have the experience and resources to make it happen.” This guy is like a living, breathing, oxymoron. Well maybe they had the experience and resources to make it happen, but they lost them all.. Or maybe the experience and resources he was talking about never really existed? Kinda like the Tooth Fairy.. Or maybe they just streamed them and couldn’t find them afterwards?  Regardless, I couldn’t seem to find any albums he has ever released.  Ben is just a guy who runs a blog site that sells advertisements to record labels who haven’t yet realized they are wasting their money. But it’s OK.. I have been guilty of it too. I’ve bought his overpriced ads for new albums before and I’ve even allowed them to sponsor some of my tours like Summer Slaughter in exchange for some free ads to promote the tour. You won’t see that happening anymore. Every company/label with a logo on the SS Tour Poster paid to be there to support and promote the tour and for the marketing of their bands and brand. MetalSucks got there for free, because that’s what they do: figure out ways to make a living off other people’s ignorance.

As my boys in Karnivool say.. “It’s a Newwwwwwww Daayyyyyy!” See ya Ben. You better start soliciting some ad proposals to Spotify and Grooveshark. After all, that’s the future according to you, our favorite industry fortune teller.  Oh and by the way, I heard that Axl Rose (not to be confused with Vince Neilstein’s co-founder Axl Rosenberg) is going to be sending you a cease and desist for your Appetite For Destruction MetalSucks shirt you’re selling. You might want to take it off your site right away.

So to end this first episode… When I listen to music on my computer, I do it with headphones or external speakers. I like to listen to my favorite songs on CD or with ripped WAV files.  Why?  WAV Files and CDs sound better than MP3s and sound significantly better than streaming music on the internet. I refuse to sacrifice the quality of my music experience for the sake of convenience and laziness. I stream music all the time if I’m checking out a new band or a song I haven’t heard before, or casually listening to different artists. I love streaming when I want to listen to the radio, whether it’s Pandora, KROQ,  or my own personal Spotify playlist.  If I don’t really like something I won’t buy it. Obviously if I can’t afford to purchase it then I won’t buy it either… but if it’s something I really enjoy? I want to own it. I want to own the best version of it and I want to know my support mattered.

The last guy I want to be is the kid who just got his new cell phone plan setup with AT&T or Verizon without realizing they both stopped offering unlimited data plans but decided to just stream all of his music via the internet on Spotify every day from his iPhone for a month straight…. and then checked his bill.

Today, there’s too many 21st century digital boys who don’t know how to live but  got a lot of toys.

P.S. I think buying physical books to read is way cooler than staring at an LCD kindle and increasing the already abundant amount of electromagnetic frequencies around your body. I like to turn pages and highlight sentences that make an impact to me, not scroll down a glowing screen. I get enough of that from my computer. Now go cook your pizza in the oven and call someone you love on the phone.

-Ash

Added: MetalSucks has plenty of cool content, reviews, interviews and fun articles. They just need to stop preaching and pretending like they know how to run record labels. Ben “Vince Neilstein” Umanov actually stayed at my house once. I respect the guy, just not his argument on this particular topic.

INTERVIEW:

You started Sumerian in September 2006; in that short amount of time you’ve gone from running it solo completely on your own out of a 1 bedroom Venice Beach apartment to becoming one of the biggest up and coming labels in the industry.  Please share a little bit about how you’ve managed to claw your way to the top. 

Ash:  My mother helped me with doing mail order out of that tiny Venice apartment and feeding the bands when they stayed over on the floor. :) From day one it was always about quality over quantity, with each band being their own special and unique entity.  The Faceless being the first release was a very big deal. The next two signings were Stick To Your Guns and Born Of Osiris who  totally have their own identity and vibe from The Faceless. This immediately diversified the label while also helped the perception since each band was touring full time and making their own impacts. We were putting out 3 records a year when everyone else was putting out 3-6 records a month, if not more. Being able to get Sumerian bands on the road because I was a booking agent along with the help of Amanda Fiore (who books BOO, ATB, VOM among others)  was another huge part of the success. Once I was able to afford to hire  staff, that was a big part too. Shawn “Sumerian” Keith quit his band and moved out to California before there was even any money to be made and live/worked out of my house until it was possible to get a pay check. Being my most loyal client as an agent and one of my best friends,it was natural to have him be the first recruit and label manager. He was also a workhorse, had toured the world and did all the business & grinding for his own band. Perfect guy for the job! Eddie “Kilebong” Kepner and Daniel McBride, the two graphic artists for Sumerian have always played a key role. Last but not least, my attorney and business partner Jeff Cohen used his credit line to get Sumerian credit cards so we could afford to buy our bands vans, give them tour support and do other things “real” labels do for their bands long before we were able to even afford it. We went in to debt together for the first 3 years of the label because we were thinking big picture and continue to do so to this day.

Shout outs to these other members of Sumerian staff not listed above who joined up in the last 2 years:

Randy Ray – Product Manager/Sales – (used to work at Victory Records. He moved to LA down the street from Sumerian to try and get hired. Now THAT is dedication.)
George Vallee – Head of Publicity (he was at Century Media for nine years before he joined Sumerian. He is the best publicist in heavy music, period.)
Nick Walters – A&R  (awesome guy who’s also a former band dude with lots of tour experience & loyal booking client.)
Dan Tsurif – Head of Social Media
Scott Andrews & Devan Dineen – Accounting (we pride ourselves on how extensive and real our royalty statements are for our bands. yes they make money from their music! ask the bands yourselves)
Jackie Pedraza – Newly recruited Office Manager. An organized, intelligent female to help keep all of us dudes in check! :) She came from Yeah! Management, who handled bands like Shadows Fall and Poison The Well during their prime.

If you were to manage a band right from the very beginning of their inception onwards what would be a few of the things you’d have them do right off the bat to get their career started off on the right foot?

Ash:  Make sure they had songs, as in REAL songs, not just guitar riffs with vocals and drums. Make sure they were good performers and sounded tight live. Make sure they were willing to sacrifice their stability, personal  and home life to tour with no guarantee that it would eventually lead to a career. Most bands think when you get signed then everything is all good and just works out. Not true. Once you’re on a label and have an album out, that’s when the real struggle begins. You then have to go out and live it, in hopes that it works out. What I mean by works out is that you actually are able to build a career and be a responsible, adult member of society who earns his own living. Many times you lose a girlfriend or boyfriend or even just a close/best friend because of always being on the road. When you come home broke, it makes it even harder. I lost the love of my life from being a stupid band dude on tour 7 years ago and it still haunts me to this day.

I’m sure you face many recurring frustrations when dealing with bands but I want to know-what is your one biggest pet peeve?

Ash:  Bands being too stubborn and short-sided about playing before other bands and complaining about their logo size in comparison to another band’s. There is absolutely a time and place to take the stance of refusing to open for another act or demanding your logo be side by side, but many times it’s all based on ego and not on actual facts in regards to ticket, album and merch sales. Staying relevant is a very important part of being a successful band with longevity and sometimes that means you have to play earlier in the night than someone else.

What do you think is the greatest piece of advice anyone’s given you in regards to the music industry?

Ash:  Keep doing what you’re doing. It’s working. Stay focused and passionate. Don’t let the older guys talk you out of it.

I can’t even count the number of info sections I’ve seen on band pages where they’ve written “seeking representation” or “currently taking offers” in the box where you’re supposed to fill in who your record label is.  The vast majority of those bands have shitty recordings, no fans, and just ZERO buzz in general yet they seem to be just sitting back waiting for that phone call from a label offering them the world.  Seeing as how you are the guy they are trying to get the attention of what do you think their chances are of “making it”? –

Ash:  Well if you’re a band with “shitty recordings, no fans and just ZERO buzz in general” then I don’t think that phone call is coming. If you’re a talented group of musicians but happen to be very lazy, then I would say this: Too many bands think they can just play a style of music that’s popular without actually adding anything of their own to the genre, then just hit up different “industry people” and watch it all happen. Real bands don’t wait around for agents, managers and labels to discover them. They take the bull by the horns and go blaze their own trail to the top. Why let the guy on the other side of the table have the upper hand because you’re a desperate, unsigned band? When I signed bands like The Faceless, Stick To Your Guns and Periphery they were already their own machines. They had their own “brand” already built to some extent and were showing no signs of slowing down. This allowed these guys to get the best deals out there and made it that much easier to keep their bands’ momentum increasing with Sumerian getting behind them. Both myself and my label manager Shawn Keith spent years doing DIY self-booked tours as unsigned bands until we got signed. This was in an era before Myspace, Facebook, YouTube or even GPS. You had to use a map and build your following predominantly from only playing live shows out of town. There was no place on the internet to just get big without eating shit on the road first. The scene was a lot more real then.. Now bands can become popular before they ever even own a van and play shows. But like my boy Jimmy Cliff said “The Harder They Come.. The Harder They Fall.. One and All”  So just because you come out swinging from online hype doesn’t mean it’ll last longer than a summer or two.

If you don’t mind I’d like to ask about how you do find potential candidates to be added to the Sumerian roster.  I’m sure word of mouth from a trusted source is a major one but do you also actively browse social networking sites and forums?  Do you/would you ever go to a random live show just to see what you happen to stumble upon?  Lastly, do you accept unsolicited submissions from bands and if you do how many of those do you think you really give a fair listen to? 

Ash:  I love going to random shows, so yes definitely. That’s a great part about living in LA or NYC, more shows every night than anywhere in the world.  Anyone who actually sends a CD, good band photo and one page bio that explains what the band is about via snail mail to our office we will end up checking out eventually.

Coming from a different perspective here for a minute there’s many who say that a band won’t be taken seriously unless they are on a label or a part of a management company.  You also started and own The Pantheon Agency, (a  booking company with Amanda Fiore, Matt Andersen and Dan Rozenblum)  If an independent band contacted you and could show you detailed analytics/data that clearly showed their popularity as well as the amount of demand their fans have made for them to tour and you checked some YouTube videos out and they sounded great live would you take them seriously and consider booking them?  

Ash:  As an agent, I never discriminate against a band if they are unsigned and/or without management. It always starts and ends with the music for me. If they happen to have a lot of Facebook Likes or YouTube Views, that can make it more appealing. More importantly if they have a live video where they look and sound good, that REALLY helps. But no matter what, if I absolutely love their music then I will want to help them.

I personally don’t think we’ll ever see ANY artist in ANY genre that will surpass the album sales records set by “classic” artists like Michael Jackson (Thriller – 110 million+) or Pink Floyd (D.S.O.T.M. – 45 million+).  With the sheer amount of bands there are out there today to choose from and mainstream channels such as radio and MTV basically dead I also believe that a brand new rock/metal band doesn’t even have the slightest chance at all of being able to reach the “live status” the old school bands did either.  The ones headlining stadiums now had the advantage of coming up at a time when there were way less choices in both bands to choose from as well as the different avenues one had to be introduced to them.  Sure, one could say the song writing isn’t as great nowadays and I’d absolutely agree with that 99% of the time but I think it’s asinine to say that a band could never possibly write anything that good again.  Before I ask the question it’s worth noting too that there are more people on earth you have the possibility of exposing your music to than ever before (The Beatles were the first band to play a US stadium-it was in 1955 when the world population was estimated to be 2.5 billion people vs 2012 where it’s expected to reach 7 billion).  Taking ALL of that into consideration my question is-do you think that bands such as AC/DC, U2, Rollings Stones, etc. are the last of an era who’s success couldn’t possibly be matched by any band ever again?

Ash:  I don’t think any artist will surpass their album sales simply because of the way society is now, but I always believe an artist’s potential can be limitless and can reach the same level of cultural significance and  impact on society.  It’s just a lot harder now. I have incredible respect and admiration for Adele. In my opinion, she is one of the greatest mainstream artists we’ve seen in years.

Moving onto the whole Spotify/Metalsucks situation for a second I’d just like to ask-were you disappointed when your blog that I’ve posted above wasn’t even addressed in the slightest on this site?  Were you looking forward to hearing a response from Vince-especially to points you made that you felt where really strong ones? 

Ash:  Honestly, not at all. I completely understand and respect why Vince didn’t want to post a public response. I think he is an excellent businessman and a very smart, talented guy. I’ve genuinely enjoyed hanging out with him every time we have been together in person.  I simply was fed up with his public stance and over-the-top pursuit of the idea that labels will fail because of streaming and piracy. He can’t relate to being on the other side of his posts because he hasn’t built a record label from nothing and and he doesn’t have to make sure a dozen of his friends who are on salary working for the label are taken care of. I am extremely passionate about music and Sumerian. The reason I wrote it the way I did was because I am a firm believer in “if you can’t take it, then don’t dish it out.” MetalSucks is very offensive with the way they critique certain bands and people. That’s part of the site’s gimmick which I get, but if you can’t handle it coming back at you when your real name is revealed then that’s weak.  Hiding behind aliases online was only cool when it was the days of Modems, BBS and IRC. It is no longer 31337.

From what I gather I get the feeling you guys had a good working relationship going before this shit came to a head.  I don’t really know Vince personally but he seems like an intelligent guy who does always provide some good points and valid facts even if his emotions do get in the way of him presenting them in the appropriate manor.  Like all of us, he is a human and we all make mistakes.  I’m sure you can respect him just like I do for at least having heart and believing in something that fiercely.  Taking that into consideration here’s my last question I want to ask-If he reached out to you and just said “look, shit did get a bit out of hand but it won’t happen like that again so let’s just agree to disagree on the topic and move forward working together” would you consider it and perhaps be willing to work with him/his company again in the future? 

Ash:  Again, I really like Vince. Sometimes you just have to stand up for what you believe in and that can mean being brutal. I can’t promise me being an opinionated guy who posts blogs online about what I really think sometimes won’t happen again. But of course I would work with him. I already am by agreeing to do this interview that I know is being used for MetalSucks and will drive traffic to his website. :)

Well Ash, thank you SO much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview-I greatly appreciate it.  Before we go is there anything else you’d like to say about anything at all?  Any new bands you’ve signed or upcoming tours you’d like to mention? 

Ash:  The new albums coming from The Faceless, Veil of Maya and Periphery in early 2012 are all going to take them to the next level. I can’t wait to be a part of helping make it happen as they are 3 of my favorite Sumerian artists.  I feel very confident in the immediate success out the gates with Betraying The Martyrs (France) and Structures (Canada). Lastly,  I signed a band from the Ukraine called “Make Me Famous.” Most MetalSucks readers will absolutely hate them, just like they do Asking Alexandria..  I think MetalSucks has already posted about MMF before making fun of them, calling them “A shitstain on the ass of the universe” in response to their acoustic video. I’d like to see Axl Rosenberg and another MetalSucks writer try to sing the harmony together in that acoustic song. But anyway,  I guarantee this band will be absolutely massive all over the world. Mark my words.  I genuinely love Asking Alexandria and I love these guys too.  This is actually the first public release on signing them so there you have it. Troll away!

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