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Op-Ed: The Metal Industry Has Reached an Equilibrium

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Axl and I started MetalSucks in late 2006. Our first several years as a publication were turbulent times for the industry, as record labels struggled to figure out how to deal with declining record sales and shifting music consumption behavior. There was the meteoric ascent of MySpace (lol) as a platform that could break bands, the resurgence of vinyl as a medium and collector’s item, the increased importance of touring, the streaming revolution, the decreasing viability of music as a career… it’s funny to think, but when we started this site YouTube barely existed and the term “pre-order” was novel.

Over the course of the past eleven years, we’ve seen something happen: the metal industry, and music industry as a whole, has stabilized.

The industry isn’t what it once was, and it might not even be considered healthy, depending on who you ask — it’s simply more steady at the moment, with less upheaval and change on a daily basis. We know exactly what to expect when a band is preparing to unveil a new album: there will be a marketing campaign starting two or three months before its release consisting of three singles to stream, at least one music video, some press in all the usual places and a tour to coincide. Merch sales will be a primary source of income. The music will be available on CD, vinyl and digital formats (download and streaming) and there will not be any argument about it; when was the last time you heard anyone other than an old dinosaur complain about streaming payout rates? The band will continue to tour on and off for the next year and a half, then they’ll take some time off, write a new album and repeat the process.

All the big metal labels are still around, albeit some are certainly in different forms or sizes than they once were. Metal Blade, Nuclear Blast, Century Media, Roadrunner, Relapse, Prosthetic, Earache, Sumerian. A healthy crop of smaller independents keeps the underground churning: Profound Lore, Southern Lord, Indie Recordings, Unique Leader, etc. (there are too many to name). Major labels continue their metal experiments: Lamb of God, Mastodon and Avenged Sevenfold all still have contracts, while In This Moment and Bring Me the Horizon made the jump recently. The world keeps spinning.

The media, like the labels, has done a better job surviving than people predicted it would. Decibel is still around, Revolver and Metal Hammer are back from the dead, Guitar World still covers a ton of metal, and there’s no shortage of Blabbermouths and MetalSuckses. Even the mainstream media seems to be giving metal some attention (NY Times, NPR, The New Yorker, various late night shows, etc.)… so yeah, Metal Edge and Headbanger’s Ball went away, but it hasn’t really mattered in the long run.

Not much is happening on the creative front, either. The last major trend in metal to sweep the world was djent, but the genesis of that genre is closing in on its ten year anniversary and it never approached the peaks that early-mid ’00s metalcore achieved anyway. Ghost rode the wave of retro-inspired occult metal, but lesser bands didn’t catch on the way people expected. Neither did re-thrash or doom, although all of these genres certainly have their cult followings. These genres, together with sludge, grind, metalcore, black metal, death metal and whatever the fuck else, just kind of exist peacefully in their own little worlds. Perhaps the most significant creative development in metal in recent years has been the rise of synthwave and its integration into metal culture, but that, too, is a micro-niche, and it may have already crested.

Were all those people who kept yelling that the sky was falling freaked out for no reason? The industry has certainly contracted, that’s for sure, but it’s also still here against most everyone’s doomsday predictions. What’s more, the quality of the music is as good as it ever was (if you don’t think so you’re just old). If anything, the metal industry’s staying power is a testament to just how strong our community is: we’ll always adapt, and we’re never fucking going away.

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