Black Collar Workers



moneyIn a move that’s seen relatively little press, Earache announced on Monday that they’ll be giving away the entirety of Gama Bomb’s new album Tales From The Grave In Space for free via Rapidshare.

Woah, what? For free?!?!? “But there’s money to be made on music sales!!” cry the industry curmudgeons. That sound I just heard was a certain old-school metal publicist screaming in disgust when she wasn’t even asked to.

This is the most forward-thinking business decision I’ve seen any metal label make to date. It’s absolutely groundbreaking, and Earache should be applauded. Now I’m going to tell you why in exactly 1,123 words.

As much as record label owners and employees might not like to admit it, sales of recorded music are dying a slow, painful death. I’m not just talking CDs… everyone knows those are on the way out. I’m talking digital sales too. And for the love of God PLEASE do not tell me that vinyl’s recent surge in popularity is going to save the record industry… it’s a relative blip on the radar compared to the bigger picture, and it is and will remain a niche. The fact of the matter is, music is just worth less than it used to be.

Pause. I want to talk about the meaning of the words “worth” and “value” for a moment, two closely intertwined words that are at the heart of this debate. “Value” means nothing more than the amount of money someone is willing to pay for something… what it’s “worth” to them. Value and worth are determined by the consumer, not the merchant. Maynard James Keenan could take a shit, put it in a bag and post it up on eBay, and if the Tool frontman’s turds sold for $1,000 then by golly, that’s what they’re worth. Likewise, a car dealer could insist that a brand new BMW is worth $50,000 but if no one’s willing to pay that price… guess what, it’s not worth that much!

This is the fundamental mistake the record industry has been making ever since Napster changed everything. For a long, long time, labels controlled the means of distribution via retailers and manufactured pieces of plastic (or vinyl)… because they controlled the distribution they were able to set the price and there was nothing the consumer could do about it. With the Internet, EVERYONE became a distributor and that model was instantly irrelevant. Suddenly the price was no longer set in stone, and with “free” as an easily available (albeit not legal, but still available) option, labels and bands started to tinker.

Back to the topic at hand. Music just isn’t worth what it used to be, simply because consumers have DECIDED that it isn’t. Labels don’t get to dictate what it’s worth anymore… consumers do. And guess what, consumers are saying loud and clear that recorded music is most definitely NOT worth $10-$15 for the piece of plastic or a group of digital files on which it’s delivered. It might not even be worth anything. And that’s where Earache Records is getting smart.

Don’t bitch and complain that records cost money to record. Even though they cost WAY less than ever before, of course they still cost money and those who spend money to make records deserve to be recouped. I’ll get to that later.

Gama Bomb are a relatively new band. If a relatively established metal act like Marduk can only sell 650 units (physical and digital combined) in their album’s first week of release, any possible sales of a new Gama Bomb record are going to be completely negligible, equivalent to a rounding error on the band’s overall balance sheet. Earache realizes this; rather than potentially sell (for example) 200 copies, which would gross $2,000 out of which the profit would most certainly be $0 (when recording costs, etc are factored in), Earache would rather get the music out there to anyone who is willing to listen to it in an effort to build fans who like the music, and get these fans to pay for a show ticket and hopefully a t-shirt.

Of course, this logic only holds if Gama Bomb are in a 360-deal, which Earache have confirmed to me that they are. For those who might not know: whereas record contracts traditionally stipulate that labels only make money on record sales, a 360 deal has the label participating in all of the band’s income streams including touring and merch. So if you’re Earache, giving away a relatively small potatoes band’s album for free makes perfect sense; rather than waste time counting pennies, get the music out there and collect on things that fans actually give a shit about (AND are more profitable) such as shows and merch.

As for the digital argument, sure, I understand those of you who say you like to have the physical product in your hands. I, too, grew up with physical product and I like the artwork and such. But the reality of the situation is that today’s teenagers — and subsequently everyone who comes after them — do NOT share these values and there’s no way we’re going to magically convince them that a piece of plastic is worth something. Call it a shame, call it blasphemous, call it whatever you want — it’s reality, it’s where things are going, and that is that. Adjust. If you’re really a true fan of MUSIC and you enjoy it for the notes that stream from your speakers into your ears, ultimately the lack of a physical object to hold should not bother you. But I digress.

Record labels: if you’re not signing new bands into 360 deals, you’re living in the past. Sure, it makes sense to sell as much physical product as possible as long as there are still people willing to buy it (and right now there certainly are) but the party is just about over… you’re the equivalent of that guy at the bar at 3:59am begging for just one more drink please when everyone else has gone home, passed out, or is off somewhere else getting laid. I don’t want to hear it about how 360 deals screw the artist either. There’s a give and take; the labels have more rights and are taking a higher percentage of the band’s income, but that’s incentive for the label to work harder to strike creative deals that move not just records but concert tickets and merch as well. It’s mutually beneficial. The line between label and manager becomes blurrier and blurrier until they’re one in the same. Labels, I implore you: Earache is moving boldly into the future; will you?

Since we’re equal opportunity haters and lovers here at MetalSucks, if any metal record label personnel would like the chance to respond publicly to this piece, I welcome your input and will give anyone a fair chance. Email vince [at]

Oh and about that Gama Bomb album, it’ll be available on November 5th right here. May as well download it, right? You may become a fan.


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