More Wintersun Drama!
The Wintersun will rise again! Or not. Either way.
Last week, the group’s founding multi-instrumentalist, Jari Mäenpää, took to Facebook to write a long rant in which he ostensibly blamed Wintersun’s label, Nuclear Blast, for his failure to produce the heavily-anticipated Time II in a, uh, timely fashion. Mäenpää complained that he can’t practice or record in his small, shitty apartment, and that NB won’t let him launch a crowdfunding campaign so he can buy his own studio. Nuclear Blast, in turn, wrote a very polite response explaining their side of the story and assuring fans that they want Time II to be completed as much as anyone.
Around this same time, someone calling himself “BastardHead” (Pushead’s cousin, perhaps?) wrote this editorial on Lair of the Bastard (a blog with which I was previously unfamiliar). Mr. Head opens the piece by apologizing “for writing what is basically a MetalSucks article,” and then he proceeds to launch into an angry, expletive-laden diatribe (which, upon reading, I immediately wished I had written… it is very much “basically a MetalSucks article,” and I love it). I think you should read the entire thing, but the basic gist of it is, “Mäenpää is behaving like a spoiled brat, even if he is the genius he seems to think he is that doesn’t mean someone should just pay for him to have his own studio, a metal musician who can’t practice or record in his small, shitty apartment is about as rare as a metal band without a guitar player, Nuclear Blast invested money in him which he is now completely failing to repay, quit whining.” Although BastardHead’s, um, “passionate tone” is bound to instantly alienate some Wintersun fans, I think he more than makes his point (he certainly sold me): Mäenpää is basically complaining that he can’t work under ideal conditions, which is bullshitty, because literally hundreds of other popular bands function under those same conditions (or worse) and find a way to make it work… so what makes Mäenpää so special?
I assume it was the BastardHead piece which inspired Mäenpää to once again write a novel-length Facebook post, which seeks to further clarify his point — he doesn’t mention Lair of the Bastard explicitly, but he’s basically addressing all of BastardHead’s points. You can read that post below and then I’ll meet you at the bottom to discuss:
CLEARING FEW THINGS ABOUT MY LAST “REALITY UPDATE”
I feel like I need to explain the situation more clearly as some people seem to be a bit confused. So let´s get more into the details…
Let´s get one thing clear first, I don´t live in a fantasy world. You might say I´m a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to album production. Fine, I´ll give you that. But I do make compromises, lots of them. TIME I was all a huge compromise. The melody guitars are all old modelling amps (not the new Axe-FXs and whatnots which sound pretty decent actually). There simply was not enough budget to record them properly in a professional studio, so they sound pretty horrible and are very hard mix and fit in with the rest of the instruments. The vocals were all recorded in various rehearsal places just with my laptop (the reason why it took so long to record them and also because of the hundreds of vocal tracks I needed to record for these albums). They are certainly not the best quality vocal recordings. Again, another compromise for not having enough budget for a 3rd party professional studio. I also wanted some time to practise my vocals while recording, which I´ve never really done before, but you can hear the improvement. Also I do some of the vocal arrangement work and experiment with different things while recording, this would be impossible in a 3rd party studio. The rhythm guitars were actually recorded in a 3rd party studio, but I didn´t have enough time to craft the sound exactly like I want it. Rhythm guitar is the thing I´m the most perfectionist and passionate about. There´s only a handful of rhythm guitar sounds I like from the millions of heavy metal records out there, so you can imagine how hard it is for me to be able to produce the guitar sound of my dreams in few days in a 3rd party studio. Impossible. And to fit it in with hundreds of orchestration & synth instruments, to not muddy the bass, to be able to scoop the mids so the whole mix doesn’t sound like a kitchen radio (I don´t like mids in metal guitars plus the orchestra instruments already eat a lot of the mids space), but still keep the upper mids smooth and not harsh, to not mask the drum overheads, but still having enough modern highs and upper mids attack to have it cut through the mix. This is almost a mission impossible, but I know I could do it in my own time in my own studio… So the time ran out from the studio´s “taximeter” and I was left with unsatisfying guitar sound and very hard to fit in the mix (still had to pay the studio bill though). I was very unhappy about this, but still released the album! The orchestrations were made with just one computer which forced me to use time consuming workarounds and was very stressful. I won´t even get into the technical problems I´ve had to deal with over the years. It took 3 years of sweat and tears to make the orchestrations the way I had to do them. This was the hardest task and it nearly burned me out. Never again this way! I would need a computer farm to do the all the orchestrations in realtime without slow workarounds.
I´ve mixed the albums in my apartment and you ask why it takes so long to mix? Well, because my room is not a professional studio ment for mixing. There´s also always some noise issues inside and outside the building, I´ve had even some scary hearing problems due to this for having to raise the volume and having to mix too loud. Never again! There´s also insane amount of tracks to mix (which is very difficult), but my computer is having hard a time handling them well. Very unstable and slow. But the main thing why the mixing takes so long is because the recorded sounds are pretty crappy due to lack of resources to record them properly. So it´s very hard to “polish a turd”, if not impossible. Good sounds would mix themselves! And I won´t even get into other health problems I´ve had due to stress which has slowed the mixing process too (not mental problems, although maybe I´m a bit crazy :P). So again, I simply can´t afford a 3rd party studios to mix in or to record. Not even close. Nuclear Blast gave us just enough budget for only to record the drums, bass and rhythm guitars in 3rd party studio, that´s it. Which all turn out unsatisfying due to lack of time to tweak the sounds right for massive projects like the TIME albums are. That´s why I´ve been struggling with the mixing. All the rest of the instuments, vocals, orchestrations, melody guitars etc… was left up to me to record on my own however possible and getting quality recordings in a “DIY bedroom studio scenario” is not easy. Sure they gave us few additional advances, ´cause we begged them for faster computers and better gear (and all that money has been paid back already), but still not nearly enough for a task like this. The rest have been basically financed by yours truly with touring, merchandise and just simply sacrificing my own time doing lot of workarounds and recording in rehearsal places or where ever I could due to the lack of funding, but I had to make these albums a reality no matter what! But my point is, as you can see, I do make lots of compromises. TIME I is far from perfect, but still released the album! Would a perfectionist do that?
I certainly can make music renting a 3rd party studio for one month and release an album, as I have already proven that many times in the past. But I won´t do that again, that is my decision. I´ve never been happy with those albums and the results I get from 3rd party studios. Waste of money. There simply isn´t enough time (with our budgets) to craft the sounds the way I want them in unfamiliar space with unfamiliar gear, monitors and under the stress of the “studio taximeter” running. It´s usually just, let´s throw a mic there and wish for the best! “We´ll fix it in the mix… maybe!”. Making music makes me happy. The feeling you get when you first get a new idea, a riff, a melody, a vision of the song is a great feeling and you just want to make that vision come out from the speakers exactly like you hear it in your head. Releasing music that doesn’t represent that vision and is compromised makes me unhappy. Why continue to do something that makes you unhappy? Those past albums were like demos to me and nothing like the TIME albums or the future material are in their complexity. I just want to get the production right for these albums! I know some people don’t care about the production quality that much, but I do. I wouldn´t be able to ever do these albums in 30, 60 or 90 days in a 3rd party studio “like all the other bands do it”. Sorry, but I´m just not that skilled of a human being! I would need to rent a 3rd party studio for a year or two or even three years depending on the project and live there 24/7. But obviously who can afford that? You could invest and build your own studio with that money and make many albums until you die. The main thing that people need to understand is that the TIME albums and my future material are so much more complex to make than my previous albums were and I just can´t continue to do them like I´ve been forced to do them for the past 10 years. I think we´ve all established by now that this isn´t working. You have to also remember, I do these albums basically alone. Produce, record, engineer, sing, play, mix, master, write all the music & lyrics… Who else does that? Anyone in Finland? Anyone in the world? Well maybe Devin Townsend, but he´s fucking Devin Townsend! I´m just nobody from Konala, Helsinki.
During these years I´ve been already acquiring studio gear and started doing most of the stuff myself and I love it! I´ve gotta pretty good DAW and monitor setup, so basically I got most of the studio gear already. But there´s still one major thing that is missing and that is the studio space. A place to work without interruptions, where I can crank up guitar amps 24/7, 365 days a year without the neighbors calling the cops, to record and practise my singing everyday, to record drums and so on… Having everything always set up ready to record and to mix night or day in a good mixing room would speed up the whole process immensely. It would be also great for the whole band, ´cause we´d have our own rehearsal room for the first time, sort of “Wintersun headquarters”. This would really free us to make albums much faster with better quality and able us to tour more often, which then would open the possibilities financially to other things like upgrading our live shows, doing ten minute music videos for our long songs, a live DVD maybe even with a real orchestra…
It is a fact that without Nuclear Blast I couldn´t have gotten where I am today and I’m certainly grateful of that, but they have really made the most money of Wintersun. What have I made? Well I´ve gotten some better equipments to do my job which is nice, but I´m still struggling and I´m missing the main pieze of the puzzle, the actual “work place”, which is a huge roadblock to continue forwards. I´m in a dead end. All my money has always gone straight to the album productions. I don´t go on vacations, I don´t have a car or anything fancy, which I´m totally fine with! I work and do these albums basically for free and that would be actually fine with me, if I could do my work at least in good conditions. I´ve been struggling and I´ve sacrificed everything for over 10 years and gotten pretty much nothing out of it, except the love and support of the fans, which I appreciate very much!
But to continue to make more albums, I need my own studio. I´ve had enough making albums in rehearsal places and in a bedroom studios, it just doesn´t work. Enough is enough. I´ve reached the breaking point. I don´t owe Nuclear Blast or anyone anything. I don´t have to make or release albums. I don´t have to release TIME II, if I´m not happy with it. I can make music (demos) just for myself for fun and just show them to my closest friends. Or I can do something else, for example teaching like Kai and Teemu… doing anything else I would actually earn some money. I will continue to always make music like I did before any record deals, but whether I will release the music depends totally whether I can record and mix it properly. I´ve made piece with myself that if I won´t be able to ever release another album again and I have to take my songs to the grave, that is ok with me, but I do not wish it. Nuclear Blast and everyone around me has made profits of Wintersun and all my debts are paid. So no harm done. Where to go from here? The future is unknow.
I must point out that our manager is a really good guy. Always has our best interest at heart, he actually gave me a big personal loan to finish TIME I. I couldn´t have done it without him! He actually renegotiated a better Nuclear Blast deal for me after the TIME I release. I´m actually ok with the new deal. Except for the fact that I can´t make albums, because they won´t fund them enough for me to actually be able to make them and at the same time they are denying me doing a Wintersun crowd funding which probably would finance the studio. So they are really holding us hostage. Our manager actually renounced himself from the crowd funding and won´t have any part in it unless I want his help. He wants to see Wintersun succeed. The problem is still the same though, without enough funding there won´t be Wintersun albums. And I´m pretty sure I would not be able to gather enough finances on my own with just “Jari Mäenpää´s studio crowd funding” without any meaningful perk like TIME II high quality album download for example. It would have to be a big Wintersun campaign with a team of people helping me to realise this dream. But I will try to figure something out, I´m not giving up!
TIME II is now in a good place mixwise. I´m pretty happy with the drums, bass & the orchestrations. The whole thing is sounding so much more powerful and clear than TIME I. Really proud of what I´ve been able to achieve with these “not so perfect” recordings and with the intense orchestra layers. It´s so difficult to mix stuff like this, especially with my mixing conditions. But I won´t ruin the hard work I´ve done so far by throwing a crappy guitar sound on top ruining the whole mix. That´s one compromise I won´t make anymore. And I won´t be spending anymore money for 3rd party studios either. I will save and invest every penny for my own studio. Actually for those who complained not hearing the guitars enough on TIME I, the guitars were left purposely little bit back in the mix, because they were so crappy.
Or those who critized the production otherwise, now you know the reason why it wasn´t top notch quality. No money = demo quality. And for those who doubted me having written already 5 albums worth of new material, I´ve written actually more. That was just a conservative estimate.
Bottom line, if people want me to make music and release Wintersun albums, I need enough funding for my personal studio where I can craft my music, record and produce my sounds in piece. It is as simple as that. I can´t make this complex music any other way anymore. I am just one man with limited resources and limited skills. I can´t magically pull albums from thin air. Maybe other bands can do their albums “the usual way” renting a 3rd party studio for one month and are happy with the results, I certainly respect that! I´ve been there, done that. I know that many metal bands have all got their own hardships and I am not certainly underrating anyone´s situation. But every situation is unique and mine certainly is. I´ve seen some comments saying that “You don´t deserve your own studio, because other bands don´t get to have their own studio either and you should just do your music like everyone else does it!”. Would it be somehow bad for the other bands if I would build my own studio? Would it somehow hurt the other bands, if I could make more Wintersun albums in my own way? Or are these comments just based on jealousy or something? “What makes you so special to get your own studio?” Nothing and maybe I don´t deserve it, but that is for the fans & financiers to decide and I know there´s lots of dedicated fans that want to support us! It really isn´t about who deserves what. I´m just saying what I can and can´t do. I have my own way of doing things. Sorry, if my previous update sounded like whining or somehow entitled for some of you, it wasn’t ment to be. I am just trying to illustrate the difficult situation I´m in. I definitely understand the realities of life. The crowd funding was actually suggested and brought to my attention by the fans. In fact people have been wanting donate to us since the debut album, but we don’t feel very good about it. We always would like to give something back. That’s why we make merchandise for example. I admit that I´m a little bit frustrated with the situation, but I´m fine with whatever outcome. But if someone finds it offensive that I´m looking for funding for my studio project and for the Wintersun albums, then they got some personal problems. Most of the comments have been really encouraging, supportive and positive though and I appreciate that!
Currently I´m negotiating with Nuclear Blast and our manager how we could make this work for all parties… We´ll see if we can work this out.
I certainly hope that we´ll find a solution, so we can release more Wintersun albums and share them with the world. It is my dream and passion to make music and it makes me happy to see that so many people care about Wintersun. I´m very grateful!!! All your supportive posts have given me lot of hope and I´m certainly not quitting the fight!
Thank you and thanks for listening!
p.s. Everyone enjoying their popcorn?
I think Jari is still missing the larger point: it’s not that he doesn’t deserve his own studio… it’s that he doesn’t need one, and he’s confusing the way things should be with the way the things are. Every musician who owns his own studio, no matter how small and shitty or large and lavish, worked his ass off and paid lots and lots of money to make that happen. Mäenpää seems optimistic that someone will just hand all that to him. It’s fine that he’s a perfectionist — that’s his choice! — but it’s also his problem. Conditions in the metal world are almost never ideal, and scores of metal bands have made compromises in the name of just getting their goddamn music out there already. Yes, the world would be a better place if there were unlimited amounts of money for every artist to do his or her work. It would also be a better place if there was no such thing as war or bigotry or disease. But that’s not the reality in which we live.
Also: art is a learning process! You do the best you can, you hope others connect with it, and you try to do better next time. As Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels has put it, “The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready, the show goes on because it’s 11:30 pm on Saturday night.” And if Mäenpää’s perfectionism means he just can’t live with that, well… again, that’s his decision and, ultimately, his problem.
The way I see it, there are really just two possibilities here: either Mäenpää is just plain old unrealistic (entirely possible), or he’s doing all of this as a negotiating tactic, the thinking being that making a public stink and accusing commerce of once again crushing art will get Nuclear Blast to give him what he wants. The results are basically the same regardless: fans still don’t have new Wintersun music.
Thanks: Daniel H.