My Thoughts on the Sale of Nuclear Blast Records to Believe Digital
Music Business Worldwide is reporting that Believe Digital, a major French music distribution company, has acquired a majority stake in Nuclear Blast Records. The deal allegedly included an eight-figure sum. Nuclear Blast founder Markus Staiger will remain a shareholder, and the company’s offices in Germany, the U.K. and the U.S. will retain their existing management teams.
First: I don’t think any of us should be surprised that another metal label has been acquired by a larger global music company. I can’t speak to Staiger’s motivations for selling, but it’s hard for me to imagine that at least part of it didn’t have to do with job fatigue: 31 years is a looooong time to be doing the same thing! It’s hard to maintain a passion for that long even if it is at its root a passion. On top of that, Nuclear Blast is one of the world’s largest metal labels with an incredibly strong roster; I don’t believe that the sale was a desperation move born of a need for money or to get off a sinking ship. And on top of THAT, it had to feel pretty great for Staiger to cash out some of that equity after all these years of hard work.
That’s great for Staiger — and, presumably, Believe — but let’s talk about what it means for us, the fans of the music, and for the rest of the staff at the label.
We’ve seen this story play out before. In 2010, Warner Music Group fully acquired Roadrunner Records after having bought roughly three-quarters of the company in 2007. Roadrunner laid off a whole lot of their staff and the label operated largely in the shadows for a number of years, investing in more mainstream acts that didn’t pan out, some outside the metal realm completely. It’s only recently that Roadrunner has clawed its way back into relevance with key, young signings like Turnstile, but the label is still far from the scene powerhouse it was in the ’90s, or even the mid-late ’00s.
Century Media comes to mind as well: in 2015 Sony acquired the label and all of its subsidiaries for $17 million. In only three years Century has become a shell of its former self: as many of the label’s back office duties became redundant, Century laid off a number of employees and currently runs a barebones operation in the U.S., which, last I heard, didn’t even have a central office. I can’t speak for Century’s European operation, but the label is hardly in the conversation in the U.S. anymore — you just don’t really hear about Century signing new, young bands. Rumor had it the deal was all about catalog, and I think that’s a fair assumption.
That brings us back to Nuclear Blast. They’ll say things won’t change. They’ll insist on it, loudly and publicly.
Things will definitely change. They always do. Especially when non-metal companies get involved with metal.
How, I can’t exactly say. MetalSucks has worked closely with Nuclear Blast pretty much since this site’s inception, and I’d call a number of people there my friends. I sincerely hope they all get to keep their jobs. I wonder to what extent the staff’s freedom to pursue their own creative agenda will be frozen for the time being as the logistics of this acquisition are sorted, or whether Believe will let business run as usual and see how things shake out. It is only a partial acquisition, after all, so my gut says this will be one of those situations where not a whole lot changes in the short term (as when Warner first acquired part of Roadrunner in 2007) but long term there will be some big moves. There’s a reason Believe was interested in Nuclear Blast, of course: presumably they have plans, perceived inefficiencies they feel they can improve, ways they can leverage and exploit Nuclear Blast to aid the overall company’s bottom line. It’s rare one company acquires another and leaves it completely alone.
It’s a bit too early to be making any big proclamations about what will or will not happen, but this much is certain: Nuclear Blast is not going away any time soon. You will continue to see releases from all your favorite bands on the label for the forseeable future. That said, it’s hard for me to imagine a scenario where, say, five or ten years from now Nuclear Blast is the powerhouse it is today. Non-metal companies always, always, always fuck shit up when they invest in the metal world — the expectations are too great. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves… let’s wait and see.
MetalSucks contacted Nuclear Blast for comment on this article before publication but did not receive a response.