Music and Metal in the Digital Age | with Vince Neilstein, Co-Editor-In-Chief of Metalsucks

Vince Neilstein is Co-Editor-In-Chief of the influential metal blog Metalsucks. Known for its snarky commentary, irreverent attitude, interviews, album reviews, and breaking news from the metal world, Metalsucks also offers sharp observations on how technology is changing the way we consume and create music. By Scott Borchert

You’re a big supporter of streaming services like Spotify—is that how we’ll all be listening to music in a few years?

I believe that we will all be listening to music through streaming services, yes. Maybe it’ll be Spotify, maybe some other, newer platform, but I don’t see any other way about it. The people have spoken, and the people have said that what they want is an a la carte streaming service for a low monthly price. People are starting to care less and less about file ownership, but it will be gradual, just as the switch from CDs to digital was.

Some labels seem to be adapting to that change, and some are still resisting it. You’ve had a few arguments with representatives of different labels on this question. Why the reluctance—is it a bad deal, economically, for the labels? How about the artists?

It’s a “bad” deal only in that everyone (artists and labels) will be getting paid a whole lot less. But I think labels and artists have to be honest with themselves: music is not worth what it used to be worth. And by “worth,” I mean that value is determined by the buyers, not the manufacturers. For the longest time the music manufacturers controlled value because they controlled distribution—getting product into stores—and could charge whatever they want. Now the playing field is a whole lot more level, and you’re seeing the bubble burst.

So the digital media revolution – and streaming services in particular – is changing the entire economic model from the way music has been produced for most of the 20th century. Do you think this is the end of labels as we know them, since the internet is making some of their functions obsolete?

I think there will always be a place for music industry professionals. The knowledge and expertise they bring to the table in terms of how to market a band, their professional contacts, setting up deals, etc., are not things that most band members have, nor do most band dudes have time for that stuff even if they do have the knowledge. But the economic model of who those people are and how/what they get paid is certainly changing. Sales of recorded music are on the decline and I don’t see that trend reversing. Everyone will be earning less money, for sure.

It sounds like this new situation is perfect for the kind of artist who makes music because they love it, is able and willing to handle a lot of the work themselves (as far as production and distribution) and doesn’t expect to make a living off of it. Would you say that’s true? And is it getting harder and harder for artists to make a full-time living through their music?

I agree with all of that. As the pool of money diminishes because recorded music is no longer a factor, artists will look to other sources of revenue… but those sources probably won’t replace what’s missing. It’ll definitely be harder to make a living because you won’t be able to sit back and collect royalties anymore—you have to be out there workin’ it just like everyone else. You’re already seeing it—dudes in bands we consider “big” have day jobs when they aren’t touring.

So maybe the days of the highly paid, professional musician are over, at least outside of the big time pop industry. I think you might have written something like this on Metalsucks, but is what we’re seeing a kind of return to a more popular era of music, before recordings were mass produced and the entire recording industry apparatus was necessary to package it and distribute it? When people made their own music, and shared it with each other, and anyone who felt like it could get in on it—except, are we moving toward some version of that mediated by the internet? With the implication being that you can’t make a career out of creating and playing music, but you can make a satisfying hobby out of it.

Well, I do believe there will be some people who can make a living at it. But those people will need a higher threshold of popularity than during most of the 20th century, and they’ll have to constantly be out on the road their whole lives.

Speaking of the road, where does live music fit into all this? Are concerts more crucial than ever before?

More crucial in what way?

Well, in one sense, to making up for lost revenue that, in the old days, would have come from album sales?

Yes, definitely. Bands are already touring a lot more than they used to.

Is that something you’ve noticed over the last few years, or more like the last decade or so?

I’ve only really been paying attention over the past 5 years or so, but based on what I’ve seen and what guys in bands are telling me, it’s really picked up during that period.

The flip side of this touring question is that you have more artists now that can’t (or don’t) tour, because it’s one dude in his house, making an entire album on his laptop.

That’s definitely true. There are a whole lot more hobbyists.

With the ease of distribution via the internet and better home recording techniques, how has this explosion of new artists changed the whole musical landscape? More mediocre stuff to wade through? Or a more diverse, and maybe better, range of material to listen to?

Yes, that’s exactly it—a shit ton of mediocre material. Now that it’s easy and cheap to record something of good quality, that factor of separating good from bad is out of the equation. So what you’re left with is to discern how good the songs are and if the band is bringing anything new or interesting to the table. And for the most part, at least based on the stuff bands send us daily, there’s a whole fuck load of passable material that isn’t distinguishable from others in its sub-genre in any way.

The flipside of that is that because there’s SO MUCH content out there,
even though a lower PERCENTAGE of it is good, there’s a greater amount of good stuff on the whole. You just have to find it. Sadly, the “finding it” part will be harder than ever because of the collapsing industry… but that’s just how it’s gonna be, like it or not.

Sure. But then, there’s the role for online criticism and commentary, sites like your own, which in a way are kind of the product of the same forces that are spewing out all this new material—ease of access, etc. You just have to “find” the right sites and commentary to help navigate all the new music out there.

Definitely. Two sides to that coin. But just the same that anyone now can make a mediocre recording, anyone now can make a mediocre blog. So you have to sift through those too.

A few weeks back, Metalsucks was part of the mass online protests against SOPA, where you “censored” articles and urged readers to sign a petition. Why join that protest, and what’s at stake?

SOPA (and its Senate counterpart PIPA) were short-sighted attempts at stopping Internet piracy. Due to the way the bills were written, not only would they have completely failed in stopping piracy (due to the authors’ not understanding the complexities of how the Internet works) but they would’ve caused a lot of collateral damage, trampling all over a free Internet.

Running Metalsucks, you’re in a unique position to interact with fans and artists all over the world—what have you learned about the metal community, and what’s surprised you?

I knew metal had a huge presence worldwide, but I didn’t know quite the size and scope. It’s really remarkable all the emails and comments we get from people in every corner of the earth.

Lastly, what are you listening to these days?

Just now I was jamming a “Cascadian” black metal band called Wildernessking. Good stuff.

(The author was listening to Gozu, at the time of the interview, for anyone wondering)

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Kickshuffle is an online publication dedicated to covering the impact of technology on music and music business. Like us on Facebook and Follow us on Twitter.

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