By Neil James
I’m fascinated by pirate metal.
I should qualify that, however, by saying that I’m not really a fan of the music.
If Iron Maiden recorded a song about pirates, I’d be fine with that. But extrapolated to an entire band or genre? Personally, I’m not cut out for that much Jolly Rogering.
When I say I’m fascinated, what I’m really referring to is the viability of the genre.
For example, a pirate metal tour package featuring Alestorm, Swashbuckle and The Dread Crew Of Oddwood is about to set forth across the United States. And they’re hitting legitimate venues. In this market (Minneapolis), Piratefest America will be playing at Mill City Nights – a venue that hosts high-profile metal acts such as Opeth, In Flames, Machine Head and Carcass.
The notion that this is potentially a profitable venture for all parties involved fascinates me.
In many ways, the viability of pirate metal represents both the best and worst of what digital distribution has done to the music business.
Without file-sharing, YouTube, Pandora and Spotify, the very notion of a pirate metal tour is laughed out of the room by music executive bigwigs.
But at the same time, the fact that a pirate metal tour is financially viable is further confirmation that the conventional touring musician is officially joining the milkman and the VCR repairman in the pantheon of obsolete American professions.
Sailing the Unfriendly Seas
Pretend you’re a young lad in the 1980s. You’re disillusioned with metal’s infatuation with makeup, power ballads and gated snare reverb. Inspired by your worn out VHS copy of The Goonies, you want to bring pirate metal to the top of the MTV charts, reveling in the plunder, wenches and copious grog that comes with such a conquest.
Here’s what stands in your way.
First, because you’re a metal fan, I’m going to assume that you have no money.
Consequently, your first challenge is getting someone to bankroll your album.
Because digital technology can’t yet do much more than power 8-bit video games, the process of recording is far more inefficient and expensive than it is today.
Even if you do manage to scrimp your way into the studio, you’re probably going to end up with a pile of dreck.
To get financing, you’re going to need the help of your friendly neighborhood record label.
Unfortunately, Mr. A & R Rep has to make a decision – give $100,000 to you to record your pirate metal, or give $100,000 to the up and coming glam heartthrobs, Sleazzy Pussy.
It’s important to remember that Mr. A & R Rep has a very specific charge – when he invests $100,000, he needs to make back at least $115,000, and preferably more. If he loses that money, he’ll be busted back down to peddling Ratt records at the local mall.
Consequently, after a careful deliberation that lasts about as long as it takes to say “Arrr,” Mr. A & R rep decides that giving Sleazzy Pussy the money is probably the safer choice if he wants to avoid a life of swabbing the decks on the S.S. Sam Goody.
But let’s say that you get past this obstacle somehow. Maybe you were successful at convincing Mr. A & R that hair bands have at most two years of life left and that pirate metal was the future. Or maybe you took the more traditional route of becoming his coke dealer.
You’ve got another problem to solve.
Scattered across the United States are people who don’t know they’re fans of pirate metal because they haven’t heard it. Once they hear your music, they’ll become buying fans.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of these people discover new music from one of two sources:
This poses for similar challenge to the pirate metal champion. Radio DJs and MTV VJs have one job – retain as many eyeballs and earholes as possible. Endanger station ratings, and they’ll be spinning the AM oldies graveyard shift in a heartbeat.
Just as with Mr. A & R rep, DJs and VJs need a compelling reason to play your music when there’s a more sure thing standing by – the newest Sleazzy Pussy single.
If they stick their neck out for you, they’re taking on considerable risk without much upside to balance it.
Remember – in the 80s, radio and MTV was really your only play to reach potential fans at scale. Of course you could get a little word-of-mouth here and there and pick up fans on small tours, but organic fan growth without the air cover of mass airplay was really difficult. If one of your fans wanted to tell another person about your music, they had to do so in person. There was no posting a YouTube or Soundcloud link on your friend’s Facebook page. Yes, people did it – it obviously worked for Metallica – but the process was extremely inefficient and not particularly conducive to generating large-scale awareness.
None of this means you were doomed to failure, but niche metal bands needed to catch an awful lot of breaks. Germany’s Running Wild, for example, got signed, released several pirate metal albums throughout the 80s and successfully toured.
But in the big picture, even they toiled in relative obscurity.
In the 80s, 90s and even the early aughts, the king’s share of booty and treasure were largely reserved for metal acts who played in the mainstream.
Contrast the above scenario to today. Thanks to technology, those who desire pirate metal stardom are afforded significant advantages not enjoyed by their prehistoric ancestors.
Want to record an album? Today, you don’t need a record label to bankroll you.
If each member of a four-piece band can come up with $1,500, they can put out a recording that, quality-wise, holds its own with all but the glossiest major label fare.
Even if you have more time than money, thanks to the increased accessibility of recording tools (software and hardware), halfway decent production isn’t necessarily out of reach. I’ve heard some home recordings that, honestly, were every bit as good as work put out by mid-tier studios.
Want to get your music in front of receptive audiences? You don’t need radio play or MTV. Online distribution offers you more than ample means for acquiring fans if you’re willing to put the work in.
How might you get your pirate metal in front of potential fans?
- Send your music to one of the bazillion sites that review music. If you’re a pirate metal band, that might include sites like folk-metal.nl
- Submit your music to Pandora, Spotify and other online radio stations
- Advertise your music to fans of similar bands using Facebook ads
- License your music for use in indie games, films or webisodes through one-to-one partnerships or brokerages like Audiosocket
- Build relationships with other bands and influencers in the world of metal using Twitter
Obviously none of those work as well as landing heavy rotation on your local hard rock radio station. But your pirate metal band wasn’t landing that in the 80s, so you’re not really any worse off.
And unlike the 80s, you can actually get some scale with digital distribution. If the local record store owner wanted to say something nice about you back in the day, he was only doing it one person at a time. Today, a singly positive online review can potentially reach millions.
Without digital technology, there is no Alestorm/Swashbuckle pirate metal tour. There would have been no way for these bands to record, grow a fanbase and mobilize them without some backing entity taking a major, major financial risk.
In a sense, technology has democratized the music industry – a triumph for anyone who has noticed the minimal role that merit has typically played in dispersing rewards to musicians.
Here Be Dragons
For all the blessings that technology has conferred upon the music industry, however, there’s a particularly insidious downside that is rarely discussed. And it’s not file-sharing.
These principles that work for your pirate metal band? They also work for Viking metal.
They also work for war metal.
And blackened death metal.
You get the idea, right?
Musicians are quick to freak out about file-sharing, and I get it. But niche bands like Alestorm are more financially viable today with file-sharing than they ever would have been in the 80s when there was no file-sharing. Without digital distribution, it simply wouldn’t have been possible for Alestorm to have cultivated a fan base and financial backing.
The bigger problem is that the reduced barrier to entry created by technology has made sub-genres more viable at the expense of metal as a whole.
What does that mean? The following chart shows approximately how many people have searched for “pirate metal” on Google since 2004:
And “blackened death metal”:
But while those have all gone up, searches for “heavy metal” and “metal music” have dropped like a rock:
A friend of mine with extensive experience in the music industry summed it succinctly:
“It used to be that you had 400 bands that drew 40,000. Today, you have 40,000 bands that draw 400. That’s why you have all of these giant festivals today – it’s the only way you can draw a mass crowd anymore.”
In this construct, the obstacles bands face in becoming the objects of hedonism depicted in The Decline Of Western Civilization Part II are easier to understand.
When you have 100 times more bands competing for the same sized heavy metal pie, this is what you get:
- Katatonia drummer quits to get the bills paid (Lambgoat)
- As I Lay Dying: There Is A Misconception About How Much Money Successful Metal Bands Make (Blabbermouth)
- Bleeding Through Frontman’s New Rant Is A Showcase Of What Happens When The Music Business Fails You (Metal Injection)
- Aeon Guitarist Quits, Says He ‘Can’t Afford’ To Stay In The Band (Blabbermouth)
The insidious problem that nobody has solved is that digital technology has shifted the industry from one where a small number of bands were very successful to one where a much larger number of bands are semi-successful.
Semi-successful, however, doesn’t pay the bills.
Charting The Course
The fact that pirate metal and all these other sub-niches are more viable than they’ve ever been means that, despite the doom and gloom, the music industry is really in an exciting place. Never before have musicians had the opportunity to reach people at scale without having to compromise their art or dumb it down because the tyrannical labels, radio and MTV told them they had to.
At the same time, it should surprise nobody that a business model that relies on labels, radio and MTV to build artists into rich megastars under the mass heading of “metal” is now faltering. The next generation of musicians, from pirate to porno, will need to adapt to the growing fragmentation of metalhead tastes and figure out new ways to monetize demand for their art.
Listen, we know that the comments section of a webpage isn’t exactly a breeding ground that things like the Renaissance grow from. And when you add the dynamics of heavy metal subject matter and anonymity, well, it’s not fair to expect that people’s contributions are going to come from a place of nostril-based respiration.
But science loves a good experiment, and so do we.
To determine whether discussions would be as savage as we predicted, we extracted all the user comments from three weeks worth of Metal Injection posts in December. From these, we were able to pick out the 50 most common words used by commenters on Metal Injection articles.
Note: common English words such as just, one, in, the and the like were manually removed prior to building.
Given the, uh, coarse nature of metal, it’s not surprising to see that three of the fifty most popular words are fucking, shit, and fuck. It’s sad that the word faggot is so popular – metalheads are awful sensitive to how easily mainstream music dismisses the headbanging arts, but rarely recognizes how the retrograde attitudes of many fans contribute to people’s negative perceptions of the genre.
It’s interesting that the most common words speak to the concept of judgment – bad, good, great, shit, love, want and better. I was really surprised that positive words (great, love, better) were more prevalent. Prior to analyzing, I would have guessed that your average commenter was more likely to shred artists than praise them. That speaks to not only the underrated quality of metal in 2014-15, but a level of open-mindedness among metal fans that runs counter to traditional stereotypes.
Also noteworthy is that Korn and Metallica, despite not having been culturally relevant in several years, were the only two bands to crack the most commonly used words. Further, not a single individual musician appeared frequently enough to join the top fifty.
by Neil James
It’s an unusually X-chromosomal month for Cwn Annwn. On Saturday, October 11th, we’ll be providing direct support for Doro Pesch at POV’s in Spring Lake Park. Two weeks later, we’ll be heading to the Metal Grill in Milwaukee for an evening with White Empress. Finally, on Thursday the 30th, the White Empress/Cwn Annwn party moves to The Cabooze with our friends in Plague Of Stars in tow.
To celebrate, we thought we’d take a look back at who we believe to be the most important, influential women in heavy metal. These aren’t necessarily the most talented artists or the most famous. These are the women whose achievements fundamentally altered the course of this beloved, yet typically male-driven genre.
#6 – Melissa Cross
There’s probably a fair number of people reading this article that are thinking “who is Melissa Cross?”
Readers who know Melissa Cross, however, aren’t questioning her presence on this list.
Many friends and family who aren’t into metal have often remarked that they can’t believe these singers don’t pop their vocal cords. And it’s not hard to understand why. The screaming and barking that metal is so known for is highly strenuous, and it’s not uncommon for great metal singers to blow out their voices (see Hetfield, James).
That’s where Melissa Cross comes in. Cross is a New York City-based voice teacher who has worked extensively with extreme vocalists, including Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe and Slipknot’s Corey Taylor. Cross is most famous for her work teaching singers the proper technique for safely screaming metal – lessons encapsulated in her Zen Of Screaming DVD Series. Robb Flynn of Machine Head himself described his time with Cross as “an intense session of unlearning 17 years of bad habits.”
In addition to her work behind the scenes helping to keep the the vocal cords of the world’s most recognizable metal singers intact, Cross has worked tirelessly to bridge the gap between classical and metal music communities. Thanks to Cross, metal is increasingly recognized as a legitimate form of musical art and expression by academics, teachers and contemporary critics.
#5 – Lita Ford
You knew at some point Lita Ford would be on this list. And if your knowledge of metal is perhaps more casual and you spent some time in the 80s, you might be expect her to be at the top. And it’s easy to understand why. Of all the women on this list, Lita Ford’s star reached a brighter glow stateside than any other’s in the world of popular metal.
Lita Ford’s metal legacy is unique in that it was achieved with a guitar in her hands. While many women have eclipsed Ford in terms of singing talent and commercial success, none have achieved her status as an axe-wielding metal icon.
From her time in The Runaways to her well-known duet with Ozzy Osbourne, Ford was treated as a contemporary by metal’s giants, collaborating with Nikki Sixx on Falling In And Out Of Love and Tony Iommi on The Bride Wore Black – the latter having never been released to this day.
Despite her impressive body of work, Ford’s contributions to metal were all-too-often regarded as a novelty alongside the excesses of 80s metal. Nevertheless, Ford continues to release well-received music to this day, including 2012′s Living Like a Runaway, an album that celebrates her reconciliation with her former band.
#4 – Angela Gossow
The violent screaming of metal is an extension of the genre’s inherent masculinity. Harsh, atonal vocals complement the violence of the music. Subsequently, it was generally understood that women who sought prominence in metal would only achieve it through expertly singing in clean, dulcet tones à la Nancy and Ann Wilson of Heart.
All this changed with Angela Gossow, legendary singer of Arch Enemy (until very recently). Gossow shattered stereotypes by growling with a ferocity that was previously thought to be only accessible to those who possessed testicles. Few people actually know that Arch Enemy’s original singer, Johan Lilva, was a dude, and that their search for a new vocalist wasn’t gender-specific. According to Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Arnott, Gossow’s audition simply “wiped the floor” with competitors.
Gossow’s most important contribution to metal is rooted in equality. Before Arch Enemy, women could be members of metal bands, but only in certain ways. They had to fit into roles that were wholly distinct from those that men held. Gossow’s success ultimately paved the way for women to participate in metal’s aggressive extremes, opening the door for artists such as Krysta Cameron of Iwrestledabearonce, Mel Mongeon of Fuck The Facts, and Gossow’s eventual replacement, Alissa White-Gluz of The Agonist.
#3 – Doro Pesch
Few women in metal boast a resume as impressive as Doro’s. After joining Warlock in 1982, Doro became a force to be reckoned with, touring with metal giants Dio and Megadeth. Although she was never as popular stateside as she was internationally, Doro’s small but fervent American fanbase helped push Warlock’s final album, Triumph and Agony, to #80 on the US Billboard chart. And while like many artists who peaked in the 80s she struggled to maintain an artistic identity with an audience that had lost its taste for glam and power ballads, Doro persevered, continuing to release acclaimed music and relentlessly perform.
As she was not a fixture on MTV or American radio, it’s difficult for those outside of Europe to fully grasp how influential Doro was on heavy metal. The success of Warlock set the stage for the fleet of European female-fronted bands that would soon ascend to popularity, including Nightwish, Leaves Eyes, After Forever, Arch Enemy and many, many more.
Doro’s importance can also be measured through the reverence and respect of her metal peers. Throughout her career, Doro has collaborated on projects with countless high-profile musicians including Gene Simmons, Peter Steele and Lemmy.
#2 – Joan Jett
Doro Pesch and Lita Ford were the forerunners of women in metal, and Angela Gossow helped redefine women’s roles within the genre.
But the success of each of these women wouldn’t have been possible if not for the trails blazed by Joan Jett.
Much like Led Zeppelin, few objective measurements would classify Jett’s music as “heavy metal.” But just as is the case with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, metal as we know it may never have come to be if not for her contributions.
In 1975, Joan Jett and Sandy West formed The Runaways. Within one year, they were touring in support of Cheap Trick, Tom Petty and Van Halen. Think about that the next time you’re charting the progress of your own band.
After the band’s breakup, Jett launched an immensely successful solo career. And not the type of career that was stewarded by a behind-the-scenes puppet master. Jett wrote her own songs, played guitar and released her music through her own independent label Blackheart Records, including the eponymous I Love Rock And Roll. Jett’s success ultimately led to sold out tours with The Police, Queen and Aerosmith.
While other women made greater inroads within to genre, Joan Jett pioneered the role women could play in dirty, gritty, sneering music. While never as debaucherous as Grace Slick or Janis Joplin, Jett was the first woman that truly embodied the spirit of independent rock and roll. To this day, women in all walks of extreme music are indebted to her legacy.
#1 – Sharon Osbourne
It truly pains me to bestow recognition upon someone who helped reduce one of metal’s icons into an object of ridicule and dared to cut Iron Maiden’s power during the middle of a performance while barraging them with eggs. My personal regard for this woman is not particuarly high.
But if we’re being truly objective, it is difficult to argue that any woman has been more influential in metal than Sharon Osbourne.
Upon his dismissal from Black Sabbath, Sharon Osbourne’s work single-handedly transformed Ozzy into the godfather of metal. It was Sharon who assembled the backing band and songwriters that propelled Blizzard Of Ozz into the lexicon of great metal albums. It was Sharon who managed Ozzy’s ascension within an industry that had little tolerance for women who aspired to power. At one point, Sharon kneed a promoter in the groin for refusing to pay a debt and violently laid waste to the computer network of a company that was peddling bootleg merchandise.
Perhaps even more impressive, Sharon Osbourne is also the driving force behind the most successful metal touring franchise of all-time – Ozzfest. Initially conceived in response to Ozzy being snubbed by Lollapalooza, Ozzfest grossed nearly $20 million in revenue in each of its first five years and has hosted virtually every important name in the history of metal.
Sharon’s keen business acumen helped her transition into mainstream consciousness, earning roles on America’s Got Talent, The X Factor and The Talk. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Osbournes have become one of the wealthiest families in all of Britain.
Sharon’s coarseness becomes somewhat understandable when you understand her background and upbringing. Upon learning she was dating Ozzy, Sharon’s father and Black Sabbath’s manager, Don Arden, allowed his dogs to attack her while she was pregnant. She ended up losing the child. In interviews later in life, Osbourne noted how it wasn’t uncommon to see her father threatening someone or brandishing a firearm.
Whatever your personal opinions of Sharon Osbourne, her lifetime of accomplishments in the world of metal is wholly unparalleled. And while the list of women with more graciousness, artistic talent and peer respect might stretch miles long, none have proven to be more powerful, important and influential.
by guitarist, Neil James
I’ve always been fascinated by how different people approach being creative. In my day job, advertising, I’m exposed to a wide variety of ideation processes. Famous copywriter Luke Sullivan, for example, attempts to draw his ideas in a two inch box – the logic being if they’re not powerful in a small space, they’re unlikely to make an impact at full size. Creative director David Droga famously won’t leave the office until he’s come up with a total of 100 different ideas for an assignment.
But for all the literature about advertising creative, there isn’t much out there about the creative process for music. To that end, I wanted to share my process for writing metal lyrics. While my walls aren’t exactly adorned with platinum records or Grammy trophies, and I still can’t afford to buy cocaine with the money I make from music, I’ve been able to build what I believe to be a pretty refined set of steps for writing lyrics that are quality and memorable. Like any good process, I deviate from time to time when moved to by my muse. But in general, the more I stick to these steps, the happier I find myself with the final product.
To add context, I will show how I applied this process when I wrote the lyrics for the title track from our latest album, Metamorphosis.
Step One: Pick A Theme
The first step to writing lyrics is to pick a theme or a subject for your song. This probably isn’t some earth-shattering revelation – everybody does this. In this process, however, it’s really important to pick a theme as soon as possible. If you’re not sure what you’re writing about, the later steps get really hard.
In a metal band, you generally have a fair amount of latitude when picking your subject. I’ve found you can get away with some pretty cheesy themes and still end up with really cool lyrics if you do a good job later in the process. The Djinn, one of the more popular songs in our catalogue for example, is loosely based on the low-budget horror movie Wishmaster.
For the song Metamorphosis, the types of riffs I was writing were heavily influenced by Cynic, a band whose imagery and themes are heavily influenced by metaphysical concepts. To authentically pay tribute, I felt that my lyrics needed to come from a similar vein.
Eventually, I settled on the idea of trying to picture what it might be like when one dies, but wholly unencumbered by traditional religious canon. If you throw out all your knowledge of Heaven, Hell, Nirvana or Valhalla, where do you ultimately think you’ll go when you die? I mean, none of us really have an idea of what happens – anything is as good as anything else. If you believe in the concept of a soul and differing levels of consciousness, it’s reasonable to think that your mortal brain couldn’t possibly comprehend or articulate the afterlife – it could only contextualize it in a limited capacity.
At least that was the theme I was going to try and write to. Pretty ambitious and definitely some potential to come off cheesy or pretentious, but a lot of canvas for exploration and definitely in alignment with a song that’s musically influenced by Cynic.
More often than not, I pick a song’s lyrical theme about halfway through the music writing process. Once I’ve written a handful of riffs, it’s usually not too hard to find a subject that complements the guitar’s overall mood. I usually don’t like to pick a theme before I write the song as I’ve found it tends to increase the risk of the final product being cheesy. But I have done it. For example, I knew that Seasons was going to be a song about confronting mortality before I ever played a note on guitar.
Step Two: Free Write
Once I’ve decided on a theme, I start to free-write. I open up my notebook and write literally anything that comes to mind as a good lyric. I don’t worry about vocal lines or melody. I don’t worry about verses, choruses, lengths, structure or rhyming. The only thing I worry about is writing with as much as I possibly can within my chosen lyrical theme.
When free-writing, I try to make sure I expend extra effort on coming up with what I think are strong metaphors or imagery. For example, in the song Stay Forever, a song about my frustration with people who ceaselessly complain without doing anything to solve their problems, one of the free-writing lines that ended up in the final song was “a winged horse with an affection for the ground.” The “winged horse”, in this instance, represented a person with considerable potential, while their “affection for the ground” reflected their self-driven unwillingness to take flight. Quality metaphors and imagery are, in my opinion, your best weapon for keeping your lyrics from treading into Annihilator-level cheesiness.
Once I’m done free-writing, I give myself a little time to let my brain clear itself. After a few days, I’ll go back to what I wrote and underline or circle the lines I like the most. I’m still not worrying about whether lines are verses or choruses, how long they are or how I’d sing them. I may not even use all the lines I select. But I’ve at least created some anchor points that I’ll be able to weave into the what will be the final lyrics.
The picture below is some of the free-writing that I did for Metamorphosis. You’ll notice that, just as I described in my process, I circled several lines that I particularly liked, most of which made it into the song. You’ll notice on the left of this sheet are the final lyrics for the verses and prechorus. How did I get there?
Step Three: Write Basic Vocal Melodies
When I was younger, I used to write vocals with a guitar in my hand. Like a lot of people, I’d play my verse riff over and over and do weird things with my voice until I sort of fell into something that sounded cool.
There’s nothing wrong with that – that’s probably the most common way that people write vocal lines. The problem I’ve found with that approach is that it tends to result in vocal lines that overly conform to the guitar lines. The accents in your lyrics will tend to always line up with the accents in your riff. That isn’t bad in a vacuum, but over an extended period of time, like a setlist or an album, it becomes harder for the vocal lines to distinguish themselves. You’ll end up with lyrics that, over the course of 45 minutes, get pretty boring.
Nowadays, I try to get some sort of audio tool to loop the various sections of my songs. Sometimes I do it in Guitar Pro. Other times I do it in Ableton. It doesn’t really matter what tool you use. You just need something that can loop your verse over and over and over without you having to play it.
Once it’s looping, I try to write vocal melodies. Sometimes I hum them. Sometimes I go to my guitar and sculpt them. How you get there isn’t as critical – the goal is just to end up with a melody that can play off of the backing music but doesn’t rely on it to be memorable. The melody could stand on its own if it had to.
At this point, I’m not trying to over-complicate it. I just need a simple memorable melody because, unlike a guitar riff, I’m going to be loosey-goosey with creating variants. The verse in Metamorphosis, for example, started its life as a simple eight note pattern on guitar. I know that when I start fleshing out the lyrics, I’m going to be able to add pickup notes and make alterations in order to accommodate the words that I want to fit in.
Step Four: Match Lyrics To Vocal Line
Now that I’ve got some vocal melodies I’m happy with, I can start mapping them to the lines I liked the most from my free-writing sessions. There’s a couple things I keep in mind as I do this:
- Now is the time to start worrying about chronology. Your song should tell a story, and you should be placing your lyrics within a sensible narrative. In Metamorphosis, the first lines clearly reference the dying that must take place to experience the afterlife: “A rhythm flat and silent – I close my eyes and dissipate.“
- Your favorite, best lines should be reserved for the chorus or whatever part of the song is going to experience repetition. The opportunity for that in Metamorphosis was limited, but I really thought “I shed my skin, I have no fear” captured the essence of what I wanted to express. As such, this lyric was used for the song’s “hook” chorus.
- Although I’m careful not to force it, in order to make things fit, I apply a lot of tweaks to my free-written lyrics and the vocal melodies. I may add a pickup note to my vocal line, for example, or I might swap out an adjective for something that fits cleaner.
- As I’m doing this, I’m very careful to make sure that the syllables of my final lyrics are properly stressed – there’s nothing worse than emphasizing the wrong syllable in a multi-syllabic word (saying UH-gen-da instead of uh-GEN-da, for example).
This approach is particularly useful as your underlying music grows more complex. The pre-chorus of Metamorphosis, for example, has a 3/4 guitar rhythm overlaid on top of a 4/4 drum pattern with some flair at the end that reconciles timing discrepancies. Good luck writing memorable lyrics for that polyrhythmic riff with a guitar in your hand. The below picture shows some scratch notes I made while trying to craft the lyrics that ultimately became the song’s pre-chorus.
In most cases, this approach won’t fill an entire song. In order to fill in the blanks, I go to final step in the process.
Step Five: Fill In The Blanks
At this point, I’ll usually have somewhere between 50-75% of the lyrics written. I can now go back to a more traditional lyric writing process. After all, I know the vocal line, I know the theme and I know the surrounding lyrics. Now it’s just a matter of filling the various holes in my story. While usually I attempt to surgically address missing lyrics one-at-a-time, I have been known pursue a second round of lyrical free-writing at this point.
One thing that I really try to be a stickler about is rhyming. “Try” is the key word in this statement because I’m not always successful. I prefer to rhyme when I can because it makes the song stickier, or easier to remember – usually a good thing. If I choose not to rhyme, it’s because I think that the quality of the lyrics I’ve written and their ability to communicate my point outweigh any value that implementing a rhyme scheme would create. That’s what happened in Metamorphosis – I liked what I wrote so much that I just decided to chuck rhyming out the window. I prefer to avoid doing this whenever possible because I’ve found that a cavalier attitude towards rhyming is more likely to result in lyrics that are cheesy and more forgettable. But knowing when to break the rules is part of being a good musician, and this was one of many cases where I chose my spot.
When I do need to fill in a rhyme scheme, often what I’ll do is go to an online rhyming dictionary. Rhymezone is my favorite since it groups options based on the total number of syllables. Once I find an option that I like, I’ll typically try to back my way into an acceptable line that contains a rhyming word. As noted earlier, it’s not unheard of for me to try free-writing again with an emphasis on rhyming terms.
Breaking The Rules
Rhyming isn’t the only convention or part of the process that I’ll forego when I feel the need to. Although I’m a believer that it’s impossible to write something good when you don’t have a process and you’re ignorant to music theory and conventions, I also believe your odds of producing quality work are just as poor when you’re a slave to process, theory and conventions.
One of the more common ways I’ll deviate from this process is to come up with a vocal line in isolation and then build around it. I remember that I wrote the chorus vocal to Stay Forever in my head while riding the bus to work. I wasn’t trying to write. It just sort of popped into my head. That doesn’t happen often, but whenever I do come up with something viable in a situation like that, I try to write down as many of the particulars as quickly as I can before I forget anything. I’ll pull out some scratch paper from my pocket and jot down both the words and the rhythm of the line I’m hearing. And although I’m not usually good enough to be able to transcribe the actual musical notes of a vocal line in this scenario, I’ll at least try to notate where the notes are in approximate relation to one another. That way when I revisit it later, I can recreate it.
Later, when I get back to my home or practice space, I’ll get an accurate transcription of this vocal line so it’s at least documented and I don’t lose it. Then I’ll try to fill in guitar behind it. Usually because this isolated vocal line is a focal point, the complexity of the backing music ends up being somewhat subdued. If the vocal line is good, I try not to make the guitar do much more than play simple chords with perhaps some complementary rhythm, accents or flair.
And while I do love me some big vocabulary and words, I’m also a strong big believer in the power of the “whoa.” Part of that is attributable to the extensive time I spent in my youth with Bad Religion‘s catalogue. But sometimes, a good extended “whoa-oa-oa” or a “yeah-ah-ah” can really speak on a primal level in a way that words can’t. The chorus of Seasons, for example, is a strong example of this belief in practice.
Throw Out The Playbook
While this is my general process for songwriting, I can and do deviate from it quite frequently. The goal, after all, is to produce the best lyrics that I possibly can. However I get there is how I’m going to get there, and my rules definitely aren’t sacrosanct. But the more I stick to this process, the happier I tend to be with the results. Your mileage may vary. It’s definitely not the way to go for everyone, and it’s not the only way to be successful. But it’s worked well for me and has served Cwn Annwn very well over the course of our career.
What’s your process for writing lyrics? Is it similar or wholly different? Let us know in the comments!
In our last post, we talked about how thanks to the demise of our local scene and our advanced age, handing out flyers to promote our band is a much less viable way to promote than it used to be. Instead, we’ve shifted our time and efforts into running Facebook ads to reach our fans.
Flyers, however, aren’t the only promotional weapon in our arsenal to be displaced by Facebook ads.
In our earlier years, one of our most effective promotional vehicles was the CD sampler. In 2004, we recorded a high-quality, three-song demo at Winterland Studios. Having invested quite a bit of money (at least at the time for 23-year olds) producing this recording, we wanted to make sure we got it out to as many people as possible.
Our friend Chris Peters of independent Sianet Radio owned a thermal printer and CD duplicator and was able to help us make short run copies of this demo which we handed out relentlessly. This demo, which sounded good and wasn’t a shitty CD-R with a Sharpie scrawl, opened a lot of doors for us. In one instance, the day after handing out a batch of samplers, I received a phone call the next day from a Clear Channel rep. I had unknowingly handed him a disc, which he loved. He immediately offered us an opening slot for Exodus – our first opportunity to support a nationally touring band.
The problem with samplers, of course, was their expense. Even doing short runs with Mr. Peters cost us in the neighborhood of $1 per disc. That doesn’t sound too expensive until you remember that giving out 100 discs didn’t necessarily guarantee 100 people were listening to our music. One well-known musician told me years later that I handed him four CDs before he finally stopped throwing them out and put one in his CD player, at which point he discovered he liked us.
The math you have to do when handing out samplers is determining what percentage of the people you hand a sampler to will even listen to it, and what percentage of those people will become a fan as a result.
Let’s say you’re spending $1 per sampler to do a short run. Not a wholly unreasonable price even in 2014. You print 100 CDs. And let’s say it takes $50 worth of your time to hand out all of those CDs – also not an unreasonable estimate. You’re $150 in on your investment.
Let’s estimate that half of the people you hand a sampler out to give it a chance. Probably on the high side, but a fair estimate. And let’s say that of the people who listen to it, about a quarter of them like it. For your $150 investment, you’ve developed 10-15 new potential fans.
Consequently, the cost (if you buy my math) is about $10-$15 per new fan.
For a long time, this was the best investment you could possibly make, particularly if you had a really good quality disc. It worked well for us. The problem is that, again, it’s increasingly difficult to reach a lot of different people handing out samplers at local shows alone. It’s also more difficult to do this as you get older – 21-year olds don’t tend to view people in their mid-thirties handing out CD samplers as being on the forefront of cool, cutting edge music. It’s the same problem we had with flyers.
We needed a solution.
Just as was the case with flyers, we turned to Facebook ads. Facebook ads were particularly appealing to us as they allowed us to directly target people in younger age groups. It’s harder for us to reach younger people now that we’re all over 30. While it’s perfectly natural for most bands to see their core audience age, if we’re going to maintain the ability to draw, we need to figure out how to get younger blood into our crowd. And hanging out at The Garage isn’t the way to do that.
First, we created a web page on our site which is still active at www.cwnannwn.com/metamorphosis. From this page, people could stream or download our song “Stay Forever”. which we embedded from Soundcloud. We then created Facebook ads promoting this page.
All ads were “unpublished posts”, which are just like regular Facebook posts except they’re only distributed via advertising – they’re not served to your fans. All ads targeted people within 50 miles of the Twin Cities who were ages 21-30.
The cool thing about unpublished posts is that it let us tailor the ads to different categories of fans. For example, one set of ads we ran targeted people who were fans of Lacuna Coil. These ads advertised us as “for fans of Lacuna Coil and Within Temptation.” Another set of ads targeted people who were fans of Trivium. These ads advertised us as “for fans of Trivium and Children of Bodom.” See the below.
Running these ads allowed us to track the following:
- Total impressions (times our ad was seen)
- Total people who clicked
- Total Soundcloud plays (both stream and downloads)
- Total new Facebook fans gained as a result of our ads (a reasonable metric approximating how many new fans we won)
How effective was this investment? After spending $150 on ads promoting our new single to various audiences, we received the following:
- 202 people streamed our new single, Stay Forever
- 15 people downloaded the song
- 31 people became fans of Cwn Annwn on Facebook even though there was nothing in our ad asking them to do so
- All of these people fell within the age group we were trying to reach (21-30), and it’s reasonable to assume the vast majority of them had no idea who we were prior to seeing our ad
Whereas CD samplers resulted in us paying somewhere in the neighborhood of $10-$15 per new fan, Facebook ads allowed us to spend less than $5 per new fan ($150 divided by 31 equals $4.83).
In other words, Facebook fans were between two and three times more effective than CD samplers at acquiring new fans, and the people who became fans were in the age bracket that is more likely to come out to shows on a regular basis.
The other cool thing about using Facebook ads to get our music in front of new people is that it allowed us to get a sense for what type of music fan would be into our music. We calculated the amount of money it cost us to acquire a single Facebook fan based on the type of people we were targeting. The results were as follows:
For this campaign, we ended up paying three times more money to get a fan when we targeted people who like Nightwish compared to people who like Testament. In fact, even though we have a female singer and featured her in the ads, attempting to convert a fan of female-fronted metal into a fan of Cwn Annwn was not a cost-effective endeavor. As a result, the next time we run this type of advertising, we’ll likely spend more money on attempting to attract fans of thrash and metalcore than female-fronted metal.
In our last post, we asked whether bands should even bother with flyers, and it’s fair to ask whether they should bother with CD samplers. The answer’s the same – just as with flyers, handing out samplers in person involves handshakes and personal contact that’s especially valuable to younger bands who have next to no contacts or relationships with other bands in the scene. You need relationships and friends when you’re a young band – moreso than you need fans.
Once you have these connections however, if you have a finite budget (and if you’re in a band, you probably do), you’ll get twice the bang for your buck at getting your music out if you opt for Facebook ads instead of CD samplers.
One of the most memorable gigs in Cwn Annwn history took place when we were very young pups. We had landed a Wednesday night gig at the Urban Wildlife in downtown Minneapolis. We were the headlining act, and the two openers were indie-pop bands whose name I can’t remember. We hit the stage a little after midnight and played to about 20-30 of our friends. The indie-pop fans cleared the room pretty quick once we hit the stage.
After the show, the club manager gave me a dressing down, saying that he expected the headliner to bring a lot more people. I was annoyed. We hadn’t been around the block very long, but I knew what your average band was drawing after midnight on a Wednesday, and we had exceeded it. Plus, if the manager was so concerned about draw, maybe he should have made a concerted effort to make sure the bands he books play in even tangentially similar genres.
But despite how unfair I felt this charge was, 20-30 people wasn’t exactly Live At Budokan. I vowed that if my band was going to get read the riot act by promoters and ultimately barred from venues, it was going to be because we just weren’t good enough to make the grade – not because we weren’t willing to put forth the work.
For the next several years, I went to every metal show that I possibly could. I taught myself Photoshop, created some of the shittiest flyers you’ve ever seen and handed them to anyone who would take them. On average, I was attending 2-3 shows a week, shaking everybody’s hand who would extend it – good bands, bad bands, and everything in between.
And it worked. Because we were perceived as a band who was willing to promote, we were asked to be a part of increasingly higher-profile shows and cultivated a bonafide audience. Not as big as the “power” acts of the day who were headlining First Avenue, but big enough to justify a weekend slot at a decent club. One member of a notable band recently told me I actually handed him a CD sampler four separate times over the course of a year. The first three times, he put the sampler in the back of his car and never listened to it. On ball four, he finally popped it in his player, loved it, and has been a fan ever since.
Over time, however, we began to notice that the effectiveness of our flyering efforts had started to wane. At a certain point, just about everybody who went to local shows had made up their mind about us – they either liked us and were willing to come to our shows or they weren’t. The number of new people we were reaching through flyering started to decline pretty noticeably. As a result, the amount of flyers we handed out started to show surprisingly little correlation to attendance at our shows.
Moreover, the effectiveness of any single flyering opportunity had fallen off noticeably. In the mid-aughts, there was a local metal show with at least a hundred in attendance every Friday and Saturday night. Occasionally, there were shows with several hundred. As the scene began to fragment and shows with over 100 attendees became the exception rather than the rule, going out to flyer ceased being cost-effective. Whereas five years earlier I might reach a couple thousand by flyering a few shows, now I was only reaching a few hundred.
Compounding the diminishing effectiveness of flyering was the ever-shrinking amount of time I found myself able to dedicate to it. As you get older, your band starts to end up in serious relationships or getting married. You buy houses cause that’s what responsible people do, and you start working longer hours to make sure you can pay for it. You start to spend a little more time with family. It became increasingly difficult to justify spending my limited time promoting in an environment that wasn’t generating returns. The only reason I continued to flyer to the extent that I did was that it allowed me to maintain a presence in the eyes of the promoters I depended on for shows.
We needed to find a new way.
If you consider yourself a purist, at some point, you’ve probably said “I remember the days when bands handed out flyers and didn’t rely on Facebook for promotion.” And I get it. I can only take so much begging from people I hardly know for votes to land a 10 AM slot on Warped Tour.
At the same time, I want to see Facebook posts from bands I like letting me know about their shows. I don’t care whether my favorite band lets me know about their show by putting a piece of paper in my hand or sticking a post in my news feed. I’d rather know that Noble Beast is playing than miss it because I wasn’t notified the right way.
Here’s one thing most musicians don’t know about Facebook. When you post as your band, you only reach about 6% of your fans.
If you have 1,000 fans, when you post, you only reach about 60 people.
Intuitively, most bands kind of know this. That’s why they post the same thing over and over and over and over and over.
But whereas most bands who recognize the diminishing effectiveness of Facebook posts tend to just complain about the medium, we saw an opportunity to make a meaningful change in how we promote.
Let’s say you want to hand out flyers to promote your show. On Vistaprint, you can order 1,000 flyers for $74.99. Then, you have to hand them out. It’s probably going to take you at least five hours these days to hand out all of them. If your time is worth $15 an hour, you’ve paid a total of $150 to get a thousand flyers out in the wild. At a minimum.
Contrast that to what you get if you pay to advertise your show through promoted Facebook posts. As part of our outreach efforts for our CD release show, we spent $30 promoting posts to make sure we reached as many of our fans as possible – not just six percent. For this $30 spend, our ads were delivered 2,100 times.
In other words, Facebook ads let twice as many people know about our show compared to buying 1,000 Vistaprint flyers, and at $30 versus $150, we paid 20% of what Vistaprint would have charged us.
In plainer English, we got about ten times more bang for the buck buying Facebook ads than we would have buying and handing out flyers.
Should bands stop handing out flyers entirely?
I don’t think so…hence why the post is titled why we rarely flyer anymore. Not why we don’t flyer anymore.
The difference between a flyer and a promoted Facebook post is pretty small if the recipient is a stranger. For example, let’s say you’re standing outside First Avenue yelling “Doro” and handing flyers indiscriminately to those leaving a show. The difference between this interaction and just paying to promote a post in someone’s news feed is pretty minimal.
If you know the recipient, however, it’s more impactful to shake that person’s hand and have a human moment. This is still a relationships business, and impersonal Facebook posts will never fully recreate the intimacy of human contact.
But whereas five years ago, I would have handed out flyers if there was any palm-muted distortion, these days I pick and choose my spots. I’m far less likely to hand out flyers at shows that I know aren’t likely to have a lot of people, or shows that might be more well-attended but is unlikely to be comprised of people who are interested in my band. When I do flyer, it’s either a situation where I know the entirety of the audience is likely to be interested (if you’re promoting a death metal show, it’s worth your time to flyer at the upcoming Death DTA Tours/Obituary show, for example) or if there are going to be a lot of people I personally know in attendance.
Young bands just getting started out should still attempt to flyer even if it’s not necessarily cost-effective, mostly because they probably don’t have the existing relationships that they need to get to the next level. You need to cost-effectively advertise no matter what stage of development you’re at, but if you don’t have any friends in the scene, you need to make some before you do any other promotion. Go to shows. Introduce yourself. Let people know you’re willing to support good music, good clubs and a good scene. Once your band becomes a known quantity in its scene, then you can begin to more effectively transition into paid advertising.
Promoted Facebook posts aren’t just good for handing out virtual flyers — they’re a great way to gain new fans. In our next post, I’ll talk about how we used some of the cool features that Facebook offers to cost-effectively grow our audience in ways we wouldn’t have been able to five years ago.
Another CD release party has come and gone. If you were among the unfortunate majority who were not in attendance, let’s leave it at this – you missed out. Last night’s show at the Triple Rock was an unforgettable extravaganza not even Kid and Play themselves could have topped. Great time. Great bands. Great music. Great club. Great drinks. This is why we do music.
But these sorts of things don’t just come together on their own. Throughout the process of conceiving, writing, recording, and releasing our album, we received untold volumes of help from some amazing people. Now that we’re dwelling in the afterglow, we’d like to take a few moments to pay tribute to those whose efforts were vital in making this project as successful as it was.
Ian Combs and everyone at RiverRock Studios
Thanks to Ian Combs, lead engineer on Metamorphosis, who coaxed the best we had out of us during the recording process and spent untold hours burning the midnight oil in order to produce a truly unbelievable product. If you purchased our CD and you think it’s amazing, know it would be a fraction of what it is without Ian’s involvement. Engineering kudos are also extended to Eric Blomquist of RiverRock Studios, a fantastic Minneapolis recording studio, and assistant engineers Kevin Israel and Evan Ogaard.
Will Maravelas and everyone at Zerobudget Records
Earlier this year, we hooked up with Will and his team at Zerobudget Records, and we couldn’t be happier. Will’s presence has been indispensable throughout the process, from helping us book the release show to securing distribution to promoting the event. Will’s appreciation of Cwn Annwn and his work to bring our music to the masses has and will continue to do great things for us in the future, and we look forward to the fruits of our partnership in the future. Check out the offerings for sale on Zerobudget Records’ online store!
Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast
You can’t have a great CD release show without great bands in support. Our friends in Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast brought the 100k Scoville heat and kept the evening electric. We want to thank both bands for joining us, all their promotional efforts, and their general awesomeness. And if you missed them, learn more about them in our Music You Need To Hear series on Gabriel And The Apocalypse and Hate Beast.
Triple Rock Social Club
We’ve played countless venues throughout the years. Some are cool. Some aren’t. Some have good sound. Some don’t. Some are easy to work with. Some aren’t. There is no ambiguity, however, about the greatness of the Triple Rock Social Club. When we play a show at the Triple Rock, we know that the sound will be immaculate. We know there won’t be any drama with staff. We won’t be embarrassed to ask our friends to come out because the club is lame or the drinks suck. We’re appreciative that, once again, one of the greatest clubs in the state of Minnesota was willing to host us, and we look forward to a speedy return.
Joe Kellen and Holly Peterson of the U of M Daily
Joe Kellen and Holly Peterson were willing to brave the exorbitant heat and stifling must that defines our practice space and wrote up a really great profile on us in the U of M Daily. Thanks to them for coming out, and make sure you check out their piece here.
Some Really Cool People
A few people really went above and beyond in their willingness to help us get the word out about our disc and spread our music, and for that, we’re eternally grateful.
- Thanks to John McGovern who volunteered to help distribute our music, and has been able to secure favorable reviews of our CD
- Thanks to Mary Zimmer of White Empress who has repeatedly and graciously endorsed our band and raised our profile in the female-fronted metal community
- Thanks to Renee of Aztalan Turf Podcast and Kilted Farmer Koncerts for pimping our music and release party to the darkwave and industrial communities
- Thanks to KMSU’s Midwest Beatdown and Radio K’s Metal Music Machine for the radio airplay
- Thanks to Greg Chilton of Ritual Madness Podcast and Gene Vogel of Disciples Of The Watch Podcast who showed us extensive love and helped us promote our release
Thanks to Anna, Lisa, Meggen and Shawn who put up with us spending a lot of time away from home in a dank practice space, noodling on the couch to metronomes and placing the band first more often than we sometimes should. Thanks to our families who encouraged us in our musical pursuits. And thanks to our work families for their support, encouragement and flexible policies towards PTO.
Those we’ve forgotten
The hardest part about typing these lists is the inevitability of neglecting someone who had a major impact. Such an omission is similar to my failure to purchase toilet paper at the grocery store when we’re out. My forgetfulness is attributable to being a scatterbrain, not a lack of importance. If you think you deserve thanks, you probably do.
Did you buy our CD? Have you shared our band’s Facebook posts? Have you just told someone we’re cool, even if you couldn’t remember how to spell Cwn Annwn? Bands today are made successful not by the greasy A&R label rep but by the little actions of many that mushroom into a big difference. Your appreciation of our music, your willingness to stake your reputation when you advocate it, and your quickness to part with dollars for those encoded audio files and silver discs we produce means more to us than you probably will know. Thank you so much.
With another milestone down, we are looking forward to growing further, and we’re excited to show you all where we’re going. Thanks for being a part of this great journey, and we hope you all continue to stay on the train.
And by the way, we’ll continue to make our album’s first single, Stay Forever, available for free download. If you still don’t have it, grab a copy here.