Who will like it: Fans of Devin Townsend, Porcupine Tree, Pink Floyd. People who wished Toad The Wet Sprocket had a dark, brooding streak.
Who won’t like it: People who find Five Finger Death Punch to be too subtle. Fans of high-end frequencies in distorted guitar.
by Neil James
Of all the sins musicians can commit, I find “indulgence” among the most difficult to forgive.
And while there are many great things I can say about progressive metal, the genre tends to be a red-light district for yielding to selfish artistic desire.
Play the above YouTube video to hear an example of said indulgence. It isn’t enough that Timo Tolkki wants to write music that people regard as genius – he wants the listener to recognize him as a genius. One that can be held alongside Beethoven, Tolkien and Freddie Mercury.
At some point, somebody should have told him no. His bandmates. His engineers. His label. His conscience.
But one has to assume they did. And he blazed on ahead anyway.
And this happens all the time in progressive metal.
When writing or reviewing music, I have found that just a little bit of restraint goes a long way in maintaining quality. Bad Religion will let the ‘oozin aahs fly, but will never descend into being a barbershop quartet. Iron Maiden will spit forth the righteousness, but barring a few notable exceptions, they tend to stay clear of overt schlock. Dave Mustaine gives us glimpses of what he’s capable of artistically on songs like Sweating Bullets, but he never descends into the subterranean depths inhabited by Jeff Waters and Annihilator.
Which brings us to Klone.
Poitiers France-based Klone is one of those rare progressive metal bands that not only practices restraint, it wields it as a blade, carving its unique surreal dreamscape. In a world where too many bands attempt to cut through the clutter by pushing the boundaries of ostentatiousness and being “extreme”, Klone is a refreshing change of pace. Its mission – to create sophisticated yet understated beauty – is highly noble, and one the band has proven more than capable of achieving.
Although they’ve shared the stage with bands as macabre as their French brethren Gojira, Klone rarely conforms to metal’s traditional conventions. The rate of clean guitar per minute on the band’s newest release, Here Comes The Sun, is well beyond acceptable limits for most Metal Injection commenters. The distortion used by guitarists Bernard Guillaume and Aldrick Guadagnino has more in common with a persistent head cold than the saccharine, processed tones dominating metal today. And if you’re looking for guttural screaming, keep on searching – vocalist Yann Ligner is far closer to Toad The Wet Sprocket than Joe Duplantier.
Klone’s metal credentials are ultimately defined by their ability to paint a dark, dichotomous sonic landscape. Here Come The Sun’s opening track, Immersion, is at once both somber and inspiring. Punishing clockwork strokes, a motif repeated throughout the album, punctuate an airy guitar that evokes rusty windchimes singing softly over a world that life has forgotten. The combination of Ligner’s gripping vocal phrases and the sedate chording of Guillaume and Guadagnino conjures shades of Devin Townsend while avoiding the sense of impenetrability the skulleted can sometimes known for.
Few tracks exemplify Klone’s ability to author the soundtrack to melancholy dreams as well as Nebulous. Like any expert progressive band, Klone discards the very notion of time signatures without calling attention to having done so. Only Ligner’s haunting vocals and the driftless chord progressions provide the listener any point of anchoring. The morose melody orients a ghostly ship as a it crosses the meridian that separates life from death, exquisitely contrasting the persistent distorted drone that rumbles underneath the chorus like hot magma trapped beneath a tranquil, serene forest.
Klone’s longevity and work ethic is a significant contributor to the group’s expertise. Here Comes The Sun is the band’s seventh release. The above album, Black Days, came out in 2011 and was the band’s fourth. You don’t just roll out of bed and write music with this level of intricacy and make it seem effortless. Klone’s music is a labor of love and a function of sweat – and it deserves more recognition than it’s received.
A natural byproduct of this experience is a refined palate and capacity for strong decision-making. In Klone, this manifests as the good sense to avoid a choral recitation of elements – the understanding that the restraint to leave words unspoken and notes unplayed is sometimes the strongest artistic statement that can be made.
Check out Klone on their website: www.klonosphere.com/klone
Check out Klone on Facebook
Check out Klone on Soundcloud
Who will like it: Fans of Mastodon, Intronaut and The Mighty Boosh. People who like to color outside the lines, and then on the walls.
Who won’t like it: Fans of the human voice. People who like to label song sections as “verse” and “chorus.”
by Neil James
Imagine that you’re ambling through a sunny countryside. Your gait is slightly unsure, its certainty robbed by cheap whiskey and unmet expectations. Beyond defying your maker’s calling, your journey has no purpose. Eventually, after all sense of orientation has dissipated, you come across a stone obelisk bearing a desolate face. Its blank eyes become aglow as it prepares to transmit ages-old secrets through its piercing stare. As the connections between your neurons and muscles begin to break down, your body falls to its knees. At the same time, your consciousness swells, transcending location and time.
That exercise in psychotropic meditation reflects my best attempts to capture the surly, uncompromising imagery evoked by the above track – “Hammer Party” by Cymothoa.
The songwriting core of Cymothoa, guitarist Jef Ries and bassist Justin Boehne, have an extended history with Cwn Annwn. Ries’ and Boehne’s breakthrough project, Less Than Nothing, actually shared the stage with us at the 7th Street Entry for the Method Of Murder CD release show back in 2006. Upon the dissolution of Less Than Nothing, Ries and Boehne formed Lavinia, an act similar at its core but less beholden to the conventions of traditional songwriting. After losing their vocalist, Lavinia slowly transitioned into Cymothoa, a three-piece instrumental outfit whose artistic allegiances extend to no one beyond its members.
I once visited Justin and Jef in their practice space, and I remember the above graphic being scrawled on their whiteboard. While not exactly a controversial statement among those who’ve taken lessons or studied music theory, it stuck out in my mind. It surprises me how many bands will spend countless hours practicing sweep licks or dialing in their amp settings, but somehow fail to grasp the rhythmic subtleties that differentiate pedestrian from great acts.
And Cymothoa’s grasp of rhythmic subtleties extends far beyond differentiating triplets from dotted quarter notes. Throughout the band’s debut EP, Cymothoa displays a mastery of advanced metal concepts: seamless tempo changes, polyrhythmic looping and machine-tool caliber riffing precision.
Cymothoa’s command of metal riffage is highly evident on Snake Denim which blends the modern American thrash barrages of Lamb Of God with the disjointed mash of accents and staccato stabs made famous by Mastodon and other progressive acts. Just as impressively, the band smoothly transitions out of its complex compositions into tasty grooves, highlighted by a sophisticated, melodic chord progression that bears the scents of functional-addict era Stone Temple Pilots.
Sesame Street Fighter begins with a series of white noise waves lapping at the shore of an onslaught to come. A Kreator-esque “verse” composed of a flying flurry of power chords paints a landscape of aggression Randy Blythe himself would be proud to spit acid over. The song concludes with a thunderous earthquake of detuned insanity that threatens to rip the earth apart at its fault lines before descending into a Call Of Ktulu-esque fadeout.
One of the challenges an instrumental act faces is that you’re foregoing what is often a band’s most distinctive quality – its vocalist. But the mark of great instrumental, a mark that Cymothoa routinely hits, is that it’s not difficult to envision a variety of vocal stylings. Little effort is required to picture Brett Hinds or even Ozzy caterwauling over the chromatic 16th note slap fights and sneering atonal holds. A clean interlude that sounds like it was ripped from the notebook of a zombie redneck Billy Corgan provides a welcome respite before the song devolves into the chaos suggested by its chimerical title.
In a world of 140-character hot takes, Hollywood remakes and Bitstrips, the likelihood that the worlds of a sophisticated, progressive instrumental band and commercial success will ever collide is remote. But faced with the tradeoffs required to achieve the watered down mainstream success of Five Finger Death Punch and Bud Light, Cymothoa has thankfully opted for the path of self-fulfillment. Those of us with taste and an appreciation for craftsmanship look forward to many years of introducing the band as one of the Midwest’s best-kept secrets to others.
Check out Cymothoa on Facebook.
Check out Cymothoa on Reverbnation.
Check out Cymothoa on Zerobudget Records.
By Neil James
You just finished playing a show. Chatting up a friend at the bar, you ask how your band sounded.
The response you hear 99 times out of 100 – “you sounded great, bro!”
If post-show feedback was the truest, most objective standard of quality, we’d all be polishing our Rock and Roll Hall of Fame acceptance speeches.
Deep down, you know that you’re probably not as good as the “Great Show, Man” chorus suggests. But by how much? Is everybody just telling you what you want to hear?
The good news is that if you’ve got $35, now you can find out!
Audiokite is a web-based service designed to give you honest, objective reviews of your music. For $35, Audiokite gets 100 people to listen to a song that you upload for at least 40 seconds. These people then provide quality scores and feedback.
By getting 100 people to review your music instead of a blogger/reviewer whose critique may depend on how long its been since they last ate, you can get a more accurate of sense of how good your music is relative to others in your genre.
As a guy who does market research for a day job, one of the limitations of Audiokite is that 100 people is still smallish for a sample size. To feel totally confident about Audiokite scores, you really should have upwards of 400 people reviewing your music. Surveying just 100 people gets you in the ballpark of where your music sits, but if you were to repeat a 100-person Audiokite review for the same song multiple times, you would likely see some swing in the results in both directions.
In fairness, you can pay Audiokite more money to survey more people, but that’s going to cost quite a bit more than $35, defeating one of the principal advantages of the service.
To get around this limitation, we ran four tests, paying $140 to have four songs reviewed. We would expect to see some fluctuation from song-to-song, but by having 400 people review four tracks from the same CD, we could figure out approximately where our sound on a whole sits on the quality scale based on the range of results.
After a few days, we received our Audiokite reports. To say you get a lot of information is an understatement – for every song, you get a rating on a 10 point scale, written feedback, an analysis of commercial viability, licensing recommendations, listener sentiment, critique of individual elements and geographic segmentation.
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff.
If I swap my musician for my market research hat, I can comfortably say that not everything Audiokite gives you is useful. A good general rule for determining whether information is useful is whether or not knowing it causes you to act differently. Knowing that our music would be a much better fit for use in an action/adventure movie versus romance, for example, isn’t super helpful. Even if that wasn’t patently obvious to us, it isn’t as if one of our problems is that we’re wasting time trying to license our music in inappropriate places.
But acknowledging that some of what you get from Audiokite is fluff, there’s still plenty of really helpful intelligence to be gleaned.
In a vacuum though, that’s hard to draw conclusions from. Some people will look at 6.9 or 7.5 out of 10 as a failure. Some will view it as success.
The more useful metric is where your music sits in relation to others. At 7.5 out of 10, The Accuser was rated in the 99th percentile of all music uploaded to Audiokite, meaning that for every 100 songs reviewed by the service, only one received a higher score.
Now that’s pretty good! We can feel alright about that.
Knowing that all four of the tracks from Metamorphosis fell within the 75th to 99th percentile of submitted music, we can feel good about the decisions we made recording our latest album. Our choice to work with Eric Blomquist, Ian Combs and the team at RiverRock Studios – Minneapolis Recording Studio was an objectively good one. The extensive pre-production work we did was also time well spent. And we can also feel confident that our artistic decisions were sound as well.
Here’s our rating score for The Accuser.
What Do People Like And Dislike About You?
It’s one thing to know where your music stands on a 10-point and percentile scale. It’s another thing to know what you should do differently. Is there something your band is really good at? What do you suck at?
One of the ways you can learn answers to these questions is by reading the written feedback that reviewers leave about your music.
Frustratingly, you’ll find that a lot of the feedback you receive is contradictory. Consider both of these reviews of Embodied Chaos:
That sort of stuff is irritating, but that’s not Audiokite’s fault. You could ask 100 people to review a classic Metallica song and probably run into similar contradictions.
What you need to keep an eye out for as you’re reading feedback is trends and recurring themes. Unsurprisingly, people don’t dig our band name.
And while there were plenty who loved that our singer is female, that ended up being a turn-off for others.
In each of these instances, people don’t like artistic choices we’ve made. That happens – you can’t please everybody. But at least we can feel more confident that if people don’t like us, it’s because they’re not on board with the parts of our band that aren’t going to change – not because we’re grossly deficient in some part of the craft. And besides, even if we were prone to overreacting to criticism, we can look back on where we fit in the percentiles of reviewed music – at the scores we got, we’re doing a lot more right than we are wrong.
Besides the aforementioned sample size issues, the more niche your music, the less useful Audiokite is likely to be. When prompted to select a category for our music, nothing seemed to fit better than “hard rock / metal.” Even that feels like a broader audience than we’re trying to appeal to, and we’re a lot more accessible than many other metal bands. If you’re a death metal band, Audiokite is not going to be very representative of the audience you’re trying to appeal to, and your scores will reflect that.
Another limitation of Audiokite is that you don’t get a great sense for how you compare against bands who are successful. Our music definitely over-performs relative to the base of competing independent music uploaded to Audiokite. But where does it sit against actual signed acts? Audiokite does provide a chart that shows how we rate compared to songs in the Billboard 100, but it would be nice to get a clearer idea of how far our art is from touring acts in our genre.
Is it worth it?
Is Audiokite perfect? No. The cost needed to obtain statistically significant sample sizes is a little prohibitive. The more niche or extreme your genre, the less useful the reviews will be. And the data tends to err on the side of being overwhelming and unhelpful.
But $35 to get 100 people to review your music and get a directional sense of where your music sits in the marketplace is a pretty good deal, and one that I would recommend most bands invest in. If you can learn just one thing that helps you improve your art and your craft, it’s pretty safe to say your money was likely well spent.
Check out the Audiokite reviews of Cwn Annwn music:
By Neil James
I’m 35 years old and am fortunate to say that I’m still barely acquainted with death.
In many ways, the greatest achievement of modern-day America is my generation’s unfamiliarity with the great beyond. I know nothing of cholera. Tuberculosis. Starvation. War. Death is an abstract concept known only to our grandparents and distant figures on the local evening news.
This freedom from capricious mortality, however, is not a birthright nor an entitlement. It is random privilege. A chance blessing. A gift we “earned” by the happenstance of being born into a nation of abundance and wealth.
It is only in those moments where we are deprived of our random privileges – when the possibility of doing without brushes against our existence – that we recognize the fleeting nature of our blessings.
These are the thoughts that pass through my mind when I reflect on Ian Dailey.
Ian, a friend to myself, Mike and Harry, passed away in a tragic accident two months ago, leaving behind a loving wife Sara (née Hasledalen) and young son Evan. His passing was sudden, unexpected, and by everyone’s account, undeserved.
Many of Ian’s interests naturally lent themselves to friendship with the members of Cwn Annwn. Ian loved metal music and possessed particularly good taste within the genre. Ian also had an affinity for two of our culture’s finest institutions: comic books and pinball. It takes very little effort to picture Ian, ponytail flowing against the back of his At The Gates t-shirt, setting another unattainable record on the Spiderman pinball machine at Station 4. I remember expressing admiration for one particular extended run, to which he responded by detailing his frustration that broken table mechanics prevented him from completing all possible in-game missions.
More importantly, you’d be searching for a long time before you found a person with unkind words for Ian. Ian was a very generous and thoughtful man. A reflection of his limitless compassion and caring, Ian worked hard to put himself through nursing school and served in what can be a thankless, unappreciated profession with arduous pride.
As often happens, when the insidious roots of adulthood crept into our lives, our encounters grew more infrequent. This distance, however, barely buffered our shock and sadness when we learned of Ian’s sudden passing. We can barely imagine the void his loss has created for Sara and young Evan, and to even attempt to do so with words feels trivializing.
The outpouring of support for the Dailey family has been enormous, and we in Cwn Annwn are very grateful that they possess such a strong support network to help them through this difficult time. In a world where we’re quick to casually unfriend one another on Facebook because of a difference of opinion or a flippant remark, it’s been truly amazing to witness the reflexive, unthinking selflessness that so many have displayed.
On Friday, June 5th, Cwn Annwn will be performing at a show commemorating Ian’s life and helping to raise funds for his wife and young son. Joining us will be two acts whose members were similarly close to the Dailey family, Cold Colours (featuring Brian Huebner and Jon Rayl) and The Grande Machine (featuring Glen Wadie). All proceeds from the evening will be donated to Sara and Evan to assist them in their time of need. We hope that everyone reading this is able to attend for what will certainly be a special and heartfelt evening.
Even if you can’t attend, however, we hope that each of you can take a moment to reflect on the blessings in your life. Maybe it’s your spouse. Your mother. Your bandmates. Your cat. Your eccentric Uncle Jack. Despite our daily grievances, when you take inventory of the love, camaraderie and caring that surrounds you, you can’t help but appreciate those whose presence truly matters else just a little bit more.
By Neil James
Metal guitar players, stop me if this sounds familiar.
It took a few weeks, maybe months, but you finally finished writing that song you’ve been working on.
Because you’re in a metal band, it’s loosely based on something badass, say the Battletech Universe.
That’s okay though. You made copies of the tablature and distributed them at band practice.
Once you start putting it together though, something doesn’t sound right.
You can’t figure it out. Everybody’s following what you wrote.
But your killer song about Mechwarrior pride isn’t even fit enough to extol the virtues of a Roomba.
You didn’t write your song with your drummer. That’s what happened.
I’ve been writing songs for about 18 years. And like most people who’ve been writing songs for that long, I generally prefer the material from the second half of my career to the first.
For the first half of my career, my writing process was much closer to the one outlined above. Write in a notebook. Come up with clever Mechwarrior imagery. Dictate to the band. Call it a day.
The biggest problem with that approach is that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes, it all sort of gels together the way it’s supposed to. Other times, the song never feels quite right.
Slowly, however, I started to realize that the guitars didn’t have to carry the entire weight of a song. A great song wasn’t formed from a string of cool riffs but from the sum of the whole being more than the individual parts.
As I matured, I started bringing drums into the songwriting process earlier and earlier. Rather than trying to shoehorn percussion into an arbitrary arrangement, I tried to create sounds from combining drumbeats and riffs. From these sounds, these feels, I could control the dynamics better and didn’t having to wrack my brain trying to write the perfect complementary riff – a riff that often didn’t exist. And I was happier than the results.
At first, that required working really closely with Jake (our drummer) to test different beats and sculpt my riffs into the sounds I was trying to achieve. Eventually, I got to the point where I could draft my own beats and direct Jake in order to extract the exact sound I wanted.
That may a little abstract, so let me show you specifically what I mean:
Take a look at the above riff. It’s a semi-generic metal riff played on a 7-string guitar somewhere in neighborhood of 200 BPM.
The below player shows what this riff sounds like. This is how most guitar players who write such a riff will hear it in their heads.
Let’s say that your drummer is of Ulrichian descent. He’ll apply a standard albeit tempo-appropriate rock beat to this riff, giving you the foundations of a traditional thrash song.
Here’s where life gets a little interesting. If your drummer plays at half-tempo, you’ve got a completely different song. Something sludgier, doomier and arguably heavier.
You didn’t change a thing about your riff. It’s the exact same guitar line, but it’s a 100% completely different feel, and the listener will hear it as such.
Understanding this distinction, as obvious as it may seem, is the mark of a more polished songwriter. Your drummer, in and of him or herself, can drastically impact your song without the guitar player changing a note.
Here’s the exact same riff, but with a blast beat. Note how, without having altered the riff, we now have a death metal song.
Similarly, it’s easy to transform this riff into traditional metalcore. Just leave some vacuous space for mournful melodic vocals à la Howard Jones era Killswitch Engage. Follow it up with rhythmically precise double-kick that’s overplaying given the material. Presto – you’re now channeling Massachusetts-style metalcore.
Give your drummer even more discretion and you can gain access to the wonderful world of prog and create something that really warps the feel. In this example, a 3/4 beat has been superimposed over the 4/4 riff to create a polyrhythm with a small fill at the end that ties it up neatly for repeating.
In each of the above examples, the drum beat dictates the style of the music. But style is only the beginning of how drums can impact your songwriting!
In the below example, again, we have the exact same guitar riff. The drummer is playing a traditional thrash beat like before, but has offset the start by a few eighth notes after the riff has begun. By changing where the “one” downbeat and accents lie, a simple shift in the big picture, you end up with an entirely different sound.
Harnessing the ability of drums to shape your songs is really liberating. It gives you a tool for getting unstuck when you just can’t come up with a complementary guitar riff. It reduces the likelihood that a song will suffer from “every part sounds the same” monotony. Most importantly though, writing with your drummer gives you new angles for creative exploration that neither of you would be able to achieve in isolation.
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.