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Future World--Metal & the Digital Revolution

Heavy Metal is a terminal disease and I’m afflicted with a very acute strain of this condition to the point that I sometimes find myself putting into Metal-perspective stuff I hear and read from time to time -- stuff seemingly unrelated to Metal. Seriously.

Recently I read a review of a book whose author seemed to have looked into his crystal ball and attempted to predict future developments in the music industry. There I was again thinking how various suggestions could affect the Metal scene.

1. In the near future, music shall be universally acquired from a virtual ‘Celestial Jukebox’. For a nominal fee, Mr. Public may tap into this gigantic audio-database from a wide range of hardware, such as mobile phones, laptops and iPods. Artists would earn their living according to a pro-rata, per second usage of their music from this ‘jukebox’.

My first thought was: How shall the touring circuit of my favorite bands be affected? Maybe there shall be a ‘Celestial Webcam-box’ where for a nominal fee I could switch to live-viewing, from a Vanishing Point home gig to the Milwaukee Metal Festival, just at the click of a mouse. Nah, that’s impossible! You see, the beauty of Metal is that it’s emotive in a very physical way. I don’t just close my eyes and let my ears absorb the music – but I open my eyes, and possibly even my skull after an intense headbanging session. What I’m trying to say is that compared to other music genres, Metal isn’t just about listening to music, but more about feeling it - to a point where it becomes an integral part of you.

2. Music shall become more of a service and less of a product.

Personally I don’t think this can apply to Metal. I mean, I can’t even imagine Metal without band T-shirts, posters, uncensored CD-sleeves, Black Metal/Power Metal, etc., imagery, denim & leather, etc…..Plus why are we distinguishing music as a ‘service’ or ‘product’? Why not by ‘genre’ or even ‘underground/mainstream’ any more? This is a trap most business executives fall into - they insist on considering music as an aspect of marketing activities and not vice-versa. Consequentially fans and artists are very often alienated.

3. The next generation of music fans is growing up in a compilation culture.

Let’s clarify this ‘compilation culture’ thing. There are 2 types of compilations: one is more often than not a blatant money-maker tool. The other is of the home-made type where you burn a CD of your favorite tracks/bands.

With very few exceptions, such as tribute albums or Pentagram cult compilations, I still don’t think the average metalhead is one to go for official anthologies. It’s usually Rap, Pop, or even Classical music fans that dig this stuff. Let’s also not forget concept albums which are becoming increasingly common in Metal (Rhapsody, Royal Hunt, Meshuggah, Dream Theatre, Desecration, Biomechanical) making compilations pretty pointless.

4. There is an increased subversive marketing effort in promoting the perception that fans are influencing the development of artists.

This is really interesting! Imagine not just competitions such as ‘Pop Idol’ or ‘American Idol’ that have nothing to do with Metal, but also the use of the internet to entice fan interaction. For example several bands give fans a chance to decide on their tour set-lists…music marketing genius Gene Simmons (Kiss) even makes himself available to be interviewed by fans through his official website.

So, this can be considered valid for Metal. Whether this is a positive or negative development ultimately depends on the personal agenda of the artist in question.

Self-enthroning myself as a Metal prophet, I’d say major labels have their existence increasingly threatened. Bands are realizing that a good know-how of I.C.T. tools, particularly Internet-related software, could enable them to diffuse their own music considerably (and cost-effectively) well while remaining unsigned. Prog-rockers Marillion had recently become the first major-selling band to rely on the Internet to promote their activities and recordings while remaining unsigned.

Like everything else, Metal shall continue to be affected by technological developments. The quality of CDs, recording equipment and music instruments are also indirectly having repercussions on the standard of Metal.

Happily, some things will never change in this music scene. Rock and Metal music is intrinsically related to rebelling against taboos and norms and was in fact born as such. So I guess that as long as there shall be someone to dictate the rules of society or define ‘normality’, then there shall also always be Metal.

--Chris Galea (MetalKnight) [June 2005]            

Source: "The Future of Music: Manifesto for the Digital Music Revolution" by Dave Kusek as reviewed in "The Economist" by Jason Karaian

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