Go Live or Go Home: a Critical Analysis of the Music Industries

The music ‘industries’ (Williamson and Cloonan, 2007) have undergone a large number of changes throughout its history, having to cope with the ever changing landscape of music and technology. As technology continues to advance at an exponential rate, the industries have found it harder than ever to maintain profit and relevance. The focus of the music industries has changed exceptionally within the last twenty years, with the advent of web 2.0 (and subsequently, ‘music 2.0’) reshaping the production and distribution of music forever. With this in mind, it has been suggested that the focus of the music industries has shifted towards live music as the primary source of income for both artists and labels. Using the available academia and public records, we shall attempt to uncover the reality of the music industries landscape in the 21st century.

Martin Cloonan states that ‘the UK’s live music scene is of greater economic value than its record industry’ (2011). This can be backed up by The Economist’s Will Page and Chris Carey, who in 2009 estimated that the UK live music industry was valued at 1537 million pounds, next to the record industry’s 1356 million (2010). This trend continues through 2010 and 2011, with 2011 statistics estimating the value of the live music industry at 1624 million pounds next to the recording sector’s 1112 million (Brookes, 2011). From these statistics, it would suggest that the live music sector has not only weathered the technological storm better than the recording sector, but has benefitted significantly from this shift in the music industries. Live music in the UK is stronger than ever, economically speaking, with the recording industry struggling to halt a steep decline.

Not only has the live music industry superseded the recording industry in value, but ‘by 2011 the most important music company in the world was no longer a record label, but Live Nation’ (Morrow, 2013). Live Nation is an events company, and owns the world’s largest ticketing agency, Ticketmaster. The United States Congress discussed the merger in 2009, with Senator Herb Kohl stating, ‘This merger will not only expand Ticketmaster’s control of the ticketing market, but it is also creating an entity that will control an entire chain of the concert business’ (2009). This mirrors the state of the music industries in the UK, as outlined by Page and Carey, as well as Brookes (2009, 2011). The industry world-wide is moving towards the business of live music, with Live Nation exerting the sort of monopolistic power that we associate with the recording industry.

If we consider the statement put forward by Sen. Kohl, we can identify a serious issue within the booming live music sector – a lack of balance throughout the many different tiers of concert promotion. Although live music is now the most valuable asset within the music industries, Page and Carey note that ‘earnings in live music are heavily skewed towards the top’ (in Morrow, 2013). Australia can be seen as a perfect example of this skew, as Coupe posits that:

‘In financial terms, touring Australia does not make much sense; the costs incurred travelling between major metropolitan areas are too high and the fierce competition between the top promoters means that they constantly under-cut one another to secure contracts’ (in Morrow, 2013).

As such, only top tier acts can expect to make a profit touring Australia, and only large events companies like Live Nation can afford to put on these massively expensive tours. So, whilst the live music sector has weathered the technological storm far better than the recording sector, in markets such as Australia, the profit is largely skewed towards top end companies.

this point we might ask how live music continues to be a draw for people where recorded music is not. The technological advancement of the last 20 years, particularly the invention of web 2.0 (and subsequently, P2P file-sharing), has made access to free music easier than ever before, creating a hole which the record industry has been very slow to fill. Young and Collins use an example published in The Economist to illustrate the move away from physical copies of recorded music:

‘In 2006 EMI, the world’s fourth-biggest recorded-music company, invited some teenagers into its headquarters in London to talk to its top managers about their listening habits. At the end of the session the EMI bosses thanked them for their comments and told them to help themselves to a big pile of CDs sitting on a table. But none of the teens took any of the CDs, even though they were free. ‘That was the moment we realised the game was completely up,’ says a person who was there’ (2010).

Recorded music, as we can observe, is no longer as desirable as it once was. At least, not in a physical format. The rise of the digital market in music is something that the recording industry has been slow to capitalise on, whilst P2P is almost impossible to police, leaving both artists and labels with lost potential profit.

‘The music industry ascribes heavy losses in sales to file sharing, that is, users illegally download music files through Peer-to-Peer (P2P) networks,’ states Jeong Gicheol and Lee Jongsu, illustrating the recording industry’s inability to restructure itself within the modern music landscape (2010). However, their study of Korean consumers also shows that even with a lowered price point, ‘the estimated WTP [willingness to pay] for downloading one music file is remarkably lower than the actual price of a file’ (Gicheol and Jongsu, 2010). The threat of legal action in this case is not significant enough to offset the cheaper price point of downloading music illegally via P2P sharing networks. As such, the recording sector has struggled to weather the technological storm that has occurred with the emergence of Web 2.0. Live music does not have such an impediment to potential profit as it does not deal in a tangible product that can be shared illegally via the internet.

Whilst technological advancements have hindered the profitability of recorded music, it hasn’t done the same in the live music sector. The technological storm of the 21st century has, however, significantly reshaped the concert-going experience. Punters will still go and see their favourite bands live, but the way in which they consume this live experience has changed with technology. With the invention of smart-phones and the advancement of digital recording equipment, many fans choose to view their favourite bands through the lens of a piece of high-end technology. Lingel and Naaman echo this suggestion, stating:

‘If the enduring image of concert-going in the 1960s was enthusiastic attendees waving their lighters in approval of an acoustic guitar set, in the 2000s, the prevalent view of live music could very well be a sea of music lovers with their mobile phones raised to capture video for rapid uploading to a variety of social media sites.’ (2012)

Lingel and Naaman’s study of a group of concert attendees found that even though they are now recording the concert and uploading it to social media sites, this has not become a replacement for seeing live music. ‘For several interviewees, it was important to point out that watching videos of concerts was not a substitute for physical attendance’, the study finds, quoting one interviewee as saying, ‘there’d be no point of [editing a video] for a show I wasn’t at … it’d just make me sad I wasn’t there’ (Lingel and Naaman, 2012). This study indicates that where technology has provided consumers of recorded music with a much cheaper alternative, it hasn’t replaced the concert-going experience. This explains the continued growth of the live music sector as well as the continued decline of the recording sector. Technology has changed the mode through which we experience live music, but it doesn’t impede on the profitability of live music – ‘a unique experience’ (Morrow, 2013).

In response to technological advancement, record labels have had to significantly reshape the structure of their contracts with recording artists. No longer feeling they can turn a significant profit from record sales, labels have turned to what is commonly referred to as the ‘360 deal’. The 360 deal means ‘the record label participates in and receives income from a range of musical activities beyond the sales of recordings’ (Marshall, 2012). This entails taking a share of the profits in merchandising, sponsorship, live music, and broadcast, which is bargained for in exchange for larger royalty shares and advances. It has become the new standard for recording contracts, in a bid for record labels to maintain profitability on a long term basis through a myriad of revenue streams rather than solely through record sales.

The origins of the 360 deal can be found through EMI, who signed Robbie Williams in 2002; although not technically a 360 deal, ‘it was an innovative deal that garnered much media attention and offers a significant precursor to deals later in the decade’ (Marshall, 2012). Functioning as two separate deals, it was the second which illustrated a shift in record contracts towards a wider pool of revenue streams. Marshall states that, ‘Williams agreed to share some of the income generated by his activities outside of recordings,’ which set the groundwork for what would become the 360 deal (2012). Although EMI would be absorbed into the Warner Music Group in 2012, Wordsworth suggests that this deal was successful, as it ‘went into profit for EMI pretty quickly’ (in Marshall, 2012).

Here we have seen how the record label EMI has tried to combat the declining sales of physical music. This particular deal might be considered a success, but it is worthy of note that its success was not due to an increase in record sales, but a restructuring towards other sectors of the music industries, most notably being live music. This is a testament to the resilience of the live sector that labels must now rely on live revenue to make profit. However, although these deals might be considered legal, record labels must combat the continued insistence from artists that claim 360 deals are still unfair. Bouton states that:

‘…even if 360 deals are deemed to be legal, as long as the perception is that they are unfair and unconscionable, the record labels will have to think of new strategies to keep high profile clients and stay afloat as the music industry faces tough economic times’ (2009).

As we can observe from this statement, 360 deals may not prove to be the silver bullet the record industry is hoping for, as it struggles to cope with the technological advancement of the 21st century. The live music sector once again proves to be the main source of revenue within the music industries.

Where we have dealt with the effects of the technological storm of the 21st century on record labels and events companies, it worth also considering the impact this has had on the artist. Whilst events companies such as Live Nation continue to dominate the world stage in music production, the practices of the industries still remain entrenched in the culture of the 50s and the 60s; distorting artists for as much profit as possible. Indeed, Cloonan notes in his essay on policy implications that ‘at many gigs bands will not even be paid (often they will be told that any gig is good for their profile and publicity’ (2011). This outlines the reality that lower and mid-tier acts are constantly cut short by events companies, and struggle to break even. Whilst Live Nation is dealing in highly profitable international acts, such as Madonna and Jay-Z, who have the sway to ensure payment, smaller promoters will often distort expenses in order to make a profit.

We can use the case study of Boy & Bear conducted by Julian Morrow, former artist-manager for the band, to highlight the risks involved with entering live music at the low and mid-level tiers in Australia. As Australia is a ‘relatively small territory (in terms of population) with arguably more promoters per-capita than anywhere else’, artists will often be cut short in the race to procure a band for a tour (Morrow, 2013). Boy & Bear illustrate the ways in which technology can be used to combat unsavoury business practice, with the involvement of companies such as Music Glue, who provide ‘online marketing and e-commerce solutions for artists, managers, promoters and venues’ (Morrow, 2013). They do this by ‘providing the tools that enable direct artist-fan engagement’, which enables bands to exchange music for email addresses, allowing them to cheaply promote future tours. Music Glue claims that this service is ‘demanded by an increasingly tech aware and empowered customer base’ (Morrow, 2013).

As we are dealing in an increasingly tech-savvy market, it would be pertinent also address the ways in which artists have used technology to their advantage in the recording sector, albeit at the exclusion of record labels. Morrow illustrates an example of this, stating: ‘British rock band Radiohead released their seventh album In Rainbows as a digital download for which consumers chose their own price’ (2009). Although no official figures have been released, the exercise might be consider a success, as Morrow notes, ‘it directed a large amount of traffic to their website from which consumers could purchase concert tickets…merchandise…and had the potential to increase the sale of their back-catalogue’ (2009). However, it must be noted that a large portion of the success found by Radiohead is due to their experience within the old system, having previously been bound by a major label contract with EMI. This successful use of technology in the recording sector cannot hope to be emulated by every upstart band in saturated market.

We must therefore conclude that the live music sector has easily weathered the technological storm of the 21st century much better than that of the recording sector. With Live Nation becoming the largest music organisation in the world, and record labels continuing to lose the fight against P2P file-sharing, it is clear that record labels are no longer the driving force in the music industry they once were. The implementation of the 360 deal by record labels has proved to be moderately successful, albeit only through tapping into revenue streams outside of record sales. There is also a continued distrust of labels as being unfair towards the artist. The live music sector is therefore still the most profitable aspect of the music industries, despite the disparity between smaller and larger acts. Artists have been able to combat this disparity through the emergence of companies such as Music Glue, which enable them to market directly to their fan-base through the internet. The recording sector is still unable to find a in a tech-savvy society, where the experience of a live show will continue to remain irreplaceable.

Reference:

Bouton, D (2009) ‘The Music Industry in Flux: Are 360 Record Deals the Saving Grace or the Coup de Grace’, Virginia Sports and Entertainment Law Journal, v9 n2: 312-321.

Brookes, N (2012) Adding Up the Music Industry for 2011, London: PRS for Music

Cloonan, M (2011) ‘Researching Live Music: Some Thoughts on Policy Implications’, International Journal of Cultural Policy, v17 n4: 405-420.

Gicheol, J, and Jongsu, L (2010), ‘Estimating consumer preferences for online music services’, Applied Economics, v42 n30: 3885-3893.

Lingel, J and Naaman, M (2012) ‘You should have been there, man: Live music, DIY content and online communities’, New Media and Society, v14 n2: 332-349.

Marshall, L (2012) ‘The 360 Deal and the ‘New’ Music Industry’, European Journal of Cultural Studies, v16 n1: 77-99.

Morrow, G (2009) ‘Radiohead’s Managerial Creativity’, Convergence: The International Journal of Research into New Media Technologies, v15 n2: 161- 176.

Morrow, G (2013) ‘The Influence of Dirty Pool on the Australian Live Music Industry: A Case Study of Boy & Bear’, Tschmuck, P, Pearce, P and Campbell, S (eds.) Music Business and the Experience Economy: The Australasian Case, 135-152.

Page, W and Carey, C (2010) Adding Up the Music Industry for 2009, London: PRS for Music

United States. Congress. Senate. Committee on the Judiciary. Subcommittee on Antitrust, C. Policy. (2010). The TicketMaster/Live Nation merger: what does it mean for consumers and the future of concert business? : hearing before the Subcommittee on Antitrust, Competition Policy, and Consumer Rights of the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate, One Hundred Eleventh Congress, first session, February 24, 2009. Washington: U.S. G.P.O.

Williamson, J and Cloonan, M (2007) ‘Rethinking “the music industry”’, Popular Music, v26 n2: 305-322.

Young, S and Collins, S (2010) ‘A View from the Trenches of Music 2.0’, Popular Music and Society, v33 n3: 339-355.

Making Metal is ‘Risky’ Business

Last month, I read an opinion piece on Metalsucks about risking-taking in music. Immediately sceptical, given how broad the concept of ‘risk-taking’ is, I read on to have my suspicions confirmed. The author, ‘Vince Neilstein’, struggled to outline what exactly he meant by ‘risk-taking’, nor did he apply the term consistently with his own loose definition. According to Neilstein, we will ‘never see another Metallica’, and the days of sprawling creative statements such as The Beatles’ The White Album and Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti achieving mainstream success are over. He goes further and suggests that these records are examples of ‘oddball’ left turns in the context of their respective careers. From this we can deduce that he means to suggest that mainstream artists no longer make these sort of creatively challenging statements, at least as it pertains to their own musical history.

Whilst I agree that these two albums are brilliant examples of forward thinking music, I disagree with the notion that either of them constitutes an ‘oddball left turn’. Both The White Album and Physical Graffiti are the result of a very clear musical progression through years of fine-tuning their respective craft. In fact, The White Album was directly preceded by Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts’ Club Band, often cited as the first concept album ever written. Likewise, the precursor to Led Zeppelin’s Physical Graffiti is Houses of the Holy, often cited as a turning point in the bands career towards more richly layered, expansive song-writing. I cannot understand, given these facts, how he can possibly assert that either The White Album or Physical Graffiti are in any way surprising. The Beatles in particular had been experimenting with different instruments and more complex song-writing as far back as Rubber Soul (‘Norwegian Wood’ features the use of an Indian sitar). So, the idea that either of these albums came out of nowhere is ridiculous, but we can still analyse his claims as they relate to modern music (specifically, Lamb of God and Mastodon).

In the opinion piece, Neilstein looks at a number of prominent modern metal acts and how their latest releases reflect a tendency to either play it safe or ‘take risks’. The first example he brings to the table is Lamb of God, whom he claims, ‘Have basically written the same album every time since As the Palaces Burn with varying production aesthetics’. Given that the following album, Ashes of the Wake, represents what is often considered their definitive musical statement, I find it hard to agree with this suggestion. It is true that Lamb of God has never thrown us a real curveball, but much like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, they have matured their sound with each successive release. Ashes of the Wake represents a more conscious move towards groove and thrash metal, whilst also introducing more frequent solos. Wrath introduces more expansive song-writing, highlighted by the slow-burn epic that is ‘Reclamation’, which uses acoustic guitars to contrast with the brutal crescendo. Even the relatively lack-lustre Resolution has ‘Insurrection’ and ‘King Me’, both of which make use of clean vocals. The latter of which, ‘King Me’, even features the use of strings.

Does this equate to ‘risk-taking’, though? Lamb of God has been incredibly influential in the emergence of the ‘New Wave of American Heavy Metal’, with Ashes of the Wake now regarded as a metal classic of the 21st century. Though it is hard to think of Lamb of God as ‘risky’ now, pioneering a movement never assures success; many of their contemporaries have fallen by the wayside, having either stalled or disappeared completely throughout the last decade. Having stayed one step ahead of their many imitators, they have forged a legacy that will surely go down in the history of modern American metal. If The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, or Lamb of God are to be seen as ‘risky’, it is not in relation to their own back-catalogue, but their place in the current musical landscape.

Of course, that is not always the case. Another example Neilstein puts forward in an attempt to illustrate his claim is Mastodon, progressive sludge metal giants known for reshaping their sound with each release. In this sense, Mastodon seem to fit his interpretation of ‘risk-taking’, as their 2012 release, The Hunter, represents a completely about turn from 2009’s Crack the Skye. Not today; Neilstein sees The Hunter as little more than a compact version of their pre-existing sound, and therefore does not constitute ‘risk’. No, what Neilstein wants is an even proggier Crack the Skye. The Hunter may be Mastodon’s version of a pop album, but given that they are Mastodon, it is without a doubt far riskier than simply giving the fans (Neilstein included) what they want: more insane prog-sludge. We seem to have a completely different definition of ‘risk-taking’ for Lamb of God as we do Mastodon, which completely undermines the point of the article. However, since Mastodon decided to release Once More ‘Round the Sun, which is essentially The Hunter Part II: The Rehuntening, perhaps Neilstein could see the horror that was to come. Let’s hope they pick their game up the next time around.

There are many more examples I could pick apart in excruciating detail, including the declaration that Avenged Sevenfold’s Hail the King was risky (only in the sense that Metallica might sue), but I would be here all day. The reality of the matter is that there are many successful 21st century bands with the capacity to make interesting music which pushes the boundaries of the heavy metal genre; Mastodon, despite dropping the ball with Once More…, has shown they really have no limitations when it comes to writing a good tune; Lamb of God are the most important groove metal band since Pantera. These are just two examples of innovative metal bands finding mainstream success today. Whilst they may not be as successful as Metallica, the notion that it may never happen again is stupendous. Heavy metal is young, and more than enough forward-thinking bands are lining up to take their place.

Live: Blacksmith at Spectrum – Hard Rock Lives! (4/7/14)

You’d be forgiven for thinking that hard rock is dead. It is a genre that survives almost entirely on the continued success of its elder statesmen. Slash is putting out a new album this year, and last year saw the release of Black Star Rider’s (ex-Thin Lizzy) fantastic All Hell Breaks Loose, but looking for younger hard rock bands worth talking about is a tough job. Those that have found mainstream success in the new millennium are more indebted to garage rock and psychedelia than the guitar heroism of Jimmy Page and Tony Iommi. A small glimmer of hope for the future can be found in the sleaze-soaked glory of Black Stone Cherry, The Answer, Rattlesnake, and now Blacksmith. Based in Sydney, Blacksmith employ blistering fretwork and soaring vocal acrobatics not seen since the heyday of Guns N’ Roses. Tonight, the small crowd gathered at Spectrum were treated to a short, powerful burst of great hard rock. With a little more practice and on-stage flare, they might just make a name for themselves.

Blacksmith’s modus operandi became abundantly clear with set opener, ‘Elysium Planes’, paving the way for a monstrous cover of Rolling Stones’ favourite ‘Brown Sugar’. The Stones have often flirted with hard rock, and Blacksmith took this tendency to its logical conclusion, injecting new life into a piece of classic rock history. The band then ploughed through the remainder of their set with originals both old and new, proving they need not rely on covers to put on a show. Highlights of the high voltage performance include the Sam Barker-penned ‘Iron Halo’, a HIM flavoured hard rocker punctuated by epic leads channelling New Wave of British Heavy Metal legends Iron Maiden, and ‘Robot Werewolves’, a catchy sci-fi themed romp sounding not all too dissimilar to Perth’s Psychonaut. The best was saved for last, however, as they returned to the stage after an 8-song set to perform an encore of Black Sabbath’s ‘Snowblind’. If you weren’t headbanging up until this point, you definitely were now.

With that, it must be said – Blacksmith are a well oiled unit of practised musicians, but they lack the stage presence to truly engage with the audience. Vocalist Jono Palmer stands meekly at centre stage, sipping wine in between wails, which blunts the edge of his impressive range. Likewise, lead guitarist Felix Short’s technical proficiency is undermined by his rigid stage movements and unwavering focus on the fret board. Self-described ‘assault and battery’, drummer Nick Spellicy proved serviceable if not terribly original, providing a solid grounding for the rapid fire guitar. Rhythm and sometimes lead guitarist Sam Barker and bassist Cameron Cooper were definitely the most entertaining, striking poses, making faces, and providing playful banter throughout the set. Having arrived with modest expectations, I was pleasantly surprised to know that amongst the sea of ill-advised cock rock revival bands populating the scene, there are some genuinely promising newcomers. I’m also partial to any band that gives away free stubby holders.

Heavy Metal Hegemony: It’s a Man’s World

Heavy metal is hardly the most feminine genre of music. Large, hairy men stalk the world’s stages, broadcasting the soundtrack to the apocalypse through an unending stack of amplifiers. These champions of the ugly and downtrodden seemingly have little to offer to the fairer of the sexes… but appearances aren’t everything.

More women are making themselves known in the metal world, with bands such as Arch Enemy and Nightwish (two successful female-fronted metal bands) being prime examples. However, whilst the genre is more accessible than ever to women, the culture remains firmly rooted in heterosexual male ideals. Women are still placed on pedestals as objects of beauty and perfection as they sway gracefully before the microphone, whilst an overweight bald man glides across the stage on his belly. Should they choose to reject this notion of femininity, they must adopt an entirely masculine stage persona – even if they adopt this attitude, the plight of sexualisation persists in the heavy metal community.

Sam Barker is a woman who seeks to overcome this plight, having been influenced by heavy metal since she was fourteen. Going to an all-girls high school, she found that very few people shared her passion for hard rock and heavy metal; nonetheless she taught herself how to play guitar and formed a band. After high school, she attended the Australian Institute of Music, where she met the all-female members of local glam-revival outfit Thrüsh. Working at local metal nightclub Venom, she was able to book the band their first gigs, turning heads in the process. Regardless, being a woman in metal has its complications.

“It’s got its ups and its downs. There are a lot of negative connotations with it, but there are a couple of positive things,” Sam enthuses, suggesting that although it has its downsides, it isn’t all bad. “So, for example, being a chick means that I get more recognised ‘cuz there’s not many women. I don’t know the statistics specifically, but there are just…there are no women.” Women are few and far between in the metal scene, which can be both a good and bad thing for prospective musicians. One must yield to a male-dominated culture in order to make the grade (there is no ‘be yourself’), yet there are very few female musicians to challenge you.

Of course, this is only so long as you satisfy the aesthetic criteria. You might be able to shred alongside Eddie Van Halen, but there’s little success to be found if you look like Angus Young. Assuming you do satisfy these arbitrary beauty standards, however, does ability matter as much? “If I was a guy doing the exact same things as what I do, it probably wouldn’t be acknowledged as much,” Sam asserts. Perhaps you might be able to build a name for yourself on looks alone, yet the very crowd which propped you up on these merits will question your integrity as a musician. If you’re like Sam, toiling somewhere in the middle of feminine and masculine, you get a little of both: “I do get judged a lot more, and it’s a lot to do with aesthetic value as well as…it’s not just musical value.”

I can’t argue with her. In 2010, Revolver Magazine published their ‘Hottest Chicks in Metal’ calendar, which featured Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy fame. She slammed the magazine saying, “I don’t like the ‘Hottest Chicks in Metal’ movement at all. I think it’s kind of counterproductive and retro” in an interview with KNAC (an online magazine). She goes on to say, “it’s an embarrassment for female musicians, who actually are musicians,” ramming home the fact that looks have nothing to do with how you play your instrument.

These lofty beauty standards leave men at the door the moment you cross into the heavy metal subculture. Gone is the need for a trim waist and perfect skin, as going to any number of metal shows will illustrate. Instead, you find the sort of people you would normally associate with dirty bars and dark alleyways. Or, as Sam simply puts it, “there are a lot of hairy dudes.” Beauty is totally subjective, though, as Sam herself exemplifies: “I find hairy metal heads exceptionally attractive.” However, it is far more socially acceptable to be attracted to a conventionally unattractive man than a woman of the same calibre – this is only magnified by the distinct lack of women participating in the scene.

She went on to tell me about her experience at a Children of Bodom show in Sydney. Supporting the death metal titans was a local band called Voyager; their lead guitarist, Simone Drow, took the stage as it was time to perform. “A lot of guys around thought she was a roadie,” Sam told me, describing her as ‘”stocky” and “not the most feminine”. Following the realisation that she was actually a part of the band, people started making “derogatory comments… because she wasn’t hot, conventionally.” Afterwards, Sam found the most common reaction was “she’s alright for a girl”. As a guitarist herself, Sam knows exactly how it feels to receive such underhanded praise. Women can never escape their gender in the realm of metal, which mars the expectation put upon them by their peers – even if they do find the recognition they deserve, as Sam and many others have, they are still often met with the tired remark. Sam and Simone are both guitarists, which highlights another issue confronting women in metal; their place in the band.

“It’s sad, but most women are keyboardists or bass players. Guitarists are less common, but the rarest thing is a female drummer. I’ve met four of them in my life.” The most common place women find in bands is that of the vocalist, as Angela Gossow of Arch Enemy and Floor Jansen of Nightwish illustrate. Perhaps this reflects a need for women to be on display to be appreciated. Women might not be able to find recognition if they hide behind an instrument, concealing their aesthetic. Perhaps this is also why female drummers are so rare, along with the stigma attached to drummers as being ‘cavemen of the future’.

With all this focus on beauty, one would be forgiven for thinking that metal isn’t a culture built for outsiders after all. It seems society’s standards for women have persisted despite the declaration of metal as music for the ugly and downtrodden. This can be put down to metal being established from the very beginning of its life as a ‘boys club’. Even the most feminine of the metal genres, glam metal, lacks a solid female talent base to draw on. “The whole glam thing is men wearing spandex and tights in order to appease a primarily male-oriented audience. The whole premise is objectifying women, partying, doing drugs. It’s like this peacocking affair for other guys to admire,” Sam explains. Glam is no refuge for women in metal, as it displays and perpetuates the same misogyny found in other forms of the genre.

Misogyny is everywhere, though. As horrible as it is for women in the metal scene, it is still very much outsider music. The abrasive sound and dark lyrics could never be fully accepted by a mainstream audience. The music rails against everything that defines popular music, even if the culture is still in many ways rooted in larger cultural trends. Sam agrees, “I think Metal is still very much outsider music. I mean that’s the whole theory of metal being for outsiders. But at the same time you’re gonna get the stigmatism with women everywhere. Metal is very misogynistic, but you get that everywhere: in music, in the arts, in media…just anything.”

The rampant objectification and dismissal of women hasn’t gone unnoticed by all, however, as the rise of bands like Steel Panther seek to expose and make fun of this phenomenon. A parody glam metal band, Steel Panther have gained a huge amount of success through their blunt portrayal of eighties hair metal. Although their success has been able to illuminate the sexism in metal for some, there are still many who take the band at face-value. Sam concurs, “Steel Panther have started to poke fun at misogyny in the metal scene… [but] people are still laughing without realising the connotations behind it.”

Sam takes a lot of cues from Steel Panther in her own endeavours with Thrüsh – the five members of the band dress in provocative clothing, including leather, spandex, and fishnets. The band plays a similar style of eighties hard rock, whilst spouting lyrics about using boys and getting trashed; somewhat of a female appropriate of Steel Panther’s own lyrics. “There are five females in the band, and we use that to take the piss out of being objectified,” Sam continues, “a lot of our songs were piss-takes out of the whole glam rock scene, the metal scene, women in metal.” Despite her best intentions, Sam still found that the males in her audience were using that to further legitimize objectifying her and the band: “Some people were saying that, you know, your music parodies that, so therefore it’s okay for us to objectify you because you’re saying so yourself, which wasn’t the case.”

Surely, I thought, being a woman in metal would not only be degrading but also incredibly difficult to crack. After all, if no one takes you seriously, how are you supposed to progress in a world defined by the tastes of your peers? Sam says it isn’t as hard as it might seem – “I’ve been noticed since day one. I started clubbing and it didn’t take me long to get a dent in the local scene.” I assumed this would only last so long, perhaps as a result of merely being a good-looking woman in the right place at the right time, but Sam continues to impress me with the swiftness of her ascent: “Within a year I ended up working at the biggest metal club in Sydney, I had a single come out, I had a lot of recognition from a lot of the local scene. I mean, it’s been two years now, and I’d say I’m definitely a big part of the scene.”

Despite heterosexual male ideology being at the forefront of metal for all of its forty-odd year existence, many women like Sam have made their mark, or began to make their mark. Unfortunately, much of this demands adopting one of two types of personas: one must either embrace their femininity to the fullest, or disregard it entirely. Almost all notably successful women in metal adhere to one of these archetypes in a bid to compete with the men who’ve owned this genre since its beginning. Sam is one of the few women who choose to be entirely themselves on stage, and her success can be attributed not only to her musical prowess, but her cunning ability to navigate the scene.

Making the most of your situation is admirable, but it’s definitely something that needs to change. One can only hope that metal culture will begin to shed its juvenile approach to women, but Sam thinks we still have a while to go; when I asked her if she thought it would change anytime soon, she had this to say: “Maybe. I don’t know – every now and then I see a little glimmer of hope when someone takes me seriously as a musician.” This is hardly fair, but until something changes Sam and others like her will have to put up with being marginalized and objectified. That said, she wishes there was something she could do. “Until I can do something about it, which I don’t know, I might never be able to do something about. As a feminist I want equality within the sexes and the metal scene’s very close to heart – but until then I’m just going to have to take the piss out of it some more.”

This article was published with the express permission of those interviewed