How to get ahead in heavy metal
Rex Brown, Vinny Appice, Mark Zavon and Dewey Bragg, photo by Tracey Lindeman
When a group of metalheads get together, it usually ends in a drunken, sweaty mess.
But not so at last night’s Climbing the Metal Ladder event at Piranha Bar, put on by the Heavy Metal Music Association of Canada (yes, it’s a real thing).
An unsurprisingly homogenous-looking group of 10 white dudes got together to chat about how small or struggling metal bands can share their riffs with the world outside their jam spaces.
The biggest draw was Rex Brown, formerly of Pantera, who appeared on the panel with his Kill Devil Hill bandmates Vinny Appice (Dio, Black Sabbath), Mark Zavon and Dewey Bragg. Promoters Dave Boucher (Extensive Enterprises) and Daniel Glick (Evenko) were also on hand, as were writers Mitch Lafon, Mike Smith and Kristof G. Slaves on Dope singer and CHOM radio host Jason Rockman rounded out the stacked line-up.
The hour-long discussion, moderated by Jon Asher, hinged on giving advice to young bands on how to get the word out about how face-meltingly awesome they (think they) are. Cult MTL was there taking notes, and despite Rex Brown’s frequent pointless meanderings and nonsequitur epithets, we’ve boiled down a foolproof formula for how to get super rich and famous.
1. Play from your heart. Yeah, yeah, that’s what everyone says. When I approached Appice after the panel, this was the one piece of advice he had to give. But there are legions of shitty musicians in shitty bands who surely play straight from the heart — what about those guys? “Not everyone is qualified to do this,” Appice said on the panel.
2. Know when to take a hit to your bottom line. The first European tour or festival date your band does will likely never be a money-making endeavour, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t go ahead and do it anyway. The exposure your band will get from playing at a major European festival will provide exponential returns, if only in terms of fans. More fans means more touring opportunities means more merch sold and perhaps even means an international distribution deal.
Evenko’s Daniel Glick said that losing money on bands is essentially a promoter’s daily business, and that sometimes it takes a couple of years before seeing a return on a band — that doesn’t mean they don’t want to book you. It just means you should…
3. Know how to sell yourself to promoters (and audiences). If you want to get on a major promoter’s go-to list of local bands, you have to make them interested. Glick recommended sending your band’s CD to booking agents with similar rosters, since that’s often the easiest way of getting it into the hands of promoters. He and Dave Boucher also said to send a simple email to promoters that explains why they should book your band and what bands you’d like to play with.
Dewey Bragg also mentioned “the YouTube” as a tool to gain popularity and recognition, citing Rebecca Black as a good example of how the Internet can be good (or bad) at building hype. Once you have some momentum, though, Appice said you’d be wise “to keep an eye on the money” to avoid getting ripped off.
4. Give it away for free. When you’re an unknown band, the best way to remain unknown is to ask too much for your merch. Taking a loss to hand out CDs for free is a valuable marketing tool, particularly for unsigned bands. And if you’re going to bother recording a CD, put some effort into the way it looks, while you’re at it — a burned CD with your band name written in marker probably won’t elicit lots of spins. Appearances aren’t everything, but it’s sometimes the extra push that strangers to your music need to give it a whirl.
5. Realize that heavy metal is a business. With a North American entertainment industry so concentrated in two coastal cities — New York and Los Angeles — sometimes it means moving to greener pastures, at least for a little while. But whether you stay put or head for ‘Merica, you have to learn the fine art of the hustle. It might make you feel kind of dirty, but unless you want to hang out in your garage until you’re 60, learning how to be a walking, talking promo machine is essential to getting your name out there.
Jason Rockman’s bonus tips: 1) write great songs; 2) rehearse; 3) play shows; 4) become the biggest band you can in your city and 5) go to the closest neighbouring city and do the same thing there. ■