After speaking to Matt Stevens on his thoughts on the state of the music industry and what bands and labels can do to keep things viable. For the second installment of this series I spoke to Triaxis, a heavy metal band from South Wales who are destined for big things according to the likes of Metal Hammer and Zero Tolerance.
As an unsigned band Triaxis may not have the resources of a record label behind them, but is that a bad thing? In these days of internet distribution are record labels even necessary? When we spoke to Matt he reckoned “Most bands would be better off with a bank loan than a label. With a label you often end up paying back the costs anyway, but the label still own all the rights to your work, which is ridiculous. Just because its been standard practice in the industry for years doesn’t make it any less bullshit.”
So how does an unsigned band get their music heard, and more importantly make the money that they need to record and tour. Like many of their contemporaries Triaxis sell CDs and merchandise through their BigCartel site, as well as the usual digital distribution services such as iTunes and Spotify. Now we’ve seen how the amount of money the bands make per track varies wildly depending on the distribution method, so is direct selling to the fanbase an essential part of making money for a band like Triaxis ?
“Big Cartel is a great tool. It’s a very accessible way for bands to sell physical CDs and merchandise. We’re very pleased with the site and Clare finds it easy to use as the graphic designer of the band. We do already have digital distribution for our debut album Key to the Kingdom on outlets such as Spotify, iTunes, Amazon MP3, Play and more. We also have distribution for the physical album through Code 7 / PHD.”
Unlike Matt, Triaxis haven’t gone down the “pay what you like” route via BandCamp, was that something that they had thought about ?
“Sites like BandCamp are really taking off but “pay what you like” is not for everyone, in particular if you’re trying to cover costs without the financial resources of the bigger labels. We haven’t gone down this route personally. However, most of use utilize Spotify as a great tool to listen to new music, unfortunately it doesn’t pay very well but it does get the music heard.”
If you want to see exactly how much bands make from different distribution methods, check out this neat graphic at www.informationisbeautiful.net. It also shows how little of the money you pay for a CD or download actualy makes it to the band.
Seriously, if you want to help out the bands you listen to, buy direct….
Matt has a slightly more relaxed attitude to his music being available on torrent sites than I expected, going so far as to say that if his music wasn’t up on those sites he’d look into getting it there himself. I asked Triaxis that the availability of their music on these more dubious areas of the internet was something that annoyed them or did you regard it as inevitable ?
“It is annoying and every musician would have an initial reaction of disappointment to find that the music they’ve produced can be downloaded for free. But in the digital age it is inevitable. It is a little disheartening when an unsigned band have put their hard earned cash into producing an album and then someone uploads it to a torrent for free download. In some cases we’ve found some more scrupulous people have even been charging to download our album without our consent and knowledge and are making a profit. However, as a band, we accept that ‘illegal’ downloading is now the norm and we just hope that from someone downloading it, they like the music, we gain a fan, they come to a show etc.”
One thing that all the people I have spoken to agree on it that the “battle against piracy” can never be won and that it may be time for bands and labels have to rethink how they do business…
“Can the battle against illegal downloading be won ?, that’s a bit like asking how long is a piece of string We’ve all go varying views on that question and you could probably have Glyn (lead guitar) and Owen (bass) sat down discussing it ad infinitum. There will always be people who find a loophole no matter how you try to regulate things and it is probable that the whole illegal download issue has gone to far unchecked. Most bands have accepted the current situation with online piracy and have adapted. Again it helps to put a positive slant on it, at least the music is being heard.”
But once again it comes down to the band seeing their fans as a community, people who are prepared to pay money for the physical object, or for a legal download (although remember how little of that cash makes it to the band).
“We have had fans who have actively chosen to buy the CD from the merchstore or download from a site legally because they want to support the band, and unsigned music, even though they had the choice to download it for free elsewhere.”
“But for most music fans the tangible feel of the physical product is part of the experience. There is nothing quite like reading the sleeve notes while you listen the album for the first time, loudly, drooling over some of the amazing artwork that artist use and then making sure you don’t scratch them if you leave them out of the case. We won’t tell you who does that…”
But I suppose the decision each band makes will depend on how much money that can afford to invest in building their fan base to a point where it can generate enough revenue to support growth. Is it better to have a thousand people listening to your music illegally and then hope some of them will in future support the bands by coming to the gigs or buying a shirt ?
“Selling CDs (and the rest of the brand merchandise) does and doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter in the sense that the main goal is to get out there and get your music heard, after all we’re performers and nothing will ever beat the buzz of x amount of people singing along to the music that you wrote. However, it is important in that touring is expensive and we have finite resources that we can put into the band so we try to make it pay for as much of itself as it can. By paying for itself we can then take the band to places even more further afield and gain more fans and the momentum builds.”