I first became aware of Australian band Ne Obliviscaris asking for funding through campaigns via this delicately worded post on the facebook group”Heavy Metal Clüb” :
I read this post, the band’s press-release, and all related comments, and realised that what I had here was something the military term a “target-rich environment”. Melbourne progressive metal band Ne Obliviscaris are running a pledge campaign to achieve a minimum wage (by Australian standards), and to help pay off debts incurred from touring so far. When Matt from Berzerker/Akercocke/Antichrist messaged me to encourage me to rant, that was the final nudge I needed. So I say this!….
GOOD ON THEM.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a fan of their music. I’m not a fan of them. I hate almost all metal that wasn’t made in the 90s, or made by me. I don’t think this funding suggestion of theirs is good value. I’m not sure if this campaign will be successful. I think if they want to be a viable band then they probably need to kick out two of their members. I think their career is starting to rest a bit heavily on crowdfunding. I think flamenco can get the fuck out of metal (except when I do it). But am I going to begrudge them putting a mechanism in place to deliver them a wage? Absolutely fuck no, good luck to them, and I don’t see why all the metalheads are getting their panties in such a sookie-bub bunch over them trying. But don’t worry, I’m going to whip around and give everyone a flog by the end of this article. I shall be harsh but fair.
Let’s look at their press release first. The first line pisses me right off: “From the minute they first stepped onto the Aussie music scene, Ne Obliviscaris knew that it was always going to be hard for a progressive extreme metal band with a violin player to make money“. My Dying Bride, bitches? If there was a dole queue for metal bands with violin players, Ne Ob would be holding a ticket saying “#1000,056,741”. By the way, I HATE writing ‘Ne Ob’ but I hate having to write out their full name even more.
They talk about the trials of making money in a “broken system”. They are 100% right. Does anyone doubt that the music industry is broken as fuck, particularly for metal bands? ALMOST EVERY MONTH you’ll get another wordy pompous press release from someone in some band I don’t care about announcing how they’re quitting music because of financial pressures. Everyone knows music sales barely make money, if at all. Everyone knows that touring is high-risk hard work with diminishing financial returns. Didn’t we all see that article from Behemoth’s bassist the other day talking about the outrageous percentage venues are now claiming from merch sales? In my day it was zero percent. There would maybe be one or two venues on a thirty day US tour who would charge twenty percent, but that was it. Now it’s FORTY percent in some places, with percentage takings turning into the norm at venues. So anyone telling me that a band can solve its money problems by getting in the van and selling some t-shirts can suck a dick. I credit Ne Ob for not immediately saying “we’re quitting for financial issues” like a million metal musicians before them, but for trying everything to fix that situation. The system which delivered money from CD sales and touring no longer delivers on CD sales, and the takings from touring are diminishing every day.
They speak about the funding being not only for themselves, but for families and mortgages. For anyone reading this and starting off in a metal band, forget families and mortgages. Music is a steamroller that will crush anything excess in your life, from relationships to finances to responsibilities. If you want to have any semblance of a normal life, stay at home, record music, and stay the fuck off the road. If you want to go on the road and live the dream then go for it, but you are leaving the normal world and its comforts behind, and you only get to return to it when you quit or if you win the lottery ticket called ‘success’. And make no mistake, it is a lottery ticket. You not only have to be relentlessly hard-working, but extremely ridiculously lucky. So a kick in the balls to them for this. I’d be cool keeping them from starving, paying rent for some place, and able to buy a train ticket to the airport so they can go fly somewhere and play the fiddle at someone, but if they want a life and a house? This has never been the deal for anyone ever. I can number the extreme metal bands who can use their career to own their own place and have a family life on both my hands.
THIS LINE: “The fact that one of Australia’s biggest metal experts must resort to charity to keep their careers afloat is a mark of how screwed up today’s music industry has become.” OK, I don’t give a fuck how many times their PR dude trots this line out, they are NOT one of Australia’s biggest metal experts (or even exports, as I’m sure they meant to say). I’ve been on three international labels with three separate bands, toured extensively domestically and internationally (300+ shows), headlined in UK and Europe, will release my eighth album this year, never needed to resort to crowdfunding to do any of it and actually made some money, and I wouldn’t even call myself one of Australia’s biggest metal experts. I fucking hate lazy PR. Besides, the guy on their promo video sounds American and they’ve got a French guitarist. Newsflash: you are now an international band, not the Little Aussie Band That Could. Start pitching yourselves as an international act, it sounds better. “Australian progressive violin flamenco metal” sounds as awkward as “Swedish gangsta rap”.
And besides, they’re not having to resort to charity. They’re choosing to resort to charity. Small difference, but important. What’s their option otherwise? Become a recording outfit. Scale back touring as an activity that is done on breaks from a day job. My god that sucks as it means a life with no real holidays, but there it is. Focus on markets where you do make money on tours, and explore the others either with one-off festivals or mini-tours. Sack half your band for touring, or use that massive surplus of manpower to do the jobs that you’re currently paying other people to do: merch table, driver, sound, roadie, etc. Cut every corner…..EVERY corner. Paying onto a package so you can be on a nightliner bus? Fuck you, hire a motorhome and drive it yourselves for half the cost. Manage yourselves. Book yourselves. Don’t rent entire backlines, borrow what you can. Anyone going “yeah, right, impossible” should know that the only reasons I make these suggestions is because they are things my bands have done and we made money. In the pledge page, there is an acknowledgement that this is an option. My opinion is, make it work on the cheap first and build up to more expenses on tour before you decide what’s possible or impossible, or what income you do or don’t need.
There’s talk of market forces in a lot of the commentary. This is a tricky and complex subject which I’ll try and sum up as clearly as possible. The general idea is of supply and demand: if there is a sufficient demand for Ne Ob’s music and shows then the market will keep them funded in baby booties and cribs. If the demand isn’t there, then no-one likes them and that’s why they’re not making money and they should pack all their stringed instruments away and fuck off.
In the case of metal though, the market is distorted (just like the music). Markets normally express themselves by reflecting fluctuations of success with fluctuations of income. But in metal the market can’t correctly express itself through music sales; metal as a demographic has a higher percentage of downloaders than others (16-25 years old/male/white/assholes), and most stores have stopped carrying metal CDs, streaming sites pay fuck-all. And the market is struggling to express itself through touring income. Labels have 360 degree deals where they take the merchandise and show income. Booking agents now run packages where you have backline and transport and everything taken care of, but for excessive costs. And as mentioned, venues are now getting in on the act and taking a slice of band’s traditional touring income too. A band can have many fans, everyone can have their album, and their shows can be well attended, but with this busted-ass market none of their money will make it to the band itself. The market doesn’t reflect with income the success a band’s experiencing – the market is distorted.
On the one hand, I think there’s too many metal bands out there and too many metal bands doing the same old boring thing. You could listen to a new metal album every hour every day for the next ten years and barely dent the amount of releases out there. I think the market reflects that. That’s part the reason why barely anyone buys metal anymore, and that’s why the metal market flips out and goes wild for anything even minutely different, like BabyMetal…..whose success I despise and blame entirely on Metal Hammer, bunch of fucking paedos*. On the other hand if a fanbase is consuming product and paying cash for it and that money is getting lost in the absolute car-crash that is the modern music industry before it reaches the band, then that isn’t reflecting that the market doesn’t want the band or that the band should stop. It reflects simply that the market is broken. Fan funding is a possible answer to that and in this instance, is perhaps the most accurate reflection of whether the market wants you around or not.
I admire Ne Ob’s balls….
…and hats off to them for trying a very traditional way to make a living from this. Something a lot of people don’t realise is that your Renaissance artists, your painters, your composers and musicians through the majority of history were funded by patronage. They’d have a couple of rich guys who would pay for them to do their thing, sometimes even a small group of people doing the funding. Ne Ob are no Da Vinci, but they are basically reviving the same long grand tradition of patronage in a modern way. This is not new ground for the industry, this is an old form of funding that is re-emerging into a vastly different world.
I do think that Ne Ob need to be careful in three areas: transparency, goodwill, and viability. Most money you make, you can do whatever the fuck with it you want. If someone is pledging you a living wage, they’re probably going to want to know what your costs are. The money isn’t quite as no-strings-attached as money can be, even with an explanation that the band merely wants a minimum wage, even with the variety of pledge rewards. A degree of transparency is required. Fans are happy to pay for new leads, food, gas money, seed money for a merch run. They mightn’t be happy to pay for your kid’s tuition, the latest $5000 amplifier, or new curtains in your pad back home.
When asking for funding you’re also asking for goodwill. Ne Ob have been massively successful with campaigns in the past, but how many times can they draw water from that particular well? Goodwill is fickle and finite. Which brings me to viability – unless they are planning on being professional minimum wage pledge musos for the rest of their life, they need a plan to get away from the crowdfunding. Any of the traditional problems they’ve encountered so far that ALL bands encounter, they’ve dealt with by throwing crowdfunding at it. At some point, they need to increase traditional income somehow or cut their operating costs and I haven’t seen anything (admittedly, from a distance) that indicates they’ve got the ability to slash those costs. Otherwise, they’ve got minimum wage to look forward to until even that is no longer viable. They’re trying the ‘fake-it-til-you-make-it’ route. That is a ticking clock, whether on your own dime or someone else’s and I suspect that these days, that particular route leads to a dead end. I’m having trouble thinking of the last band who were successful with that approach.
And now to address some of the comments the general public made on this pledge campaign. Naturally they’re all idiotic, because metal fans are halfwits.
- “Don’t support these entitled douchebags, use your hard earned to give some actual hard working bands with talent a break.” I’m no fan of Ne Ob, but if touring internationally ten months out of the year isn’t hard working, I don’t know what the fuck is. Making snide comments about bands on social media, perhaps?
- “Market forces haven’t changed in hundreds of years and are unlikely to any time soon” Actually, it’s because market forces HAVE changed drastically in recent times that bands are resorting to crowdfunding. Heard of this “internet” thing?
- “I don’t understand why they’re asking to achieve minimum wage while they tour the world?I mean I just genuinely don’t understand it. Wouldn’t it make more sense to stick to Australian/Asian tours for the time being? I mean they only have 2 albums...” Because they need to eat, fool. As for sticking to Australian/Asian tours, your career as a professional band only BEGINS once you have played that first overseas tour. Your time in Australia and the region counts for fuck-all. No-one on the planet cares how many times you played the Bendigo Hotel or Newcastle fucking RSL. Your career goes nowhere. NO-ONE CARES. And the number of bands that played internationally on the back of their first album is a massive list. We were one. Fear Factory’s another. Most Aussie bands don’t do that, because they are stupid. The ones who do it and find a way to keep doing it tend to be the successful ones. Ultimately, that’s the crux of the debate – can Ne Ob keep doing what they want to do cashing in on goodwill?
- “Regardless of what you think about Ne’O, they are actually one of THE MOST SUCCESSFUL HEAVY METAL BANDS IN AUSTRALIA” Not making any money? Finishing up in debt whenever you try to do anything? Sorry, but that is the opposite of successful. Then again, if success can be measured as a proportion of the spluttering knucklehead fury directed at you on social media (the Sam Bean Success Equation TM), they ARE pretty damn successful.
I ripped on the band’s PR earlier for laziness, but realised just now that all the discussion about this campaign has created another wave of attention for them. Sneaky bastards. Fuck, I’ve written over 2500 words on it. And they’re around halfway to their pledge amount already. If they pull this off, that’s quite a coup. What the hell do I know. Want to pledge? Head to: http://www.patreon.com/neobliviscaris
* Metal Hammer are totally not paedos. Love you guys! Hugs xx