If Metallica Is Touring for the Money, Then We’re All In Trouble

Somewhere along the line, we all started worshipping a half-baked theory.

It said that the implosion in recordings was a problem over there, a situation for the Lyor Cohens and Doug Morrises of the world.  The up-and-comers, we’d build new models based on touring, merchandising, advertising, in-person appearances, Kickstarter campaigns.

It turns out we were ignoring a critically interconnected ecosystem.  The post-recording model never quite panned out, and most of the artists and managers we’ve talked to tell a similar story.  Yes, the non-recording model can work, but it only works with a lot of work – and frequently, label support and lottery-style luck.  In fact, a major source of touring revenues – the good ol’ CD sold on a makeshift table – has basically evaporated.

But the evaporation of the CD has caused an unexpected squeeze on touring – surprisingly, from old-line superstars that used to be ‘set’.  Because superstar artists can no longer bank on ridiculous recording royalties month after month, which means sporadic touring is no longer an option.  Which is part of the reason why bands like Metallica are playing a lot more dates these days.

“The cycles of taking two years off don’t exist anymore. We were able to do that because we had record royalties coming in consistently.  Now you put out an album and you have a windfall maybe once or twice. But it’s not the way it used to be – a check every three months.”

– James Hetfield, discussing the issue with Rolling Stone.

Other post-prime superstars are saying the same thing.  “The rules that applied in 2009 don’t apply in 2012 anymore, and another percentage of record sales have gone down the toilet somewhere,” Noel Gallagher recently observed during an interview at Coachella.  “But you’ve just got to get on with it, and that’s why tours are becoming so long.  By the time I’m done with this tour, it will be a year-and-four-months.”

Which means the touring lanes are suddenly a lot more crowded for younger, developing artists.  The reason is simply that established superstars – no matter how aged – can typically command solid crowds, and are perfect fodder for festivals like Coachella.  Reunion tours, even of the disastrous Van Halen variety, also represent ‘fresh’ competition.  “Just less slots, really, and less money, it’s just crowded,” one touring manager flatly told Digital Music News.

All of which begs the question: is the post-recording music industry simply a smaller place… for everyone?

16 Responses

  1. The Tiny Violin

    I can only imagine the lifestyle and overhead these guys are used to and maintain.

    They made 80’s, 90’s and aughties money, and are still complaining?

    Perhaps if we see an album like Lulu every two years, they’ll actually realize they should stop making new music alltogether and just give it a rest.

    And maybe downsize a bit.


    • Brian,

      Those groups used to support HUGE ancillary services and markets. MANY people had good jobs because of them, now, NONE!
      I hate it that people say such callous things flippantly. Those people had families. What if somebody killed your industry in 2 years? Would you be able to get a job that payed your expenses in that time? Would you see the writing on the wall? This thing took a LOT of people by surprise and none of that is good.
      it’s a shonda!

      • The Tiny Violin

        Two years?

        I’ve watched my industry slowly crumble over 10 years actually. I’ve been one of the people who has lost work, and in turn had to hustle to find more, new work and provide for myself and those who rely on me.

        The writing was on the wall, Metallica was one of the first groups to publicly cry about what was changing, but apparently did little to plan for the future.

        Many of us have families, and many of us figure out how to make it work. These gentlemen, as talented as they are, are literally the %.5 of the industry.

    • Versus

      This affects everyone in the music industry, all the way down from the superstars to the indie artists, studio owners, producers, engineers, assistants, studio musicians, musical equipment manufacturers, songwriters, arrangers, managers, graphic designers, video producers, etc. etc. etc. It’s been a decade-long decline that shows no signs of improving.

      – V

  2. Myles na Gopaleen

    I suspect that bands that are playing at bars and small venues are not be competing with bands that play at large arenas and stadiums. There are at least 10 heavy metal bands that I would rather see at a small venue then see Metallica at an arena.

  3. Pedant

    Suggest you look up what ‘begs the question’ means.

    • the Plants Music Factory

      Seriously, as suggested, look up what “begging the question” means… Your statement is true withiout any support so you can’t “beg that question”

      • paul

        I fear this is a discussion for the grammarians.


        • Ted

          If you don’t want to look it up, fine, just don’t use it to mean “raises the question”. Because that isn’t what it means.

          • Myles na Gopaleen

            English purists are uncomfortable with the fact that the english language constantly changes. If enough people start using the phrase “begs the question” to mean “raises the question” instead of an illogical rhetorical device, then in 50 years the definition changes.

            If you think that definitions don’t change in the english language then you need to do more research (“look it up”) or switch to the study of Latin.

        • danwriter

          Grammarians. Didn’t they play Kenny’s Castaways last week?

  4. WUC

    Established artists didn’t really respond to the recession by lowering their fees. Instead, they kept charging the same amount. Now that it’s a few years later, and they saw their crowds and revenue dwindling, they decided they’d rather work longer instead of retiring earlier (much like the rest of the country). It’s great for people wanting to catch their favorite acts, but you’re right, it does put a stranglehold on the space availablity at venues, and make it harder for them to get slots. Of course, on the other end, now’s probably the primo time for a club to open it’s doors/or add more shows, because you could get some pretty good talent looking for dates.

  5. Julien

    What people don’t realize is the number of people on payroll for a band like Metallica, and they own their own studio which they have to pay for, so I’m sure overhead is huge and yes you do have to tour to pay for all that. I’m sure production costs are crazy too. You can’t compare that to smaller bands

  6. @thornybleeder

    Even Metallica still needs to tour for the money. Get out on the road! That’s where your career is.

  7. Visitor

    On the other hand, the number of venues, especially small and mid-sized clubs, is steadily increasing. Talk to the PA/SR systems manufacturers who are churning out new small and columnar line arrays and to the AV systems integrators who install them (as I do week in, week out reporting on that sector) and you’ll see a burgeoning landscape of new places for live music. Plus, nearly the entire major-league sports venue infrastructure has been rebuilt in the last decade or so, all of it with sound systems that are designed with live music performances in mind, since these facilities need to be multi-use in order to pay their bonds off. There’s a shortage of a few things out there but live-music venues aren’t among them.