Interview – Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel

Brian Slagel is the chairman and CEO of Metal Blade Records, a label he founded in the early 80s. The label has played a huge role in metal history, helping to launch the careers of genre heavyweights like Metallica, Slayer and Cannibal Corpse, and is still going strong to this day, with an impressive roster of over 30 bands. M3 asked Brian about the label’s past, present and future, their classic ‘Metal Massacre’ compilations and how the net has changed the way the label operates…

M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Brian Slagel – I live in Los Angeles and run Metal Blade Records.

What inspired you to start Metal Blade Records? What is your own musical background?
I was just a fan who wanted to help bands get some exposure. I had no money in the beginning and did not really set out to start a label. The first record, Metal Massacre, did well and a distributor gave me a press and distro deal. My background is just a fan, I cannot play any instrument.

What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Currently it would be MP3 mostly, but I still listen to CDs and Vinyl.

Do you feel the idea of an album, as a piece of art that people will listen to from start to finish, has been undermined or forgotten about in the digital age?
For Heavy Metal not as much. We still sell mostly full albums even digitally. Metal fans still mostly listen to the whole album.

Metal Blade has been one of the most respected metal record labels for over 30 years now. Would you say that the internet has affected how you operate as a label, and if so, how?
Yes for sure. Things have always changed and evolved during our 30 years in business. I think now the internet is really helping us to get music and information out to many people. I love the technology and the relationship we have with the fans and everyone.

The label’s ‘Metal Massacre’ compilations are a fondly remembered part of metal history, and helped to launch the careers of many young, unsigned bands, including Slayer, Trouble, Cirith Ungol and even Metallica. Given that the youth of today are able to hear millions of unsigned bands at the click of a button, do you think that the appeal and importance of compilations like these are lost on many younger fans?
Yes the reason we did those back in the day was because there was no way for people to hear new bands. That is not the case now and there are also so many great small labels as well.

Much has been made of the supposed death of the record store in recent years. Do you believe the digital age has killed the record store, and if so, do you think that this is a necessary part of progression, or a tragic loss?
Well I would not write the obituary yet for record stores. In Heavy Metal we still sell 80% of our new releases as physical product. Independent record stores are doing better than ever. It is certainly smaller and less stores than before, but I think they will continue to exist for
some time now.

Many people have claimed that there is no longer any money in record sales, and that touring is the most efficient way to earn an income as a band. How much truth do you think there is in this sentiment?
I disagree. Certainly touring and merchandise is probably the largest segment of income for bands, but record sales still contribute as much as 40% of a bands income. Especially in Heavy Metal. You just have to do things the right way and it can help.

Do you think traditional copyright laws are still enforceable in the digital age, or do you think we will have to rethink the concept of copyright itself?
That is a big question and something governments will have to decide. Still someone needs to own intellectual property of the value of that and music will go away. Once music is devalued it will not be as good I feel.

What is your take on the recent SOPA/ACTA controversy?
Not the right law for the current situation.

What would you say are the main challenges facing an up-and-coming musician/band in today’s cultural climate?
Getting heard. There are so many bands out there it is so difficult to get your music heard. You still need a team of people around you to be successful.

Finally, what does the future have in store for Metal Blade Records?
Continue on as we have. We are always evolving and are becoming a different company as we have in the past. One thing for sure, we will always strive to promote Heavy Metal. That will never change.

For more information about Metal Blade Records, you can visit the official website and find the label on Facebook and Twitter.

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About M3 Event

The music industry is rapidly changing. The internet has enabled widespread piracy, as well as a variety of new business and distribution models. We want to offer an engaged audience in and around the Euregion an opportunity to develop a coherent and detailed picture of the future of music distribution. On the 31st of May 2012 a music conference in Maastricht, consisting of oppositional debates, creative workshops and lectures, will provoke opportunities for intellectual stimulation, debate, as well as networking. We hope to utilise the skills and ideas of some of most forward thinking minds and operators in the industry in order to highlight some promising new ideas and areas which can be improved upon.

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