Alex Layzell is the founder of the Grind To Death website, one of the best places for grindcore news, reviews and interviews on the net. M3 had a chat with Alex about his views on the relevancy of the album format, whether the digitisation of music has devalued the art form, the prickly issue of copyright and the enduring legacy of Napalm Death’s seminal ‘Scum’ record…
M3 – First of all, could you tell us a bit about yourself, and what it is that you do?
Well primarily I am a full time student currently at Maastricht University, but in the increasingly less times that I am not drowning in legal literature or alcohol, I resume my role as proprietor and principal reviewer at Grind to Death.
What inspired you to start Grind to Death? What is your own musical background?
Well primarily a love for extreme music would be the main source of motivation for starting Grind to Death and its continued existence. However I must confess being a slave to Grind and Punishment blog played an exceptionally heuristic role in me wanting to start Grind to Death. As for musical background, I did piano for a few years and dropped it in my teens, a choice I have for the past few years come to regret especially since I was not so terrible at it and have a love of classical music also.
What would be your preferred medium to listen to music (eg. Vinyl, CD, tape, MP3 etc.), and why?
Tough question, I think all the formats have their advantages and place in my listening order. Push comes to shove I will confess a deep rooted love for vinyl, although much is said on the superior quality of sound it offers; a difference I can’t quite tell nor expressly tested for that matter, I do love it for the slaving amount of artistic detail gone into it. Generally it feels more complete; when I put on a vinyl I have a detailed option to see the lyrics and accompanying artwork and iconography which help so much more to define the character and nature of the band. CD’s also have their place, a fair amount of my CD’s are what people have sent to me to attain reviews, others I buy as CD-R’s from the bands after live performances in a show of support. However buying from a label or distro generally speaking I prefer the CD format for fastcore and discography
releases perhaps since both are generally packed with plenty of tracks and makes navigation through them easier.
For bands that place very little material on a CD, or do not offer some degree of the artistic edge the medium offers generally I would tell them not to bother making it into a CD as it will just have the same user attachment as a download does.
Tapes I like for the novelty value, awkward nature and different sound output they offer, alas I have no tape player here in Maastricht, but they say absence makes the heart grow fonder.
MP3’s I have by the hundreds of thousands, I seem to horde it. Probably 90% of that music is illegally downloaded, and some 95% of it goes unlistened to, but if the internet where ever to collapse for some reason, or I ended up stranded without the internet I know I have about a year’s worth of continuous listening before I have heard everything I have downloaded.
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?
I don’t think the idea is quite forgotten nor undermined; just merely the digital age has allowed for the flourishing of a different set of norms and better access to certain options. Furthermore I strongly believe we are still in the infancy of the digital age and much can change in a very short while, for example just look at how revolutionary Bandcamp has been in the music industry. Coming back to your question though fans will always listen to favourite tracks rather than continuous plays of the entire album, it’s the nature of mankind and our power of choice and preference. However the band themselves have a number of options to encourage fans to listen to things from start to finish: they could either release through vinyl or tape to encourage continual listening albeit at the financial and time burden of the format and the restrictive number of people willing to purchase such a format, however I feel the best option for a band would be to merely communicate their wishes for an album to be listened to from start to finish, its free and far reaching.
I think much of the Grindcore and Powerviolence momentum was in destroying the norms of the music industry, so I doubt they are many if any bands who expressly desire you listen to their album from start to finish as one continuous piece; it tends to be less about the flow and more about the volatile wall of musical frenzy that hits you.
As a rule of thumb I think no matter how you listen to your music, music will always be art. Noise too.
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 will have to be honest for the music industry at large, I can’t say with any certainty but would guess there is still plenty of money in sales, highlighted recently by Adele topping the 30 year record by Michael Jackson in the UK charts. Its not so much that there is no money, but there is less profit to be made and labels remain exactly that, profit churning machines, understandable but I think much like the financial industry, the music industry has been bloated with greed and excess. Nowadays if you are in a popular band, you have an army of staff at your behest; the labels have massive financial departments, legal departments, and advertising, human resources etc etc, basically the model has to streamline to survive or take on a new form completely.
However drawing my opinion from my musical comfort zone I would say that the only release to make a significant amount of money would be Napalm Death’s Scum, probably something to do with the 28 reissues and represses it has had, and even then the profit from it is nothing compared to the music industry in general, Lady Gaga probably pays more in one of her wacky outfits than Scum has ever made in profit. It has never been about making money for me, I can’t think of any one band in my choice of music that actually makes a profit on their music, Napalm Death being the exception to the rule and more likely, and that’s due to the great foresight of their manager when negotiating the contract with Colombia Records.
Personally in what some may construe to be a foul thing, I am glad there is less money in it, too many people want the luxurious demigod existence of a rock and roll lifestyle for their music skills, music to me is all about sharing not pushing yourself up the financial or social ladder. That is not to say I don’t think that artists should be paid, but I think once too much money enters the equation then part of your artistic integrity is consumed by issues of profit, marketing, a sense of entitlement and delusions of grandeur.
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?
I will be honest I can’t even remember the last time I went into a physical shop to buy music, probably some 5 or 6 years ago, a Motörhead CD I believe it was. However generally I think much of what has changed in the relationship between listener and music is the value of music, music used to be something you received as a birthday/Christmas present, something you saved your money up for and were that much more keen to get hold of it. The digital age has added a layer of disposability to the value of music, you can download it, delete and redownload it all in a matter of minutes now, and there is no challenge financially or geographically in getting hold of the music digitally. However there are still those such as myself who still prefer a physical product over digital one.
The digital age has also opened up avenues for record stores, which sadly for some companies and labels came too late in realising the potential, with a digital catalogue or mailorder list you allow for a far more efficient business model with a global reach, less cost in staff, less cost in premises, better calculation of sales, more centralised business model etc etc. All of my record purchases are done online with the exception of those at shows.
I think without a doubt it is a necessary part of progression, being part of the free market classical economics dictates the best model wins, of which if we choose to see it as digital model versus traditional model, the first is definitely winning. Clearly it is a progress that a retains an element of tragedy for those who have lost jobs and their livelihoods in the collapse of many of the big record store chains (as for how Indie record stores are holding I honestly could not say), but its all progressing towards furthering the limits of music, the mediums of music and its diffusion. I remember reading a little tidbit of history that back when they first released recorded music for the old gramophones, venue owners and artists alike were in uproar, heralding itas the death of their businesses and musicians alike (musicians then obviously relying income solely from their
performances), however the industry adapted and everyone is grateful for such a change.
Most of all though I think this transition period is possibly the most interesting turning point in musical history, usually changes in the record industry or music come as singular events on sporadic occasions. The evolution of music is being fast-tracked currently with a number of simultaneous developments occurring at an exceptionally fast paced advancement.
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?
Argghhh the bane of many discussions with my many legal friends (being a law student) revolves around my inability to pin point what in my utopic visionary system would be the ideal limitations of copyright. Bringing in my legal expertise here there have been a number of landmark cases in the UK and other European countries enforcing the notion that an IP address cannot correspond with an individual. The implications of such a decision are highly suggestive that enforcing copyright infringement on a digital product to an individual would be an exceptionally difficult task to do which does give me some hope.
However I think as copyright laws stand currently we can see they are incongruous to the nature of the digital age, unfortunately the response by film, music and game industries was the ACTA and SOPA/PIPA legislations which were somewhat draconian and placed far too much power into their playing field.
I think regardless of the recently failed legislative push on copyrights, as the copyright model currently stands it is too far reaching. We hear ridiculous stories in the press of people like Courtney Love sueing guitar hero or one of those games because they used Kurt Cobain’s form in a way she did not like and she holds the copyright to his image! How obscure! It’s not a solitary event, some record company is even suing the Irish government for not filtering the internet therefore allowing the potential for copyright infringement! It’s events like these that are killing the music industry, rather than adopt a progressive attitude to the changes, they are just digging themselves deeper into their own graves in frivolous law suits, outdated models of operation amongst other problems, and expect to maintain it all at the expense of our freedom.
Do you think music is still capable of bringing about change, or influencing political decision?
Very interesting question, I often find music serves as a critique or social commentary to society, politics and other such interconnected fields, and often it will be more that change or political decision will influence music, you need only look at the punk movement and see much of it as a reactionary movement to the socio-politics of the time. However I am sure that music can bring change, not at the level of revolutionary outcome, but ease social tension and other more minute things. I read an article only the other day about how Heavy Metal concerts in Israel are creating friendships between Palestinian and Israeli youth; music is always a great common ground to really get to know someone.
If I were to have a guess I would suggest that popular music has brought quite a bit of change, culturally, popular music tends to be heavily intertwined with fashion, art and dance; its more of a cultural package. As a collective it dictates the fashion, the latest dance moves, the “in art style” with the music almost being secondary nature to them, best highlighted through the “sexualisation of music”, less about the music and more about the skimpy outfits, suggestive dance moves and provocative lyrics. Generally I am just concerned in what demographic the change is manifesting, which tends to be the youth of today. However I am sure on the flip side of the coin they would be concerned by some of the more morbid and deviant artworks and lyrics in my music collection, not to mention the often bloody stage antics.
What do you personally believe the future of music distribution will look like?
In short I think more of the market will shift to digital, be it record stores becoming webstores, or digital only releases. However the clever musician is still able to capitulate from both of them, if we look at net label Grindcore Karoake the free download and streaming structure and massive user base serves as a great platform in getting your material out there to the public, yet also retains the possibility of using that new found love to put out a release with that more surety it won’t be as much a financial hit and a flop.
We also are starting to see the Kickstarter model becoming more and more expansive into music, bands using it to fund tours currently, however I don’t think we are far from the point where some bands will use Kickstarter to fund releases. A novel idea and one I like for the tour idea as it can give an indication to your fanbase and their desires, however not so much for the album release, I would rather an artist slaved away to try and make the best music he can in the hope that its quality will correlate with some financial recovery or profit, or more preferably do it out of the love of the music, rather than have the funds and feel less burdened to outdo themselves or do what the fans want; cruel yes, but an integral part to the musical machination.
The biggest change I think which will occur, and has been occurring for the better part of the decade is the reduced role and overall reduction in the number of labels out there, the internet and computing are really placing so much power in the hands of artists, things such as social media, Bandcamp, email, audio manipulation software have all been changing the game plan at the expense of the labels. A change for the better, not that I despise labels, I still think they will have their place in a more distro capacity, but cutting out the middle man, means less cost to the end user, more creative freedom to the musicians and allows for some interesting developments, and of course no shareholders!
As a final point, I am not sure how yet, but I am certain cloud computing will be a major factor in the future of music distribution.
Finally, what does the future hold for Grind to Death?
World domination eventually achieved through the successful training of vampiric samurai Chihuahuas who see me as their god, but in the mean time we shall continue to write our reviews, interviews, host downloads and offer our support and help to bands the world over.
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