If anyone has the right to speak, it’s Iron Maiden’s daddy.
“Personally I’m enjoying it more than ever, I’d say,” Steve Harris said in a recent feature by Stef Lach for Metal Hammer magazine. “We all are…we’ll definitely make more albums and we’re having a great time.
This is still the best job in the world.”
And indeed it would be for a multi-millionaire who worked his way from street sweeper to legend, who had the right chops with the right talent, managed by the right staff with the right resources at the right time. No doubt he remembers what it was like to sleep in the back of a station wagon with his bandmate’s foot up his nose before he and his dominion’s minions started travelling the world, twice over, first class.
But, he is in the minority. Not just because he is among the crème de la crème of the entire industry, but because he has the luxury to be able to do his one and only job and make a living from his one and only job.
Iron Maiden, as well as the other father and mothers of Metal, started in a time when an artist’s presence was exclusive and you couldn’t buy just one song without a b-side or an entire album.
Record labels could afford to front a band for studio time and publicity. It was easier to make that money back, once the band was invested in. Getting signed was essential.
However, once MTV came along, (when the “M” still stood for “Music”), the video destroyed the radio star. Suddenly, the novelty of being in the same room with your musical heroes was satiated with a moving picture in the comfort of your own home, raising the prices on concert tickets and personal appearances.
Now that the digital age has arrived, the game is changed again in ways which overfeeds the audience and starves the artist. It may be easier to be discovered, but it’s harder to remain relevant.
Nearly every musician in Metal today has a day job or even two. It has even become much more commonplace for a musician to be a member of more than one band, as well, whereas twenty years ago, it would have been considered rude or ridiculous. They have very little choice because 20 or 50 little cents of royalty, if that, cannot cover the hundreds of big dollars that it costs to write and record a single song.
Touring, if not budgeted correctly, can easily put a band in the hole as easily it could pull it out.
There was also a special role for management and admin during Metal and Maiden’s prime time. The “Rod Smallwoods” are an endangered species and the artist is now usually forced to double as their own gatekeepers.
The one thing we can learn from the Rap and Hip-Hop culture is the power of the posse. Metal bands don’t move in packs.
If the Rap artist can show their flow, they attract and draw people who support, promote, and pump them up. Those people aren’t just fluff; they know that if the artist is elevated, so will they. It is like a presidential campaign every day, with the clubs treating the fans and the artists as royalty. They understand that without either, they have nothing.
But, in Metal, we don’t. If a brand new Metal band can manage to get a gig — providing that the venue doesn’t prefer the safety of a tribute band and they can sell their own tickets — they’ll get some pats on the back and more demands. With that, they will have to work that much harder and dish out more money to make sure that their work is promoted, the music is heard, the fans get what they want, and the downloads are paid for.
It has officially come to the point where to accuse a Metal musician for doing it for the money is laughable.
Even the “selling out” doesn’t sell enough. Unless you were fortunate to be a golden child of the golden age to strike gold before downloads, “the best job in the world” is one of the hardest.
The only reason why anyone would be crazy enough to do it today is because it is in their bloodstream to do so. No other genre has that power — and that is what really proves Harry right.
T. Ray Verteramo
September 14, 2016