"I lost my mind, I lost all my money
I lost my life to the killing road"
- Megadeth - The Killing Road
"Oh man," a metalhead laments, "As I Lay Dying are headlining instead of In Flames? What the hell is going on here?" Another dissatisfied fan, disgruntled with the lineup for yet another metal festival. Does our metalhead friend also express his disgust at paying exorbitant prices to go to it? Well, i'd put another tick in that box too. If he only knew how hard it was for international bands to tour - the costs, the travel, the labor, the raging against and shaking hands with the corporate machine and the anguish that's spilled along the way - perhaps he would be a little more appreciative?
I attended the recent Australian Music Manager's Forum, appropriately titled "International Touring with a Metal Twist" held at the Corner Hotel. The legendary Corner has played host to such illustrious acts such as Nightwish, Children of Bodom and Nile between it's walls, and as always carried an intimate atmosphere. It was there in spades when a bunch of plucky and eager-to-please metalheads (and the odd, jaded journalist) assembled to soak up the wealth of experience from a panel of seasoned metal veterans and music industry types. Once we were settled into our spartan surrounds, Jacinta Arcadia of Australian Metal Touring introduced the panel, consisting of the larger than life Johnny Stoj, guitarist for Pegazus (think Australia's answer to Manowar); Paul van Rijswijk, metal musician, producer and journalist for Music Maker Magazine hailing from the Netherlands to update us all on the state of the EU; and Silvio Massaro of Vanishing Point. The coiffured, petite and platinum-blonde Arcadia stood to attention and slapped the smiles from all our naive faces. "You have to think of yourselves as a business," she announces. "you're all artists, but if you want to tour, you've gotta think about how you're going to get there, where you're staying and how you're going to eat." The reality of international rock-stardom slammed into the crowd like a hammer to a gong.
Reverberating endlessly throughout the night were the hardships endured, the agonies and the ecstacy of getting up on stage in front of a live audience. There was hope from the sagelike Rijswijk, who offered comfort in the fact that "The Dutch will hang out the doors to see an Australian band...no matter who it is, they will line up to see them. You'll get a packed house, guaranteed. Australian bands are very popular in Holland." He charmingly smiles. A sigh of relief hushes over the room. Unfortunately, the icy finger of reality clawed at our backs again when Johnny Stoj shared his experiences of touring, even when signed to a major label. "They didn't pay for our touring...we had to finance it all ourselves. [Record labels] operate like a bank - they'll give you money to make your record, but you've gotta get a return on their investment." Even if you supported a major band on a powerhouse label, you'd have to pay for the privilege. Silvio Massaro jokingly reminded us to bring merchandise, not only for being a big money spinner, but to "bribe corrupt border guards when they won't let you pass into the next country you might be at." And to pay the driver, who would drive you around at night after your gigs, of course. It was essential, Massaro added, to have a "never say die" attitude, hounding those in power until they caved to your demands.
Promotion was also a major factor for success. "Myspace, radio coverage, promotion over the internet - it's all effective and best of all, it's all free" Massaro says. "You have to be living under a rock not to use Myspace. It's a fantastic resource." Unfortunately, if you haven't got the money to produce your tracks in a studio, you can't really "polish a turd" and have to go with what you've got. And owning it is also crucial. "Own your own music recordings. If you licence them out or if someone else holds copyright, it makes your life much more harder for you." Arcadia helpfully adds.
Arcadia suddenly turned political after the telling of the grisly tales of the killing road. "The Australian Arts Council will not finance your work." Arcadia had known first hand by unsuccessfully trying to wrench money from their miserly clutches for over ten years. Unsurprisingly, the conservative government in Canberra doesn't recognize metal as an artistic product; or a subculture for that matter. Convincing AUSTrade, the Australian Foreign and Trade Ministry's international trade mission that your band is an indigenous Australian (and viable) cultural export was the key. "If your band is marketable, then they will give you money," Arcadia sternly explains, plainly. "Otherwise it's like getting blood out of a stone." Selling out isn't an option? "You have to slut yourself out to succeed, basically" Massaro explains in a businesslike manner. To get any money to tour, it's a necessity.
Arcadia's doomsaying halts abruptly, as she tells us all not to despair too much. There are avenues for funding, such as gaining money from the Victorian (a state of Australia) Department of Industry and Development. And the all important social factor of sticking together. "The differences between all the different styles are bullshit" Arcadia snaps. The metal community's fragmentation hampers efforts from local talent breaking into overseas markets. Massaro and Stoj solemnly nodded. They were all too familiar with the burden of elitist scenesters being elitist scenesters. "Support infrastructure is needed, and that's what Australian Metal Touring wants to create." Arcadia's contacts are awaiting Australian arrivals, but none come due to lack of finance. "We are looking to set up a [future fund]... to achieve purchasing parity overseas." Arcadia says. "We'll be able to pool together our resources for airfares, accommodation and car rental." They took some questions, to which others said if they should move to Europe. "No," Arcadia says. "You'd get no help otherwise." If doing it as an Aussie was tough, doing it as an ex-pat was infitessimally more difficult. Amid some talk about cool looking custom-made guitars, Arcadia suddenly remembers that "you could even take a job there temporarily and share a house." But the vital ingredient was helping one another out. Money was scarce, but friendship shouldn't be.
Luckily, all was put into perspective again when Massaro vividly recounted the days before he was set to hit the stage of Wacken, the proverbial mecca of heavy metal. "I was very emotional," he recalls. "I cried, even after all the bullshit I went through to get there. It was worth it. I'd do it again tomorrow." If the world of metal could support them, then perhaps he could - I mean, who wouldn't? Afterward, as I cleared out into the street, the sting of a winters' chill slamming into me I suddenly had a renewal of respect for my metal heroes and what they must endure to stand upon that glorious mantle that is the open stage. And As I walked, I though that someday - albeit foolishly - that the hordes of spoilt brats spewing their ill-mannered and half-baked vitriol over the internet would simply realize just how good they have it, and merely fade away...
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