"some music was meant to stay underground..."

OpEd

When Life in Metal Meets an Insidious Demise

“Respect in the scene-priceless
Money in my wallet-$0
Fame in the death metal scene-years of hard work mastering programming and guitar playing
Money in my wallet-$0
Car-doesn't exist
Bank account-yea right
Owe everyone under the sun-OF COURSE

KIDS DO YOURSELF A FAVOR AND FORGET YOUR DREAMS, YOU'LL END UP LIKE ME, 35 WITH NOT A GOD DAMN THING BUT RESPECT IN A SCENE THAT HONESTLY DOESN'T GIVE 2 SHITS ABOUT YOU ANYWAY. FUCK THIS SHIT, I'M GETTING A JOB, I'M DONE WITH THIS.”

This was copied verbatim a few days ago from the Facebook page of one-man brutal death metal band Insidious Decrepancy, a.k.a. Shawn Whitaker, who also helmed another one-man brutal death metal project called Viral Load for years. Whitaker has been involved in the scene for well over 15 years as a performer alone, so this isn’t the premature whining of some entitled scene kid who thinks the world owes him a favor. Quite the contrary, these are the frustrated words of a man who has gutted it out in the niche market of brutal death metal for a decade and half, and obviously made great personal and financial sacrifices to do so.

Most of us who play extreme music are in the same boat as Whitaker, financially speaking. We work day jobs to finance our musical aspirations, and often shovel a large portion of our savings into recording, touring, and buying gear. This isn’t news to anyone in the metal community, and we’re under no illusions that anyone owes us a living for being a musician, especially in such a small corner of the industry as underground metal. It’s our personal choice to do this; no one put a proverbial gun to our heads, so we know we’re in no position to complain. In these trying times, we should be happy we even have a day job that allows us to chase down something we’re passionate about. Constant complaining is for ineffectual losers anyway, but it’s something we all do from time to time, both as a cathartic release and to stop all that pent up tension from manifesting itself as a brain embolism sometime down the road.

For the most part, we know what we signed up for, and those that continue persevere largely because the immaterial rewards such as irreplaceable personal connections within the scene, friendships, having a creative, positive outlet for negative emotions, and travel opportunities outstrip the material losses and interpersonal sacrifices, and we can continue to justify, at least to ourselves, following our chosen path to near poverty. And who are we kidding? The ego probably also rears its ugly head in there too. Deny it as we might, there will always be a narcissistic element to being in a band.

But as Whitaker demonstrates, we’re always just a cellophane pane’s width away from throwing it all away, though when that point comes varies from person to person. Whitaker may or may not decide to hang it up, but clearly he has come to a sobering juncture, caused by circumstances likely known only to himself and perhaps his inner circle, where it’s just not worth it anymore.

Whitaker’s words illustrate that, in the world of extreme metal, it’s easy to get caught up in being the band guy. When you’re 20 years old, it’s cool to be in a band. All your friends think it’s cool. The metal scene, or at least some sub-sect of it, thinks it’s cool. Your parents…hope you’ll grow out of it soon. But it’s a hell of a lot of fun, and the good times seem like they’ll never end. At 25, it’s still a great time. Maybe a couple of minor breakout moments have hit, or perhaps your band has even hit the upper realms of the underground and toured around the metal Meccas of North America and Europe a few times, but still your bank account is being bled dry. But that’s alright, because the world doesn’t expect much from 25.

Then 30 hits. The world expects something from 30. Society at large expects a car, a house, a significant other, and at least a fledgling career. Anything less than this is met with pitying condescension and the clucking of tongues. But all of these are, at best, hard to get a grip on if you’re continually pouring money into that next plane ticket to jump on the next tour, or dumping cash that will likely never be recouped into studio time or the next batch of t-shirts. Thirty seems to be when a lot of people in metal take a step back and reflect. But hey, 30 isn’t that old. Thirty is the new 20, they say, 40 is the new 30, so a few continue to soldier on. Of course, 30 is also within the age range that a lot of musicians end up with fledgling families to support, which makes it pretty tough to justify shelling out money for music. But for the unencumbered, it’s all that much easier to maintain the thrift-store, sleep on the floor lifestyle.

Now, Whitaker is 35, and I can’t begin to fake that I understand the inner turmoil he is going through, if only for the tenuous fact that, at least for a few more months, I can still justify my current lifestyle by “being in my twenties.” If his words can be taken at face value, and I have no reason to doubt that they can, he has reached one of those linear, quantifiable milestones in life, taken a quick look around, and realized that for all his efforts, compromises, and sacrifices, he has virtually nothing material to show for it, only the immaterial and monetarily worthless notion of respect. And respect doesn’t keep the lights on or listen to your problems. And so we get an outburst such as this, from a man who has accomplished more than most in underground circles.

As a 29-year-old musician myself, his words are chilling, because the cold, hard reality, especially in today’s economy, is that metal fans simply can’t afford to support every band that they’d like to by buying albums or merchandise. In the instantaneous Internet age, in which groups of teens have their first logo shirts printed before their first single is up on Bandcamp, there are simply too many bands chasing the same dollar around. If I supported every band I like by buying their CDs and t-shirts/caps/hoodies/g-strings, I’d be six figures in the red by now. So, I have to pick and choose which bands get my money. Some, inevitably, fall through the cracks. Maybe Insidious Decrepancy was one of those bands, though I do have two Viral Load CDs kicking around somewhere.

If a hardened and proven lifer like Whitaker is seemingly burnt out at 35, will the same happen to me? It can’t be ruled out. Sure, right now I’m happy where I’m at, blissfully mired in relative obscurity, making absolutely no money from music, and actually spending a few thousand dollars a year to tour and record. In return for my investment, I get to travel once in a while, play my music, and meet some great people, many of whom have become friends. But who’s to say where this will leave me six years and likely five figures in expenditures from now, if my present career arc continues? It could very well be me venting to the largely apathetic Internet masses about being broke, hopeless, and out of the scene.

But that’s the way it is, and that’s the way it always will be. Those are the circumstances that cause a select few to push through, and the majority to find themselves disillusioned, penniless, and ready to give metal a wide berth for a while. There’s no solution, and there’s no way around it. It’s just the way it is. But it’s useful for the younger generation just starting out in metal to take a look at Whitaker’s words and keep them in mind. It’s always a bit sad when something that was obviously loved once turns into nothing but an embittered rant and an unceremonious and insidious demise.

Joe Reviled's avatar

Joe Henley is a freelance music journalist and editor currently living in Taipei, Taiwan. In addition to pulling vocal duty in a death metal band, he maintains a website on the Taiwanese metal scene and writes regular features on the touring bands that come through Taipei for a local monthly music magazine.

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19 Comments on "When Life in Metal Meets an Insidious Demise"

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sonictherapy's avatar

Senior News Correspondent

1. sonictherapy writes:

Truer words were never spoken. It's the same principle for those who work on the media or in the business end. Half the jobs at extreme metal labels are internships, and so many people want the lofty title of working there that they get away with it. If you're in the media, be prepared to donate alot of your time out of the love for what you do. Most of us have day jobs and keep it as a long part time obsession.

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 7:35 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
2. NavelGazer writes:

We all know it's hard for those up on the stage. I have a cozy office job and cannot begin to even imagine how hard that life must be, chasing dreams that you know will most likely never come to be. However they're lucky to have a shot at the dream, most of use do as Mum and Dad persuade us to do, get the education. get the job, the house, the family and we fit our metal around that as best we can.

He says fans don't give as sh**, well there I have to disagree. We do, we go to the club gigs when we can, we buy the merchandise to ensure a few more "coins" in the band's pocket. We tell all those we know about such-and-such a band to try to spread the word. I think bands don't realise how much word of mouth chat goes on behind the scenes to ensure names and work get spread around.

The one thing it does bring home is the very fact it's ever so much more vitally important that we, the fans, do not rip artists work off. When you find you like it, make sure you get to iTunes, Amazon or the artist's webpage and buy the CD or download, buy a shirt, keep them on the road and keep 'em gigging.

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 11:54 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
OverkillExposure's avatar

Writer

3. OverkillExposure writes:

Sobering, but true and needed. Joe, this is probably the finest article I've ever read here on MU. Major hats off!

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 12:06 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

4. Blindgreed1 writes:

Shawn will be back. We always come back. I'm 45 now and deep into a prog project as well as ironing out the details to reforming Blind Greed. If you're a musician, it's in your fvcking blood. If you got into this for money and fame, you won't come back and it's likely your music reflected your shallow dreams anyway so good riddance. It's br00tal, unforgiving, disgusting at times (I'll never get the memory of Fat Dave's smelly feet out of my mind or my senses), and generally you get back way less than what you put in. It's metal...

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 12:21 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
hellrat's avatar

Member

5. hellrat writes:

^Exactly brother, we do it for the fvcking LOVE \m/

Anyone who expects to gain anything other than their own personal satisfaction from METAL is in it for the wrong reasons...

I play music, and will do so for the rest of my life...and I don't really give a flying FVCK what anyone thinks about it

Oh, and I'm 37...been there, done that...but my fire ain't diminished, my spirit stands fvcking strong

Interesting article

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 12:43 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Drum_Junkie's avatar

Member

6. Drum_Junkie writes:

^^Ha, You guys make me feel young. I'm 'only' 35. :D

It seems like Shawn is being torn against his expectations for fullfillment and those of society.

Society tells us to buy a home, a car, get married, have kids, get a credit card, blah blah, blah. It's so ingrained into our culture (at least US culture), that there is the pressure to do that. And the older you get, more of the people your age are doing those things. So, there's a steady decline of people you can relate to, which intensifies the pressure to fit into your demographic. It's hard not to feel like a failure if you're in your mid 30's, in debt, with no tangible assets, and rely on performance art for your income - supplementing that with some additional mediocre job.

Sounds like Shawn is at a crossroads, and is evaluating his priorities and reassessing what he values most.

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 1:59 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Fuck_A_Name's avatar

Member

7. Fuck_A_Name writes:

You know what makes me feel weird? I almost kindof think that way right now, but i'm only 22.
I have no problems living in squalor for the sake of my art, and I have no illusions of the commercial aspects of metal, let alone any of the extreme metal genres that occupy my creative interests, but life has found just the perfect sequence of events to make it impossible to pursue making music right now. So while I'm not philosophically in line with the rejection of the metal scene for monetary gain, it's become my only choice for the time being, and I hate that.
So i'm not ACTUALLY thinking the same thing as this Insidious Demise character, it's more like I'm unintentionally forced to live that mindset. And it sucks.

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 2:34 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Rex_84's avatar

Writer

8. Rex_84 writes:

I hope Shawn isn't done. I don't get to see his bands play that often, but I always enjoy it when I do. He's a great guitar player, vocalist and stage man. He's definitely one of the elite players in the TXDM scene.

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 2:35 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Cynic's avatar

Senior Reviewer

9. Cynic writes:

Damn man, where was the uplifting coda to this?

Listen, life's a b**** and then you die. For every musician having a mid-life crisis that he didn't choice a house and a stable job, there's 10 accountants having one about abandoning their dreams and the things they really cared about in life.

However, like FAN this article really speaks to me too. In the end some people are just born to create and just sitting in front of the TV/computer and consuming art will never scratch the itch of needing to create it.

I think the one point this Op-Ed nailed home is that there's no money in being a musician, so never chase that dream. Chase the dream of making earth shattering metal.

"A message for all metal fans
I know this sounds a little cliche
But I don't give a damn anyway!
So let this be a lesson to you
Though we leave we're never through
If you help to keep metal alive
The underground will always survive" - Razor

# Dec 14, 2011 @ 3:24 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Jenny's avatar

Member

10. Jenny writes:

Well stated, posts 6 and 9.

Yes, SO much effort and sacrifice is what you're in for; and that it "shouldn't be about the money." But Humans can only drive it out for so long before they are burnt out. Yes, musicians know they're likely not gonna get something worth it in return, but it certainly is NICE to get SOMETHING back.

Intrinsic motivation is good, but it's not a guarantee for ones' overall emotional (and even physical) health (in the long run). That's all.

There are things I think and do that only I will probably understand--thoughts and acts for The Sake Of Themselves. Is it right for me? Yes. Do I think there is value in the things I believe in and carry out? Absolutely. But do I grow tired, burdened, and even question why I bother doing what I do if it seems that I don't get ANYTHING? Oh yes. And that's just me not even pouring money and blood into my 'life passion.' I can only IMAGINE being a fighting musician; and for "only" being 30, I still give props for fighting for that amount of time. QUALITY, NOT QUANTITY.

Excellent write-up. Joe, please do check back in with us when you're "there." :p

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 2:08 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Joe Reviled's avatar

Writer

11. Joe Reviled writes:

Cheers everybody. I'm glad this struck somewhat of a chord with a portion of the readership. Whenever I read an article here on MU I'm consistently impressed by the thoughtful responses the membership and other writers take the time to reply with. That's what I love about this site.

Hopefully this write up didn't come across as too overtly negative, or positive for that matter. Yes, creative endeavors often resign an artist to a life of frustration and near poverty, but that's not the be all and end all. It's a fine balance between soul crushing insanity and amazing highs.

Personally speaking, I love seeing metal musicians still banging away past the age of 40 and loving every minute of it, as most of my favorite bands are. Cannibal Corpse and Immolation being just two examples. Those guys give me hope that there is life in metal in the "later" years, relatively speaking, regardless of whether or not the medium provides any real income.

Speaking of Immolation, that's a band that has been very vocal about the members having to hold down day jobs despite being in one of the most easily recognizable bands in death metal history. But that's how we roll in metal. Mundane by day, metal by night. And so it goes. Cannibal Corpse, though, have obviously been fortunate enough, and deservedly so, to hammer out a living from death metal alone, though I'd guess they are part of a very minute minority.

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 3:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Blindgreed1's avatar

Member

12. Blindgreed1 writes:

BTW, welcome to the mighty MU Joe. Hope to read more from you in the very near future.

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 9:52 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
deathbringer's avatar

Founder, owner & programmer

13. deathbringer writes:

"For every musician having a mid-life crisis that he didn't choice a house and a stable job, there's 10 accountants having one about abandoning their dreams and the things they really cared about in life." -Cynic

So true, and excellent point the band members would be well advised to remember. Surely most people reevaluate at different points in life and inevitably will have a down moment and look at what they don't have instead of the whole picture. Attitudes, needs, and priorities may change over time as well, and no matter what they've been doing for the past X years, a person may need a change and a challenge.

"But that's how we roll in metal. Mundane by day, metal by night." - Joe

I like that and feel like it applies to many fans (like me) as well as band members. If you want to be successful by society's standards, you have to play by their rules, at least during the 9-5.

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 10:45 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Drum_Junkie's avatar

Member

14. Drum_Junkie writes:

I just read (skimmed though) an Interview with Garth Brooks, and he said something that I thought was relevant with an interesting take on things.
***
I don’t think the system right now is set up for extraordinary significance. And I think the system does have something to do with that, people will misconstrue that statement as commercialism or marketing, but the truth is I don’t think we view music right now as something that is extraordinary, and I think a lot of that, the reason why we don’t, is it’s become too disposable.
***

That comment touches on the disposable nature the music industry as a whole has turned into. I see three interconnected groups: consumers (in which fans are a subset), record labels, and artists - each with its own goals.
With the consumers, we want music to be available and easily accessed. That's first and foremost - quality product is second. We may say the quality is first, but what do our actions say? Illegal downloading, ITunes (buy individual songs vs. whole albums), the decline of physical record sales all speak that our actions demonstrate the consumable (i.e. disposable) nature music has become. I've heard comments on MU and elsewhere to the effect of “I’ll download it and if I don’t like it, I’ll just delete it.” I’m not saying everyone is guilty of this, just that the public as a whole are.
The record labels’ goals are to make money from music sales. They want to make money selling a product and/or service - plain and simple. In order to make more money, they sell more products. Because they sell to consumers (who want easy/cheap access), the profit margins are slimmer and slimmer, one way they squeeze more profit is by reducing the revenue stream to the artist. This simple logic really exposes the conflicting relationship between artists and labels.
For artists, the goal is both to create art and to make money, as $ has become a necessary means to create more art. With the nature of the previous two groups, it is painfully obvious how difficult it is to earn a living from music, and especially how disheartening it can be to see your art treated like a disposable product. Who wants to say, “I’ve spent my youth pouring my heart and soul to make xxxxx!” xxxxx could also be toilet paper, bearings, plastic toys, ball gags, etc. What artist wants to see their work treated like something you toss in the garbage when you’re through with it? Artists are torn between the desire to see their creative work cherished and the economics of supply/demand pricing.

With that said, what can an artist do about it? They could rely on themselves and cut out the labels as middlemen. But by doing that, they limit their access to distribution, marketing, and manufacturing capabilities. They could limit the distribution and marketing necessary by setting higher prices, then they could make more $ by selling fewer copies. But how do you convince someone to buy your self produced 5 song EP for $25, when they can get 25 individual songs from ITunes?
Maybe there is a music bubble that is on the verse of collapse. Maybe there are too many options out there for the public to support. How extraordinary would the renaissance painters/musicians/sculptors have been if there were 50x as many? Just some things to think about…

BTW, thanks Joe for writing this excellent article!!

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 10:59 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
silvermountains's avatar

Member

15. silvermountains writes:

Greatest article I have ever read, props to you for writing such a real down to earth article. It made my day to read this, and I'll be reading it constantly.
Thanks alot. \m/
SM

# Dec 15, 2011 @ 10:59 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Joe Reviled's avatar

Writer

16. Joe Reviled writes:

In think the main source of frustration in the music industry comes down to the fact that it tries to quantify something that is in no way quantifiable. What is the value of a song? 99 cents? Two dollars? Ten dollars? It's entirely subjective because, as indispensable as music is to people like me, and the people who frequent this site, I believe, it isn't food, water, or shelter. Its value is entirely subjective. The idea of actually getting paid for music is actually quite new, relatively speaking. Once upon a time, classical composers had to rely primarily on wealthy benefactors or family money to finance them, and provide them with the financial means to compose without having their creative energy diverted by some other occupation.

Today, the only difference is that the "wealthy benefactors" are the musicians themselves, for the most part. We finance our own musical endeavors, and the middle man is increasingly getting cut out of the picture, and with good cause. All the middle man does, essentially, is divert money away from the artists, though in exchange for certain benefits such as wider exposure. As Drum Junkie has pointed out, bands cut out the middle man at the expense of getting their album into more places. Even a small label can get a band into markets they likely wouldn't be able to break into on their own, for lack of local contacts in various scenes.

So, the viable options for underground metal musicians are to go the independent route, and attempt to penetrate as many different markets as possible through word of mouth and aggressive self promotion, or try to latch on to one, or perhaps a few, small labels in some different, key markets in exchange for little or no compensation, save for a few copies of your own album pressed by the label. Then there's the "major" metal label route-the Metal Blades and Earaches of the world, but only the top tier bands on those labels, to my understanding, come close to making a living from music. Whatever route a band chooses to take, it's going to be a long, exhausting road, which is why we get cases of flame out such as the above. But I do believe that more and more bands will simply choose to start going completely D.I.Y. in the future to hold onto their own money, unless labels start adapting and taking the advice of one of the writers of another well known metal site and adapt to do many other things in house, such as booking tours, doing CD layouts and artwork, etc, to stop putting more and more middlemen in between the artists and their hard earned revenue. Perhaps if this becomes the norm, more metal artists will get to enjoy the privilege of creating without putting themselves straight into the poor house. But then again, what's art without suffering? A multi-edged blade, to say the least.

# Dec 16, 2011 @ 1:18 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
17. ChathurangaTrident writes:

Amazing article Joe. One of the BEST articles I've read on MU, period!

# Dec 26, 2011 @ 8:34 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
Anonymous Reader
18. LOU SELVEY writes:

ya i agree with the 45 year old, its a burning passion you have, its in your blood, it never goes away, if you are a true artist and believe in your artform, nothing nor nobody can kill your will to create, if it does you were never meant for the craft.

# Dec 26, 2011 @ 9:33 PM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address
inhatredofme's avatar

Member

19. inhatredofme writes:

i've been playing guitar for about 10 years and absolutely love being on stage whether it's for 2 people in a shady little bar or whatever it doesn't matter as long as i can play.

# Dec 27, 2011 @ 12:58 AM ET | IP Logged Reveal posts originating from the same IP address

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