For the past two days, Chimaira frontman Mark Hunter has been going at it nonstop on Twitter. While his tweet-a-thon has included responses to fans’ questions and interactions with the likes of Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe and Metal Blade’s Brian Slagel, a chunk of his tweets have addressed the core issues bands struggle with day to day. Hunter’s candid insight into the “misconception” many have about the recording industry is truly an eye opening read.
While we covered his interaction with Brian Slagel about Spotify, we realized that it was going to be very difficult to give Hunter’s tweets the proper coverage they deserve (seriously, he’d post anywhere from 10 to 30 tweets per hour). As we were trying to determine the best way to cover this during the first day of his Twitter rampage, it suddenly occurred to us: “Why don’t we actually talk to the Chimaira frontman himself?!”
Hunter was gracious enough to step away from his computer to talk directly with us. Hunter took the time to further break down the structures of record labels and touring, as well as frankly discuss the hardest part of going through lineup changes, why Spotify is a brilliant service, and how social networking has the power to do remarkable things.
First off, thanks for taking time away from Twitter to talk with us!
[laughs] Well thanks for pulling me away from it!
Is this the first time you’ve talked openly about the music industry, besides via Twitter?
I’ve kind of been more of a behind the scenes guy. I’ve really been in charge of handling a lot of the business for Chimaira. So I’ve fortunately seen a lot of what goes on. It’s kind of like one of those things you see where some people start to open up and you realize how important it is to be forward. And I guess since yesterday [September 27] there was just something inside that was like “It’s time to start talking about something real!” Some people have been doing it earlier than me, but I guess yesterday was my day to say “I’m over the misconception!”
Well yesterday (9/27), you really covered a lot about the music industry (including downloading, touring, etc.). So to start things off, what would you say is your biggest concern facing musicians right now?
Well, the reality is, the format that we were all releasing music on is virtually dead. So it becomes very difficult to understand how there’s any revenue, how there’s supposed to be a relationship between the artist and record label if neither are getting the revenue that they need to do the job.
Would you say that the labels are more at blame for the current problems, or the fans for illegally downloading?
I don’t think you can point a finger, honestly. For example, it’s really easy for an artist to blame the label for something. But at the same time the artist can be making stupid mistakes that they’re unaware of, and the only person they can blame is the label when the label might not have any idea what that issue is. So you can’t just blame people and you can’t just expect things to revert and go back to normalcy, but you also can’t keep these issues hidden from the young aspiring band, maybe people currently in the industry wondering why everything is so weird. I think it’s just time to realize the fact that the industry has changed and it’s time to adapt.
What would you say is the best way for musicians and the industry to adapt?
Ok, well I think it starts with the artist having to be good. And right now, what has been happening, labels will maybe get lucky with one band or they see success that another label is doing with one band. So you get a lot of copycatting and imitating. And I think what this period of time that we’re in [needs] is a reorganization, and you have to squeeze it so hard that you get rid of a lot of the bands and labels that are just trying to grab onto a quick cash grab. I think there needs to be an emergence of extreme originality. And it’s so difficult to believe that I can’t hardly find a metal band anymore that doesn’t sound exactly like the metal band that was just released last week or the week before that. It’s just this whole…I don’t know what it is, this Pro Tools generation. But I think that you’re going to, hopefully, see the end of that.
During some of your tweets, you explained how a record deal breaks down (with the label making 6-7 times more than the band). Though you highlight how labels are an important source of funding for promotion and production, you also admit that Chimaira is currently at a status where (though still not the biggest band) you can still get major media coverage without labels. Why, then, did the band decide to sign a recording deal with eOne Records last year when you guys were free agents? Did the band ever consider going DIY?
Yes, honestly, once we became free agents, that was the goal. We were fully intent on pushing forward and being completely independent. And I thought to myself “Ok, well if we wanted a publicist, we would hire the same publicist who was working for us at the same time, Maria Ferrero [Adrenaline PR],” and I would go to Maria and say “Hey, we’re without a label, could you do me a favor?” Maybe she would have, maybe wouldn’t. Either way, we would’ve paid her to do this service. Then there’s radio, we would’ve contacted the radio department. Marketing, we would’ve contacted Marc Shapiro [Branch Marketing Collective]. So all the people that our label were contacting to hire and outsource, we could do the same exact thing. Now then the biggest obstacle from that point would be getting it distributed, how you’re going to get it in the stores. We would’ve tried to do what’s called a “distro” deal with RED Distribution, who are familiar with Chimaira as they’ve distributed all of our other albums. So it’s essentially what’s called “cutting out the middle man.”
But what we came to realize was the bankroll, and getting that initial funding to do those things. To record an album costs us anywhere from $20,000 to $50,000. Then there’s hiring a publicist, perhaps it’s around anywhere from $4,000 to $10,000 a month? I don’t even know these costs, I’m kind of making them up. Let’s just say you’re up to about $100,000. Well, it would be nice if Chimaira had 100 grand parked in the savings account to go forward and do that, but unfortunately we did not. So at that time, it made more sense to sign up with a team that would help us promote and reach further than we could on our own. And another giant factor in that was Europe. The market over there is completely different than it is here, and we knew that we know nothing about that. It would’ve been career suicide to try to do that on our own over there right now. So as we’re still part of the paradigm shift, it’s essential to hold onto it while we can because they still do help. I don’t see them as such a negative, but my purpose for informing people, bands, fans, and aspiring musicians is maybe they’ll appreciate what the artists are doing just a little bit more and what they go through.
It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. Yes, if we were Lil Wayne, we’d be making a lot of money, but that’s not the case. This is below minimum wage for so many people, below the poverty line for so many people, and all of it is for an appreciation of art and the connection with the fans. So if they realize that, maybe when the go see the bands, they go off a little harder or instead of buying 15 beers at the show, maybe they buy 14 and a t-shirt. These things are important because otherwise all of our favorite bands are going to eventually start dropping like flies. It’s already happening. It’s not going to start happening, it’s happened.
I was curious then whether eOne has met your expectations or not so far (with Chimaira’s new album The Age Of Hell having been out since August).
I take no issue with eOne at all. There has been a really good communication with the team there, and I feel they did a solid job, and they had many obstacles. For example, Best Buy, who was the number one seller for Chimaira for our entire career, made it extremely difficult for us to get our product in the store. So if you’re a metal head and all your favorite mom and pop stores are closing down, you’re going to Best Buy because it’s cheap and you know stuff is there. Well, if our record’s not there and you want the physical product, where are you getting it? F.Y.E. for $16.99? I don’t think so! So there’s Hot Topic, but you have the whole stigma that some metal heads don’t even want to walk in there [laughs]. So it makes it extremely difficult and our backs are against the wall.
But do I think eOne did a good job? Yes. I mean, they did everything that we’ve had done in the past, and they went a little outside the box as well and really let me be the nut that I am and be in charge of the little guerilla marketing ideas I’d have in the middle of the night. They were really interested in everything that we’ve had to say. Do I think there could’ve been better sales or stuff? Yeah. Do I think that’s their fault? No. I think that they did what they could do with what they were given, given the circumstances and the time that we live in.
I loved that you mentioned just now about Best Buy. I would normally go to Best Buy as a kid, and when I walked in recently for the first time in years, I was amazed by how small the CD selection had become. It killed me.
Yeah, when I was a kid, I used to collect VHS tapes. And when the DVD came out, I saw the DVD section went from 1 aisle and the VHS was about seven aisles, and then within a few years that entire shelving system was reversed. I don’t think I’ve even walked into a Best Buy in two years. I don’t even know what it looks like. I can’t imagine [laughs].
It’s better than F.Y.E., but you’re not missing much!
I went into an F.Y.E. yesterday. [laughs]
I saw that picture! [laughs]
Yeah, of course they didn’t have the new album and were overpriced. Who’s going to pay $16.99 for that CD? Who?! You can get a subscription to Spotify for less.
Speaking of Spotify, I love that you admitted that your Twitter rampage actually started when you couldn’t listen to Cannibal Corpse on Spotify. And you even got [Metal Blade CEO/founder] Brian Slagel to make his first public statement about Spotify. After being in contact with Slagel and hearing what actually went down between Spotify and Metal Blade, have your feelings toward the service changed?
No, not at all. First I’d like to say that Brian is one of the very few in this industry that is genuine and cares about his artists. And he truly is a fan, and that’s amazing to see. Even though we’ve never been on the label, every time we’ve encountered each other, from the first day it’s been smiles and handshakes and “Hey, how are you doing?,” just deep respect for each other. So he’s genuine, and that’s rare.
And I don’t even want to be a Spotify poster boy by any means because from talking with my friends, they’re like “Well, you can still do the same stuff on YouTube, and I can listen to Pink Floyd and Metallica on YouTube. I can’t listen to them on Spotify.” But I still think that the service is amazing, and once I saw the Facebook integration happen and fans were listening to some of the weirder music I listen to and commenting on it and discovering it, I was like “Aw man, this is huge!” And the reach that Facebook has already, whether you hate the site or not, is unquestionable. So as an artist, I imagine fans listening to Chimaira on Spotify and then new people becoming fans of us because of that. And as an artist, that is all you want, is to have fans. So I find the service to be brilliant and the integration sealed the deal for me. Even if the royalty system sucks, I think that with the amount of fans you can potentially gain from the people that are interested in our music, that could translate into the live scenario and/or maybe extra merchandise sales, which are the things that truly matter to keep the band’s wheels going anyway.
Do you see why independent labels might seem hesitant, though, to partner with Spotify because of the low royalties, or are they missing the point?
Well, every label has their own reasoning, and I don’t know what’s going on with that honestly to comment. I’m sure that it is not a good system, but the reason I called Brian out was because, like you pointed out, he had not commented. And from what I’m reading from other people, it doesn’t seem, I guess, are they just pulling out because they want more money or because they want more money for the artists? Because I don’t see how the artists are going to get more money. Why is Spotify going to be like “You know what, we really need Cannibal Corpse”? They don’t! So I’m just really trying to figure out what the catch is behind it. I was hoping that as innovative as Brian is that he did want to be a part of this service because he has some great bands on there that can definitely benefit from the service.
You highlight numerous times in your tweets how not only does a lot of money go into touring (for very little return), but also a lot of politics. Can you explain a little further the exact process that goes into getting a band like Chimaira on a tour package? Is it as difficult as putting together a headlining tour?
Both are their own challenges. For example, when we were a young band and we got an offer to tour with Slayer, that was huge for us, right? So of course as fans we want to take that tour more than anything in the world. And the reality of our situation was the guarantees were just about enough to cover the gas. So we were left with a pretty big wall to get over. So at the time our label, Roadrunner, offered what’s called tour support. And they invest what they, I’m just going to throw a bullshit number, let’s say they invest $25,000 and they give you that so you can do the tour. Well that $25,000 is paid back at such a slow rate that you’re just digging yourself into such a hole you’ll never get out of it. You’ll have to sell millions of records. And as a young band, you get really shit guarantees. So you have to rely on the tour support.
So what had happen was with our entire first album, we got all these cool tours but offered low guarantees, and we had to go into the hole with Roadrunner. And the first album Pass Out Of Existance didn’t perform that well to merit those costs. So when The Impossibility Of Reason came out, we were faced with either getting dropped or our advance would be reduced. Of course we didn’t want to get dropped, so we took an advanced reduction. And just went and made the album the best way we could and then that album started to do well. And when it really started to do well, there was no money left over from the first album to really put forth an extra umph into maintaining it. So here we are at a peek of our career, touring with Slipknot, playing in front of thousands of kids a night, but there’s no marketing behind it, there’s less than 700 records in stores in the United States, and you see it’s our fault but it’s not our fault.
It’s so weird [laughs], that’s the word I guess I can use. It’s like they loan you the money so you can get on that tour and get bigger and once you get bigger if you need that extra money but if you haven’t paid back the loan, oh well. And I just didn’t understand that. To me it’s like they weren’t protecting their investment, but they certainly protected their investment because they made it back and then some. It’s just not on paper for us because the way that artists pay back is at a slow percentage. If you get handed $100,000 and your royalty rate is $1 per CD, you have to sell then a 100,000 CDs to recuperate. So the more you go into the hole, the less chances of ever seeing a profit. I don’t know if I can answer the question fully [laughs] I tend to rant a lot.
No that’s good! Now how does that compare to the process of putting together a headlining tour?
Well the obstacles of a headlining tour, for example, because right now the economy is weird and certain promoters have taken a big hit. But say we need to get from Cleveland to Texas and in between those markets you have Kentucky, St. Louis, or whatever. Well let’s just say Kentucky offers you $2,000 and you’re like “Ok, we can do that.” So the agent marks that on the calendar. “Alright, what’s the next city in line? It’s North Carolina.” Well North Carolina, they’re not doing any shows. If there are too many shows in the market, they don’t make an offer. Things like that happen all the time. And then the bands will sit there and complain that “Oh, it looks like it was booked by a monkey throwing darts at a map.” Well that’s kind of how it is because you can’t always just get where you want to be when you want to be. So there’s a lot of challenges with that. And then sometimes you might need to go from Seattle to California and the only thing in the way is Portland, and Portland is only offering $1,000 or $500. It’s like, well do you tell them to just fuck themselves or do you take the money because you need it for the day? So you never know what you’re gonna get. You have no idea what’s ahead and all bands get different salaries. Some bands are lucky to get $100 a night, some bands are making over $10,000 a night and that $10,000 isn’t enough for them. It’s all relative to the band, but we all face the same tasks and challenges and it’s just different numbers, that’s all.
I remember you tweeting earlier today [September 28] about how Daath didn’t get paid during a tour you did with them. I imagine that there are some nights where it’s common for even the headliner to get screwed out of money as well?
Definitely. We did a whole tour in 2009 and that promoter of that still owes us over $10,000. So it’s like you go and do this tour and you come home and you’re like “Where’s the money?” Well the money’s not coming. So everyone’s just away from their family, away from the chance to make some side money. Sure the shows were fun, but then when you come home and there’s nothing to see for it, it’s a pretty rotten taste in your mouth.
100%. Nobody likes to work for free, nobody likes to feel underappreciated, and nobody knows where this thing is going. You feel a lot of tension, a lot of anxiety, a lot of stress, and maybe throw in your personal life too [laughs]. And now your personal life is “Oh how am I paying my mortgage?, or “I have a kid!,” or “I need to eat!” So those stressors come into the camp and it comes across in the performance. It comes across in the sound. I can just hear, it’s like “Man, we are out of gas!” You really have to be able to just slip your own perspective to move forward. And as bleak as I see things are, maybe I also see a beauty in that and I don’t mind that. It doesn’t scare me. It doesn’t stress me out maybe as much as it would someone in the group that has a child. I don’t have that type of responsibility. So I guess I can afford to be a pioneer even if it’s a disastrous choice.
You mention in a tweet how lineup changes are unavoidable. What would you say, though, is the biggest difficulty about going through a change in the band like that?
Honestly, the biggest difficulty… well there’s two, and they’re totally different because one side is for the business and one side is for your personal. The personal side is like a relationship. You don’t want to see your friends go, you don’t want to see that happen. The guys that have left this group have spent almost ten years if not more on the road, and you know these people inside out, you care about them deeply. And you realize that we just needed a break. Whether that break was a vacation or someone handed us a fat paycheck [laughs], or where we could kind of just rest for a minute, and that works a lot. But to work so hard on a relationship and have it crumble because of extraneous circumstances and petty things, that hurts. It be like if you were dating a girl for a year and a half and you proposed and you went ‘Alright, now we’re going to get married,’ and you’re going down the altar and next thing you know all the problems just unravel. You’re going to have a pretty shitty feeling. So that’s difficult.
On the business side and the reality side of the business are fans and their reaction. The assumption of the fan is that we are like the three musketeers or the six musketeers, if you will, that we’re all in this ‘one for all’ and we’re writing a song and it’s all six guys and they’re playing their part, and this and that. And well, if Jim [LaMarca, ex-bassist] is gone, then the sound is going to suffer. That’s just unfortunately not the truth, and how do you make a fan understand that? You can’t. So we never tried to. All we can do is put out an album and say ‘Hey, does it still sound like Chimaira to you? Is it worthy of having the name?’ And that’s all you can hope for, is that the fan enjoys the music despite the changes. But right off the bat, there’s a preconceived notion that everything is different. Well of course everything is different! Even if it was the same, we’re not going to make the same album we just made. [laughs] And a big thing that fans complain about anyway is that every album changes from sound to sound, but that’s what we’ve done. So to have lineup changes happen for us brings in new life, brings in new energy and brings in creativity. We see the positive and the negative.
In addition to your persistence on Twitter, I think it’s amazing how you’ve not only gotten fellow musicians and names in the industry to react, but also have gotten them to join the discussion. Do you think that the past two days have shown how powerful social networks can be when used properly?
Exactly! Thank you for saying it like that. I can’t count how many times I talked to friends and I’m like, ‘We have mastered the ability to communicate with each other at a level that is unprecedented, and we use it to show the pictures of what we’re eating and talk about how shitty Mondays are!’ And the vanity retweets where we’re like ‘Hey, love the band.’ Yeah we know! So I’m just sick of it. Not saying I haven’t been guilty [laughs]. We can use this for whatever we wanted to. We have a voice. We can make our own destiny, our own reality. And it could be a bunch of older industry guys flapping their jaws on Twitter and that is a meaningful message to some, or you can use it for good. Whether it’s politics or maybe a social issue that you hold dear to your heart, I feel if you approach the conversation with a respect and don’t just try to degrade and attack somebody’s interests or feelings or thoughts on the matter, it leaves it open for a good debate.
For example, Randy [Blythe, singer of Lamb Of God] loves to go to the store and buy the CD. I used to love that too, but I don’t find personal joy in that anymore. It doesn’t mean that we’re going to sit there on the internet and say ‘Well you’re wrong and I’m right!’ That’s just ridiculous, but that’s exactly what happens. I think that us as artists are smart enough and have been through enough that we can have the ability to show people that you can have an open dialogue about serious things and show the good sides, show the bad sides, just show what’s real. And unfortunately some people don’t like to hear the truth. I’ve had kids on there [Twitter] say I’m whining, but I’m not whining about anything. What am I whining about? I love what I do, I’ve made that clear. I’m just showing that I ain’t driving around in a Maserati and I don’t have three Latino bitches in my car with me giving me head while I blow coke off their tits. I sit at home with a couple of dogs and just try to make ends meet like everyone else.
During all of this, you actually got introduced to Kickstarter. You even said that the band might consider doing a video via donations through the service. Have you and the band discussed any possibility of using Kickstarter in the future?
I want to look into it. Right now, a good friend of mine, a young up and coming art student, really wants a shot at making a video, and he gave a pretty respectable budget. And now that I put a feeler out there to see what the reaction would be, I don’t mind trying it. We don’t want to do something that’s ridiculous or where we need four hundred grand for this because we want to blow up couple porches [laughs]. We’re going make something that’s of artistic quality and something that will visually entertain you to accompany the song. I think that’d be interesting because I as a fan love the video world, but the reality for us is that nobody is going to pay for it. So if you want to see another Chimaira video, we got to figure something out. I want to see one, don’t you? So let’s figure this out.
What song would you possibly do a video for?
The friend of mine that wants to do the video suggested the track “Losing My Mind.” What I thought was cool yesterday was that a fan proposed that they get to possibly vote on which video we would do one for. I like that idea too. So maybe we could do both or something and see if we can get two.
That would be really cool. So you have the tour with Unearth and Skeletonwitch coming up. Any plans after that?
Yeah, well we’re touring for the next nine weeks in the States, and then we’re going to go overseas in 2012. I’m sure we’ll do couple more shows in the States in 2012 without question. We also have our 12th annual Christmas show, which is at the end of the year and is always a big deal for us. And just business as usual, and it’s good to go back on the road and on the full touring schedule because we haven’t really done that in almost four year as a headliner. So it’s a little overdue.
Well thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us. Are you going to continue the tweets or are you going to try to slow down on that?
What do you think I should do?
I think you should do whatever you think feels right! [laughs]
[laughs] You know, I got to entertain myself, I’ll be honest with you. My girlfriend is out of town and I…
Oh NOW we find out why you’re doing Twitter so much! [laughs]
Yeah! [laughs] No, I have extra time man. I’ll be honest, I’m always on Twitter. I’m always looking. There’s so many times when I just have my phone in my hand, I’m one of those phone junkies, and I’m just constantly looking and I just never say anything. I’m always like “Ugghhh, I wanna say that,” but I guess I’ve just never been able to jump off the diving board until yesterday. And it feels good. It feels good to start swimming. [laughs]
You just mentioned about having your phone, I just got an Android recently and I’m still amazed at how connected I feel to the world. Even while I’m walking outside, the possibilities are endless. I can’t even imagine how I was before not having the internet on my phone. It really is amazing.
Precisely, and the fact that we’re going to be on tour and we all have phones, I mean there’s so much down time on tour. It’s unbelievable. So I think I’d like to continue. Maybe not with as such a bombardment [laughs], but I think I really like talking about real stuff. That doesn’t mean I’m not going to talk about what I’m eating and where I’m hanging out at or with whom, but I think that this has opened up a serious dialogue for many people about whatever issue they want to talk about and hopefully the trend is followed. Continued I should say, not followed.
Well I will continue to follow you on Twitter.
[laughs] Appreciate it!