Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s Bram and Zach take a moment to debate and analyze two opposing sides of a topical issue occurring in the world of metal and/or the music industry.
It was reported earlier this week that the Warner Music Group acquired the remaining portion of Roadrunner Records that they didn’t already own. In this week’s edition of Headbanger’s Brawl, we’ll talk about what this means. Is it good that for the music industry to have a corporate label take over an independent one?
Bram: Hard to say for sure what this means. There have already been layoffs, and a whole foreign branch was closed down. The question is whether or not they’ll be able to maintain their independence. It seems to me like there’s one reason Warner bought Roadrunner in the first place, and that reason comes from Canada and sucks. But enough about Nickelback. Roadrunner seems to have been gradually getting more mainstream ever since Warner acquired part of the label a few years back. At the same time, they’re also able to have Opeth, Soulfly and Baptized In Blood on the label, and gives Warner, essentially, their own metal label. If they stick to that, they’ll be ok.
Zach: I agree that Roadrunner will remain ok as long as they stay as a metal label. But is that what Warner wants? Granted, it would be in their best interest to keep forward with a metal focus at Roadrunner, one of the most established metal labels still remaining. Recent signings of acts like Baptized In Blood is a good sign that this will continue to happen. Roadrunner’s imprint Loud & Proud, which signs established rock and hard rock acts, is also a promising sign that the main label front will focus on the more metal titles. But this is all betting on the notion that a record company will be logical and take into account more than just what sells, something the industry has proven to fail at time and time again. Call me a metal hipster who doesn’t trust the mainstream labels, but I wouldn’t put it past a record label (even as one as respectable as Warner) to try and force a label to produce another Nickelback (who coincidently signed a new recording deal with Live Nation shortly after Warner acquired Roadrunner).
B: Roadrunner’s already done that to themselves – they’re called Theory of a Deadman. This is a total outsider’s perspective, but I think having a “metal” label fits into their gameplan. Warner has their own label, as well as Atlantic and Reprise to put out the more mainstream stuff. Rhino is reissues for the most part. Elektra is more or less Fueled By Ramen, and Asylum has been refocused as their hip hop label. That said, with Nickelback jumping to Live Nation, there will definitely be some pressure to find “the next” Nickelback, which might not necessarily exist in 2010 with record sales down the way they’ve been. The big question really is more about fan loyalty and the purity of the brand. I’m sure the tr00 kvlt metalheads wrote Roadrunner off as soon as Obituary left, but might there be some people that are newly finished with the label knowing they’re a fully corporate-owned entity?
Z: In regards to fan loyalty, that really all depends on the bands they sign. Fans of Killswitch Engage and Slipknot will stick around because they are loyal to those bands, not necessarily the label itself. As long as Roadrunner continues to feature a roster full of bands that aim to expand their fan base, not just a top 40 hit, then Roadrunner as a brand should remain fine.
B: The main concern I’d have was addressed by Vince Neilstein over at Metal Sucks, who apparently has secondhand experience with one of the two people that now run the label. He says that neither of them know anything about metal, which I guess is ok from a pure business standpoint. But small labels like Southern Lord or Housecore are owned by musicians whose passion shows through in the acts they sign. And while Brian Slagel can’t possibly like every single band he signs, people identify and associate him with Metal Blade. I’m not saying that Lyor Cohen hates metal because I don’t know that personally, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the closest he came to metal was when Slayer was on Def Jam before Rick Rubin took them.
Z: The thing that I feel sucks the most, though, is that this will cause a lot of people to lose jobs. As you mentioned earlier, Bram, and as Metal Sucks also goes into deeply, a lot of positions and jobs have already been cut because of this. It’s bad enough for anyone to get laid off, but now they have to go back into the job hunt while the music industry is doing so crappy.