Published Feb 10, 2010We knew all along that the future of the music industry would rest in the hands of crusty grind punks. Well, no, we didn't, but we're stoked that it does. Or at least it does if you believe the hype surrounding Rayny Forster and his Quebec-based Moshpit Tragedy record label.
The label's been hyped by metal musicians such as Rob "Blasko" Nicholson (Ozzy Osbourne's bassist) and Eyehategod vocalist Michael Williams, and Earache Records has said on the imprint's blog that, if Forster gets some bigger bands on his label, "It could really spell trouble for the regular music industry."
So, what exactly going on that's so different? Since founding Moshpit Tragedy in 2006, Forster only offers digital downloads (yup, no physical records here), and they are all available on a pay-what-you-can basis. And, yes, that includes free.
"Things are moving right along and growing at a fast rate," Forster says in an Exclaim! interview. "Right now we're working with upwards of 50 bands, and I listen to all of them. Both the size of the catalogue and the number of times each album is downloaded have more or less doubled each year so far. Now we're starting to offer catalogues from other labels, too. Since we can make our own rules, the possibilities are endless."
Forster says he was inspired by Radiohead's pay-what-you-want scheme and was surprised to find there were few labels operating with this model. With printable sleeves accompanying the downloads, "little to no" advertising budget and way less costs than the traditional label, Moshpit Tragedy is growing at a time when many labels are suffering. And bands are on board: so far, Forster has got big names within metal's underground, such as Extreme Noise Terror, Phobia, Total Fucking Destruction, Amebix and Skarp, along with an impressive collection of lesser-known bands, on his label.
"The bands are all very pumped about it," says Forster. "I think they are happy to give something back to their fans, who are in turn very appreciative. All in all, it's about taking this downloading dilemma, something that is widely perceived to be a bad thing, and turning it into a positive thing."
Forster says that the label has a very stripped-down structure and admits that they don't do a whole lot the bands couldn't do themselves, but the label doesn't ask for much and offers the bands a chance to put their music up on the website, which is quickly gaining a rep as a place to go for quality metal.
"Generally not much money is made, with bands receiving about two-thirds of the donations, but the gesture is well-appreciated by fans, which in many cases leads to more people coming out to their shows and buying their merch... or at the very least, listening to their music. Our costs are very minimal. Bands pay for their own recordings or record themselves and they maintain ownership of it, which is the way it should be. We are non-exclusive, so they have the right to make physical or even other digital versions available. Since we don't have to invest in manufacturing a record, we don't have to worry whether or not the band will tour and sell units or whether they will break up tomorrow. We just have to make sure it's good music."
Forster approximates that when people pay, the average price dolled out for an album is between $3 and $5. He does admit, however, that the majority of people do just download for free, which he says is okay.
"This is our modern reality, we don't know how to change it, so we've got to accept it. Giving away the albums in the first place is what helped us get established and it also helps the lesser-known bands get out there. No one is going to pay a set price to download an album from a band they aren't familiar with. But once they are familiar with them, maybe they'll buy an LP or a T-shirt."
So is this the future of the music industry? Forster says it's not a feasible model for big business, which is precisely why he hopes it is the future of the music industry.
"There is a widely overlooked upside to this whole thing," he says. "If the corporate labels decide there is not enough profit to be had, they will close and we'll never have to hear another Britney Spears song again."