Boston's Alternative Source!

Ozzy über alle
In the unpredictable concert business, metal still rules



Can metal rescue the retail market — for now?

Concert promoters aren’t the only segment of the music business that’s expecting a windfall from the season’s hail of metal and hard rock. Music stores have been looking forward to the arrival of new CDs by Slipknot (out this past July 17) and System of a Down (due in late August), plus continued strong sales of recently released discs by Staind and Tool as both bands tour.

Music retailers have been in distress since the middle of last year, when overall sales of CDs, cassettes, and singles went into decline. A number of major chains have been shaken by the 4.7 percent drop at the cash registers from 1999 to 2000, including Tower Records, which has radically trimmed personnel and filed for protection from creditors while reorganizing.

Although music retailing remains a $14.3 billion business, store operators — already coming off a flat-sales winter — were further disappointed when the latest releases from Ricky Martin, Rage Against the Machine, Eve, R.E.M., and other major stars failed to be blockbusters. Save for ’N Sync, whose new album is expected to fall short of their previous releases as teen-pop enthusiasm reaches its limit, no superstar discs are in the wings. That leaves metal as the biz’s most likely near-term savior. If the aggressive sales of Tool’s latest album, which debuted at #1, and Boston outfit Staind’s Break the Cycle (Flip/Elektra), which also debuted at #1 and sold 716,000 copies in its first week, are any indicator, retailers will get another shot in the arm from the appearance of Slipknot’s Iowa this month and System of a Down’s late-August unveiling of Toxicity, the much buzzed-about follow-up to their near-million-selling debut, System of a Down. Street marketing has been under way for months for these albums, and radio is expected to embrace both of them, further fueling customers’ enthusiasm. "We’re looking forward to those releases, but I don’t know if they’re going to make the industry bounce back to where it was," says Beth Dube, vice-president of music purchasing at the Boston-based Newbury Comics chain. "The labels need to reconsider their release schedule — stop releasing all the big titles in the fourth quarter and release some of them over the summer. That would help overall sales."

Like most music chains, Newbury Comics does well with the teen artists on the charts, as well as with rap — the new D12, for example — and major pop and alternative-rock releases. But Newbury Comics has particularly strong roots in the metal market, with a long history of carrying a deep inventory of independent label titles.

"We’ve always sold a lot of underground metal," Dube explains, "We’ve been selling Slipknot albums before they bubbled over into the mainstream, and when something like that happens, sales of those artists really take off for us. We were excited about the Staind record. Although the single [the acoustic "Outside," which also features Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst] was not very metallic, it crossed the band over to the mainstream, which is why this record has got legs."

Dube expects both Toxicity and Iowa to debut in Newbury Comics’ Top 10. "We’re expecting System of a Down to do well in particular. Their first album is still selling well, and there’s a lot of excitement about the band. They’re managed by a company that does a great job in street marketing."

OzzFest and this summer’s other metal tours plus the System of a Down and Slipknot "Pledge of Allegiance" double bill that will launch October 1 in Las Vegas are also good for retailers. Dube notes that touring is the key to stimulating sales of metal and hard rock, a genre where mainstream airplay is generally restricted to only the biggest, best-marketed acts. "We notice strong sales especially when a band plays the suburbs, like the Worcester Palladium or the Tweeter Center."

— TD

One of the sounds of summer, as dependable as the chirp of crickets, is the blend of a double kick drum and roaring amplifiers — the thunder of heavy-metal and hard-rock concerts. Although the success of tours by classic rockers and all except the most popular of contemporary stars varies region to region (and with reports of inconsistent local draws on the likes of everyone from Paul Simon and Brian Wilson to Barenaked Ladies, John Mellencamp, and the hip, DJ-based Area:One show), metal consistently draws a strong, mostly male audience from coast to coast. So even as teen idols and rappers dominate the pop charts and get the most media attention, it’s metal that rules the nation’s outdoor sheds and arenas.

For good reason: the outdoors is ideal for the oversize theatrics, volume, and personas that account for much of the enduring entertainment value of metal and hard rock. Bands like KISS and Black Sabbath helped pioneer the pyrotechnics, elaborate lighting, and costumes that were once a defining factor in major concerts. Their efforts were sustained through the ’80s by the flashpots and props of metallurgists like Metallica and Iron Maiden, and more recently elevated to perhaps unintentionally comic heights by the likes of Slipknot, who wear masks and pummel one another mercilessly on stage.

There’s also a more practical explanation for the style’s status as a performance music since the 1970s. Radio play for metal declined at the end of the arena-rock era, when it was pushed out of the mainstream first by disco’s dance culture and then by the sleeker sound of new wave and punk-inspired pop. A few bands — Def Leppard, Poison, Mötley Crüe, Van Halen — broke through to the Top 40, but just a few. Today only the biggest and best-marketed new-metal acts are embraced by the so-called "Active Rock" radio format, which emerged in the late ’90s to tap the buying power of the young males who purchased millions of albums by Tool, Korn, and other hard, loud outfits. The rest are part of a sprawling subculture where both bands and fans thrive on word-of-mouth generated by shows and tape swapping. And wait for summer to converge at the major concerts that are the gatherings of their tribe.

"When I was a kid going to my first shows, I learned that’s how you find out about heavy music," says Shavo Odadjian, bassist for the Los Angeles crunch-rock outfit System of a Down. His group’s follow-up (American Recordings; due in late August) to their near-platinum debut, System of a Down, is creating a hopeful buzz among retailers who are strapped by poor overall sales. (See "Can Metal Rescue the Retail Market?", below.) "Heavy music is live music, and it always has been," Odadjian continues. "When we started our band, we played live everywhere we could — live, live, live, live, live. And that’s how people found out about us, because heavy music hardly gets played on the radio. So you know you’ve got to see it, or hear about it from your friend who saw it. And if you’re not there yourself when the new bands come to town, right down in the pit like I was, you could be missing the coolest new music. So you gotta be there."

It’s that attitude that makes metal and hard-rock fans such a dependable source of major-concert revenue for promoters. In keeping with summer-music business as usual, current tours by Massachusetts’s Staind and California’s Tool are riding high on live-performance industry newspaper Pollstar’s box-office charts — the latter at #4. A second date at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield has just been added to the successful double-bill roadshow of Bostonians Godsmack and Sacramento’s Deftones. That means the Cambridge-based regional division of mega-promoter Clear Channel Entertainment, formerly SFX Music, expects a sellout or near-sellout of the 19,900-ticket venue on August 24 and a solid showing for the 25th. The tour also plays the horribly named Meadows Music Center in Hartford on August 23.

But before then the king of metal package tours, OzzFest, will check into the Tweeter Center on August 7 and 8. And when summer ends, a hotly awaited union of System of a Down and Slipknot will begin its American trek, followed by a reincarnation of the successful, Korn-headlined "Family Values Tour."

OzzFest — the six-year-old mix of new and established artists headlined by Ozzy Osbourne or, as is the case this year, a reunion of his metal-defining group Black Sabbath — has become one of the most formidable events in the music industry. The current line-up includes Marilyn Manson, Slipknot, Papa Roach, Crazytown, and Linkin Park, as well as a second stage where Mudvayne, Taproot, American Head Charge, and other relative newcomers will perform. The day-long festival is the brainchild of Osbourne’s manager and wife, Sharon Osbourne, and it has become to metal nation what the now-defunct Lollapalooza was to alternative rock. Last year it was the nation’s top-grossing concert tour.

"OzzFest has sold out every year since its inception, and this summer will be no exception," says Jodi Goodman, vice-president of artist development and talent buying for Clear Channel Entertainment’s local operation. "From a business viewpoint, what makes OzzFest thrive is the legendary status of Ozzy Osbourne, the continuation of creative packaging, and the loyalty behind this genre of music. All packages and tours are talent-driven, and OzzFest always has a strong stable of talent on the bill. OzzFest has thrived better than Lollapalooza in its prime, despite the fact that many of the bands on OzzFest are either relative newcomers or enjoy little radio play."

page 1  page 2 

Issue Date: July 26 - August 2, 2001