Headbangers’ Brawl 2/21: Is There A Fine Line Between Art And Commerce?

Posted by on February 22, 2013

Headbangers’ Brawl is a weekly column where Metal Insider’s contributors 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.

Yesterday, Dave Lombardo dropped a bombshell on fans when he revealed that Slayer were replacing him during their upcoming Australian tour due to a disagreement over business matters. What made the news even more shocking to us was the feeling of déjà vu we felt upon hearing about it, given that Black Sabbath went a similar public scenario roughly a year ago.

Both Lombardo and Bill Ward’s public withdraws from their respected (or former) bands are reminders how much of a business running a band really is. But where is the fine line between running a business and simply playing music as a band? That’s a tricky question that the Metal Insider staff tries to answer in this week’s Headbangers’ Brawl.


Zach: I feel that bands need to find a good balance between art and commerce. Groups that think they can live the crazy rock and roll lifestyle without any cares or worries are in for a big wake up call. With that said, no one wants to see a corporation onstage. Fans are paying to see a band onstage, buying an album to hear a band play. That’s why it’s really disheartening to see incidents like the ones mentioned above spill out into the public. And Lombardo and Ward are equally to blame for that. They may have every reason to be upset, but it’s bad for both business and art when you publicly (and in some ways prematurely) air out dirty laundry.


Bram: I think it’s sad but fascinating to watch this play out in a public forum. The internet removes the filter of publicists, lawyers and spokespeople. Lombardo beat Slayer to the punch with the news that he wasn’t playing with them in Australia. And it’s a shame that it’s about money, but if you’re Dave Lombardo, one of the few drummers in metal that’s a household name, you’ve built up equity. And if you’re a band that’s been around for over 25 years, you’re definitely a business. KISS were the original band that blurred the lines between commerce and art, and if you think about it, Slayer has some of the same similarities. Only two members have been in the band the entire time, they’ll put their logo on anything, and ultimately, it’s all about money (if we’re to believe Lombardo’s side of the story).

If you’re starting a band, you’re probably doing it out of the sheer enjoyment of playing music. With the current state of the music industry, no one’s should assume they’re going to get rich doing it. If you’re in a band, of course you want to get paid for what you do, but making a living wage touring and selling shirts/albums isn’t “getting rich.” It’ll be interesting to hear what Kerry King has to say about this. But the Slayer organization has to be doing pretty well for themselves. If Lombardo’s story is true, he has a valid gripe, and deserves to be compensated for touring.


Kodi: I gotta stop for a second here and say, come on, we can’t shoot the messenger here.  Dave Lombardo likely wouldn’t have put a statement like this out unless he thought he was being jilted, and of course he shouldn’t have to take that lying down.  This is a drummer parting ways with the band he anchored through its best days, and if he wasn’t being compensated fairly for the heavy touring Slayer has done in recent years, that’s an immediate problem which he’s right to act on.

Slayer smartly took the high road with their response, but it’s hard to imagine Kerry King himself being so tactful, which kind of lampshades the real issue as being with the corporate side of the band. The idea of band as corporation doesn’t bother me, so long as the band doesn’t feel like a cash-driven shadow of its former self.  And if you’re a band with Slayer’s level of name recognition, you need good management to deal with it, and that management is probably extensive.  All of that, I’m fine with.  But while Lombardo’s real beef is probably with the business around the band rather than King, can you imagine if Slayer turned into Thin Lizzy, where no original members remain?  If this isn’t resolved and Jeff Hanneman doesn’t get better soon (and understand, I think Gary Holt’s been a world-class replacement), the band really should consider taking a break.  Slayer as a revolving door isn’t a good idea, nor does it speak to the grittiness that drew Slayer fans to the band in the first place.


Matt: I agree with Kodi in that I don’t think Dave Lombardo would have come out with this unless there really were problems in the Slayer camp. And sure, it’ll come down to fans supporting him and others dismissing him by saying it’s all about the money. I’m pretty sure Lombardo didn’t just sat down and decide “You know what I should do? Piss off Austrialian fans in an attempt to make a few more bucks.” At the end of the day, you still have to make a living and that’s what I think Lombardo was going for when he tried to talk with the band. Then again, that’s assuming that Lombardo’s side of the story holds up.

On that note, we already mentioned how this is similar to the case of Black Sabbath and Bill Ward from a year ago. In similar fashion, we’re going to get conflicting statements from both sides and it will probably be hard to judge who is right about what. I think we can all agree though that when it comes to situations like these is that we want the bands and musicians that we love to be compensated for what they do, because otherwise we end up losing out. But it’s always easy for a band to be seen flirting with becoming a machine in the eyes of the fans in these situations.

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