Mastodon’s Bill Kelliher On Releasing An Album During COVID-19 Quarantine: “…If There’s No Concert You’re Just Making This Free Ad That’s Costing Half A Million Dollars”


Mastodon guitarist Bill Kelliher has revealed that the band hope to commence tracking their eighth studio album at their own studio in the next month or two. While he didn’t disclose the identity, he did say that that the band are leaning towards working with a “new producer” this time out.

He spoke of that and more during an appearance on ‘The MetalSucks Quarantinecast‘. That same discussion previously saw him explain how the group have been keeping themselves and their staff afloat by claiming unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Having already expressed his reluctance to potentially release an album during the ongoing COVID-19 lockdown, Kelliher hopes to keep the costs of this forthcoming new album down by utilizing the band’s own studio. He said of that:

“A couple years ago I had the chance to get a partner who’s an engineer and actually build a proper studio that we could turn into a business. That place is called West End Sound and that’s inside of Ember City, which is our rehearsal facility that we manage. We have a lot of bands in there that rehearse.

So I was able to build that out a couple years ago and make it into a place where we could actually record our records. I just felt like, when I bought the rehearsal facility — it wasn’t a rehearsal facility until I built it out — but it was like, why am I paying somebody a thousand bucks a month to rent from them when we could pool our money together and get a loan from the bank and buy a building and turn it into the same thing? And then we’re just paying ourselves. So that’s what we did.

And then I thought the same with a recording studio. Why are we paying a thousand dollars a day out in Hollywood to rent a recording studio to do a record? And then, say you spend half a million dollars on a record, which is, that’s about right. That’s basically your money, its not like the record company pays for it, they front you the money to do it and it’s your job to make the money back by touring and selling records and products, even though they take a certain percentage of that as well.

Say you spend $500,000 on a record, $300,000 goes to a producer and the other $200,000 to hotels and things and renting out a recording studio, engineer, whatever. You make a record, that record goes to Spotify, Apple Music. I have nothing against Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, all that stuff but it’s a joke. People pay $9.99 a month to listen to unlimited amounts of every band, every artist. How does that equate to your half a million dollars you just spent on one record? It’s very unbalanced.”

He continued:

“If we have our own studio now, we don’t have to pay these exorbitant amounts of money to record there, a thousand bucks a day… gimme a break. ‘Cause you know you’re never going see this money again, you’re throwing your money into an ad, which is your record, so that people come see you play the concert and buy your stuff.

But if there’s no concert you’re just making this free ad that’s costing half a million dollars where people can just basically listen to as much as they want on Spotify and Apple Music and all that stuff. If it keeps going this way, bands are going to disappear because no one can afford to be out there spending that kind of money to make no money.”

Of course Kelliher is not wrong. The COVID-19 pandemic has largely crippled the music industry which over the past decade has seen artists and even certain labels become increasingly reliant on touring income to make ends meet.

While large artists can get by on royalties, income from exorbitant amounts of streams, syncs and sponsorship/partnership deals, the majority of working class musicians rely almost exclusively on income generated from touring and merchandise.

While the shift in music consumption to streaming platforms did considerably dent piracy, it hasn’t yet proven to be lucrative for most artists; certainly not to the scale of the music industry prior to the turn of the century. According to various reports, a Pandora stream in 2020 will generate an estimated $0.00151, a Spotify stream: $0.00318, Apple Music: $0.00563, Amazon Music Unlimited: $0.01196.

On top of that, labels, etc. will generally get their stake in the profits first to recoup on their advance before the artists see any meaningful income from streaming payouts. As such, the fractions of a penny generated via streaming music platforms are only sustainable when an artist can regularly generate streams well within the tens of millions—a level of popularity reserved for a select few in the metal and hard rock world.

As for what Mastodon have been working on musically, Kelliher stated the band have “close to 20 song ideas” that are “pretty much finished.” You can read more on how he expects it to sound over at MetalSucks.

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