During a recent interview with the "Digital Killed The Radio Star" podcast, MEGADETH bassist David Ellefson addressed the fact that it is very tough for artists to gain widespread exposure when there is relatively little money being generated through music sales and streaming. As a result, younger artists are finding it more and more difficult to be able to afford to make music and are having to procure alternative revenue streams to survive.
"To be honest with you, the best way to stay in the music business now is to get into real estate," Ellefson quipped (hear audio below). "Because there's not a lot of money in this anymore. And that's the reality. And I saw that coming years ago.
"Dave [Mustaine, MEGADETH leader] and I were to lucky to get in under the wire with MEGADETH where there was still a bright future ahead of you. Getting signed to a major label; our days [on] Combat Records — not so glorious, but there was a bright light up ahead. We actually outlived our seven-album Capitol deal. And by the time that was done, we transitioned over to Rod Smallwood, IRON MAIDEN's manager, he put together the Sanctuary Music Group, and we transitioned over to that. And that was — essentially it was a very large independent label, so in one way, Dave and I, we kind of felt like we were — while there was a lot of money in it — I remember feeling like we were kind of going back into the independent world, which was a little daunting. And then Dave did three records for Roadrunner… And [we're] now back on Universal Records with MEGADETH."
According to Ellefson, most rock bands still have to rely on relentless touring, grassroots marketing and low budgets to have a career.
"Heavy metal and punk rock, it's always built from the ground up," he explained. "And if you're lucky enough, like we were with MEGADETH, to get MTV success and have some of the shiny celebrity moments, but those often will go away. We're still left standing, because we've built a real fanbase. And with MEGADETH being back on Universal, which is where we are now… The reason Universal signed MEGADETH was because we pretty much brought the full cache to the table already. I can imagine many record labels today that have built bands like MÖTLEY CRÜE and MEGADETH and GUNS N' ROSES, I bet they're kicking themselves that they didn't somehow write some sort of a '360 deal' back in the day," referring to legal language that lets music companies take cuts of different artist revenue streams, including merch, touring, fan clubs, sponsorships, endorsements, etc. "'Cause imagine if [labels like] Geffen, Capitol, Warner Brothers, imagine if they also owned part of the MEGADETH brand; imagine if they owned some of our merchandising; imagine if they owned some of our touring. I often think about that with Capitol Records — they signed us to a seven-album deal. They didn't have any merchandising; they had no attachment to our brand. So they basically, for seven albums, built our name, and then when it was all done, we walked out the door. Now, of course, they still have 'Rust In Peace' and 'Peace Sells' and they've got a huge catalog that makes all this money.
"So we were very lucky that we were in the period of the music business where we didn't have to give away the rights to many of those assets," he added. "Because most bands today, when you sign a deal, you are essentially having to give up some of your merchandising, possibly some of your touring. And quite honestly, as now a label guy [owner of EMP Label Group], I get it. I mean, who in their right mind would put a bunch of money out to build some artist's career, because there's such risk in it these days and not a lot of payoff."
Ellefson is continuing to play shows as part of his "Basstory - More Life With Deth" tour. The concerts feature a question-and-answer session/discussion with co-author and partner Thom Hazaert about Ellefson's memoir, "More Life With Deth", and a full live-band set including songs from the companion album "Sleeping Giants".
Performing with Ellefson is Hazaert, who handles vocals on the newly recorded tracks from "Sleeping Giants", along with "Basstory" vets, DEAD BY WEDNESDAY guitarist Dave Sharpe and drummer Opus Lawrence, and HATCHET guitarist Clayton Cagle.