Another reason I decided to post about this album is because of this awesome interview I read from these guys about ten years ago which drastically changed my outlook on being in a band and the responsibilities that come along with it.
While we have some obvious fundamental differences, this is a band I will always be first in line to support for a multitude of reasons I can't summarize in even a few paragraphs. Hopefully the interview below speaks for itself.
How hard or easy was it to make a living in a band at the level that Living Sacrifice was at? Please explain, especially if there were particular areas of struggle...
It was actually not very easy at all.
We weren’t actually able to make any kind of living or be full time until after our fifth album, The Hammering Process . After we did that record we pretty much just jumped out there and decided to do it, not quite sure if we’d be able to our not. At the level we were at, we sold a decent amount of records. The Reborn record, which sold around 25,000, which is really good for an indie label, but not huge or great or anything like that. We’re not massive, That allows us to go around and tour the country and have at least a couple hundred people at your show, and maybe up to 500 in some markets.
When we went out there and decided to do it, we just did it. We supported ourselves in hopes that promoting The Hammering Process record would continue to grow and grow and grow and we’d sell more records and the shows would be bigger, we’d make more money and we could come home for longer periods of time. Because we were making more off the shows and weren’t having to constantly tour. As it was during that time period in making a living, basically we had to play, like, constantly. If we weren’t playing a show, we weren’t making money anywhere else. You don’t see money off of record sales at that level, because it’s still recouping. You might see some mechanical royalties, but they’re not...it’s not enough to quit a dayjob kind of thing. But they only come twice a year and it’s just kinda like a bonus, really. It’s not really worth... It’s not the kind of thing that you could stop what you’re doing and live off it awhile. So it was like this perpetual cycle of, ‘We have to tour to make the money.’ It’s just the huge trade-off. If you’re 19, 20, 21 with no wife or anything . . . nothing tying you down at home or anything like that. It’s fine. It’s no problem. You don’t even really need a place to live. You just keep all of your stuff at your parents’ house and just stay on the road. Some bands get pretty big. They can make decent money. They can even, at some point, just have a bunch of guys move into a place and keep an apartment or whatever for when they do come home, but they’re all splitting the rent, so it’s dirt cheap – nothing, and no other bills, so it works out. For us, by the time we got to our fifth album we’re all married and some of us had children and stuff like that, so it was a struggle. After a couple years of touring full-time, we just kinda started going into debt. But we actually had... We were set up pretty good. We had, like, health insurance and everything for our band and we paid for that for a year. But we figured out that we couldn’t afford to do it anymore, so we quit. As far as what all that had to do with why we broke up: For me, I just didn’t want to be... I didn’t want to live on the road away from my family anymore. After touring that much I realized that we actually weren’t getting any bigger tours or anything like that. The tours were pretty much staying the same. The markets were staying the same. We did sell more records because we toured more, but not significantly more – to where it really really made a difference as far as the shows becoming huge things where we could make a lot of money off of each show. That’s probably part of the reason we came off the road. Another reason we came off the road is because we were going into debt. In order to pay off the debt, we just had to come home and get jobs and then do weekend shows where we basically would go out and play and not pay ourselves anything – just put all that money that we made towards merchandise bills or whatever debt we had accrued – credit card debt and stuff like that from just being on the road – hotels, gas, stuff like that. We were able to do that within about a year, pretty much pay everything off. As far as the rest of it, I just didn’t really see... For me, my heart was in it less and less, because I just wanted to be with my family and it was too... For me it was too much time to put towards something that really wasn’t going to be able to provide. Also, I felt that my heart wasn’t in this much anymore, which was kind of like God showing me, ‘Hey. This isn’t where your heart is anymore. Your heart’s more with your family and looking for an outlet that’s going to provide for them and stuff like that.’
For a band at our level, it’s incredibly difficult. If you’re married and stuff like that, it’s pretty much not gonna work out. You can do band as a hobby, part-time, and stuff like that, but there’s still this huge division, because you have to have a day job and any kind of day job... Unless you’re self-employed and can make really good money doing your own thing, it’s going to be hard to juggle. You’re not gonna tell your boss, ‘Hey, I’m going on tour for two months and I’ll be back and get my job back.’ You’re relegated to, like, construction and restaurants. And I did both. When I was home, I painted houses during the day and I waited tables at night. Not every night, but a lot of nights. That’s how I supported my family when I wasn’t on tour. That’s a hard way to live, at a certain point. If you consider those being two jobs, the band was another job, because I handled all the business and the management aspects of it.
God’s blessed me. I wouldn’t trade any of it. I had fun. For me, with the things I learned and the things that I was allowed to participate in, just led me up to being able to do what I’m doing now, which is helping younger bands and smaller bands actually make money. Even if they’re not on the road, just to get set up through online merchandising sales. And through just managing them and doing more career management type stuff. Helping them avoid some of the pitfalls that we walked into, and stuff like that.
Some Christian artists, if they’re more pop oriented, are doing really well. I mean, Living Sacrifice was in a sub-genre of a sub-genre. We were a death/metalcore band, which is a complete total sub-genre even of metal. On top of that, we were Christians, so it really narrowed our market down to being really niche. A lot of bands are able to cross over and not be necessarily penalized for having Christian beliefs and stuff. But we were always really ... had the Christian label, because we’ve been around for so long, and stuff like that. So we had this perception about us and people didn’t ever really want to look past that. So that kept us kind of in a certain spot or position. Whereas a lot of bands... some bands these days, if they’re pop enough or radio friendly enough, they can sell a whole bunch of records and make a much better living than we did – bands like Kutless or whoever, who do really well. So, I would say, at this point, being a hardcore band of any style, really – whether you’re Christian or not – it would be pretty difficult to support a family or make a decent living, unless you’re Hatebreed. They’re the exception, too. One band out of however many hardcore bands that exist today. They actually sell a good amount of records and all that stuff.
Why do you think that stigma hurts you? You’ve probably thought the same thing: “Man, if only everybody in the world could hear this band... because they’re tough and they’re ... It wasn’t a false dream to think that Living Sacrifice could hold their own against whoever.
Absolutely. We were told time and time again that we were every bit as good as Soulfly or Slipknot or other bands that were Gold-selling and Platinum-selling bands and stuff like that. We weren’t off the mark in thinking that what we were doing was ... that we could be as successful, but for whatever reason we weren’t and we didn’t... We weren’t able to make that jump or switch or break out of that. It’s hard to say. There’s a lot of great bands that don’t do that – a lot of good bands. You think, ‘Oh my gosh, they should be the best band in the world. They should be selling so many more records.’ And then, on the flipside, there’s a lot of really really bad bands that are selling a lot of records for whatever reason. It is what it is. It never hurts to try. Ultimately, when I talk to bands, I tell ‘em, ‘If you’re going into this to make a lot of money, then go back to college. You need to do it, because you love it, period. If you like the music, if you believe in the music, then do it. That’s the only reason.’ If they are a band that feels like they have a calling to minister or witness through their music, then that, too. Of course. By all means. That’s what we did. Living Sacrifice completely and totally started to be ... to glorify God and to be a band that promoted life and abundance of life through Christ and through Jesus. To do something completely different than what every other band in our genre was doing at that time, except for a few, like Deliverance and Believer – bands like that. That was totally our goal and our calling, I mean, what we felt we needed to do. And that remained up until the very end. It’s just that the older we got, the business kinda just... It kinda chokes everything... It doesn’t choke everything out, not really the vision or the calling or just being true to yourself, but just the fact that, ‘Okay, we can’t really do this tour unless we can pay for this, this, and this.’ And there was just a lot of times we didn’t know whether or not it would out. We just kinda went out and trusted God. And God always took care of us in that sense. But He also gave us brains to know when it’s time to look at other options or ways to do what He’s put inside our hearts, and stuff like that. Or also, just desires change. People change. When I was 18, I didn’t think, ‘Am I going to be in a Christian metal band when I’m 31?’ I just didn’t think about that. When I’m 31, I’m thinking, ‘Am I gonna stay in a Christian metal band right now?’ No. It’s not what God’s got for me right now. And those type of things... It kinda goes back to, ‘If that’s what you feel in your heart and that’s what you feel like you need to do. If you believe in the music and the message you have, then do it for that. Don’t do it for financial reasons.’ At some point, if you have to choose between that, then choose. Most bands start when they’re really young, like we did. We were 17 and 18 and we did it because we loved it. I loved it all the way up until the end. I just knew it was time to do something else.
Sometimes that comes as a shock. The kids who think their favorite band’s going to last forever.
Yeah, most bands are pretty short lived. A lot of bands keep going and should quit. I didn’t want to be that band, either. I felt like, We probably put out one of the best albums of our career last year. I was like, ‘Awesome. We’re going out good – we’re going out strong.’ That’s kind of ... our fans would testify to it. It’s probably not going to sell as well because we’re not touring, but there’s nothing I can do about that.
When we were talking earlier, you mentioned Christians that were... Or artists that were playing at Christian festivals and being sold through Christian venues that maybe shouldn’t have been. What are your thoughts on that as well as things going on behind the scene that shouldn’t be?
I feel like, if a band’s comfortable with the tag of being a Christian band or even just Christians in a band, that’s fine. Art definitely shouldn’t be limited. It shouldn’t be thrown out of Christian bookstores because it’s not maybe evangelistic. But if the members of the band and the band itself is comfortable with that, then by all means, sell it in the bookstores, play all the festivals you want. But there’s a lot of bands that want no affiliation with it and are vocal about it and let people know. They say, ‘We’re not a Christian band. So and so is a Christian in the band, but the whole band’s not Christian,’ or ‘We have no agenda of being a Christian band,’ then at that point, that’s like, ‘Why is it being sold in Christian retail?’ I would say it’s a pretty clear line. There might be a little bit of grey area, because I don’t want to say... It’s not like I’m saying, ‘Oh, if you’re a Christian band that’s what you have to sing about,’ but you just have to be conscious that that’s how you’re being marketed and perceived and there are certain expectations that go along with that. As far as our band was concerned, we took it all very seriously. We had certain ways that we ran our band. We didn’t... things that we wanted to keep straight-forward. We had full knowledge that these kids came to the show and looked up to us and we... They followed us as we followed Christ and our example. Because we put our name out there and our band out there as, you know, as a Christian band. We knew full well we were doing it. We never ever wanted to break out of that or leave that, we just wanted to go beyond it – as far as general market sales and popularity – simply because we could only go so far as a Christian metal band. But there’s just a lot of bands that have nothing to do with it or maybe a member or two that have those beliefs but maybe aren’t even strong in those beliefs, or maybe the songwriter, the lyricist is that person and so, for that reason, and that reason alone, it’s just being sold into the bookstores. I think it’s a disservice to people that go to those places, and it’s also a disservice, kind of, to the bookstore itself or the Christian retailer who thinks they’re getting a type of product and they’re not. Even though there’s probably absolutely nothing wrong with what is being sold in, it’s just kind of like, that’s not the intention of the band, whatsoever. But, obviously, it’s the record label that makes that call. It’s the intention of the record label to do that. That’s kind of who’s doing that. There’s just certain bands that have no business being there. Actually, some bands that would have no problem being there, it’s just that they, for whatever reason, they don’t feel like they should on a personal level. Like The Militia Group has no Christian distribution, though there are certain bands that would be fine in a Christian bookstore, because those bands are fine with being sold there and all that and they’re okay with that market base, it’s just something that he doesn’t feel like – that’s not the vision of his label. His vision is to basically just put records into regular mainstream retail. Unfortunately, he cuts off a small, segregated market, because the reason those places have sales is because some kids’ parents won’t let them buy records anywhere else. That’s probably why certain labels make sure that their bands go there, whether they should do it or not. As long as there’s no vulgarity or stuff like that, it’s not a problem; but even beyond that. It should be the heart of the band – either to be okay with being there and having their records marketed that way. And, at the same time, some bands know full well what they’re doing and they do it because the kids are there. They go do the festivals knowing full well. If it’s a festival that’s more of a well-rounded festival, which a lot of them are not well-rounded... That’s kind of a bad word to say, but it’s a festival that caters to bring in certain bands that aren’t necessarily Christian but there’s nothing evil or wrong with their music or whatever; that’s one thing. But if it’s like a full-on exclusively Christian festival, than certain bands are still playing it or are going there and playing it, then it’s kind of... I don’t know. It’s not what I would do, let’s put it that way.
A lot of bands just don’t have a problem with it. I talk to some bands that they’re okay with it, but they feel bad themselves. They kinda feel like, ‘I just don’t know that we belong here or that we should be playing or marketed this way or passing ourselves off as one thing.’ Because, I guess, honestly when it comes down to it, with that label comes a lot of expectations which are to varying levels and degrees. Some people have... or some Christians or groups or even churches have unreasonable expectations that they place upon a band, just because they got the record at the store. It goes both ways. It’s probably good to explain to the bands, the 19 or 20 year old kid who believes in God and believes in Jesus but isn’t really active in church and stuff, ‘Hey, your records are going to be sold in this Christian bookstore, and because of that, there’s going to be kids that are going to come to your show and they’re going to expect you to be a certain way. You should know this before you commit to it. If they’re not okay with that, then... Everybody’s at a different level, probably, with their walk with Christ. If somebody has this desire, this urging to write songs and create great music and glorify God with it, that’s one thing; but it’s not the same as being part of the five-fold ministry – pastor, teacher, evangelist, prophet, (apostle)... It’s kind of a different thing. I mean, we’re all called to the Great Commission, to be witnesses unto Christ, but we all do that in different ways. It’s kinda like... A lot of expectations. Bands should be aware of that. I don’t think any of them are, really. And they get all upset about it and they start not liking Christians, simply because a certain segment of them have these weird expectations of them. And the only reason they got those expectations was because they bought their record at the Christian bookstore. It all comes down to lack of communication.
I think there’s a lot of cool things that can be accomplished, because I think... If a band’s okay with being sold in a Christian bookstore and understand what that entails and they are creating really good music – good art – then awesome. It gives those kids a chance to hear something great, instead of something lame. Cause there’s a lot of lame stuff out there, too. As in ‘not good music,’ or whatever. I understand that’s all subjective, so I won’t go into that.
Is there anything else that’s bugged you for a long time or something you thought should be said about this whole scene?
Yeah, the labels should be offering better deals for the bands. Christian labels should take, instead of basing their contracts off of the world, which are completely unfair... The way the worldly labels have set up recording contracts and stuff like that... They (Christian labels) should be the first ones to be offering more fair and balanced deals to where, even if a band doesn’t sell that many records, they will still receive some royalties. I mean, record labels have to recoup. That’s fine. They’re the ones putting up the money. That’s totally and completely understandable, but contracts today are set up to where bands won’t see a dime. They can sell 20 or 30,000 records and not see one penny of it. According to my calculations, a band that’s sold 20,000 records has made the label $140,000. They’re wrong for that.
Some of the contracts that are out there today have been compared to the things that black R&B artists were offered in the 50s. Those are record contracts that are given out today. And the entire way that the industry was set up... small things, like ‘Packaging Deductions.’ Packaging deduction came from vinyl records being sent out. There was a Packaging Deduction because a certain percentage would break in shipping. That’s not longer the case, because nobody sells vinyl anymore; but Packaging Deductions are still there and they’re actually higher. They’re stupid high now. They’re, like, 25% or something like that. I’ve heard that there are some labels, even major labels, that are starting to get rid of some of these things, but Christian labels should be at the forefront of offering fair deals. They’re not.
Stuff like marketing doesn’t make sense either – rolling in marketing costs. The fact that you’re the big investor that has all the cash to pay for the studio recording, you deserve to get paid back first. Okay, that’s fair. But to have to make me, the artist, pay for my marketing as well, when the marketing is what you should be doing to make your investment pay off...
Exactly. And not only that, but with the percentages, the way they’re set up, they’re making the money, so they should be paying for the marketing. A lot of labels... Some labels are changing and aren’t doing that now. But it’s still, more like third person, when they go out and hire independent marketing firms, like The Syndicate, or something like that, they’ll split it. They’ll do a 50/50. Half of it goes to recoup, the other half doesn’t. That’s a little closer. There’s a lot of things that are just not only unfair, but grossly unfair. To a certain extent. It should just all be different. The labels who primarily work in the Christian market and stuff like that should be at the forefront of completely offering fair artist deals and making the first steps to changing the industry. Because it’s all going to change no matter what – whether the labels like it or not. It’s gonna change. They’re slowly and surely going to be cut out more and more, I feel. There’s still going to be a place for them, but it’s their own fault. You reap what you sow.
I just think it’s silly that some Christian labels are offering the worst deals.
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