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Brian Slagel Interview

A Conversation with the Metal Blade Records CEO


Brian Slagel

Brian Slagel

Stephanie Cabral/Metal Blade Records
Updated June 13, 2012
There is no questioning the impact of Metal Blade Records. Releasing the first Metallica song on the Metal Massacre compilation would have been enough to ensure their place in metal history, but they have made their mark with countless other artists as well. From a part time startup in a garage to a respected and successful international business, Metal Blade has come a long way. As the label celebrates their 30th anniversary, Metal Blade founder and CEO Brian Slagel reflects on the early days, and also looks ahead to the future.

Chad Bowar: How did you go about putting together the first Metal Massacre compilation?
Brian Slagel: I asked the importers that I worked with at the record store if I put together a compilation album if they would buy it from me. They all said yes, so I went and asked the bands if they had a song I could put it on the album. I then borrowed some money and took all the money I had to make 2500 copies. Also my friend Lars (Ulrich) asked me if he put together a band, could they be on? I said yes, of course.

What was the first non-compilation album released by Metal Blade?
Bitch - Damnation Alley

At what point did you think you would be able to turn your passion into your livelihood?
It took a while. I had no money and the first three years was just me doing it from my mom's garage. I think once I had an office and an employee it seemed more likely.

What are your fondest memories of the early days of the label when you were still working out of a garage?
It was fun. Crazy to think that 17 hours a day, 7 days a week would be fun, but it was. I just loved the music and it was so cool to be able to put out cool new music for people to hear.

Who are some bands you thought would have more success than they did on your label?
Armored Saint, Bitch, and Lizzy Borden are three of the older bands. Currently the band 3 I truly love and they should be bigger.

Who are some bands that exceeded your expectations?
Cannibal Corpse have come a long way, as has Amon Amarth. Both started out small and grew to be big. The Black Dahlia Murder is another great example.

What signings drew the most controversy or criticism at the time?
Cannibal Corpse for sure. They came a little later to the death metal scene and a lot of people did not like them at first.

The record industry has changed completely in the past 30 years. How would you evaluate Metal Blade’s adjustments to the ever-changing music business?
I learned early on that if you do not embrace change, you’re in trouble. So we embrace all the changes and try to use them to help us. Also, the fact we are still 100 percent independent and not owned by anybody helps us make decisions quickly.

Was there a particular era or time period that was the most difficult to sell and market metal music?
People talk about the ‘90s being tough, but the underground was healthy and we did well. Honestly, the beginning was the toughest. Indie labels were rare when we started and the market was small. So that was by far the toughest time, but maybe also the most fun.

What are the top all time best sellers for Metal Blade?
Slayer, Cannibal Corpse, As I Lay Dying, Amon Amarth.

Is there a band you regret you did not sign when you had the opportunity?
I had a lot of chances to see Guns N Roses when they first started out. I never went, and when I heard Appetite For Destruction I was blown away. I probably should have seen them.

Metal Blade has offices all over the world. What is the strongest current non-American market for you, and what do you see as emerging markets for metal in the next decade or so?
Germany is the biggest outside of the USA. South America is coming back again, which is great. I think that market will only get better.

How would you rate the importance of music videos for metal bands today?
Still important. We get so many people viewing them, it does really still help. Of course the style changes, as now lyric videos are all the rage.

There has been a trend in the past few years of record labels entering into deals with bands that also include things like merchandise, touring, etc. (360 deals) What is your opinion of those types of deals?
We do not do 360 deals. I really feel this is unfair to the bands. We are not a booking agency or a merchandiser full time, so to take money for that I feel is wrong.

What has been your wisest decision and biggest mistake in the 30 years of Metal Blade?
Really hard to say. I suppose not selling to a major looks like a very good decision at this time. Probably not thinking vinyl would go away in the late ‘80s was a mistake as we got so much of it back at the time.

What’s your biggest criticism of writers that cover metal music, in terms of their reviews/interviews, etc.?
First off, I really appreciate all the work they do to help promote the music. I guess if somehow people are misquoted that is not good.

Where do you see Metal Blade and the metal industry going from here?
I think metal overall is very healthy at the moment. I hope we continue to embrace the changes in the industry and also put out good music and develop new artists.

Anything else you’d like to mention or promote?
Follow me on Twitter: @brianslagel

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