Probing the brain of one of the scene's most busy minds.
The flow of information in the world of heavy music can be a difficult to thing to keep up with. On a certain level, most people are only vaguely aware of how shows are established, let alone how artists who have never been to another country survive out in the world as a traveling band.
The process is not lost on gentlemen like our guest today, a veteran of the scene, by both recreational, and professional standards. Founder of Dropout Media, and hardened by his time in Prophecy Productions, Ripple Music, and countless others, the talented and versatile Matt Bacon stopped in for a chat last month to talk about the inner workings of the music and festival scene, educating those looking to improve their craft, and personal growth:
Matt, thanks so much for taking the time for us today. Heaviest of Art has had an eye on ya for a while, and the goal is to suck all the knowledge out of you, because you've got so much. First off, how long have you been in the metal scene, and in what professional capacities have you participated?
I've been in the metal scene for almost a decade now; it started when I was fourteen, with my blog "Two Guys Metal Reviews," and it kind of escalated from there. I ended up starting a record label in high school — well, I kind of *adopted* a record label in high school. That was really cool. I was living in Paris at the time, and I put out some cool records, and that gave me an idea of how things worked. As my first ever summer job, I started working at my buddy's PR company. I ended up dropping out of college for that. The job didn't end up working out for a variety of reasons on the PR guy's end — which is fine, we're still buddies — but I was nineteen, living on my own in New York, having to figure out "how am I gonna pay rent?" and a lot of the PR clients were like, "Hey, will you keep giving us advice?"
I did. I started to charge them, and it turned into this business where I'm managing bands, and on tour a lot. In the last year and a half, at Curtis Dewar's recommendation, I started this "Bacon's Bits" video series where I just give band advice. So along the way, I've worked with Prophecy Music, Ripple Music, more recently with Artofffact Records, just sort of as a marketing guru. It just sort of grew that way. I like to say that it's just a hobby that got out of hand. It started as saying "Well, I'm gonna probably go get a degree in philosophy, or something," and that turned into "I'm gonna go to twenty European festivals a year, and not have any actual life; instead, I'll put together distribution deals with Australia."
That's interesting. Strange highways lead you to strange places.
It's part of a whole thing. If you get to a point where you're living in squats, and having ten bands a month sleep on your floor, it gets to this "I guess I'm a 'lifer' now" place. I didn't really realize I was a 'lifer' until I was living in what was essentially a punk-house, with a million bands staying all the time.
For some people, that's the dream.
That was the dream for a while, and then I kind of got sick of it. Now I just enjoy being a consultant in my nice little apartment in Brooklyn with my cat, and roommate. You have to find that balance in the marketing sphere.
Has being part of a record label changed the way that you view the music industry?
Yes — and no. In 2019, there's a few types of record labels. Ripple and Prophecy, for instance, are two very different types. Prophecy is much more traditional, whereas Ripple is much more of a hobby label gone viral. Artoffact sits somewhere in between. I think different labels prioritize different things — Artoffact is all about the pre-save links — Ripple and Prophecy don't really talk about that as much. I think working at a label is good because it quickly introduces you to many different facets of things. Even if the end goal is not to be a label guy, being able to 'see how the sausage is made' is really valuable trying to either grow in the music industry, or grow their band.
I think once people get into it, and understand that "THIS is the reality of what I've been trying to get into," they have a better appreciation for what it is they've been striving to obtain.
I guess. A lot of it just sucks, man. *chuckle* It's a lot of work for not a lot of money, and you've got to be kind of insane to do it. But it has to be what you want to do.
Once again — that is somebody else's dream job.
Exactly. Right now, I think my goal is to be the person who gives the most to the scene, and I feel like by doing educational stuff like Bacon's Bits, and then further educating myself by working at labels, I'm able to give a lot in a way that scales. That's what is compelling to me. Educating the people around me.
I think you do a good job of it.
That's kind of you. *pouty voice* I just wanna do punk shit with my punk friends. *laughs* It's funny, but one of the most rewarding moments of the past few years, was standing at HellFest and someone yells my name, and it's my boy Frank — who's in Devil Master, and also Integrity — and this is a dude who I went through 'Philly Crust Hell' with, and that's rewarding. My boy is about to play to thirty-thousand people.
It's important to see people [you know] come that length of the journey; it makes you feel as if you've both come so much further.
Absolutely! I flew up early from seeing my grandparents a few months ago for the WAKING THE CADAVER reunion show, because one of those guys were my boy when we were kids. This is my dude who I used to go to a ton of shows with, and he reached this next step, and that was a good next step for both of us. We had both grown, and that makes it compelling.
I can dig it.
You've been with labels for a while, and you've been on the receiving end of countless numbers of submissions. In "finding" an artist, is there something unique that stands out in the ones that make it, versus the ones who don't?
Very rarely do I find an artist, if that makes sense. Usually it's something that impacted me, or one that I see a lot, or one that is good at getting their name out. There's never really been a case where I've pulled someone out of the abyss. Even the most nascent band I've signed, which is MARKOV SOROKA, who does Tchornobog, Drown, and Aureole; TCHORNOBOG in particular, was featured in Pitchfork. There was already a legacy behind that guy, even if he's sort of in the beginning phases of his live career. Know what I'm saying?
Ah, not so much 'finding'. You have your own list of artists who come out and are approved by you for now, but discovery is something done among so many people?
Again, it's rare for it to be something I've discovered, that I'm like "Oh, we're gonna make everyone else aware of this," because at the end of the day, I am playing with other peoples' money. There was a recent signing to Prophecy — ELR, Martin, the head of Prophecy signed them — but the thing is, they were already touring with Amenra. They were already connected.
I only really want to sign bands that are involved with the community, because you don't want to be the one hand-holding for all the bands. It's okay to have one or two pet projects that you think are cool. Broadly speaking, if you are trying to get signed in the traditional sense, you need to show me that you're in with everyone, and that's really only by just being active on social, and engaging with people on scale, and making friends, that you're gonna get anywhere. I'm not reaching into the Bandcamp void and signing bands. I'm trying to sign bands that are gonna be a worthwhile investment. It's like venture capital, in a way. Maybe this guy has a good business idea, but I'm not gonna give them ten-million dollars unless I know there's some real motherfuckers behind it.
I think a lot of people feel that a label is the first step, and it's really not. The first step is really becoming a part of your community, and having people give a shit. Does that make sense?
It does, actually. It never occurred to me that maybe you shouldn't aim for the label; you should aim for the 'footprint' first.
Yeah, you're not gonna get a serious label unless you have a serious footprint, and people who actually give a shit. If no one cares except for one dude at the label, you're kind of boned. There's a lot of labels that fuck up that way. They think they're gonna be the one to pull a band out of obscurity, but you can't go engage for them. You can facilitate and make things easier for them. Ripple is an extremely hands on label, but we can only do so much.
Maybe I can introduce you to all these people, but especially on a lower level, you have a band making no money, expecting a manager to come in and work for free for a lot of time to get them somewhere. But guess what? When I worked on Enslaved's management team — those motherfuckers work their faces off. There's still a ton of shit that can only really be done by the people in the band. There at least needs to be one guy in the band who is hustling.
Someone has to carry the load.
You can't just be like, "Oh I'm just gonna be a creator, and someone can swoop in and take care of me." That doesn't happen. You have to actually bring value as a human beyond that.
Fair enough! So, your Dumb and Dumbest podcast with Curtis Dewar — which is a riot — has been a staple of listeners for months now. What started that?
Curtis and I just needed to create more content. I put out like four or five pieces of content a day, and it was just something that needed to happen. We had talked about having a podcast before, and so much of doing this is just not dicking around. So many people just dick around and don't understand, if you build brand, especially personal brand, then you can actually make a bunch of money, and make a bunch of cool shit happen.
That's what it boils down to. Are you building a personal brand? Are you engaging in a way that people find compelling? It's about building a network and creating a relationship, and the podcast is just another way to create content, the sort of story that tells what we do. It's the same with Bacon's Bits. The whole point of it is for people to say, "Matt is real fuckin' smart. I should pay him, or interview him, or give him some form of attention!" It's the same with this podcast. Maybe people don't see one thing, or every component, but if they see one thing, and they see it a few times, that's the advertising rule of sevens'. People need to see it seven times before they act on it.
And you nail that; you've got it down to a science at this point.
I hope so. That's the whole point of this. Educate, educate, educate, connect. Jab, jab, jab, right-hook. I just want to give as many people as I can, whenever I can. If I can do that, and scale that, then the rest of it is going to come into place. Maybe it won't. Maybe I'm wrong. At least if it all goes to shit, at least it went to shit when I was doing something I loved. Maybe I am gonna end up working at Macy's selling shoes, and there's NOTHING wrong with that, but on the way, I did something that I thought was productive and helping people.
Not to mention, you're very strong about hammering home the fact that even while you're doing things, putting yourself out there, your blue door is behind you, your cigar is in front of you, your rings are on your hand, you're helping yourself while simultaneously giving people things that they never thought to ask, so that's important for both you and them. I like that.
It's about educating, and showing people it's what we're about, and what we care about. Was talking about this with a buddy who taught some courses on it at NYU, who said that he was just teaching people how to be DIY. A lot of it comes from hardcore ethics, and that sort of mentality and approach. A lot of the people who I work closely with are people from that scene, because we sort of understand each other. It's about realizing if you do something for a greater community, it's a lot like Chomsky-esque Anarchism. The personal benefit usually follows.
Speaking of your benefits, those Bacon's Bits — those are pretty much religious tenets so far as I can see. You stress the importance of setting an end goal for yourself, whether you're a small band or small label. What goals should a small band focus on?
Draw fifty people at home. Sell a hundred CDs. Sell fifty tee shirts. I think it's really good to have a quantifiable goal. Because, if you say "Our goal is to play Gramercy theater," that is a tangible goal you can work towards. But if your goal is "play bigger shows," you're not gonna get anywhere. If your goal is "sell fifty shirts," then you can literally count that on a percentage basis. If you have a goal with a number on it, the steps become clearer. You can identify other steps along the way.
Quite honestly, this is something I need to be a little bit better about. I have goals for Instagram, and stuff, but sometimes I think my goals need to be more clear. That's something I've been focusing on lately: restating my goals so there's a little more clarity. I'm not claiming the perfect disciple of 'Think and Grow Rich,' but I'm trying to push myself in that direction.
You've managed to take what people consider goals and turn that into: "These are your abstract goals. Here is your practical one."
Basically. It's just about giving people a clear idea about what they should be shooting for.
As a segue, I would ask, since we're on abstract versus reality, another abstract thing is what people think they're going to finish on tour. That was a big hitter. You've stated that it's difficult to accomplish things on tour, with so much shit going on for you, and the people you're communicating with. So what should you focus on? What has to be a priority, even when you don't have time for it?
I think the first week of tour you're usually able to get shit done because you're not in the grind yet, but by day ten, you haven't slept more than four hours in a week and a half. You haven't been warm. You're wet. It's brutal. You just can not be as productive, in terms of getting normal work done. I think a lot of people think they're gonna negotiate deals and stuff. I HAVE booked tours whilst on tour, and it's definitely something that's possible, but it's hard. You're in a brutalist mindset in a lot of ways. What I would focus on is, try to document as much as possible, so you can use it for social content. Especially when you're on tour, it's frequent posting that's gonna make people aware.
Even your friends aren't going to know without you posting about it. I had this recently with Monte McCleery, from UN. I've been friends with him since early on in that band's career — I think I was still a teenager in France at that point — and he's a very solid individual, but recently they came through on tour, and I didn't even know they were going to be here on tour until a few days before the event, because I saw a post on Instagram. That's not because they did a bad job promoting. That's because people aren't paying as much attention as you think. Monte knows how to promote a tour. That's not on him, it's on me. It's important to realize that you have to be shoving it down peoples' throats.
There's also bands like my friends in Stone Deaf, who I really worked with to prioritize that, "hey — we're on the road. We are a road band," even though they honestly play only like thirty tour dates a year. People will say "Oh, you're home now?" Again — they're only playing thirty dates a year. But they are presenting it as if they're these road warriors. That's really as much a part of it, as actually going on tour. If you show you're reliable, and fighting, then people are going to give you opportunities. They're going to connect with you. That's really important to appreciate. Presentation is key. Some bands will go on tour, and never post a photo from that tour. It's like it didn't happen.
It's kind of a buzzkill. There's no presence. It's almost as if they didn't really appreciate the time. You know they came, and said they had a good time. But if there's not a photo, how do you really know?
Yeah. If you didn't document it any of it, and none of us see that you went on tour, how do we even know how it went? Promoters want to see it. They're overworked and tired, and need people to help them. There are literally bands who don't post about upcoming shows, or will post twice about it across a three month promotion process, and then have the gall to be like, "fuck pay-to-play."
The reason there is pay-to-play, is because you made it where the promoter has to do pay-to-play. Some promoters ARE shitty people, but most don't want to do pay-to-play. The reason they have to, is because bands like yours didn't listen, and didn't promote the show, and because you didn't promote it, it went to shit for everyone around them. This is why we have to have it. If bands promoted properly, and bands didn't lie about how much they drew, then we wouldn't have it. We would just be like "Oh, okay. You're worth five tickets, and you told the truth about being worth five tickets. Cool. You're gonna get thirty bucks." That would be fine. But no, they lie and said they were worth twenty-five. Five people came. I'm on the line now to give you a bunch more money. It was a shit show for everyone involved. I'm losing money, and then you're left wondering why I don't want to book you again.
Obviously, some promoters don't do as good a job as they should. Don't get me wrong — there are some scumbag promoters. But either get your shit together, or don't. There's too many bands out there. I know I sound like a grumpy old man, because I am.
*laughs* That's what you're striving to be.
So, how was HellFest? What'd you learn from the experience?
Well, it was HellFest number six, for me. I've been going since I was eighteen, with the same two girls — my pretend big sisters, Hayley, and Kelly (shoutout!) — It's good. It's just a very good networking experience. Every year at HellFest there's people I see every time. I always have dinner with the Season of Mist people at one point.
Then there's like new people every year that you bond with. This year, I bonded super hard with Runa from Midgardsblot. Now we have that. I bonded super hard with some of the homies from Summerbreeze. My boy, Mike DeLeon — I met him when he was playing to like sixty fuckin' people in a venue that doubled as a porn studio, in Paris. That's not a joke. I was there the day he met Phil Anselmo at HellFest. Now he's playing with Phil Anselmo & the Illegals, and they did pretty much a full Pantera cover-set. That was so much fun to see.