If you were around in the 1980s you remember what a tremendous boom there was in interest in hard rock and heavy metal music. There are documentary style short movies in YouTube with titles along the lines of: When Metal Ruled The World: The 1980s
MTV was a tremendous help to our industry at that time. David Coverdale stated that MTV saved him about 3 or 4 years of hard touring to reach the level of popularity in The USA that Whitesnake attained.
We no longer have a TV station that does for our music what MTV did for it on the 80s and that’s a shame because the results MTV had on the popularity of hard rock and heavy metal bands was phenomenal. It gave them a level of exposure nobody had ever had before. For the first time people could turn on the TV and not just hear but actually see these bands play their hit songs.
While we no longer have the equivalent of an MTV, and most of the major record labels that were around then went bankrupt in the early 2000s. The co-founder of The Tarns Siberian Orchestra, Paul O’Neill. said in an interview that roughly 95% of the major record labels went bankrupt in that general time period. He stated that the success of The Trans -Siberian Orchestra lay in the fact that they were either the last band or one of the last few bands to receive from record labels what they called “artist development.” Artist development included giving help to struggling bands that showed potential even if their first few albums did poorly in sales. he cited Pink Floyd as a prime example of a band that fit that category. Pink Floyd’s first six albums or so sold poorly but their record label believed in them and continued supporting them because they saw the potential the band had. The rest is history. They went on to become one of the most popular bands of all time. O’Neill stated that if they were making their debut today, they would never be given that big of an opportunity and that if their first couple of albums sold poorly, they’d be dropped from their record contract. O’Neill stated that today that can happen even after one album. Of a band’s debut album doesn’t sell well, they may be dropped that quickly.
Obviously bands have it tougher these days than back in the 60s, 70s, 80s, or 90s. The decline of the rock music industry coincides very closely with the advent of the internet and illegal downloading.
The internet isn;t solely responsible for the decline of the rock music industry though, even though it’s obviously been a huge contributor to the decline. There was something else going in the 80s which hard rock and heavy metal bands were doing that led to a huge rise in the overall popularity if hard rock and heavy metal and it’s something unrelated to the internet; it’s something that could be repeated today.
Today at most, if not all had rock and heavy metal shows you’ll see a very disproportionate mix between male and female fans. Males outnumber females at many of these shows by a ratio of approximately 9 to 1. That’s extremely undesirable to club owners who want their clubs to be full!
If a band can find a way to attract a good number of women to their shows, that boosts overall attendance at the clubs. Not only that, but where the young women are, the young guys will want to be. So more women at shows attracts more young men at the shows and the cycle continues until you’ve got a packed house!
The more melodic, less heavy bands, which often were glam bands but not necessarily glam bands, received a tremendous amount of criticism from the heavier bands. It seemed the more abrasive a band’s sound was, the more they would tend to criticize the more melodic metal bands like Skid Row and Dokken, even though these bands had some fairly heavy songs of their own. Compared to the thrash bands though, which had a more extreme sound than had ever been heard before, these more melodic bands weren’t even heavy metal at all. To illustrate just how much the idea of what was considered heavy metal changed after the advent of thrash, you have to look at the heavy metal bands of the 1970s. The most successful of the true heavy metal bands of the mid 70s were Black Sabbath and Judas Priest. Actually Priest didn’t really start to break through until their Hell Bent For Leather and Unleashed in The East albums which were released at the tail end of the 70s. Then Priest actually achieved mainstream success with their 1980 album British Steel.
In the 1970s, Sabbath and Priest were considered to be among the heaviest bands around. They continued to be considered such until thrash bands like Metallica, Megadeth, Anthrax and Slayer made their debuts in the early 80s. As a general rule of thumb, the heavier and more thrash oriented a band’s sound was, the less women you could expect to see at their shows. As far as I know, bands like Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Queensryche, and Dio were the last of the true heavy metal bands to have a decent sized female attendance at their concerts. The Scorpions who were somewhat less heavy attracted even more women to their shows, and of course bands like Motley Crue, Ratt, Cinderella and Whitesnake drew pretty close to a 50/50 split between men and women at their shows.
For all the complaining the heavier bands did about the glam and melodic metal bands, those bands were largely responsible for the heavy metal boom of the 1980s. A girl might have first gotten into heavy metal by listening to Motley Crue and Skid Row, but then as she matured and her tastes broadened, she might well have started getting into heavier music like Ozzy, Priest, Maiden, and Queensryche. One thing that all those bands had in common, even the glam bands, was they had that loud, distorted heavy metal guitar tone. It’s possibly the one biggest thing which separated the heavy metal bands from the mainstream rock bands.
The lyrical content was another big difference. Whether a band was hard rock, like Van Halen, or more heavy metal like Motley Crue or KISS, if they sang about having a good time and enjoying life, like those bands did, it tended to appeal to both men and women. The bands that had a more pessimistic outlook towards life tended to have an even heavier or even thrash approach to their music, and attendance at those bands’ shows was predominantly made up of men.
There is plenty of room in music for bands of different outlooks towards life to all co-exist. Yet for some reason, it seemed that in the 90s it was practically forbidden for the heavy bands to take a positive outlook in their lyrics of enjoying life to the utmost. The grunge fad was a perfect example of a style of music that tended to have a very pessimistic outlook in their lyrics. Some of those bands still attracted a good number of female fans because they had catchy songs. Still, the unwritten rule that a heavy band cannot take a positive outlook towards life in its lyrics and sing about having fun was, in my opinion, the first big step away from the ethic of the 1980s which was the time when heavy music enjoyed its greatest success. In fact it was during the 1990s that rock nightclub attendance start becoming so poor that many of the most famous rock clubs in the country went out of business. The 90s grunge bands simply could not match the number of people that the 80s bands had drawn to the clubs in the previous decade. I worked at a club in the 90s where on pretty much any given night, you could walk right up to the bar and order a drink. I was told by the bouncers who had worked there in the 80s that you used to have to sometimes wait as long as 15 minutes at the bar to get a drink. Business was that good in the 80s; the place was packed!
These are things bands and nightclubs today can learn from. You don’t necessarily have to learn from making your own mistakes. If you’re smart, you’ll learn from the mistakes of others!