In a open conversation with the SmartLess podcast hosted by Jason Bateman, Sean Hayes, and Will Arnett, Metallica's drummer Lars Ulrich reflected on the evolving nature of the music industry. His insights shed light on the seismic shifts that have occurred since Metallica's inception, from the advent of streaming to the plight of emerging artists.
Ulrich acknowledged the dramatic transformations the industry has undergone over the course of the last decades and expressed gratitude that people still engage with their music, whether through streaming, purchasing, or, interestingly, the contentious "stealing" of records. The drummer offered:
"Well, obviously it's changed quite a bit. And in your guys' industry, some of the same things that we were dealing with 20 years ago are happening. Big picture, and I know this may sound like a little bit of a cop-out, I'm just happy that fucking anybody cares about what we're doing and shows up to see us play and still stream or buy or steal our records or whatever. The engagement itself, I think, is the triumph and the victory. Obviously, it's way, way harder for a lot of the younger bands nowadays because they don't get the support of the record companies for basic things — just like gear and tour support. So, there is very much of a different thing."
Despite the current hurdles, Ulrich remains hopeful that genuine talent and stellar songwriting will eventually find its audience. His optimism echoes the belief that deserving artists will be heard. However, he acknowledges the harsher reality faced by young bands, struggling without the support that was once readily available.
"Talent and good songwriting eventually will find a home with a larger group of people. And whether you do it from your bedroom or through a record company or whatever, I believe that everybody will be heard eventually if they're talented. But it is tough. It's tough for a lot of the younger bands out there and for a lot of the… The bands that 20 years ago could make a living playing clubs or theaters are having a harder time now because they don't sell as many records, and you really have to be out there and pushing it."
Ulrich also touched on the dilemma faced by legacy bands. While Metallica continues to produce new music passionately, not all bands with a long history share this enthusiasm, and many have opted out of recording altogether due to shifts in the business model or their creative preferences.
"There are a lot of bands that have been around as long as we have that simply don't wanna make records anymore because it either doesn't work for them or the business model of it doesn't work for them,” Ulrich noted. “ And I can't speak for everybody else. We love writing songs. Being creative is a significant part of who we are."
"Obviously I understand that we're exceptionally fortunate, but our success gives us the opportunity to sort of do all that. But if somebody said, 'You can't write or make records anymore,' we would probably stop what we're doing because it's such an essential part of just our existence as people."
Ulrich's revelations offer a glimpse into the complex terrain of the modern music industry. As fans, we can only hope that the spirit of artistry and innovation will persist, allowing talented musicians, both new and seasoned, to thrive. So, dear music enthusiasts, keep streaming, buying, or listening at a friend’s house, and remember that your engagement is the lifeblood of the industry.
For real though, don't steal music. Thanks.