For those about to rock, get ready to pay your dues.
I learned this bit of wisdom very quickly from a recent discussion with John Kevill (pictured, center), lead singer for heavy metal band Warbringer, whose fifth album “Woe to the Vanquished”, is an epic culmination of years of slogging it out on tour, numerous lineup changes, and learning to survive in an industry of diminishing returns.
Kevill said there’s a very strange dichotomy of how bands like Warbringer might be perceived—especially based on go-for-broke performances in front of thousands of loyal fans, or maybe when rap legend, actor, and heavy metal vocalist Ice-T gives you mad props (which he did in the March issue of Decibel magazine).
“The reality is that what most people see as success, we see as survival,” said Kevill. “It’s one of the reasons why Warbringer had so many lineup changes within the first four albums and is ultimately why we had to re-tool the whole band and in many ways, re-learn the business.”
But for all the lessons learned, some things you simply cannot avoid, such as the rigors and expense of touring. Kevill estimates Warbringer has performed well over 1,000 shows across 40 different countries and as of this writing is heading out on another European tour. But when it comes to turning a profit, the song remains the same.
“Consider going on vacation with five people. It’s very expensive, but with touring you have to create a far more demanding schedule than you would on a regular trip,” said Kevill. “You’re in a different city every single day and must think about all the things you must buy to keep it all going.”
On a European tour, for example, the expenses before the plane even lands might be $40,000.
“Just to get to that point without immediately bankrupting your band is a big success,” said Kevill. “A lot of money goes through the band, but very little money stays with us.”
Naturally, Kevill continues to question whether it makes sense to continue doing what he loves doing and is still deathly afraid of simply surviving, even though he considers “Woe to the Vanquished” to be his band’s strongest record to date.
“This is very much a crafted record,” said Kevill. “Definitely not a case of ‘let’s go into the jam room and see what comes out of it.’ We knew that the only way we have a prayer of making this work is if we create, hands down, the best record we’ve ever made. It’s the only reason anyone would care to pay attention to us again. It’s huge pressure that we put on ourselves.”
Kevill said during the recording process of “Woe to the Vanquished,” the band was completely unified and threw out any type of second-guessing or extraneous noise that might have a negative impact on quality.
“I can’t compromise and create something I don’t believe in,” said Kevill. “I’ve never been more proud of one of our records, due to the struggle to get to where we are, and the end result.”
For more on the role of passion and commitment in business success, see Passion For Work Is More Important Then Engagement.