overground scene


Heavy metal news websites: why is “Ratt” newsworthy?

A similar question to the one in the title of this post, is one I used to ask myself quite often when I first started reading Blabbermouth many years ago. Why are news-feeds full of news stories about completely irrelevant bands? Why do hasbeens from the 1980s still populate Heavy metal news? The aim of this post is to reflect critically upon the character of mainstream Heavy metal journalism as exemplified by news websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

In my opinion, there are three factors that need to be taken into account when thinking about the content of Heavy metal news websites: First, the imperative of profit in journalism, second, the effects of digitisation on journalism, and, third, the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources.

Mainstream Heavy metal websites such as Blabbermouth and MetalSucks aim to generate revenue through selling audiences to brands. Blabbermouth commands the attention of a wide audience around the world, and that is its selling point. The text that follows is taken from Blabbermouth’s “ADVERTISE” page:

Get backstage access to millions of hard rock & heavy metal fans from around the world via a broad range of campaign options; display, video, social, custom executions, and more.

Request the Blabbermouth.net Media Kit to learn more about available campaign bundles, demographics, and pricing. Or simply touch base directly to receive a customized proposal based on your objectives, budget, and timeline. (Source: Advertise – Blabbermouth)

A similar text can be found in the “Advertising” page of MetalSucks (see below). A further enquiry into Blastbeat, the company that manages – among others – MetalSucks’s advertising strategy, provides further information on the variety of brands to which heavy metal fan audiences are sold as commodities (these brands include 20th Century Fox, Orange, Peavy, Epic, Nuclear Blast, Relapse, and many more).

MetalSucks is represented for advertising by the Blast Beat Network of heavy metal sites, which also includes Metal Injection, Lambgoat, The PRP, Decibel and several other of the world’s top metal properties and reaches 14 million unique viewers monthly.

Blast Beat has worked with both Fortune 500 companies and unsigned bands; no advertising request is too big or too small. We have a variety of ad placements available to suit your needs, whatever they may be. (Source: Advertise on MetalSucks)

Heavy metal fans who read Blabbermouth and MetalSucks are exposed to various music and non-music related products that advertisers pay Blabbermouth to promote. Of course, the brands that are most likely to benefit from appearing on a music news website are bands. So, it would not be far-fetched to hypothesise that the readers of Blabbermouth are also packaged as an audience commodity (Fuchs 2014) and sold to the bands themselves. Because of Blabbermouth’s imperative to make profit, it treats its audience (the heavy metal fans) as a commodity that is sold to brands and bands from around the world.

The second factor I want to explore is the effects of digitisation on heavy metal journalism. News websites differ from traditional news media in that they are not static. Websites are dynamic, news are constantly updated, and new stories can be reported in almost real-time. This affordance of web 2.0 (see, Flew 2002) defines the rules of competition in online journalism, which can be summarised in the expression “you snooze, you lose”. If a news website wants to maintain the attention of its audience it has to generate news constantly, or else the audience will switch to a competing website. If a news website loses its audience it also loses its source of revenue, because it no longer has something to offer to advertisers (various brands, as well as record companies). Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to churn out news stories constantly. This creates the following problem: how do we keep the flow of content (almost) uninterrupted? This problem can be addressed in two ways. First, the website could employ many journalists that investigate and produce new stories. This option is costly. Second, the website could rely primarily on stories generated by others. Which brings me to my next point.

If Heavy metal news websites depend on existing stories to populate their news-feed, then the relative power of bands and record companies to act as news sources should also be considered. Record companies act as news sources by publishing press releases (on the relationship between news and public relations, see Cottle 2003; McCullagh 2002; Reich 2010) or arranging interviews with bands.  A press release is a very convenient source of news for a website like Blabbermouth or MetalSucks, because it is written by someone else, it is easily accessible, and it is easily reproducible. It is a practice that serves the record company (which advertises its bands indirectly without having to pay proper advertising fees) and the news website alike (which has access to content for “free”). It follows that the record companies and musicians that are more capable of constantly generating press releases, are those more likely to end up dominating attention on websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

collage

Sensational news on Blabbermouth and MetalSucks.

A final point I want to make, related to attracting audiences, is the journalistic practice of creating sensational news stories. If a news story is sensational it is expected to attract more attention. To understand why “the sensational” sells, we should consider the sad reality of alienation in capitalist societies and people’s fascination with idle talk (Gunkel and Taylor 2014, p. 39). Sites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks excel in constructing sensational stories. Even if a news story is not essentially sensational, these websites often deploy practices in order to give stories a scandalous appearance. One practice is the generation of misleading and evasive titles known as clickbait. Another practice is the framing of stories through selecting and emphasising aspects of a story that are more sensational than others (De Vreese 2005).

So, maybe the reason why we are constantly exposed to news stories about bands like Skid Row, and Ratt, and Motley Crue, and a bunch of other hasbeens and their embarrassing intrigues and sad lives, is that websites like Blabbermouth and MetalSucks need to link audiences to advertisers, and in order to do that they need to attract and maintain the attention of audiences by providing a constant stream of news stories. Bands that are more likely to afford constantly generating (sensational) news stories are those posers that became millionaires during the 1980s as well as contemporary posers and hipsters who are already famous, or whose record companies and themselves aspire to become famous.

In any case I think it would be interesting if the hypotheses I put forward in this post were tested more rigorously. It would be interesting to measure, for example, the presence on Blabbermouth of successful record companies like Nuclear Blast compared to that of smaller companies. Maybe I’ll do that when I find the time. For the time being enjoy a song dedicated to all those posers that dominate our attention on Heavy metal news-sites.

References

Cottle, S. (ed) (2003) News, public relations and power. London: Sage.

De Vreese, C.H. (2005) ‘News framing: theory and typology’, Information design journal and document design, 13 (1) pp. 51-62. 

Flew, T. (2002) New media: an introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Fuchs, C. (2014) Social media: a critical introduction. London: Sage.

Gunkel, D.J. and Taylor, P.A. (2014) Heidegger and the media. UK: Polity.

McCullagh, C. (2002) Media power: a sociological introduction. London: Palgrave.

Reich, Z. (2010) ‘Measuring the impact of PR on published news in increasingly fragmented news environment: a multifaceted approach’, Journalism Studies, 11(6) pp. 799-816.