Steel Druhm Comments: On Music Labels, Promos and the Reviewing Profession

I haven’t commented much lately as I’m generally bogged down with the minutia of keeping AMG Consolidated, Amalgamated Industries, Ltd. moving and shaking. However, recent developments put a sizable burr in my saddle that requires some therapeutic venting from yours truly.

Even casual readers know I have a deep, abiding appreciation for all things Jørn Lande. I celebrate the man’s entire catalog (with some key caveats), and if nothing else, I think whatever he puts out deserves a fair shake and a thoughtful review. You might have noticed however that his recent album Life on Death Road got nary a mention here. The simple reason for this is the way Jørn’s label, Frontiers Records, decided to distribute promo to us. Where we generally receive a downloadable promo for review purposes, Frontiers in all their wisdom recently adopted a stream-only policy for their releases.

There are several reasons why this doesn’t work for us. The first is that it anchors a reviewer to his/her PC or laptop, making the listening and digesting of music way less portable and accessible. Since the AMG staff all work for a living, we must listen to our assigned albums whenever we can, like while commuting, working, doing hot yoga and Lord knows what else. With stream-only promos, this becomes much less practical and workable.

The more insidious issue is the way the streams are sent to us. We have a designated email for promos, and for security and organizational purposes, only AMG’s upper management has access to the promo bin. These streaming promos can only be opened by the party they’re sent to and we can’t forward them to another staffer for review. This renders them all but useless unless a member of management is tasked with reviewing all such stream-only releases. Now, Frontiers is happy to forward a downloadable copy on the day of release, but by then we missed the proper review window and won’t be able to get anything posted for days thereafter.

While I have promo access and could have streamed the new Jørn album for a review, I decided not to on principle, as Frontiers is making our life difficult for no good reason. Until they change their stream-only policy, we will not be reviewing or otherwise covering Frontiers Records releases and artists. AMG has grown to be one of the bigger metal review sites out there and we draw a lot of eyes daily; more so every year. Frontiers definitely benefits from our coverage of their releases, be they glowing, middling or bad, as any press is good press. As it stands now, they need us more than we need them and thus, the ball is in their court going forward.

We’ve had issues with promo distribution in the past and we’ve complained about the way certain labels treated us before, and Frontiers is small potatoes in the grand scheme of things. The bigger concern is more labels adopting a stream-only policy1. This would make our job increasingly difficult, unwieldy and over time could force us to consider hanging up the angryness and calling it a day. That wouldn’t benefit anyone, least of all the readers who want albums covered in a fair, evenhanded way and enjoy what we do here at AMG.

We’ve always taken pains to maintain strict promo security and no leak has ever come from AMG. We also take our role in the musical food chain seriously and do our best to cover the scene we love in a fair way. If the labels don’t cooperate, we simply cannot do our job properly. Here’s hoping common sense prevails and we can once again be a Jørn-fortified blogworks and friendly neighborhood metal emporium.

Show 1 footnote

  1. As I was writing this we were informed that Spinefarm Records is also instituting a stream-only promo policy.
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