Radio Exposure Vulgar Display of Passion: Chapter 12

radio exposure

“Radio continued to ignore the genre, leaving metal artists and the audience to form their own bonds with one another based on the inherent meaning of the music – its exuberant power – and the delineated meaning lent to it by the youth subculture that had crystallized around it.” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 155-156)

Although heavy metal has had a devoted audience since its inception, many of the themes of the genre do not lend themselves to a corporate radio station’s desire for mass-market appeal (Weinstein, 1991).  Throughout the formative years of heavy metal especially, commercial radio stations refused to play metal because large segments of the audience had negative opinions of the music (Weinstein, 1991).  This absence of heavy metal on the radio has “been a major factor in the constitution” of the genre because artists have no incentive to create music that fits into profit-driven radio play-lists based on length and marketability of song (Weinstein, 1991, p. 152).  Rather than being concerned with radio restrictions and hit singles, heavy metal artists focus on high-quality, cohesive albums that become, “more than any other medium, …metal’s lifeblood” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 183).  A well produced and professionally packaged full-length record from a band is doubly crucial as it is the “most reliable access” that a fan has to the music and subculture, as well as a significant revenue generator for artists (Weinstein, 1991, p. 183).

By creating music that has never been meant to fit into these codes of mass audience broadcasting, heavy metal artists have not only encouraged unorthodox or progressive songwriting structures, but also emphasized live concert performances and merchandise sales to promote their work and earn profits (Weinstein, 1991).  Bands tour extensively and cultivate fans on an individual basis, which makes artists conscious of their loyal followers, and enhances the fans’ appreciation for the bands and genre in general (Weinstein, 1991).  Smaller venues often allow personal interaction between fan and performer, and many metal artists will also sell their own merchandise, sign autographs, take pictures, or engage in other heavy metal bonding experiences (Weinstein, 1991).  Additionally, the positive effect of heavy metal being “forged in the years of exile,” is that the music, the fans and the culture have been able to “preserve many distinctive elements and to avoid dilution” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 155, p. 149).

Heavy metal did, however, become widely popular and profitable.  Thanks to many of the visual images discussed previously, heavy metal music “crashed radio play lists, invaded MTV and earned its own category in the Grammy Awards” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 148).  Habitually regarded as the pestilence of the music scene, heavy metal ascended to domination throughout the 1980s, and by 1989, the newly released albums of just five metal bands accounted for over 30 million American record sales, with international sales, tours, and merchandise adding to their revenue streams (Weinstein, 1991, p. 148).  Heavy metal survived through two decades of deprecation, intolerance and radio exile before coming “radically transformed in a Cinderella/Rocky-like trajectory” by MTV and widespread radio programming (Weinstein, 1991, p. 148).  The genre lost many followers in the early 1990s when grunge music became overwhelmingly popular, but Weinstein (1991) states that heavy metal is a genre that “appears to be immune from trends and fickleness in the recording industry” (Weinstein, 1991, p. 153).  Regardless of what musical trends are pervading the popular scene, heavy metal artists continue to support themselves on tour and sell significant numbers of records by relying on loyal fans for income (Weinstein, 1991).  Avoidance of radio play has also encouraged the development of numerous, and many times much more extreme, musical genres under the broad heavy metal umbrella.


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