The Recording Industry as the Enemy? A Case Study of Early West German Metal Music

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Rock and metal music have a complex relationship with the entertainment industries. They rely on commodified products but are also cautious towards the capitalist system with its instrumentalist mechanisms. This article examines early metal music from West Germany in the 1980s with its rock precursors in the 1970s to shed light on the music industry’s positive side other than the commonly portrayed enemy or villain image. Using journalistic sources, including magazines, biographies, documentaries, besides the music release database Discogs, the research reconstructs the independent recording industry for metal, examining key record companies, distribution channels and production staff, as well as their principles and intentions. The findings suggest that in the formative phase of German metal, the boundaries were blurred between fans, artists and entrepreneurs, most acting out of a passion for music. Fan practices, such as music-making, journalistic writing or tape trading, became serious leisure careers, eventually enabling some of the bands, journalists and entrepreneurs to make a living from their metal-related activities; others remained “semi-professional”. Communal spirit characterised German metal, and most of “the industry” worked together with the scene. The joint efforts made it possible for Germany to develop from a weak production location for subcultural rock music compared to the dominant cultures of the USA and UK to one of the leading recording industries for metal music. Rather than “the enemy” with manipulative intentions, the independent metal industry was a cultural intermediary and enabler of subcultural production and consumption.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)229-254
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Journal of the Sociology of Leisure
Issue number2
Early online date22 Sep 2021
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2022


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