During an interview on November 5 at 92Y in New York City, METALLICA drummer Lars Ulrich spoke about how important achieving independence by owning all of the band’s master recordings — including both music and long-form videos — has been in having a long and successful career.
“[METALLICA‘s longtime managers, Q Prime founders] Cliff [Burnstein] and Peter [Mensch] were smart enough to anticipate that the primary carrot at the of that journey for the first 20 years or whatever was the masters,” he said. “The masters. The recording tapes. The records. So if you can get ownership of your own records… And I know that sounds a little odd. People go, ‘Well, who owned them before?’ Well, guess who owned them. The record companies owned them. The record companies, basically… they gave you money to make a record, then they own the records, and then they own them, sort of, in perpetuity. So Peter and Cliff said, ‘Let’s gun for getting our masters back.’ And at that time, there was really nobody that had that — maybe [Bruce] Springsteen, Prince, one or two other artists at that level. But that was what we went for. So lo and behold, we ended up getting our masters back. So when METALLICA became our own record company five, seven years ago, all of a sudden our whole business model changed, because now we have to sort of run all of this ourselves.”
He continued: “So we have our setup in Northern California and have a lot more people in Northern California than we used to and a lot of people to manage there and have some great people that all live under the umbrella of what we call HQ, and that’s our record company and our touring entity and some management stuff there, and our managers, Q Prime, are here in New York and have a big office, and then we have people in L.A. and stuff.”
Back in 2012, METALLICA regained control of its entire back catalog and launched its own label called Blackened Recordings. They have since been using this imprint to launch a massive reissue campaign.
“From a business point of view, it fits in with the way everything else does, which is the word ‘autonomy,'” Lars explained during the 92Y interview. “I mean, we try to be free, we try to be autonomous, we try to make decisions not based on anything other than what’s right for METALLICA and for how we see our own path. And it’s a combination of… half the time you feel like you’re sort of steering it, and the other half the time you feel like you’re just hanging on as it’s kind of steering itself.”
Ulrich, who has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area — the technology hub of the United States — for more than three decades, added: “The one thing that you hear a lot from a lot of these tech people… People sit there and go, ‘Well, you know, the guys at Apple must know what iPhone 25 looks like, because they certainly look that far ahead.’ I can tell you from knowing some of these people, they don’t know what iPhone 11 looks like, okay? Because everything in that world is that you have to be ready for what the other guy’s gonna do or that’s gonna come and ambush you, so you have to be ready to change your business model at any time. And any of those people in that world will tell you that that’s the primary M.O., really.
“And so what we try to do in our little world is try to… Nobody really knows… The demise of the music business has come and gone and now it’s kind of the Wild West. So whenever you make a record, you have to be prepared to just move in whatever ways feels right at that very moment, because six months from now or 12 months from now, the business may look diffferent. So you always have to be ready to just hang on as the beast is steering itself through some of these different dynamics.”