Drummer Mike Portnoy discussed the impact that piracy had on the world of music, defending Metallica’s Lars Ulrich for taking a stance against Napster back in the day.
When you hear people say ‘rock is dead,’ what does that mean to you?
“I guess there’s two ways of looking at it. Are we talking about music or the business? Because if you’re talking about the music, I couldn’t disagree more.
“I think rock, as an art form, just keeps growing and growing and blossoming and blossoming, and you have all these subgenres that just keep growing.
“You have all the great music from 50 years ago and all the great music being made today. So, musically, I couldn’t disagree more.
“But if you’re talking about as a business, yeah… it’s harder and harder in modern times for not only musicians to make a living, but even the people that are not the musicians – record companies or instrument-selling companies or retailers, whether it be music stores that sell instruments or record stores that sell CDs and records.
“Rock as a business is going through the toughest times it’s ever been through.”
After saying he thinks we’ll never see another band reach the heights of The Beatles or Led Zeppelin or Metallica, Mike added:
“When I was coming around, you had thousands of bands selling millions of records. Now you have millions of bands selling thousands of records. Artists and musicians have to think of new ways to make a living.”
Is this is the internet’s fault?
“Yeah, it is. It is. Obviously, when Napster came around in the late ’90s or early 2000s, there was a big stink about it, and Lars Ulrich went in there fighting for musicians and ended up getting torn to shreds.
“But here we are almost 20 years later, and I think Lars was spot-on correct, actually.
“A band like Metallica can survive, but if you’re a new, young band and you’re trying to sell units or sell concert tickets, it’s gotta be impossible.”
How do you feel about piracy?
“People that actually, literally just take the music for free, that’s what’s killed the industry. Like I said, when I was coming out with Dream Theater 30 years ago in the mid-’80s, you’d sell a million records then.
“Nowadays, a brand new band will come out and sell 500 units. It’s impossible for bands to make a living. They can get their music out there.
“It depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to sell units and make money, it’s impossible. If your goal is just to get your music heard, well, then you have greater outlets than ever before. So in that respect, the Internet’s been a great thing.
“When I was coming up in the ’80s, you couldn’t get your music heard unless you had a record deal, you signed a seven-album deal and you had to be in Rolling Stone magazine or be on MTV – there was no other way to get your music heard.
“That’s the good side of it – these days you can do that without having to sign your life away. So that’s the only plus side that the internet has afforded a lot of musicians today.”
The drummer optimistically concluded:
“I don’t think we can have another Beatles or another Led Zeppelin or another U2, but those are just numbers, I’m not talking about artistic [side].
“Artistically, there’s bands that I love just as much as The Beatles, that move me just as much. I hear them creating art that is incredibly inspired.
“There’s no question that here’s still artists that come around that can move the needle.”