Pollstar Live! Coverage: Slipknot’s M. Shawn Crahan: “We Listen To Journey Before We Play”

How did hip-hop and metal move from the underground into the mainstream? And what are both genres doing right today?

M. Shawn Crahan of Slipknot
Michael Guilbert
– M. Shawn Crahan of Slipknot
Speaking at Pollstar Live! 2018

Josh Bernstein (Townsquare Media) had a tough job stopping his panel, which consisted of Rich Best (Live Nation), Cory Brennan (5B Artist Management), Coolio (Recording Artist), M. Shawn Crahan (Slipknot), Bex Majors (UTA), Modi Oyewole (Trillectro) and Danny Wimmer (Danny Wimmer Presents), from going off track. The panel ended up being more of an assessment of the industry’s status quo, rather than an analysis on what the wider industry could learn from the success of hip hop and metal. Which is not so say that is wasn’t thoroughly entertaining.

It started out all right, with Best saying: “Unbeknownst to many in the industry these two genres, over the last few years, have [started] quietly and then come on like a freight train with regard to every aspect of the live experience. The energy, even at a live show, it’s fun. It’s exciting again.” Coolio agreed, although he emphasized that he was only able to speak for his generation of rappers, the ’90s artists, whose shows over the past 15 years had always been characterized by a good vibe. He didn’t want to speak for the younger artists, as he wasn’t touring with them. 

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Bernstein said both both genres had, and still have to a certain extent, a stigma attached to them, clichés about the audiences and their behavior at concerts, but that what actually goes on at these shows is completely different. “No virgin sacrifices or heads of bats being bitten off,“ he joked.

Slipknot’s Crahan replied, “the bat happened in Des Moines, Iowa, where I was born. It did happen for real.“ He did do away with some other clichés though. “We listen to Journey before we play. And you can ask the hardest metal head what they listen to, and they’ll tell you The Beatles, Journey, Michael Bolton, whatever. When we’re dealing with our festivals, we expect people to be themselves and not give in to pressure of scenes. We’ve done a Knotfest where we’ve had Tech N9ne, Ghostface Killah, all these great artists. And our fans – we’re not a band anymore, we’re a culture – I expect them to love what they’re being handed, and they are thankful, because they’re like: it’s about time.

“I think the industry confuses it. Everyone loves music, and not everyone is embarrassed to say so,” he said. Coolio added that it was the media that entertained stereotypes. When something bad or scandalous happened, they were all over it. When everything went well, they didn’t care – an approach that led to the reality of things being obscured.

Wimmer said it was a promoter’s job to complement an artist performance. “I’m not saying the experience is more important than the artist, but when people leave our festivals, I want them to say ‘I had the best time surrounding the great metal acts’,” he said, adding that his next goal was to bring European hard rock acts over to the U.S., and give them 20 dates to make it viable.

Brennan pointed out that rock was the No. 1 genre for selling physical product,  while hip-hop came in at No. 2. Fans of these genres wanted something tangible. At the same time, both genres were among the strongest on Spotify, which is a unique position to be in. Being able to see where people are listening to a certain acts or genre, has opened up markets that were previously off limits, especially in times when radio is on the decline. Best pointed out that, for both genres, around 70 percent of all marketing spend was in social media, as there wasn’t any big genre-led radio stations anymore. New music was now discovered on the second stage at festivals.

Pollstar Live! 2018
Michael Guilbert
– Pollstar Live! 2018
Rich Best (Live Nation), Coolio (Recording Artist), Cory Brennan (5B Artist Management) and M. Shawn Crahan (Slipknot)

“‘Don’t suck live’ is the best marketing tool,“ he said. To which Coolio strongly agreed, mentioning the trend for many young artists to just rap over the recorded version of their songs. “We took it as a personal affront if our show wasn’t good,” he said, and warned the new generation not to mess it up by not honing their live skills.

Oyewole agreed, that “not every artist in hop-hop dedicates their time and energy to their craft to that level,” which he identified as another similarity of both genres. Exceptions prove the rule, as Oyewole can attest to. He booked the first show with Kendrick Lamar at Washington’s 9:30 club, before the rapper got signed. He also booked Chance The Rapper, and both acts are known for their stage presence.

The digital revolution has allowed so-called bedroom producers and artists to gain a audience of millions without ever having performed a single show. Coolio clearly did not approve of this generation of mumble rappers, and went on a rant: “I was upset at a lot of hip-hop artists for what they did to my culture. Because hip-hop saved my life. I took it personally, people being so bad,” he said, before explaining his blunt theory that a lot of these kids were probably crack babies – a theory that was sparked by a Facebook comment. “They might be,” he said, “so you can’t really get mad at them.

“With a lot of these kids you got to give them time. I’m tired of seeing bad hip-hop shows. I’m so tired of it. It [once] took a village to raise a child. Everybody forgot that. So if we want music to be good we got to teach these young cats how to be good.”

Bernstein saw “mumble rap,” which is undeniably popular, as the young generation’s choice of music to piss their parents off, which seems to be what every generation does. But Coolio wasn’t having it. He said that, being a father now, he didn’t want his kids exposed to the kind of lyrical content of many of mumble rap’s most popular proponents. 

“If you’re telling my children something wrong that might get into their brain and cause them to hurt themselves or hurt others, or not become productive, then I look at you as my enemy.”

He earned a couple of laughs for some of his statements, and applause for others, for example when he addressed what he called the elephant in the room: “The reason music has declined so much in the past is there’s no music in public schools anymore. There was a time when you had to pick up an instrument. They took that out. That’s why the best artists now come from other countries.”

And then, it was Crahan’s time to rant, which was sparked by a comment made by Wimmer, who wanted Slipknot to be on festival bills alongside the Foo Fighters. “I ask myself, does Slipknot want to play next to the Foo Fighters? The answer is no, because my kids don’t want me to do that,” he said.

“If we play alongside the Foo Fighters we are going to get new fans, I agree with that. I love that. But I’m worried about the kid that won’t come to the show, because we’re playing with the Foo Fighters. He wants to know why we’re not playing with Nine Inch Nails. Those kids tell all of us what they want. So, don’t try to figure out ways of how to combine things for the new fan. I don’t need the new fan, I need the fan that has anxiety, parents are getting divorced, social problems, gender problems – I need them to come to the ultimate show. And they’re going to get that at Knotfest.”