If you want heavy metal to pay your bills, you couldn't ask for a better role model than Rob Nicholson. Better known as Blasko, his teenage thrash band Cryptic Slaughter made three albums with Metal Blade. He went on to play bass in several of his own bands, then became what's known as a "hired gun" for some of the most well known names in heavy music: Prong, Danzig, Rob Zombie, and currently Ozzy Osbourne.
But not wanting to be a one-trick pony, er, bassist, Blasko started his own band management business and has now been running it for fifteen years. He branched out even further in 2021, joining Ripple Music as its Executive Vice President of A&R and Special Projects.
Blasko and I had a phone chat where we discussed his evolution in the music industry, how he helped his clients deal with the pandemic, and more. Listen to the entire interview here and read excerpts below the widget.
On unwittingly becoming part of a musical movement, and new movements in music today:
Cryptic Slaughter was playing blast beats before blast beats had a name. We were part of a musical movement called crossover, but we didn't call it that and we didn't necessarily associate ourselves with that. It was just a tag that people put on later to make it make sense. [...] We were in the midst of something, and it was for the passion of the music and nothing else. There weren't really aspirations of it being a career choice.
Look, I mean the fact that we put out three records as four guys over the course of four years, while being in high school, was remarkable to begin with. Most bands don't get the opportunity to put out three records at all, much less while they're in high school. [...] We didn't know what we were doing. I mean, I think we knew that we were part of "something," but it was certainly much more organic and a little bit simpler. We weren't trying to be something other than just ourselves.
Can that happen today? Yeah, maybe not in metal. Very recently if you look at all the fervor that Lil Nas X is gaining, that's maybe something similar. The face is different, it's not metal, but here he is doing stuff with Satan and "the devil," and he's ruffled a bunch of feathers... In our day, we were around whenever the PMRC wanted to put the explicit warning on our records. That really pissed us off. [...]
So yeah, can there be another movement? I think there currently is another movement, it's just not another subgenre of metal -- but certainly within music there are movements happening. Without a doubt.
On helping his management clients during the pandemic:
We broke it all down. [... ] Just because there's a pandemic going on, it doesn't mean that my artists are not artists. It doesn't mean that they're all of a sudden not creative people; it doesn't mean that all of a sudden they're not musicians, right? Musicians need to create. They need to create art and they need to get that art to their fans.
The interesting thing about the pandemic was that those fans didn't go anywhere. The fans didn't disappear and the fans didn't change their priorities. They still needed music in their lives to get them through this unprecedented time. [...] We just needed to change the delivery mechanism. How do we get your art to the fans that want it? You still want to make art, they still want to receive art, how do we deliver it to them without the traditional means to do so?
So we had to break it down and reinvent the delivery mechanism. Some of that was streaming, some of it was going back in and recording new records... Sometimes it was a single as opposed to a full record... The live-stream thing was very popular, we did that a bunch in different and creative ways... We had to reinvent the business, that's how I looked at it. [...] You went to bed one day and woke up in this situation. It doesn't change who you are, but you have to adapt. And that's what we did.
On working with Ripple Music:
I've known Todd (Severin) for a long time... Well, let's dial back about fifteen years. I realized I'd reached a point in my hired gun bass player career that I thought I was never going to get to. It was sort of this "peak of the mountaintop" that's very lonely. I was like, "Well, I now have to figure out what I'm going to do if I'm lucky enough to ride this until Ozzy retires. [...] I don't want to be in the smaller bands after Ozzy retires, I don't want to go backwards. So I have to figure out ways that I can still be in the business because I love music, how I can create something that is a business -- cuz I don't want to work for the man -- so how can I create a solo business within the music industry that complements my brand and is something I can transition into when I no longer want to be a musician?
One of my first ideas was A&R because I love being in the studio, I love being around that energy, I love working with bands... I love guiding bands in making records, I love helping with the song choices and the sequencing, the album cover... I just love the process. That wasn't out there for me to do practically at that time, but management was.
So I had always wanted the opportunity to do A&R but it had to be the right fit. So Todd and I were talking and he's like, "Hey man, why don't you do what you wanna do, but like over here?" And I was like, "That's interesting!" [...]
So that's what we did! I have the ability to curate my own lists of bands I want to sign and work with, and put out their albums through Ripple Music. And it's been awesome! I think at this point I've signed, I dunno, like eight bands. I've got a buncha records on deck to come out this year, more to come out next year... It's been fun! It's a real breath of fresh air creatively to do during the pandemic.
On what a band needs to find a label, aside from not having shitty music:
Well, you could have shitty music if it's popular. [laughs] Music is in the eye, or the ear, of the listener, right? [...] Really "bad" music could be really good music if it finds an audience. But I think the most important thing is just that: to find an audience. To really niche down on who you think your audience is and to give them something that they want -- and also to be true to yourself. That's also an important factor, to get in a room and make music with a bunch of guys that are genuine. Fans can tell whenever something isn't honest. So the music needs to be honest and you need to identify who your fans are, and you need to give your fans honest music. And if you've got that combination, people are gonna want to work with you.
Find more from Blasko here and follow him on Twitter at @Blasko1313.
To learn more about budgeting, band finances, and more, order Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials in paperback and ebook formats: https://amzn.to/3lCsFdq
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