Metallica: …And Censorship For All

Metallica has done it again. Forget going after people pirating their music; this time they’ve gone after people writing about it… after inviting them to hear it.

The Story So Far

MetallicaHere’s how the story goes: Metallica representatives recently played tracks from their upcoming album to a bunch of critics/bloggers/journalists (depending on whose take on this you read). They then (surprise surprise) blogged about what they heard.

As Wired’s Listening Post blog reports:

“At no point was the writer ask[ed] to sign a non-disclosure agreement. The Quietus and other websites ran pieces on the album, but were quickly contacted by Metallica’s management via a third party and told to remove the articles.”


Surprise surprise – a storm has erupted in the blogosphere:

You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to tell how Metallica is coming across in these posts but in case it wasn’t clear, here’s a quote from the CNet piece:

In the wide world of music, our level of distrust first begins with the RIAA, but Metallica is running a close second.

PR Disaster

It’s hard to imagine a worse PR disaster for a band that, until this point Metallica had seemed to be warming to the Internet recently.

They’ve allowed their tunes to be sold through iTunes, they have a cool new website, Mission: Metallica and Ethan Kaplan, head of technology at Warner Bros records (who was behind the new site) gushed about some of their latest efforts at mesh 2008 recently. It seems, though, that they still have a lot to learn.

However, Metallica lost much of their credibility with fans after going after Napster a few years ago – a move that still looms large in peoples’ minds (and was the first thing out of the mouths of my colleagues when I discussed this with them today).

On top of that, consider that this revolves around an event where writers were invited to listen to the new songs, without a non-disclosure agreement… and that their reviews were largely positive by all accounts.


How can the band dig its way out of this situation?

Before thinking about that, you need to ask yourself a couple of important questions:

Should they just move on?

Is this situation salvageable? Given the apparent contradiction in their approach to this situation so far, perhaps it’s best for the band to ride this one out and learn from their mistakes.

Do they need to respond?

Metallica has a die-hard fan base. They’ve been around for 27 years now, and many of their fans are long-time listeners that, quite frankly, won’t be put off by a few bad articles in the press. Let’s face it, they’ve been getting those since they put out the ‘Load’ album back in the ’90s.

Still, some of the comments I’ve read recently seem to indicate that they’ve even managed to annoy some hard-core fans. Perhaps some damage-control is in order.

What To Do?

Knowing that they’re unlikely to go the Nine Inch Nails route, what could they do?

Go One Better?

Why not let those the writers listen to the full album once it’s done (along with an assurance they can write about it)? No bribing, just an honest attempt to make things better.

Personally I think this might be problematic. There’s not a lot of trust in Metallica right now, as I discussed earlier. What’s more, I’m not sure these publications would give them a second chance. The horse may have already bolted on this one (insert Ride the Lightning pun here).


Someone, somewhere has screwed up. Maybe the band didn’t know about the advance listening and freaked out. Maybe two people in the record company got their wires crossed. Maybe someone forgot to arrange for a non-disclosure agreement. Who knows.

If the band wants to say anything about this situation, they need to apologize first. Whatever went wrong, they need to figure it out and apologize to the people involved. Don’t point fingers at the writers or make excuses. Just say sorry.

That’s my take on this one. I’m not sure I can see a way for Metallica to come out of this looking good. Their options seem to be to either ride this one out or to risk re-stirring the pot and apologizing.

I think the damage may be done. Perhaps the ‘duck and cover’ approach might be better here. What do you think?

Can you think of a way Metallica could salvage this situation?

Dave Fleet
EVP Digital at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.