Marko Hietala and an industry of shit

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What a start to 2021. First we lose the legendary Alexi Laiho (ex-CHILDREN OF BODOM, BODOM AFTER MIDNIGHT), and now we hear that the shittiness of the music industry has pushed Marko Hietala of NIGHTWISH to, at least for the time being, retire from music so he can rediscover himself and what inspires him.

2019 at Sonic Pump Studios for the pre-listening of “Mustan sydämen rovio”

This was a shock for a number of reasons. First of all, he only just released his solo album in 2019/2020 (Finnish and English respectively). Secondly, NIGHTWISH is a huge band. It’s hard to the world to imagine how a band with such a huge worldwide fanbase and such great success could not be satisfied.

I’ve been hugely influenced by NIGHTWISH throughout my life, but also by Marko Hietala himself as an individual. I recall the first time I heard NIGHTWISH songs with him, I didn’t like his voice. “How can someone sing like that?” I thought, astounded. But the more I listened, the more I grew to love it. There’s a raw power in his voice that shows unbridled emotion. It helped open me up to a whole new world of music. When we were at the pre-listening for “Mustan sydämen rovio,” I seemed to be the only one present who got exactly what they expected from the album.

2009 at Tavastia for an interview after a Sapattivuosi song

I met Marko for the first time in 2010 at the Finnish Metal Expo at a signing session and immediately he seemed like a very kind person, very sweet to all of us nerds who stared at him with stars in our eyes. I got to talk to him properly during the pre-listening session for his solo album, Mustan sydämen rovio,” in 2019. During our interview, I had the feeling that he was a kindred spirit in many senses, and not just because of our shared love for fantasy novels. He felt like a guy who thinks beyond himself, beyond society, and sees a bigger picture of this world. Someone who has pondered existence and become a better person for it. He’s exactly the kind of person who has something to say that’s worth hearing. As such, it’s hard to learn that he’s become so disillusioned with art/music and its industry. It’s likewise no surprise that the world and the industry have been a crushing weight (especially if he’s got depression).

It feels like perhaps there is something to be learned from his resignation. Naturally, the industry needs to clean their shit up, but how does one even begin to initiate that change? Ever since Spotify debuted around 10ish years ago, people have been trying to fix this sinking shit ship, but instead of making things better, streaming continued the trend of ripping off artists and paying the big bands, while efforts like Tidal didn’t pan out either due to the average person’s hesitation to pay double for the service. Patreon seems like a decent idea, but hasn’t picked up enough to seem like a viable alternative for most. If there’s an answer to this heinous problem, I don’t have it.

Even on the journalistic front, there are plenty of medias out there who publish clickbait articles with no substance, with reviewers who don’t know anything about music that are just spouting subjective opinions. Hell, when Musicalypse merged with Tuonela, one of (if not) my best journalists decided to step back because he wanted to do something more worthwhile with his life. I was sad to lose someone so genuinely good at music journalism, but I couldn’t blame him because, in the end, didn’t this merge allow me to do the same?

It begs the question too, what could we – the fans – have done? There’s no secret that the average fan knows next to nothing about the industry, which is clear every time you see “come play in my town” messages splattered all over every band’s pages. So many fans these days feel entitled to music and relationships with their heroes, without wanting to actually shell out the money to buy an album to support the artist and increase sales enough to get local venues and agencies interested in hosting these bands. Floor Jansen herself was demonized for a while as a “diva” for asking fans to respect her personal space a little bit during meet ‘n’ greets. The fans are ignorant to how things work, yet have all the power to make the change… yet no guidance as to how to make changes. Bands do what they do best: creating music, and the fans demand more, mindlessly, without thinking of how their demands make people feel. I often wonder how artists who sing about peace and love feel when they play a big stadium and see fans elbowing each other in the faces to get up to the front. The behavior doesn’t match the message they’re praising.

Frankly, it’s a bummer no matter how you look at it. I want to live in a world where someone as clever and talented as Marko Hietala feels good about making music. Hopefully he’ll be able to figure something out this year that feels right and makes a difference in the world.

I don’t really know how to end this, so I’ll simply ask: what have you done to make the world a better place today?

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