Marco Barbieri is, quite possibly, the closest thing the metal industry has to a non-musician personality. While, as the President of Century Media Records, many might perceive Barbieri as a corporate-driven person, in fact the man's background lies in the grassroots and metal trenches. Barbieri's credentials include writing and editing his own fanzine (No Glam Fags later Ill Literature), distribution (BarbWire), Management (Epidemic, The Horde Of Torment), as well as publicity, A&R, etc. first at Metal Blade Records and now at Century Media and Nuclear Blast Records. There is more, but we'll let the man speak for himself. Ali "The Metallian" receives Barbieri in the chambers of Metallian Towers for a comprehensive chat. 13.03.2002.
METALLIAN: Marco, please begin our chat with the traditional update. Will you fill in the readers with your history and achievements?
MARCO: My name is Marco Barbieri and I am the President of Century Media and Nuclear Blast Records in North America. I started in the music business as an assistant publicist at Metal Blade Records in 1991 and worked my way up there over the course of five years. I was ultimately doing Publicity and A&R at Metal Blade. I joined Century Media in 1995 as a publicist and six months later was (appointed) the label manager. Just recently they changed my title from Vice-President/General Manager to President. In late 2000 Century Media and Nuclear Blast joined forces and I have been overseeing the Nuclear Blast America roster of bands and releases since then in addition to my daily CM duties.
METALLIAN: Congratulations on your new position Marco. Given your current title will you expand on the role's responsibilities? What are the risks and rewards for the position?
MARCO: It always seems like my responsibilities are expanding which is natural as the company continues to grow and develop. My days are very hectic considering the number of staff and bands involved with the label. We are continually trying to find new and creative ways of marketing albums and achieving more and more clout in the mainstream for these diehard underground bands. We aim to have more people realize how exciting and talented many of these groups are. There are always risks that need to be taken, but that's because we are not happy with staying at the level we have been. Every year I feel the necessity to build upon what we've already established. The rewards come with the personal and little milestones, the great albums, the tours, favourable reviews and better sales year after year.
METALLIAN: Let's focus more on the growth you bring up. Would you say you are the architect behind Century Media's growth in America? What was your specific role vis-a-vis Nuclear Blast, Noise, etc. joining CM in various forms?
MARCO: Yes, I have been accused of that honour many times and take great pride when I reflect back over the last six years of Century Media's growth in the US. I remember everyone telling me I was making a mistake leaving Metal Blade to come here as CM was a smaller label at the time. But I believed in many of the bands and felt the label had the correct philosophy, but needed better management and experience and that I was up for the challenge. It still sometimes baffles me when I reflect on that dirty, little and old 2-room office with 6 people working and now look around our 10,000 sq. ft. office with 37 employees. I have put a lot of energy, creativity and emotion into CM in the past six years but no one is solely responsible for the company's success. Without the support of the owners, the rest of the staff, the bands and ultimately the fans who've liked and embraced what we've done (none of this would come to be). While being a big fan of Nuclear Blast and an old-school Noise Records collector I was encouraged to be able to work both companies here in North America and still remain with CM. In both cases it was a situation where we felt that they each had a good catalogue but again needed experience and better management to effectively maximize the potential of each company. While we are no longer working with Noise Records, I don't feel we were ever really able to fulfil our goals there as the past and current ownership always held one arm behind our backs.
METALLIAN: The Noise/Century Media contract has ended with the close of 2001. The Century Media/Nuclear Blast union is still very much a fact. Let's discuss that. The press release for the consolidation of Century Media and Nuclear Blast hit me as particularly corporate. The talk of "strategic alliance", etc. reeked more of Bell Labs and Nortel than Skinlab and Samael. Marco, was that intentional?
MARCO: It's funny that you say that but I understand your take on it. That release was not the easiest to write as the deal, while long discussed, was completed rather suddenly. There are also many variables that go into assuming the day-to-day operations of a leading competitor and we had to tread lightly to offend no one in the process.
METALLIAN: Marco seems to be delivering the most correct answer as diplomatically as possible here. But sticking with the merger, how have you leveraged your marketing muscle since the merger?
MARCO: Having a large number of releases from each label and many bands that are in demand have enabled us to pool our knowledge and relationships to better each company. We can also mix and match when it comes to tours and bargain a bit more with industry contacts than previously all across the board.
METALLIAN: Given that part of the reasoning behind the merger was the operational situation of the existing Nuclear Blast America office, was there ever consideration given to hiring existing staff?
MARCO: Yes, there was. We also extended a few offers to people who were doing good work. Germany (Nuclear Blast H.O) also told us who the good people were. But there were logistical problems. I mean we are out here in California and that office was in the east.
METALLIAN: Was there ever a suggestion to call the merged labels Century Blast? What about Nuclear Media?
MARCO: (Laughs) No. I actually think a while back someone in Germany suggested this before this whole merger came about. You see both Century Media and Nuclear Blast were fighting over signing Destruction and it was a bidding war. Someone at Century Media Germany jokingly suggested we call it something like that and get it over with.
METALLIAN: I noticed that Nuclear Blast recently hired Yvette Ulhmann from Century Media. Is that a source of tension? Marco answers diplomatically.
MARCO: Well, you can't stop people from doing what is best for them. Obviously Germany can't be too happy, but that's the nature of the business. They actually hired two people from Century Media. It's kinda wild. But I still get to work with them.
METALLIAN: Elsewhere, and reverting to the big picture, where do you see A - yourself B - Century Media and C - Metal going from here? Marco, please make your medium-term predictions for all three.
MARCO: A - I hope to continue working here for some time. I am still having fun, still feeling challenged and I believe that there is still a ton of potential among CM and NB bands - as with our mail-order and direct sales teams. B - In regards to Century Media, we need to continue developing our bands and promoting them to the fullest extent, and in turn making CM an ever-bigger company. We also hope to continue working out promotional and distribution deals similar to what we have done with Nuclear Blast and Olympic. No, Peaceville is not one of the companies we are currently talking to. Even though, I personally, like the label and their bands. We spoke with them a couple of years ago when they were part of Music For Nations and there was no interest. The labels we are talking to right now are at the same level as Olympic Records which we also work with. C It is always difficult to predict where metal is going but it doesn't look like it's going away and ultimately that's all that matters.
METALLIAN: You are right, given that simple fact all else seems granular in comparison. By the way, do you do A&R? Speaking of that which is CM's latest signing? In which direction will CM's A&R head in the future? Will you name bands that you wanted to sign but could not?
MARCO: I don't aggressively do A&R for CM, but can suggest bands and do have an important say in what we release here in North America. CM's latest signings include Scar Culture and Into Eternity, as well as several new licensees like Dimension Zero and NonExist. As far as our future, it will stay along the same lines, as I want to cover the entire metal spectrum past, present and future. There haven¹t been too many bands I've wanted to sign to CM that we've missed out on but a few that come to mind include In Flames in 1995, COC in 2000 and Cradle Of Filth a few times over the years. Then there are several bands that are maybe good that didn't pan out like Madball, Downset and Biohazard considering they've either broken up or fallen some in sales.
METALLIAN: Continuing the line of questioning I put the thought to Barbieri that he seemingly has abdicated his label's A&R to other labels. Does Century Media only sign bands which already have an album? Do you sign bands based on their demos?
MARCO: Yes, but I understand your point-of-view. You have to understand that we sign bands based on many factors. We need the band to be professional. We need the band to want to do this seriously and full-time. When you give a band $5,000 to $10,000 to record an album. Then you spend money on promotion, pressing, tour, printing pictures, etc. At the end you are looking at $25,000 just to release an album. So it's a major investment. With a signed band you have proof that the band is worth it. Also with a signed band you have a level of maturity. Having said that we did sign Haste based on their demo. We also signed Scar Culture last year who were shopped to us by Billy Milano. He actually had finished their record and we really liked the band. But overall, like I said, we need to meet, get to know, see the band live and all that before we extend an offer. That¹s the way the US Office does it anyway. We have just signed a brand new band from Chicago called Yakuza too. They are playing our showcase at South By Southwest in Austin, Texas.
METALLIAN: Speaking of Cradle Of Filth earlier, and interestingly enough, Nuclear Blast has previously pursued Cradle Of Filth as well. On the topic of sales though, which band and album is your best-selling ever? Which, inversely, disappointed you?
MARCO: For Century Media in the US Stuck Mojo's Rising continues to be the label¹s bestseller having sold 60,000 copies. Iced Earth's Horror Show has shipped 55,000 copies and climbing. Perhaps by the end of summer it will surpass Stuck Mojo. I have great hope for the new Skinlab. I think it's a maturer band with a fantastic new record. I think it can sell 100,000 copies! We are hoping that the latest Iced Earth Horror Show and Skinlab's new one reVoltingRoom can exceed Rising. On the NBA side, their big guns are S.O.D., Death, Meshuggah, In Flames and Dimmu Borgir. As far as personal disappointments I would have liked to see Turmoil's Process Of do better. I thought that was an amazing live band and album.
METALLIAN: Further, and in a related question, how do you view the current scene in 2002?
MARCO: I think the scene is good in 2002. It seems there has been a lot of re-growth and re-interest in underground metal in the past few years and I think that¹s due to the high quality of bands and new and exciting sounds coming from Europe and the northeast. I also feel that the power metal revival has excited some old-school traditional fans while nu-metal has been a gateway for many younger kids to be exposed to a heavier sector of music. Like many of us Korn, Slipknot and Disturbed are their Motley Crue, Quiet Riot and Def Leppard leading them down a darker and heavier pathway. We only hope to continue building artists like Skinlab, Iced Earth, Shadows Fall, Nevermore, God Forbid, In Flames, Dimmu Borgir and Meshuggah and taking them to the next level.
METALLIAN: I wholeheartedly disagree with your characterization and hopes for the mallcore genre and its fans. Most certainly rap is not a gateway to metal. But that is another discussion so let's stay with Century Media. Which signed band would you like to steal for your label?
MARCO: While there are a number of bands on other labels that I am a fan of I generally feel CM and NB have many of the best bands and our plates are definitely already full. There¹s no one we're trying to "steal" from another label but if someone's deal comes up for renewal we'll sometimes make a bid.
METALLIAN: Let's consider the reverse of the above question. In general why would CM lose a band? Specifically, please relate why the label lost Gathering and Samael? What was the story with Eyehategod, the delay of Arch Enemy's Wages Of Sin and the latest developments with Iced Earth?
MARCO: Generally labels "lose" a band when either their contract is fulfilled (and not renewed) or they are dropped. Bands are dropped for a variety of reasons. It might be for a lack of sales or for personal reasons. Actually CM has not lost either Samael or The Gathering. They are both still on the label and owe CM one more album each before their deal is fulfilled. As for Arch Enemy, that was a problem with the head office in Europe. They felt that we could have done a better job with their previous records and that our promotion was lacking. They, for some reason, gave their Japanese label the masters and shopped around their record for North America and Europe. At the end, though, they didn't find anything better and had a contract with us. We also checked around and they have sold only around 1,000 Japanese imports in America. At first we had though it would be 2 or 3,000. Wages Of Sin is a great record and the Century Media release has a great new booklet, additional songs and other stuff like the video. Eyehategod is an old story. It's now a couple of years old. They weren't happy with us and wanted to leave the label. The best I can do is quote from the band in their Metal Maniacs interview where they said we fought and fought with Century Media and at the end they had become a good label! Everything is fine right now. As for Iced Earth I would like to stress that nothing has been determined. Their contract with us has ended but they haven't signed with another label. As a band they are smart to look around and see what else is out there. I mean, anybody who does that is smart. For now we have their box set and the coming covers’ album.
METALLIAN: While on the topic, which was the last band you dropped?
MARCO: Hmmm.no one I can remember. Must go way back now. What comes to mind is Angra even though they were a license. We did their American re-releases and they didn¹t do as well as we had thought they would. Then we heard the demos for the new record and there were the line-up changes and we didn't pick up the license for the new record. For Century media bands, the last band we dropped is, probably, My Own Victim. Germany is another story. They have dropped Alastis, Runemagick, Morgul, Sacramentum, Waylander, etc. they are a bit laxer with their signing.
METALLIAN: Thank you for the clarification and given your above answer I feel that I have already asked this question. But let me ask it anyway. What is the industry's hottest gossip?
MARCO: Hmmm. I am not much of one to gossip. Naturally there is always certain industry talk whether it's about bands professionally or personally, predicting future trends or talking about other labels, distributors, and retail chains, whatever.
METALLIAN: Well, I tried on behalf of the readers! There has been much musing in the underground regarding Century Media's alleged 'band wagon-jumping'. Marco, what is your comment in this regard?
MARCO: Actually this is news to me what sort of wagon are we rumoured to be riding? I feel we have always remained true to our roots and original intentions. Century Media started in this country with groups as diverse as Morgoth, Iced Earth, and Demolition Hammer and we continue to try and find the best bands in all the heavy genres to promote to a wider audience.
METALLIAN: Speaking of which, let's go back several years. Whatever happened to Century Black?
MARCO: Century Black was an imprint that was created for our black metal acts like Mayhem, Emperor, Satyricon, Rotting Christ, Ulver, et cetra. As several of these bands began selling more records and black metal became more appreciated by the general metal audience we phased the name out and kept everything under the Century Media banner. We have quite a diverse selection of styles within Century Media and did not want everything to become segregated. We rather like the fact that black metal bands can be label-mates with death metal, power metal, hardcore and gothic metal artists.
METALLIAN: Another question regarding Century Media is the program for requesting a promo. While it is understood that your job is to get your bands good reviews, it seems that this system is designed to bias or skew the reviews to the positive. After all who, in the media, is going to request the promo of an album they already know they hate?
MARCO: Hmmm. I can see your point of view. I really never thought of it in that way. That is something we have to discuss here. You have to understand though, that we normally have 1,000 promos which we send out to retail, tour agencies, media, etc. Then the band might sell 1,000 records! So, really, it's impossible to do that. Actually it's an attempt by us to be cool and say, hey, if you really want this promo then let us know.
METALLIAN: Last, but not least, let us cross over to Ill Literature. No interview with you is complete without promoting your magazine. Introduce the magazine and give details please.
MARCO: I started a fanzine called No Glam Fags while I was in college. I did this because I was into the underground bands and was working with two unsigned bands and sending their demo tapes around for reviews and interviews. Doing a fanzine seemed like fun and was something that could help me contribute further to the scene. Over the years No Glam Fags became more and more professional with a continually larger readership so I switched the name and format to Ill Literature in 1994 so I could get national distribution and to try and compete with the bigger magazines. Nonetheless, it has always been just a hobby of mine that I've done after work and on weekends. Recently I have arrived at a difficult decision. The current issue, #22 with Dream Theater on the cover, will be the last one.
METALLIAN: This comes as a surprise. Is this related to the promotion of which you spoke earlier? I recall once we were sitting in a taxi and you had just accepted the offer to join Century Media. You were telling me you had accepted the Century Media offer because it allows you to work more on Ill Literature.
MARCO: Yes. I was burnt out when I left Metal Blade and I was excited that perhaps I can take Ill Literature to the next level. But I enjoyed Century Media and its people so much. Nowadays I am sometimes here until 6 or 7!! Six months into it (working at Century Media) I was label manager which was an honour. Perhaps in that first 6 months I found out that Century Media is my main future. Also when you do a magazine there is so much business BS behind the scenes. I don't have the same fire anymore. The underground isn't as tight as it was. There are no flyers, no tape trading or perhaps it's the way I see it. The other thing is I have a wife, dog and cat and my wife is pregnant and we are expecting our first baby in July. So I guess, in a way, I am sacrificing one baby for another. No, we still don¹t know whether it's a boy or a girl. We will find out in a month!
To find out more about Century Media Records and the label's roster please visit www.centurymedia.com.