I was going to say that I’m not even sure why I’m writing this, but I’d being lying. After all, if you’re a metal fan with an internet connection, you’d need to have been sleeping under a rock not to have heard of Wintersun’s crowdfunding project, as well as all the reasons why you should hang onto your cash. The truth is that I just love playing Devil’s Advocate; also, I really want to hear Time II.
So, if Jari and co. are to be believed, the proceeds are going towards building a
sauna private studio – dubbed the “Wintersun Headquarters” – which will in turn benefit their fans, giving them with new material graced with ideal production values, released with regularity. Now, if that’s all you’ve been told, it doesn’t sound like too bad an idea, unless you’re categorically opposed to crowdfunding, in which case I’m sure I’m going to infuriate you. Of course, the objections aren’t without merit; Jari hasn’t exactly been considerate towards his rather dedicated fans. Even I noted after the release of Time I that his behaviour “practically reduced his fans to mules eyeing a dangling carrot” – that was five years ago. Time II was due at some point in 2014, and now we’re approaching the twilight of the decade without any concrete word on when we can actually expect it, if at all. If you’re a Wintersun fan, casual or devout, it’s hard to interpret that as anything other than a slap in the face.
Most bands simply have to make-do with what they’re given, and only somebody with an ego the size of Jari’s would think their music is beyond conventional means. You also need to remember that Wintersun are signed to Nuclear Blast, who – it should be pointed out – have handled this situation far better than could have ever been expected of them. Basically, as much as Jari carries on about lacking the resources necessary to fulfil his artistic ambitions, he could have ended up in much worse positions. The label’s money, which could have been spent on more pragmatic bands, has been thrown Wintersun’s way while yielding very little, only for Jari to air his dirty laundry over Facebook as if to say, “it’s not good enough, give me more”.
Fast forward to 2017 and the group have gone the IndieGoGo route, requesting a quarter of a million Euros from their fans and hitting their target in just nine days. But that’s just the start; there are still two equally exorbitant campaigns to come. Should all three campaigns succeed – and I have no reason to suspect they won’t – Wintersun stand to net almost a million US dollars. No matter how you slice it, that’s pretty hard to justify, unless you’re Jari Mäenpää, of course. The guy not only wants to live and work in luxury, without having done the hard yards, but feels he’s entitled to it. It’s only after I take a huge step back that I end up being okay with him getting what he wants. General disapproval from the masses on top of uncontrollable internet piracy makes it almost impossible for extreme metal bands to make a comfortable living off their craft. Even label mates like Thy Art is Murder, with their massive following, gain virtually nothing when the numbers are crunched.
I won’t argue with you if you tell me that playing extreme metal is a labour of love, but that also won’t stop me from being happy for the few bands that catch a break. I’ve read and heard quite a lot of concerns that, should Wintersun achieve their goal, it will set a precedent and other self-entitled groups will follow suit. I guess that’s one way of looking at it, but on the other hand it will prove that you can make it even when your art is completely unpalatable to the masses. It will prove you can be a successful businessman even when your product has most people running away with their fingers blocking their ears, and I kind of like that. Don’t ask me why, though.
Come to think of it, it says quite a lot that I’ve already shit out 600+ words without even mentioning the product itself, but that just goes to show the issue is larger than Jari himself. Don’t judge me. Opinions are heavily divided on whether or not it’s “worth it” to spend 50 Euros on digital files, or whether or not Wintersun are simply ripping off their fans for personal gain. Surprise, surprise! I’m somewhere in the middle. Take a second to realise what they’re trying to do, regardless if you agree with them or not. Pouring money into physical products while trying to reach such a lofty goal would be pretty counterproductive, so in terms of value-for-money, what they’re asking for versus what you’re getting isn’t even that lopsided. A lossy iTunes download will set you back 99 cents a song, and remember Ne Obliviscaris’ crowdfunding campaign from a couple years back? They were asking 40 bucks for a signed CD, and people bought it. Hell, they were asking 50 bucks to chat on fucking Skype, and four living, breathing human beings actually paid that, but I digress.
Personally, I prefer my tangible mediums, but the content Wintersun are offering isn’t unsubstantial: three albums worth of unheard material, two remasters, original artwork and isolated studio tracks, all in different formats. You can’t exactly accuse them of not trying to give their fans something to make up for fucking them around for so long, especially when you consider the hours they’d have collectively spent bringing the package to fruition. And say what you want about the man himself, but Jari definitely knows how to market his brand. But that brings me back to the monetary issues that bands like Wintersun invariably face, as well as the rather bewildering attitudes I’ve seen among a handful of this band’s detractors. Perfectly content to steal the band’s music, these folks will then turn around and complain about a price they had no intention of paying, blissfully ignorant of the fact that their habits are a huge part of the reason bands are occasionally driven to these measures in the first place.
I guess what I’m saying is that this is all just a natural consequence of an online community that has everything available to them without charge, but lacks to manners to even say, “thank you”. I’m guilty of it; you’re guilty of it; even my 58-year-old, technologically illiterate father is guilty of it. And I know that while people might rag on Jari and co. for their antics, these same people will be the first to type “the forest seasons” into Soulseek the very second they hear word of a leak.
I’ll also be the first to call myself a hypocrite because, after everything I’ve said, I’m probably not going to contribute for reasons I’ve outlined above; not until The Forest Seasons comes out in a physical format in July, at least. Nevertheless, I would love for these guys to succeed, mostly because I love this band’s music, but also because I think the denizens of online music consumerism – myself included – owe it to the would-be success stories that we seem to be so damn good at stifling.