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It's been a long time since the music industry had musicians' best interests in mind. And it's not just the greed of the industry; it's the fans, too. I'm not talking about the multimillionaires in Metallica. I'm talking about the underground punk band whose album you downloaded for free last week and the metal bands that played 250 dates last year. What happens when musicians get so fed up that they're willing to leave the industry entirely?
Just ask Otep, one of the most prolific female-fronted metal groups of the past decade. Frontwoman Otep Shamaya intertwines metal screams, poetry, and rapping with lyrics focused on issues like equal rights, politics, and sex. Her newest album, Hydra, was one of the band's most anticipated releases — as well as one of countless metal albums that leaked online prior to its release.
The leak was just one of many factors in Otep's decision to leave the industry, making Hydra her farewell body of work.
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"People can debate the validity of my music, but they can never doubt how much I care about it," Otep says. "It's so difficult to give so much of myself for over 11 years now, only to have it stolen away with the click of a mouse. Retail chains are minimizing their catalogs, and it's not because extreme music is corrupting minds — it's because it's not selling. Otherwise they wouldn't have rap music where they are talking about bitches and crack and guns . . . They wouldn't support that murder and death. But that's the music that sells."
Hydra, released in January, was written and recorded in five weeks. Originally intended to be a graphic novel, the album focuses on a creature that lives without the ability to suppress animalistic responses to fear and sexuality, thrives on the intimacy of combat, and then begins to realize that the darkness within her is taking advantage of the one thing that is human about her: her subconscious.
"I love making music so much, but I don't want to become resentful of the thing [music and fans] that has given me so much," says Otep.
But Otep doesn't blame the industry. She simply believes it has realized that fans of extreme music commit piracy more often than fans of pop, rap, and country.
"When you have bands like Korn and Radiohead saying that it's okay to pirate, I get it. They have already sold millions of records and have stock. Pirating helps exposure for unknown bands and doesn't affect the big bands — but it affects the middle-class bands the most."
"The industry's job is to make money, and my job as an artist is to find the edge, go over it, look over it. But it's interesting to watch something you love so much being destroyed," says Otep. "Music stays with you for the rest of your life. You can turn on the radio and hear a song from your past or a moment in time that will never exist again, but when you hear it, you get that feeling again. And it costs 99 cents to have it forever."
It's difficult to say whether Otep's choice to leave the industry before she turns bitter will have a positive or negative effect on her career. On the industry's radar, her departure will be just a blip. "Another artistic animal in me needs nourishing," she says, "and it's time to give that attention."