Anvil; MusicTech Summit

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Rooting for the underdog can be an awesome experience. But when the road continually eludes positive results, frustration and pity can eclipse any enthusiasm. Rock and roll is fraught with hard luck stories about near misses. Many hardworking artists never see financial success. This is the heartbreaking theme of the new documentary Anvil: The Story of Anvil!

The film follows the career of the 80's Canadian Heavy Metal band Anvil on their rock and roll journey through hell. At first, the band seems poised for success, earning high kudos from respected members of Metallica, Anthrax, Iron Maiden and others. But as we watch the band struggle with middle age bodies and adolescent ambition, it's clear their careers took a swan dive. All that promise and hard work, but they never made it. In spite of their lack of success, they continue, working through defeats, trying to capture the glory that's managed to elude them now for over 30 years. At first, I cringed at the naiveté and childishness. In fact, the film is so painful at times, it's actually comical.

But as the band relentlessly perseveres through the pain, you realize this an inspiring story about following real life underdogs. Holding onto your dreams can have a very high price to pay.

The film also serves as a reminder of just how unfair recognition is in the music industry and how little that fact has changed. Sure, now there's American Idol and the Internet, but ultimately success in rock and roll revolves around the same old things: playing rotten gigs over and over, putting yourself on the line day in, day out and waiting for your lucky break. There's a far greater chance that good efforts and hard work will only yield obscurity. Maybe that's why we root for bands like Anvil; despite the odds, they've managed to hold on to their ambitions, in the face of all their failures.

There is redemption in the end. With all the renewed interest in Anvil, the band has finally connected with an audience that has lead to their hard-fought recognition. Renewed interest has earned them a place at the Download Festival line-up in England and a book deal with Bantam Press. They've appeared on VH1's That Classic Metal Show and tomorrow night, they'll be performing on late night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel Live!

I believe Anvil's recent success is owed in large measure to the 2.0 world we now live, where music fans can directly show their personal interest in bands through the web. Developing the perception of a personal relationship with audiences and building financial wealth through that connection is the music business of the future.

To explore that further, I'll be moderating a panel at the San Fran MusicTech Conference next Monday on the subject of “Monetization” in the music business. I'll be speaking with Ian Rogers of Top Spin, Jim Griffin of Chorus, Fred Von Lohmann of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Tony Van Veen of CD Baby and Discmakers and David Ring of Universal. We'll be discussing how some entrepreneurs are creating direct connections between musicians and their fans to build financial wealth. It's sure to be an interesting and revealing discussion.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

Banner image: Brent J. Craig