Metal t-shirts – we all own them and likely have amassed a lot of them in our closets as the years have gone by. Behind those shirts are hardworking, dedicated people who do their best to supply this essential part of metal culture. We caught up with our good friend, Oscar Martinez, to not only learn about what’s going on with the merchandise business but also about his over 10 year journey through the music industry. In our interview, he schools us on the multidimensional aspects and considerations of being a touring band trying to make a profit in this day and age, and shares some of his surreal rock ‘n roll adventures.
APESHIT: What do you currently do in the industry?
Oscar: I work for JSR Merchandising where I do marketing, work with bands that are touring, as well as helping support their retail and mail order.
APESHIT: What is the state of the merch business nowadays and what major factors do you think have played a role?
Oscar: Well, the music business in general is not what it was 10 years ago. I just think people are being more selective about what they are buying because of budget reasons or lack of funds and I think that affects everything including concerts, music and merch. It’s all a domino effect, but there are always the true diehard fans that will always support their favorite bands.
APESHIT: Bands always say that they make their biggest profit margin through merch sales rather than CD sales. How true is that statement?
Oscar: I think nowadays, at least for the majority of bands that we work with, it’s true. I think bands know that they have to tour in order to stay in people’s minds and to help promote and sell their records. But because music sales aren’t the greatest in this day and age, a lot of those bands need to sell merch on the road in order to help them out get from town to town. They also may not have tour support from the label, or the money they received to play the show just might not cut it so a lot of bands still go home empty handed after having to travel across the country. Plus, you have to factor in that they need to buy food, pay bills, get gas and then they have to be prepared for potential mechanical issues with the bus/van or any of their instruments. So anyone reading out there, support your favorite bands when you see them coming to your town on tour.
APESHIT: Do you find that record labels are still taking ownership over band’s merch rights via record contracts?
Oscar: In some cases, yes, mostly if the band has been given a huge advance by a label it usually works as an umbrella deal, meaning it covers anything with the band’s name on it. Other times a label will only have a couple of designs and the band will have everything else. Depends how big the band is and where the label and band will meet.
APESHIT: As fans, we know that not all bands’ merch is created equally. Even the bootleg vendors outside shows often have better T-shirt designs than the official ones sold inside the venue. Which bands have the coolest T-shirt designs? Which have the worst?
Oscar: Well, honestly I think this all depends on what your taste is. A lot of people love the huge colorful prints, other love smaller more classic looking designs. We always take pride in what we do and what we ship out to every band we work with, so I definitely think that JSR always sends out quality product and are the best. As for the worst designs, definitely all the bootleggers because no matter how bad someone’s design might be, it still supports the band and gives them money to fuel up their van to drive to the next venue.
APESHIT: A lot of bands have women’s g-string panties as merch. Is that a big seller? If so, which bands sell the best?
Oscar: To be honest, a lot of bands haven’t been printing them. But I will tell you CANNIBAL CORPSE has THE best g-string designs. “Fucked with a Knife,” The Bleeding!
APESHIT: What is the best part of your job?
Oscar: As cliché as this sounds, definitely helping out the bands; there is nothing more gratifying than getting a phone call or email telling you that your team did a great job on the merch. It’s killer. Or seeing a picture of EXODUS‘ Gary Holt wearing a shirt that you helped design, that’s insane. To me those things always remind me why I got into this and why I love what I do. I mean, I get the opportunity to work together with bands that I grew up listening to. I’m a fan boy. I still buy CD’s. I still wear metal shirts. So to work with the people who have given you hours upon hours of music, that’s worth it. And when they tell you “thank you” for the hours of work that you put into their merch and knowing that they are happy is a great feeling.
APESHIT: After a long day at work, is the last thing you want to see at home a closet full of black T-shirts?
Oscar: I never get tired of black shirts. Plus, who goes home and looks at their closet? This usually happens as a morning tradition. Should I wear my CARCASS shirt or AT THE GATES? But I will say this when I go home and see my room with shirts on the floor or couch because I haven’t picked up after myself in a while, I get annoyed and almost want to throw everything out the window. BUT I can never do that with my precious metal shirts.
APESHIT: How do the shows in New Hampshire and the East Coast compare to shows in your hometown of LA?
Oscar: You can’t really compare. I love the east coast but LA is where it’s at for shows! Every tour hits LA. You can see every single band out there. Here you have to drive an hour to go to Boston to catch a tour and in the winter you pretty much have to pick your battles because you’re driving in the snow. But when you do see a great show, it really makes you appreciate it that much more.
APESHIT: How and when did you get your start in the industry?
Oscar: I used to be a street teamer for Century Media Records (CM) in the mid to late 90’s. Back when STRAPPING YOUNG LAD was kicking in, NEVERMORE, MOONSPELL…all great bands. I became really close with the staff because little did I know that the CM offices were five minutes walking distance from where I lived. I would go to the offices and help with mailings for LACUNA COIL, ARCH ENEMY, THE GATHERING, INTO ETERNITY, KRISIUN, BLOODBATH. So after some time in college, I went on to work at CM. That’s where I wanted to be, and they gave me that great opportunity. I worked at CM for almost five years and it was a great intro to the music world. Not only did I learn a lot, I grew up a lot too. I made tons of contacts, worked with a lot of my favorite bands and made great friends. It really helped me grow to where I am at today. Working at a label really toughens you for any future job, that’s for sure.
APESHIT: How and when did you get into heavy music? How did you become such a diehard fan?
Oscar: That’s an easy one. My dad used to have vinyl of KISS, SCORPIONS, DEEP PURPLE, MOTLEY CRUE, QUIET RIOT…all the classic 70’s and 80’s stuff. When I was a kid, my older brother used to play MOTLEY CRUE‘s Shout at the Devil‘s intro to scare me. It worked, but after time I began liking it and before I knew it, we were both listening to the entire album beginning to end in our room. To this day it is still my favorite album ever. I have great memories of hanging out with my brother in our room listening to “Red Hot,” “Too Young to Fall in Love” and all of those great songs. We then later discovered PANTERA and SLAYER and moved to the heavier side of things. But I still thank MOTLEY CRUE‘s Shout at the Devil for introducing me to metal. As for being a diehard fan, I think any real metalhead will agree that once you have that first taste of heavy metal you become a fan. I think it just happens… it’s a natural progression. I think the real metalheads are lifers no matter what.
APESHIT: Top 3 rock ‘n roll adventures?
1. Taking a road trip with my brother, my friend Hannah and Tomas Haake from MESHUGGAH. We started in Los Angeles, drove to San Diego, Las Vegas and ended in Anaheim. We rode roller coasters, went to comedy shows, drank, wrestled with the SOILWORK and the DARKANE guys in their tour bus, and drank again. It was so much fun and I think we all laughed so much and so hard on that trip we developed six packs.
2. Had lunch with Bill Ward from BLACK SABBATH. I was with two of the guys from DIMMU BORGIR, DIMMU‘s manager and my brother, and we were going to have lunch to celebrate Silenoz‘ birthday and then before I knew it, someone said Bill Ward wanted to come and meet the DIMMU guys. The whole thing was surreal for everyone except for Mr. Ward. He was such an incredibly nice person and when he started talking about liking DIMMU BORGIR and NAPALM DEATH, or chatting with Jimmy Page about new bands, it was a total Wayne’s World moment of “We’re not worthy!”
3. Meeting Nikki Sixx for the first time. I’ve met Nikki Sixx twice and he has always been super nice! But the first time I met him will always stick out. I was in line to get some stuff signed and it was strictly autographs only but I took my camera with me anyways thinking, when am I going to see him again, I NEED my picture with him. So when it was my turn in line, I asked him for a picture and as I said that, a security guard grabbed me by the arm and started pulling me aside at that point. I wasn’t going to have my picture or anything autographed, but Nikki Sixx got off his seat, grabbed my other arm and told the security guard to leave me alone. He told him, and I quote: “He asked for my picture, I should make that decision.” So he gave me a hug and at that moment I felt what I think a tween feels like at a Justin Bieber concert. I kid you not, I got teary eyed. He took a picture with me, signed all my stuff and took time to talk to me. The guy is the definition of a “rock star” and for him, someone who I have loved since I was 8 years old, to do that really meant the world to me.
APESHIT: What accomplishments in music are you most proud of?
Oscar: Working at Century Media during the time LACUNA COIL‘s Comalies album sold over 100,000. Might not seem like a lot but for a foreign metal band on an indie label, it was huge! First time that it ever happened to a CM artist and I’m happy and proud that I worked on that album cycle. Also very proud of being able to currently be working with some of my favorite bands ever such as EXODUS and SEPULTURA. To be able to help them from the beginning of coming to JSR and being happy with results is a very gratifying feeling. People that you never thought you would work with telling you “thank you” for what you have done is like receiving a gold star in elementary school! Also, I must say I am currently very proud of bringing into JSR some bands that I think will soon rule the heavy metal world such as OBSCURA. I really believe in them and I’m extremely happy to be working with them early in their very promising career.
APESHIT: Best thing about working in the industry?
Oscar: You get to do things and meet people you never would have imagined and you get to be interviewed by APESHIT!