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Metallica's Lars Ulrich on label future, Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger

March 23, 2009 |  8:20 pm

Reporting from Austin, Texas — Metallica was in Austin last week for a not-so-secret show at the South by Southwest music festival designed to promote a new edition of the video game Guitar Hero, due out this month. But the band's outspoken drummer, Lars Ulrich, took the opportunity to set the record straight on key issues facing the group, including its relationship with its longtime label Warner Music Group and the proposed Ticketmaster-Live Nation merger.

Metallica's 2008 release "Death Magnetic" was the last the group contractually owed to Warner, and Ulrich said he's ready to consult with another famously anti-corporate artist, Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, about surviving outside the major-label system.

When asked if the band needed a major label, Ulrich, despite being surrounded by Warner reps, didn't mince words. "Without offending any of the good people from the record company in the room, no," Ulrich said. "Let's cut to the chase. . . . The primary -- not the only, but the primary -- function of a record label is to act as a bank. When you're fortunate enough to be successful and so on, you don't need to rely on record companies as the banks. . . .

"We're doing a bunch of shows with Trent this summer in Europe. I look forward to sitting down and talking to him about what's on his radar."

Reznor last week lashed out at the proposed merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. Bruce Springsteen too criticized the potential union after his fans complained that they were redirected from Ticketmaster to its resale site, TicketsNow, when they tried to purchase seats to an upcoming New Jersey concert.

Other artists, however, including Smashing Pumpkins' Billy Corgan, Shakira and Seal, have written letters to Congress in support of the proposed merger, which is being looked at by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Metallica has historically worked with multiple promoters on its tours, a label representative said. "We haven't sold out to Live Nation, and we are certainly not planning on it," Ulrich said. "And we are very, very fortunate that we do not need what they offer to continue to be who we are.

"Certainly, some of the practices that come in the wake of this -- like direct reselling and all the stuff that Bruce was up against in January and some of these other things -- obviously are very distasteful, and downright . . . it's just ripping people off," he added. "It's impure. So obviously I'd stand up and scream from every rooftop that I think that's . . . impure."

As for any perceived impurities being affiliated with the Guitar Hero machine, well, Ulrich's not too worried. "When we got a chance to do this -- and hopefully score another couple years of being semi-cool in our kid's eyes by having our own video game -- this is something we jumped at pretty quickly," he said. "The bigger questions about brandings and perceptions? I really believe that if we sit here five years from now or 10 years . . . it'll be a fairly standard way of releasing music."

--Todd Martens

The video above has extended answers from Ulrich.