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A frequently answered question around here: but where do I get this stuff, especially out of print releases and hard-to-find, import death metal and black metal rarities on CD? Our answer is to use the underground, and on this page we have databases of metal stores, distros and labels and tips for buying and selling metal.

Metal Stores, Distros and Labels

What is the Underground

The underground arose because metal musicians wanted to avoid commercialization. Instead of relying on the budget-sheet ridden and cocaine-saturated music industry, they set up a cottage industry of mail-order distros, small labels, independent promoters and graphic artists, and bands and fans. This lifeline was serviced by independent zines and radio programs that pointed people toward resources, and tape-trading, which distributed new music by compiling sample tracks on tape and mailing them to new potential fans.

The heavy metal underground -- death metal, black metal, doom metal, grindcore, thrash -- provides a communitarian alternative to corporate labels and callow indie shucksters.

During the 1980s, when the Underground came about, metal music was anathema to major labels, who literally created sugarpop candy hair metal instead of signing a few NWOBHM or American speed metal bands. At the same time, CD pressing proved cheaper than vinyl pressing, and so the new indie and metal scenes followed punk into "Do It Yourself" (DIY) publishing. Chain stores who sold CDs would not stock any metal not on a major label, so the metal community created the Underground as a communitarian response: community oriented by rewarding individuals who do constructive things like run zines, distros, labels, bands, radio shows and venues.

Despite the changes in the world of music brought about by the increasing distribution of digital technology, namely The @#&!*% Internet and increasingly cheap home recording and CD pressing, the underground remains for a simple reason: it withstands commerce enough to be a more pleasant way of buying CDs, mainly by virtue of its tendency to move slowly and not hype the band of the week, instead picking bands that will make good listening for months or years.

How to buy CDs Using the Underground

  1. Try before you buy using MP3 files. This is "natural selection": you pick the better music and shallow trends and garbage underground bands alike get ignored.
  2. Never lose sight of the music itself -- the composition, not the production. The guitar may sound a certain way, the vocals may sound better or worse, and you may be able to hear different instruments with varying degrees of accuracy - but, in all but the worst cases, you will be able to hear with veracity the tones and rhythms used to create the music itself - the abstract construction which is the understanding of music and life spoken in the language of metal as specific to the artist, genre, and song. Production is not music quality; the poetic nature of its composition and what it expresses is.
  3. The metal community is most accessible through the internet. Look for forums that are friendly to traders, sites where underground metal fanatics congregate, and people with whom you can connect to trade or sell person-to-person.
  4. Try a local independent metal store and if it's not there, look up a mailorder distribution (or "distro") for metal CDs. Many metal record labels also operate mail orders both online and via postal catalog.

Tips for Mailordering Metal

  1. If you insure your package, it will arrive or the post office will pay you back in 4-6 weeks. This also discourages theft. Mail service is excellent in the United States and mainland Europe; less so in Canada and the UK; awful in South America, the Middle East, Central America and most of Asia.
  2. Mail order labels offer a greater selection at lower prices, since they don't have to physically display their releases or pay for the overhead of a store. Most distros stock 1-3 CDs of any item and make a dollar or two of profit per CD sold.
  3. Quite often, mail order distributors trade with the bands themselves, thus transferring fiscal resources closer to the generators of the music.
  4. No matter where you live, there is some form of postal service that can deliver metal. The magic of the postal system is that you send out a check one week, and the next week, metal arrives in the mail at just about the time you were feeling down and needed something to reinvigorate the fervor of life in your veins. Waiting for a CD ends up being more rewarding than buying at high prices from a local corporate store.
  5. To get your package securely, pay with a postal money order and purchase tracking with your shipping costs. Any legitimate distro will offer this option, which is new (2001). You can then track the status of your package at Track & Confirm.

Buying from Individuals

Although eBay has almost obliterated secondhand sales, direct sales between individuals saves you money, cuts from the equation idiots who can only use websites linked from AOL, and is often a better way to find CDs being sold by metalheads who want to avoid the hassle and publicity of eBay sales. Involving less work than eBaying CDs, this is rewardingly free from most complexities of modern life and allows you to get stuff too obscure to make return on auction sites.

  1. Ask about CD's that are for sale; if they are in "perfect" condition, it means no scratches; anything less requires explanation in case you will be unable to play those discs on your equipment.
  2. Watch for the random but still present phantom sellers who take money and never send discs. If you ask around, there are a number of "bad trader" lists; much as black lists are seen as a destructive factor in human relations, it's easier to avoid someone with a problem delivering than it is to support them so they may ripoff others.
  3. Consider using a P.O. box or rental box unit to keep your home address separate when publishing your address on the net. Coupled with a money order, this affords reasonable anonymity.
  4. Always confirm with an email the availability of a sale item before sending money.
  5. When you find someone you trust to buy from, tell them to use you as a reference (and, if they agree and you have a website, publish a list of trusted traders). This benefits you both as it vouches for the credibility of either with someone who has done business with the other.
  6. To avoid sending cash, use postal money orders - available for a cost of 85 cents at any post office in the US; these work like checks but must be filled out with sender/receiver name and addresses. Postal money orders are easily tracked and more cleanly reimbursed.
  7. Expect to pay 60-70% of new price before tax for releases in perfect condition, and 30-40% for CD's in lesser condition. CDs that are valued for their rarity will become more expensive, but wait six months and you'll see the trend fall and those who bought on the losing side of the curve selling their CDs.
  8. Be patient - sellers are not businesses, but individuals cramming their metal activities after work, home maintenance, and family. The most reliable ones are the older, married, career-bound metalheads. If you are feeling impatient, ask when their next trip to the post office is -- most sellers group shipments and then mail them at once to save time.
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