Hetfield adds that he's grown no more comfortable with offering individual songs for sale as opposed to complete albums. "It's like selling the bottom corner of a painting or chapter 15 of a book," he says. "But the entire album doesn't seem as important to kids right now."
Hetfield also points out that the issue of control is at stake. "With our record company, we have say over our direction," he says. " 'We want to put this many songs on the album and we want to sell it for this amount.' They've left us alone, which we like. iTunes does not subscribe to that. There's no negotiating, and unfortunately there won't be until a rival comes up."
Asked about the evolving perception of Metallica's relationship with consumers since the Napster days, Burnstein replies, "Why start with Napster? Why don't you go back to 1983 when they released a record on Megaforce and nobody paid any attention to this little indie band?" Burnstein insists that "Live at Grimey's" wasn't conceived in consideration of Metallica's image. "That doesn't play into it at all," he says. "It's the kind of thing we've always done. We've had numerous limited-production fan-club items of interest available to Metallica fans. This is just another in a long line of things."
Ulrich says that selling "Grimey's" as an indie-retail exclusive is actually consistent with the point he was trying to make regarding Napster.
"The two biggest misconceptions during that period were that it was about money and that it was about Metallica's survival," he says. "We all presumed Metallica would be fine. What it was about was all those people who heard Metallica and then three months later formed their own bands. We were concerned about where the money was going to come from to support those bands and the labels to release their records and the stores to sell those records through." Ulrich laughs. "And now all of that is pretty much playing out the way we predicted 10 years ago."
How much time do you spend thinking about how Metallica can adapt to those changes-to the decline, in other words, of the model in which Metallica came up?
Ulrich: Not that much. I consider myself Metallica's No. 1 fan, so for me it's just about, "What more would I want from Metallica? Where could they be better?" The main thing is access, and we try to give as much access as possible so people all over the world can get close to what goes on out on the road or in the studio. That old idea of mystique doesn't exist any more, so pretending it does is a waste of time. You might as well capitalize on the fact that your fans want to get close to you.
Hetfield: We're not interested in becoming a state-fair band that just plays our greatest hits. That's definitely not on the list of things to do. But staying relevant starts with your attitude and your hunger and passion for what you do. What comes after that is just frosting. You can do all the fanciest new tools-downloading straight into your earbuds or whatever-but if you don't have the songs, then it doesn't last.
Burnstein says the only effect that decreasing record sales will have on Metallica is that the band sells fewer records.
"It won't change anything else we do," he says. "I'm trying not to be cocky about it, but for Metallica, at their level, the kinds of things you might think about to replace income are minor compared to what you make playing tours and selling merch. We're just finishing 225 shows worldwide [in support of "Death Magnetic"], and these are massive shows. We can play anywhere. What else do we need to do, really? If we sell fewer records, so be it. Of course I'd rather sell more, but I can't do anything about the size of the market, and neither can they."
Metallica plays the last of those massive shows on Nov. 21 at the Rod Laver Arena in Melbourne, Australia. Then, Ulrich says, it's "time to get the fuck back home and stay there for a little while."
Plans for 2011 are minimal at this point, according to Ulrich and Burnstein: The group is scheduled to play Brazil's Rock in Rio festival next September, and writing for the follow-up to "Death Magnetic" should begin sometime in the first half of the year. The other night in Adelaide, Australia, the band members even threw around some new riffs in the tuning room.
Ulrich says Metallica is nearing the fulfillment of its current record deals all over the world, which means the band has some "interesting decisions to make" about how (and with whom) it will sell its music in the future. He's not worried, though. "Given the slow pace at which we write albums," he says with a laugh, "it's not something we'll have to deal with any time soon."
Additional reporting by Ed Christman and Mitchell Peters.