During March, Sumerian Records boss Ash Avildsen made the news on a couple of piracy-related occasions. First, he orchestrated a hoax to trick BitTorrent users into downloading a fake band promo, then later got serious with a YouTube broadside against music piracy. As Sumerian gets ready to launch their own music store, TorrentFreak has discovered that they have Long John Silver’s skeleton in the closet.
In recent years, it’s become fashionable to use online file-sharing networks to generate publicity for both well-known bands and those with a lower profile. If done properly it’s a great and free way to reach a large audience.
Early March, the Sumerian Records label decided to utilize an increasingly popular method of getting some free publicity for a band on their label, i.e tell everyone that their music has leaked to file-sharing networks and all concerned are very angry about it.
“Hey all you jobbers who like to steal our albums – word out on the ocean (pirates don’t use streets) is that the BOO [Born of Osiris] album has leaked.. perhaps the pirate ship will leak too and sink in to the sea. In any case, enjoy pirating the record and hopefully you guys choke on a cannonball. Happy torrenting you cowards!” label founder Ash Avildsen declared.
As it turns out, the entire tirade was a hoax designed to get people to download a copy of the album – but with the band chatting, farting and generally messing around over the top. Apparently the whole thing was quite funny, especially the Charlie Sheen samples. Welcome to music marketing 2011-style. And why not?
However, just a few days later Avildsen’s attitude towards file-sharing networks changed somewhat. In a YouTube video which began with the industry line that music piracy ‘robs’ the United States of 71,000 jobs and $12.5 billion in economic output, Avildsen asked people for just 3 minutes of their time to ‘open their minds’.
This was quickly followed up by the cover of the upcoming Born of Osiris album merging into a view, accompanied by a note that file-sharing is only good for unsigned bands to get publicity and established bands and labels only suffer at their hands. At around the 2 minute mark, Avildsen sank his teeth into torrent sites and their “corporate” advertisers.
“Let’s call a spade a spade – there’s nothing more pathetic than making a living off being a thief,” said Avildsen. His anti-piracy message was widely reported in the music media and you can see the full thing at the bottom of this article, but for something rather more eye-opening, read on.
“I used to run in the same circles as Sumerian Records founder, Ash Asvilden,” Jason Fisher of heavy metal music site The Gauntlet told TorrentFreak this morning.
They’re both in the music business, so perhaps nothing too surprising there? But rewind a few years and things get very interesting indeed. Fisher now admits he was a member of multiple warez groups – Amnesia, the mighty Razor 1911 and ROR (Release on Rampage).
“As I listened to Ash’s statement, it really bothered me when he states ‘there is nothing more pathetic than making a living off of being a thief.’ So as Ash puts it, let’s ‘call a spade a spade,’” Fisher explained.
“What Ash doesn’t tell you is that when he was in high school, we ran in the same circles…the software piracy/hacking circles.”
Surprisingly, Fisher and Asvilden had crossed paths with their shared connections to ROR (Release on Rampage).
Having existed in other forms, 1995 saw ROR transform into a games release group and was taken over by a new leader known as The Krazy Little Punk (TKLP). He and the group became infamous in warez circles for claiming to have pre-released the most-anticipated game of the time – Quake – the follow up to ID Software’s massive hit, Doom2.
However, when the dust settled it was discovered that the release was actually a repackaged beta version of the game. ROR was banned from the scene for their sins and TKLP was forced to start a new group called Reflux (more background here).
So with that history out of the way, how does that relate to Sumerian Records? Well, according to Jason Fisher, the leader of ROR (The Krazy Little Punk) is none other than Sumerian Records founder, Ash Asvilden.
“When I first heard Ash was starting Sumerian Records, I thought he was probably the one guy out there smart enough to change this lagging industry around. I was interested to see what new ideas for running a record label he would have. I thought surely if anyone could do it, it would be Ash, the dude is brilliant,” Fisher explains.
“But it turns out he is going to go down the same road that so many others have gone down and never recovered from. Let’s hope it isn’t too late. He is right, piracy is a huge problem in the music industry, I’d just like a little more disclosure coming from a guy who has cost software companies millions of dollars.
“He ended up getting busted for releasing the alpha source for some major ID software release,” Fisher told us, adding that he too had received “visits” from the FBI.
Whether these brushes with the law led to a Road to Damascus-style recovery for Asvilden remains to be seen. But let’s not forget, this was many years ago and a lot has altered since then. Times change, attitudes change. People get mortgages.
TorrentFreak contacted Sumerian Records for comment but at the time of publication we have received no response.