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Def Leppard Explain Why They Finally Embraced Streaming

“We weren’t going to be victims of the industry,” singer Joe Elliott says

English heavy metal group Def Leppard, circa 1985.

Def Leppard's Joe Elliott explains why the band waited until now to release its catalogue on streaming services.

Tim Roney/Getty Images

For years, Def Leppard were well situated among the ranks of Garth Brooks and Tool as holdouts on streaming services – artists with large, multiplatinum catalogues that still didn’t feel comfortable with the pros and cons of subscription-based music schemes. The hard rockers had long been at war with their label, Universal, about the topic, even recording self-described “forgeries” of “Pour Some Sugar on Me” and “Rock of Ages” that were self-released so they would earn what they considered a fair wage. “We just sent [the label] a letter saying, ‘No matter what you want, you are going to get “no” as an answer, so don’t ask,'” Elliott said in 2012.

But things have changed. Beginning Friday, fans can stream all of the band’s major releases, going back to their 1979 debut, The Def Leppard E.P., on all major streaming services. “We needed the right deal for the band,” frontman Joe Elliott tells Rolling Stone. “We weren’t going to be victims of the industry. We signed our deal with Mercury many, many decades ago when there was no digital part of the record deal. So when [our contract ended] in 2009, we were free to do whatever we wanted to do. We were so busy touring and not worrying about the back catalogue – because people were still buying CDs – that we weren’t sure about [embracing] streaming.”

Elliott recalls label reps telling them that streaming was the great new thing but feeling incredulous after seeing artists releasing songs that got “125,000,000 listens and a check for $120.” The singer says the band isn’t in it for the money, but that he wanted a digital deal to be fair. “We came to the conclusion that it’s not going to do us any harm, but the deal had to be right,” he says. “These things just don’t happen overnight.”

The band was on board to put its music on streaming “quite awhile ago,” by Elliott’s estimation, but the deals kept falling apart. One concern they had was getting everything out at once across all major services. “We didn’t want certain albums on one service and others through another one,” he says. “So negotiating everything with different places just takes time.” So they waited for the right opportunity to come to them. “It’s not like a make-or-break thing, whether we do it or not,” Elliott says. “So we didn’t and just went off on our own.”

One of the reasons things worked out this time, the singer says, was a regime shift at Universal. “It makes life easier,” he says. “We were able to come to the decision that it was the right thing to do and have it all come out at once. So now you’ve got everything form the very first EP we did back in 1979 – which is what got us our record deal in the first place – all the way up to the last album that came out in 2015.”

The last puzzle piece for the band was the timing. “We don’t like things to dribble,” Elliott says. “We don’t like to release information in drips and drops if there’s no big pow. We like a good explosion in our announcement.” He laughs. They timed the announcement to coincide with a massive summer tour with Journey. “It’s put the excitement back into this thing we’ve been doing for 40 years,” he says. “It makes it worthwhile, really.” 

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