Excessive Steel’s Breakthrough TikTok Band

Carcosa band member left to right: Andrew Baena, Johnny Ciardullo, Travis Regnier, Cooper Lagace.

Connor Gilkinson

There is no question that the extreme metal sub-genre deathcore has apparently risen to the top of the metal scene again in recent years. Call it a renaissance if you will, the movement is spearheaded by both ambitious young talent and revived legacy bands of the subgenre. Of the prominent and refreshing young bands, the Canadian outfit Carcosa caused a sensation not only with their sophisticated and hypnotic breakdowns, but also with their viral comedic metal videos on TikTok.

The band’s founding member, Andrew Baena, who is also a well-known metal youtuber, is producing TikTok videos together with his Carcosa singer Johnny Ciardullo, in which both their best death growls and screeches about pick-up lines, tongue twisters and, more recently, brand advertising for liquid death. It’s all a top notch metal comedy that has earned the duo tens of millions of views / likes on their respective TikTok channels. What’s more interesting, however, is that this viral high was a subtle but effective way for Baena and Ciardullo to use the platform to promote their own band, Carcosa.

Since their first viral hits on the platform, Carcosa’s merch sales, music streams and follower numbers have grown steadily, with some numbers even doubling since their TikTok presentation. With this in mind, Carcosa has attributed part of her quick success on the scene to the indirect correlation with Baena and Ciardullo’s viral TikTok gags. And while the band’s success and sales aren’t all directly tied to their TikToks, Carcosa has become a profound example of a niche sub-genre that has breached the platform in many unprecedented ways.

Carcosa members Andrew Baena and Cooper Lagace spoke more about their use of TikTok and its correlation with the band’s early success, sharing their experiences and insights into the matter.

When did you decide to join Tiktok and do those metal comedy videos?

Andrew Baena: It’s kind of funny because it was actually a series of videos I already did for YouTube with Johnny [Ciardullo, vocalist of Carcosa], so we had been doing them there for a while. They were doing well on YouTube and I had heard about Tiktok and saw that there were a few people I followed who had moved there. Basically I thought I already made these videos, this is probably a really good format for Tiktok because I can easily cut them into shorter clips and I already made the video so it takes an additional 30 seconds of work to just cut it and post it elsewhere. That’s pretty much how it started, as uninspired as it might sound. It was really just a way to see if there was any other audience out there that would like something like this.

When you look at the originals it’s really funny because they aren’t formatted for Tiktok at all. It’s just YouTube videos cut in half, but for some reason one of them went viral there, and then Johnny and I said, “Oh, okay, this clearly works, maybe we should do more of this.” Then the next batch we posted did the same thing where it got a lot of views and then we started filming them properly, formatting them vertically like it is Tiktok, and then we started making videos specifically for Tiktok close.

How exactly does your traction on Tiktok correlate with Carcosa sales and streams? If one of your videos goes viral, is there a noticeable or significant increase in sales, streams, etc?

AWAY: Carcosa was still going well, but we’ve definitely seen a huge surge in both streams, followers, and all that good stuff especially on Spotify, and that’s just the easiest to see analysis. I think the first video that went crazy on Tiktok was around April [2021], and it got 13 million views, which is insane. Before that, we had an average of around 1,000 monthly listeners on Spotify, and after this video went viral it rose to around 2,000 monthly followers. So it basically doubled in size, and then it was even crazier for streams. I think we had about 1,600 streams on average before, and after that it jumped to 5,500, which is a big difference. And then of course it had the big climb and then it went back to, I call them plateaus, but the next plateau was still much higher in daily and monthly averages than before the first viral tiktok.

Then another one went viral on May 25th, it had about 12 million views, and by that point it was kind of hit a plateau again. It looks like that was about 1,500 listeners, so still more than the first one before, and then that jumped back to about 2,000, and then the same thing for the streams, we sat at about 3,000 and then that jumped to 4,500. It had a big rise and then naturally fell back down, but when it fell back down it was a higher daily / monthly average than ever so it just helped basically keep the momentum going.

How do you go down the line of not only being seen as a “TikTok deathcore band”, but as the deathcore band that successfully uses the platform? Is there some particular approach that you are trying to separate the two?

AWAY: Well one big thing we try is that the TikTok videos are never directly associated with Carcosa, for example they are not posted on our bands page, they are posted on mine and Johnny’s pages, and then mine [instagram handle] is @Baenacacosa so I hit people from there with “Hey, if you liked this video, check out our band.” So it’s always like this, “check out our band” and not “that’s us, and we also make music”. We try our best to separate them from each other, of course the tiktok videos get us a lot of attention in such situations, so they’re a bit inseparable, but still we can make it clear that there is a differentiation factor we’re trying to do.

Cooper for example, he’s not in the Tiktok videos at all but he’s in the band and he does all the merchandising and he writes a lot of music so the Tiktoks are just me and Johnny’s kind of people to our actual band, and once the people are in the band universe we take it from there and try to make them fans of our music.

Cooper Lagace: There is definitely some acrobatics that we try where it comes to keeping them separate, but it’s one of those things that the majority of people won’t understand that it’s separate so you have to try and push That. We learned from the experience with our previous band that it’s important to keep them separate because, as far as branding and all that goes, it’s just important.

AWAY: With our previous band, we found that it was an issue where people didn’t necessarily understand whether it was a solo project, YouTube channel, cover band, or a real band because the differentiating factor wasn’t clear enough. So we try really hard to see if it’s on my tiktok, it’s the video of Johnny and me, but you should also check out our band. It’s never in the same sentence, if you will.

Given the self-sufficiency you’ve all achieved with Carcosa, have you ever brought a label into play?

AWAY: One of the other advantages of Tiktok, at least for now, is that it’s still a lot less competitive than pretty much any other social media platform. Facebook is obviously the most competitive, or YouTube, we’re definitely seeing a lot more crossovers on Instagram and Tiktok.

As for using these tools to be self-sufficient, we have a distribution label deal so they help us get our releases on playlists and the like, which is great for us because we honestly already do everything ourselves. From our point of view, we don’t necessarily want or need a label, because we make all the music ourselves, record all the music and then outsource the mixing and mastering.

For Cooper’s example, he does all the merchandise and then we work very closely with a director friend of mine for the music videos. We have a lot of these connections that we can use anyway because we’ve been making music for so long and it doesn’t really make sense for us to sign with a full-service label. We already do everything a label would do, and we don’t give away as much of our earnings because we can keep everything in-house.

KL: As for the transition to a label, they definitely do a lot of what we’ve been trying to fill in the blanks for ourselves. When the pandemic broke out, we had absolutely no intention of doing merch when the band was formed, but we had so much demand from our fans and we realized that merch could actually be a really good lifeline for us to get out of during the pandemic staying afloat and it would help us keep distributing content with music videos and the like. It was a huge lynchpin for us when we started doing merchandise and it fully supported our band. Lots of labels are going to offer a cash advance and that’s a big draw for labels, but unless it’s a groundbreaking deal I think we’re pretty happy with where we are right now and pretty self-sufficient.

AWAY: It’s definitely a lot of work and a lot of stress, but on the flip side, we basically get complete control and more money too.

With the shows in full swing, do you expect to be using Tiktok and your YouTube channels to the same extent as you are now, in addition to shows / tours?

AWAY: So that’s an interesting question that comes up a lot, it’s a strange situation in our band because our vocalist Johnny is also in another band called Angelmaker and they are already a full time touring band. For myself, I am a full time content creator and that is my main thing. I think we definitely want to tour and get out there, but we’ll probably do two tours a year, or maybe we’ll just do festival dates or something instead of touring the band lifestyle all the time. And we’ve already gotten some cool offers, none of which were right for us, which is fine, but it’s nice that offers are coming in and we can see that the potential is definitely there. I am sure that we will hopefully do something relatively soon as long as the world doesn’t turn off again, I think. I am sure I can move forward from here.

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