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Underground vs Mainstream


If you’re a lover of music you’ve heard this before. Let’s say you discover a local band or act or artist and they are not big or known yet but you connect with them. They are authentic, fresh, creative and passionate and you love their music, you love their sound. You hope they succeed. This band or act or artist is broke, playing the part of the starving artist. They work a dead end or not so high paying job and would love to do what they love full time either that or they still live at home with mum and they are still in college or University.

They are part of an underground scene only known by a few people in comparison to the huge musical megastars you see on tv all day. They are like a secret shared by a few people. They are local superstars or local champions because they represent for that scene that is only known by a group of people. They dream of mainstream acceptance and success and go through the internal battle of wanting so badly to “blow up” and have more people embrace and possibly buy their music. They also battle with making their material top quality and creative. They stick to a certain content and outlook in their songwriting and fight against being labeled as “sell outs” by changing up their style and content.

So what do they do? In this underground scene there are many other bands just like them even with similar sounds because they work with the same people. (This is the part where the story splits into 2, we will call one story, Story A and the other Story B)

Story A: The band realizes that the only way to progress and possibly make this their full time occupation is by getting signed so they attempt to get a deal. Labels at the moment are not taking risks with a new band so they get rejected because they just don’t have a large enough following for the label to invest in them and get a profit. Also the label asks them to change up their content and style a little bit in order to fit in with current mainstream sounds that are selling and the band flat out refuses. So the band goes back to grinding underground and eventually the demands of living slows them down and the dream of making music their full time occupation gradually dies. They all get day jobs and do music part time. As time goes on the band breaks up and the dream of music becomes a memory.

Story B: The band after trying to get signed and being told by labels to change up their style and content have a meeting and realize that in order to broaden their audience their approach has to change. They know that they have to expand beyond the underground scene they come from in order to be able to sell more music and continue music as a possible full time occupation. Some people are not happy with this because they want to “keep it real” others are more realistic and realize their content and style has to change to be more acceptable. They decide to hit the studio and switch up their style and content just a little bit. They make their sound more bright, not as confrontational, they rationalize that they are not watering down their sound but only just making it more accessible and more subliminal. Their music is more catchy and it finds a whole new audience. They begin to get a buzz beyond their scene music to the disdain of the underground scene they come from. They eventually blow up with their new musical approach and end up in the top 40 and are well on their way to the mainstream. The labels that rejected them before come knocking and they land a lucrative deal because of the buzz they’ve generated. Meanwhile some from the underground scene they’ve come from begin to constantly critcize them for “selling out” and look to the next band coming up to represent for them.

What do you think? what would YOU do? Do you think this is a realistic story?

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London said...

This is a really tough question! The reason being that in order to grow you must think outside of the box and go out into areas you are not familiar with.

However, if you loose yourself in the process of trying to change things then you need to go back to the drawing board.

Music is an integral part of life (in my opinion) and it's a very powerful tool. However, if all you want to do is make music for the millions you're doing it for the wrong reason. It should just be for the love of the art form.

Anonymous said...

Simple one for me:

Option One
Stay 'underground' and true to your art form, accepting the fact that unless your style becomes mainstream you're likely not to get your big break.

That's just how the music scene goes...

Option two
'Switch up' your style, go for the mainstream deal - and be prepared for the 'sell out' accusations.

Simple, really...


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