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Why Your Band Needs To Start With Underground Music

So here’s a little secret that I think will change how you view a lot of the music industry. There’s a reason that people who want to get big, or at least generally get big typically start out in the underground playing very different music from what they end up playing later in their careers when they become massive well known headlining acts. This is something I have been thinking about ever since the new Code Orange song dropped earlier today. I, like pretty much everyone else I know saw them play hardcore shows for a few years, but now they are out getting nominated for Grammies and putting out nu metal. People seem to think that they sold out, and to some extent they have. They totally changed their sound because they knew it could make them more money. However, there are countless bands who started out just playing nu metal and wondering why they couldn’t get popular – aren’t they skipping the part Code Orange reveled in for a decade of putting out music that will never be commercially huge? Not at all – and here’s why.

The thing is – to be able to actually break into the massive markets of more popular genres you need a ton of money behind you. Not only that – but you also need an active fanbase whop are buying your records so that the labels who can make these sorts of things happen are actually paying attention. These genres, like hardcore in the case of Code Orange have much lower barriers of entry and they have fans who are actually out there trying to discover new music. That’s the dirty secret that no one seems to want to admit. That is to say, people who are interested in nu metal, or mainstream rap or whatever aren’t generally the people checking out new acts. It’s the people who are invested in scenes were a big part of the scene is to discover new bands that you are going to find success. Your average Foo Fighters fan isn’t going out and scouring Bandcamp in the hope of finding the next Foo Fighters. At most they are reading Consequence of Sound every few days. Well why should you expect that they are going to find your underground rock band?

You need to be able to build up your credibility in a scene if you want to get anywhere. To do that you need to get the attention of the tastemakers. But if you aren’t playing the sort of music that tastemakers at a lower level in your genre actually like then you aren’t going to get to appeal to the big ones, even if the music that they are into is totally different. Sure there are exceptions to this, those come up all the time. But when you look at a band that was big from the first record, do a little more research. Odds are one of them is related to a major industry person, or they were known for being in other bands before they would up doing this band that got big. Thing is – those people are probably familiar with the underground scenes that feed into their music. Look at a band like Korn, they started out playing weird music to underground freaks, it was only after they broke that they really pushed the clean vocals and nu metal corniness.

This is found in a ton of genres too by the way. Look at the rap world. The people doing the silly mainstream stuff on the underground are rarely taken seriously. Then look at someone like Pusha T. He never would have become the head of GOOD Music if he wasn’t doing underground rap stuff for years. That’s not to say all the stars are constantly checking out the underground, but that you aren’t going to get successful by aping Matchbox 20, you need to look at the steps Matchbox 20 took to get where they are today and then work to expand on that. This isn’t an easy thing to do and it’s the sort of thing that a lot of bands are going to find alienating. I get that you want to sound like Matchbox 20, that’s fine, but at least realize that this isn’t going to actually make you successful, because again, the cool people in your scene don’t like that ind of music. And if you’re not appealing to the true tastemakers and figuring out ways to interface with them then you are just wasting your time.

Now there is an exception to all of this. You could be really fucking good. Though usually yes, at the end of the day you do need to know someone, if you are REALLY fucking good then people will find you. That’s not really enough to bank your career on and it’s also the sort of thing that’s probably going to alienate a lot of people if you try to base your entire career on hopefully being good enough to impress someone who may or may not show up to your show. I’m just going based on what I’ve observed. There are multiple ways to do it and multiple ways to make things make sense but just appreciate that if you’re not acknowledging the darker world that the big bands come from then you’re banking on a dream. These aren’t realities people want to hear, but look at Kyuss and then Queens of the Stone Age. They mastered going from stoner rock into mainstream dorkery. This wasn’t because they did anything other than put in the hours. And you gotta love that.

At the end of the day be careful when you’re trying to pitch yourself. Realize that a lot of folks in the industry don’t have your best interests at heart and are trying to grow their own brands. They want to go for a sure thing, and you aren’t going to become a sure thing by trying to win over people who are so used to having perfectly produced and marketed music force fed to them. Those people aren’t looking to discover new bands, they already have Metallica. So realize what will make the people who like Death Angel like you – they just might care enough to give you a shot. Fans out there are jaded and want things to be easy, so try and find the people who truly love it and give them what they want.

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