Why does your band need an interesting angle? Ever since Upon A Burning Body’s frontman Danny Leal had the gall to ask “What publicity stunt?”when questioned on his recent highly irresponsible attempt to garner interest for his new record, I’ve been thinking about my article on gimmicks. It didn’t take me long to realize that there is something else that can get people interested in your band, having an interesting angle. Now, how is this different than a gimmick? Well, as opposed to gimmicks which are often silly and disparaged by elitists, having an interesting angle simply gets people from all walks of life interested in your band, and if it’s unique enough, you could easily draw in fans who don’t normally listen to the genre of music you play. While it’s possible to screw this up, there has been enough success to suggest that if you’re looking for a way to promote your band, this is the way to go.
Perhaps the best example of stirring up interest for your band comes from Sepultura, the first major heavy metal (well, thrash metal) band to come out of South America. Though they very much adhered to the ‘look’ of thrash metal at the time Sepultura never forgot their Brazilian roots. To this day, the bands frontman Max Cavalera (Now in Soulfly) will scream about being from Brazil on stage, even wielding a guitar with the Brazilian flag on it. This pride in their national heritage made fans in the 80s do a double take. Who were these guys from a country none of us had barely ever heard about outside of school? How could metal come from somewhere so far away? What drove their incredible primal aggression? Being the premier metal group to rise up out the third world was not an easy task for Sepultura (The current incarnation of the band has no original members left for one) but it left them on top, among the lords of heavy metal.
When it seemed like interest might start to wane, more than a decade into the bands career the band released their all time classic Roots a record that fused thrash metal with the tribal music of the Amazon. They did this by actually going into the Amazon and living with the Xavante Indians. If that’s not dedication I don’t know what is! Part of the reason that this record was recieved so well was because the bands previous record Chaos A.D had already started to experiment with tribal sounds. In the end, this new direction earned a lot of respect for the band. One critic writing for The Daily News put it best when he wrote “Sepultura reinvented the wheel. By mixing metal with native instruments, the band resuscitates the tired genre, reminding of Led Zeppelin at times. But while Zeppelin mixed English metal with African beats, it’s still more moving to hear a band that uses elements of its own country. By extracting the sounds of the past, Sepultura determines the future direction of metal”
The lesson that you should take from this is, once you have an interesting angle and interest starts to fade, it may be time to take your idea to a whole new level. The key though, is to make sure that it fits in with your artistic vision. Fans (Especially millenials) are jaded, and they can tell if a new spin on an old idea is simply there to make more money. Preserving the honesty and integrity of your band is always important and will allow your group to profit more than any gimmick or angle ever could. If you are trying to find a new angle for your band though the you may want to find something that has room to grow, ideas that could be developed on and taken to strange new earths in the future. Choosing a superficial angle (More on that later) is only going to hurt your sound.
Before we get into what not to do, I’d like to bring up another example or two as proof that an interesting angle can garner fan interest. A lot of you might be saying, “Sure, being from a unique country is all well and good, but there’s music on the market from every country now, and my band is based in a rather wealthy nation!” While this certainly might seem true at first, it’s more a result of a lack of creativity. There are all sorts of unique things you can bring in to draw interest into your band that are not at all gimmicky and in fact uncover strange new musical pastures.
The first example that springs to mind if the Salt Lake City doom/sludge metal band SubRosa. They are immediately interesting, not just because they have three women fronting the group, but also because of their unique set up. There are tons of female fronted doom metal bands these days and the band doesn’t make a big deal about the gender of the musicians, instead SubRosa make their music interesting by using two violinists. This makes their sound eerie and mystical, and certainly unlike any of their peers. Imagine grunge, sludge and doom derived riffs accompanied by violins that mix Schoenberg with Beethoven, that’s the kind of beauty you get out of SubRosa’s most recent output. As Sepultura did, they too took their sound to a new level in a way that made sense artistically. After their first two releases with only one violinist, they decided to bring in another and then went on to make their best work yet. Think about it, not only did adding another violinist improve the band, but also, which is more interesting, a doom band with a violinist? Or a doom band with two violinists?
Another band who managed to generate interest with a unique angle is Nylithia, a band who are blowing up the thrash metal scene right now with a sound they have dubbed “Hyperthrash”. Normally, making up a new genre label for your band comes across as silly and pretentious, making you seem unaware of the scene around you. But when done right, it can give your band a shocking an exciting new angle. This doesn’t necessarily mean fusing genres (Nylithia certainly don’t) but moreover coming up with a creative way to market what makes your sound unique. While it probably should incorporate a part of an existing genres name, it should also reflect the distinct aspects of your sound. This technique is not necessarily for everybody, but when it does work out, it works out big, leaving your band in the position to be views as the founders of a movement.
Now, let’s get on to some of the things you shouldn’t feature when trying to market your band. The first one is probably extreme youth. While it’s great to start putting out music at a young age it shouldn’t be the focal point of the music. Not only does it make some fans disparage your band, it also makes you seem pretentious and begging for attention. On top of that, this gimmick can’t go anywhere. None of us are getting any younger, you can’t say “Our first album came out when we were 18, now we’re younger and more vicious!”. If you do choose to emphasize your age to promote your recording be aware that it’s only a fleeting bump and most people will perceive you as kind of a dolt. Why even Lorde, the 17 year old pop goddess doesn’t seem to make a big deal about her age in any of her promotional material, so why should you?
Other things to avoid are using an ethos or religion as a vehicle to promote your band. While it is totally fine to be a Christian band or a Vegan band (Or whatever ideology you wish to promote), using that to promote the music can take away from the music itself. Do you want to get signed off the strength of your recorded output, or because you haven’t had chocolate in five years? Look at it like this. An average promoter is much more likely to check out a band whose promo line is “Ephraim is a hard rocking four piece from Nevada with a positive Christian message” than “Ephraim is a die hard Christian band from Nevada with a hard rock sound”, simply because for most people the music is separated from the ethos. By keeping the ethos secondary when promoting the band, it’s actually easier to bring people to follow it. One example of this is the legendary sludge metal band Crowbar whose music often has a Christian message, yet they would never be labelled as a Christian band. All of their success comes from having a powerful and honest sound, albeit one that honors Jesus.
In short, it’s excellent to have a unique angle and vision when trying to get people interested in your music. However, it has to be honest, and not superficial. Furthermore, it has to let the music speak, hiding the flaws in your sound underneath claims of religion or an ideological war are hardly going to make people want to listen to your music. Instead, try to develop on what makes you different and keep that as a center piece to your sound. Honor your predecessors but prove you want something more. Driving forward in the musical world doesn’t mean cutting all ties, it simply means finding a new way to market your band, don’t reinvent the wheel, just try and improve on it.