I’ve been interviewing bands pretty much constantly since I was about 15. One question I quickly learned not to ask was “What genre do you consider your band to be?” because I was almost invariably told “Oh we don’t really like any subgenre tags, they’re just too constricting.” Now – this led me as a young rock critic to examining the problem of subgenres, on the one hand, how else are you supposed to differentiate between fundamentally different bands? At the same time – do you really want to use a few tags on some blog to limit a bands ability to create art? Given my position as a writer for Independent Music Promotions I started to think about this in terms of what it means for promoting your band.
One thing that I think bothers a lot of us “Music people” is folks who when asked what kind of music they like respond with “Oh I like pretty much everything” Or “I like pretty much everything except (Insert genre here, usually country or rap)” To which I am always tempted to respond “Oh you like everything? Who’s your favorite brutal death metal band?” The thing is, most people don’t know how to identify their tastes and end up falling in love with predictably bland indie clap trap or blithering pop music and thinking that’s the only music that’s really out there. So on this side of things it would seem that subgenre tags are important. If people were more aware than it would be easier to market them music that they would actually like.
The issue though is if you take this to the logical extreme things get shitty fast. You end up with neckbearded internet metal nerds living in their parents basements referring to things like “Post-vest metal” or “Revivalist pagan black metal” convinced that they can make a living in the music industry despite literally no qualifications beyond their ability to dork out over subgenres. I mean – I was getting there at a point, I’ve since moved away from that ethos, but the appeal is apparent. If girls won’t pay attention to you then why not just say “fuck it” and go balls deep into finding precisely the kind of music you love? The issue with this of course is that it fucks you up in a wholly new way, it means that you instead choose to listen to nothing beyond your very closed off tastes and cut you off as an appreciator of art. Now a lot of people in that scenario would claim “Oh but I have broader tastes than that, I have an open mind!” But in all honesty, you don’t, when did you last listen too top 40 music? That’s fine, but you need to admit that you can end up more closed off than you think you are.
Now you might be saying “Well some people have limited taste, why is that my problem?” Well the issue is that the suffocating choice that the internet has offered to us has led to people cutting themselves off and being afraid to really go out and delve into all of the really cool things happening in music right now. This idea of choice paralysis kept me hung up for YEARS and prevented me from discovering a lot of really cool pop punk music. It has kept friends of mine from discovering badass metal bands I love too. It’s an issue we all need to overcome. The fact of the matter is that our shitty ancient brains aren’t ready for the new state of the music industry and all of the opportunities that it offers to music lovers like you and me.
It seems then that this problem has causes on both sides of the spectrum though. I know a lot of band who only seek to market to one particular demographic and, as an independent artist that isn’t really an option. You can create very iconoclastic and distinctive art, but why intentionally try to cut other people off from it, unless that’s the entire point? I interview bands professionally and I have definitely come across more than a few artists who seem insistent that people who aren’t depressed or who haven’t done this, that or the other won’t be able to understand what their music is all about. Asides from being needlessly elitist that also makes fewer people want to listen to your music, and by putting your music out there at all you’re implying you want people to listen to it and unless you put out a survey or something to limit who gets at it, you’re also implying that you want as many people as possible to listen to it. So by confining yourself to an intentionally closeminded subgenre, say, “Church burning black metal” for example, you are damaging your ability to get to the people.
I understand that black metal is a little different because of all the different ideologies therein but I feel that the point still stands. You can’t just close yourself off to a certain group of fans because you don’t like them. If anything you should try to be using your music as away to help persuade them to want to appreciate your viewpoints. Music has transformative power, by denying a certain potential fanbase your attentions you are thus denying one of the things that we all love so much about music. Overly romantic? Probably. But the fact remains I’m not sure why we don’t allow ourselves to break out of our own boxes and let our music speak to the masses.
As an extension of this comes something that I personally have always been guilty of, the use of the appellation “Poser”. What I’ve come to realize is that the fringe bands who do best are those who view the term ‘poser’ as a funny thing. Hell, one of Philadelphia’s best up and coming punk bands bears the name as a mark of pride. By calling someone a poser you are excluding them from your bands potential fanbase. The thing is, though you may say “We totally schooled that fucking poser” wouldn’t it be so much cooler to say “That kid was a poser but we talked to him and how he’s our biggest fan”? By investing a part of yourself in your fanbase you are able to help build towards something grander and by generating stories of your kindness you are more likely to get fans in the local scene. This may sound stupid but what I’ve found is that in local scene’s it’s the nicest guys who have the biggest draw.
I realize I may have veered a bit from our original topic but the fact remains: as a fan don’t limit your tastes to any specific subgenre or group of subgenres, Meanwhile as a musician, by trying to cut off your potential fanbase you are only damning yourself. The fact of the matter I that music fans simply want to be treated well by the bands they love. Part of the challenge of being in a touring band is that you need to be friends with everyone in the venue every night because that’s how you pay to get to the next show.
Now that I’ve sufficiently rambled and made an ass of myself I will simply leave you with this dear reader: Glenn Tipton, guitarist of the legendary Judas Priest once said to me “There are certain forms of music I’m not that keen on but I still try to and understand them.” Bring them into your music and you can get something like the Judas Priest classic Grinder which the band says has a reggae influence to it. Beyond that, broadening your horizons and refusing to close yourself off allows your art to have more power for more people, and if that isn’t your goal starting out, then I have no idea why you’re reading an article on a music promotion website!
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