So my article on common myths that make me physically angry on my other blog went over really well, and I was extremely grateful for the feedback. To paraphrase one friend of mine, “Imagine if you are one of 10,000 people applying for a cushy job that no one actually cares if it gets filled or not.” which I think is a disturbingly accurate depiction of events. A lot of people seem to think that the music industry is handed to you and there are a lot of other things that are going to keep making me angry. I guess I’m going to use this article as a way to run through yet another best of of myths that seem to be promulgated by groups who got through the 70s in live and somewhat intact. This is of course the longstanding issue – the bands who create these myths tend to also be the most successful bands in the world, it doesn’t matter how cool they are. A rock band using the career of Aerosmith as their blueprint are the equivalent of a 14 year old girl deciding she will follow in Taylor Swifts footsteps.
First on the chopping block is the idea that physical media is more than a niche product. While on the one hand I think it’s very, VERY important to have CD’s and LP’s available, really think about the types of people who are going to want to use those. The majority of your fans, regardless of your genre affiliation, listen to music via streaming. Now that’s all well and good. So the people who buy records are either collectors or want the experience of supporting a band whilst simultaneously investing in something that is, functionally, worthless. I’ve written in the past about how it’s stupid to buy a thousand copies of a record, but it’s not just that. It’s the concept that bands are even going to make money from downloads. How many people do you know who actually download music and have devices where that matters? I legitimately don’t know how to play downloaded music on my smartphone, and I’m sure I’m not the only one!
This bleeds into the general issue and misguided belief that anyone is going to be supportive. Again, you are applying for a cushy job that no one cares whether it gets filled or not. For most bands it does not mater if your band is coming through some small town tonight or if it’s some other band. There will always be some other band grinding it out, that’s just the way the news goes. What this means for you is that you need to to be the ones willing to hustle harder and push further for success, but simultaneously be willing to realize when you need to cut your losses and focus on regional markets that aren’t going to leave you starved for attention but rather building towards a greater and more successful future. Still – you can’t count on shit. This is what no one wants to hear but has to be told. No one gives a shit about your art, especially not in America. Finding genuine supporters is hard and you need to love every single one.
Of course – the problem we face as a society is that underground music is this super marginalized thing. It’s no longer likely that you have a hundred hip people each personally invested in a different scene. Nowadays the guy who is a big force in the stoner rock scene probably also does stuff in black metal. The guy who loves EDM has a foot in the synthwave world as well. Some of this is purely economic, and some of it is simply because with the rise of streaming music lovers can have more diverse taste than ever, and that’s awesome. However on the flip side is the fact that our taste is increasingly limited because of playlists funded by big players. Suddenly we have more people than ever who are victims of the monoculture. This means that instead of a hundred hip people personally invested in a hundred scenes you have twenty people invested in those hundred scenes. It creates a starvation for attention that is hard to crack.
This means that your quirky marketing ideas need to be really good, because folks in my position have seen it all. In some ways it’s almost better to just do the standard shit because the quirky stuff often just elicits an eye roll or maybe a mocking article. Sure sometimes ideas break through, but you don’t want to go pissing people off. Again – no one cares, and that’s a better state than having people actively hate you. We are operating in a very weird space where people are making political comments they really shouldn’t be, and where bands are getting stuff from a decade ago brought up against them to hurt them. These are not productive times nor are they helping people get anything good done. It puts us in a weird and uncomfortable position as people in entertainment. Guess what – no one has a lot of answers beyond a vague sense that having a whole fuckload of money help, and even that doesn’t matter if you don’t have good music that hits a particular niche.
I love this scene more than anything. I love underground bands who have cool ideas and who make great music. I love underground bands who are emotionally and personally invested in the scene. I love being able to help people make memories that we talk about for years to come. This is all a part of the incredible beauty of underground music and why I personally spend so much time with it. That doesn’t mean it means anything though. Sometimes I sit up at night and wonder if it’s all a sham. You need to find your own reasons to pursue this and realize that the music industry is a shitty fucking place, so suck it up and let’s work on making something special happen.