Mainstream vs. Underground Music

A colorful palette of music to choose from if allowed

Colours Beyond Colours

Mainstream music production is led by major record labels who promote new talents  through big radio stations creating artificial trends resulting in fading identities among artists by doing everything for selling business. The big record companies pay less than 10% to those who accept their contracts.

Underground record release happen through independent labels and/or internet radio streams, podcasts, blogs and pirate stations. Creativity, style, own ideas, visions and dignity remains in musicians this way, despite of the hard struggle in life.

Both underground and mainstream music surround people somehow, but their way of appearance, and a few other important bullet points are different.  Defining the undefined, that is to say what people may find in a record store is built up on the aspects of production, listening and reception of music besides the diversity in record release country by country.

Major labels, who operate mainly in the mainstream music business, have a national distribution system for their products.  The independents rely on others, most often, a major label, to handle their distribution. This important difference is huge in terms of opportunity for coordinated market penetration. If you do not agree with the one label industry, the corporation and business, then you are forced to go underground. An informal system has developed over time, whereby independent labels often nurture new artists and new genres, like grunge or hip hop. If these new artists or genres grow to attracting a substantial audience base, major labels often take over. The major label handles the independent label’s distribution, signs the most important artists away, or even buys all or part of the company.

Money-driven or music-driven, that would be the big question. Jewish families, like Rick Rubin or the Beastie Boys showed Afro-American artists and families, such as the Wu-Tang family how to make money, how to stay and be creative. Not the radio pop (Beat Kingz). The problems arisen in hip hop is not a “going down”, but a regular evolution, as the same thing happened to jazz, or R&B before when they got picked up as trends by corporations and White Caucasian businessmen in suits (Hip Hop Beyond Beats & Rhymes; Stocktown, 13:00-15:48, 20:36-25:00, Kool Keith and friends). Money took everything because the real problem is that everybody wants to be somebody by pretending being everybody else. Young talents’ lyrical content leaves, they talk nonsense no one would like to their children to hear. Important to notice, what it is to be a producer. Implementing your music, ideas on the audience and your name is on it. Taking responsibility and spending the money wisely (Beat Kings).

Believe it or not, record companies have always served as filters for consumers. There is simply too much music being made by too many people for the average consumer to begin to select what he or she would want to listen to or purchase. The music industry is based on three major structural elements: music and song creation, which lives on the capital the major labels give to the artist in exchange for their production and creativity or work of art. For this initial sum, they offer distribution, promotion, but also provide marketing ideas. So, the other two elements are music marketing and music distribution. A certain and sometimes secret part of the business is the so called payola record labels pay indirectly the radio stations for the sub-distribution of the future hits predicted and chosen by their promoters. Quite often, these kind of cases end up in court as the record companies state they have no clue about the radio pays. Why? Because the payola business is happening through independent promoter labels connected to the major labels (Bordowitz, pp. 87-129).

In addition, several workers who left a given record company, then, became popular among sub-distributors, even among other major record labels in seek for their knowledge about possible successful unknown artists and songs. In the mid eighties, mutation in music increased as soon as a certain independent sub-label promoter left the business at a large record company. The case was so serious, that even MTV did not have any new artists to come up with at that time, around 1985 (Bordowitz, pp. 87-129). We all may experience this mutation in the music industry, because both racial and as a result of this, also a musical genre fight and prejudice concerning for example hip hop began. MTV and all the major record companies promoted pop-rock performers with White Caucasian descents then. The only African American artist you could see on MTV was Michael Jackson. Rock music was conformist, branded and almost empty, the crisis of popular music rose. This phenomena was not at all new, as the same way the world of money and selling business treated psychedelic rock or punk, but also almost all new and creative musical genres before they took over them for a short while and pressed out the last cents from the poor artists who got talent by telling them what to do, what to wear, what to write, how to behave, but only after tricking them with shiny and promising contracts. Additionally, video clips are full of naked women, as you can sell whatever you would like in this manner; this happened to the British producer and dj, founder of the drum ‘n’bass collective Reprazent, Roni Size once, too, who did not want any bikini-ladies in his new video, but Hype Williams ignored his wishes and wanted to be true to his own “trademark”, so a secret second filming occured behind Roni’s back. (Stocktown 11:10-15:46, Those Intelligent Dance Bitches from SF, US; Angel from LA, US).  The ways have not changed since previous years, but there has always been resistance and many sideways have opened for the independent, alternative or underground artists to explore.

The “underground history” relies on the historical and chronological line of  subcultures, and, sometimes “cults” with the connecting art and films: in the 60s, psychedelic rock, in the 70s, punk rock, and from the 70s to the millennium, hip hop, and beyond the electronic underground (big beat, break beat, drum and bass, etc.) reigns.

In decision-making, recent copyright laws are not taking into consideration how to promote yourself as a musician, as an artist, songwriter etc. with the helps of internet stream radios, podcasts, or through independent labels. To be aired on internet streams, the costs are higher and higher per view despite previous years’ and decades’ free view. Now, it has become more difficult, if not impossible to get recognition as an independent artist went underground from the main streams of business, as business has reached international levels and broke into all areas of the music field, it became industrialized in a negative way. The internet became an even bigger business in the past few years, too, so applications, websites, in the music and movie or any other artistic field brings more money to large companies who see no faces and individuals, just the money. Is this a democratic freedom of choice? I am asking this from both directions, from the audience’s perspective and the artists’. There is tons of talented people out there and an unbelievably wide range of music, but how to reach out to each other in a business world like this today is an uneasy question.