November 17, 2006

The Mainstreaming Debate

The transition from the underground scene to a mainstream media is quite fascinating in that there are inevitably fans who will feel betrayed. There is the worry that once people outside a supposed musical elite start enjoying a band's music the band will start catering to the masses. However, mainstreaming may not be a terrible thing.

The first argument for mainstreaming is that it costs money to produce albums. While a band may make some money performing at clubs until retirement, the fact is that the band is performing to a limited audience and therefore making a limited amount of money. Limited capital runs out quickly and there are many amazing bands in the underground who are forced to take day jobs and leave the music scene entirely. At some point, we do need to start considering paying bills, having and feeding a family. If music isn't paying the bills for us and we do need to consider alternate routes, we are going to do what we can to survive. Is that selling out? No. That's a basic survival technique.

The second argument for mainstreaming is that more alternatives are being provided. Let's face facts. The state of conventional radio is declining rapidly. Rock stations have been shut down all over the country. If you are a rock fan from the New York area such as myself, you probably lamented K-Rock's move to a mostly talk station. Fans of Philly's Y100 suffered a similar fate in the last few years. We are left with Top 40 stations and the radio is being dominated by pop, pop punk, and hip-hop/rap. There is nothing intrinsically wrong with the hip-hop genre; there are incredible artists - love him or hate him, you can't deny the talents of Jay Z as a performer and producer. The options are limited. Pop and pop-punk have their quality artists and followings as well. But fans of indie rock, metal, even techno are praying that they can get a Compact Disc player in their cars because there is simply nothing out there on the radio for them. The equation is simple. If we allow our bands to make it to the radio, then we can enjoy them on the radio.

I will handle the criticisms of mainstreaming in a future post. Stay tuned!

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