Why lesser exposed music has more artistic freedom

After hearing people summarize their music taste into one word, you often hear “underground”, as infuriating as it can be. Underground implies that they’re lesser known, but what makes the sound of “underground” different from the front end of music?

1. Major labels are the devil
Record companies become the band’s parent. They let them know what they can or can’t do, thus limiting their individual potential. Smaller labels are often less strict and give the group more control over their material. Classic albums such as The Chronic had a difficult time being released since most labels were scared of releasing an album with so much profanity.

2. Musical Conventions are necessary for business
Many bands get exposure because they are marketable, and the market is based on what people think is ‘good’. ‘Good’ sound is based on conventions set from everything they’ve heard in the past. People are creatures of habit, and don’t like venturing to the unexplored, thus marketable bands have the tendency to follow these conventions. Examples include:

  • Guitar, Bass, Drums, Vocals lineup
  • 4/4 timing
  • A beat
  • Solos
  • Intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus, outro model

Many underground bands think outside the box and choose not to follow these conventions, making them less marketable, yet an infinitely larger range in sound. An experimental movement started out in the 1920′s that broke a lot of these underlying rules.
Musician John Cage was a key figure at the start of this movement (John Cage - Water Walk video). Similarly, the no-wave punk movement was against the marketing and overproduction of many sell-out punk bands and purposely maintained a low-fidelity sound to promote the limitlessness of punk.

Our brains have the tendency to stick to what we’re comfortable with. Since practically all of the front end music has, for example, rhythm, we assume rhythm is a requisite of dubbing organized sound as ‘music’. These conventions tell us what is or isn’t music. When we listen to something outside of this rhythm, it’s still music if the artist intended it to be music. Silence is still music if the composer wanted it to be.

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  1. Sonic Youth - The Eternal
  2. A Silver Mt. Zion - 13 Blues for Thirteen Moons
  3. Top Albums of 2008

Robin Bastien
Howdy! I'd the head of Ocular Harmony. I spend most of my time designing, reading beatnick literature, and pounding sound waves of experimental pulsation into my brain's frontal lobes. Contact me if you have any questions!

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