A friend recently contacted me asking my opinion on a music group she’d come into contact with who were going to be appearing on her radio show. [I won’t name drop because I haven’t asked permission for either parties for this blog!] She felt something may have been missing from their music and wanted to know what I thought. I listened to a rehearsal of one of their tracks to be honest actually expecting to be disappointed. It turns out it was quite the opposite, I was impressed! The vocalist was very good; upfront, in tune and radiating confidence. The MC’s in the group were decent too, reminiscent of my school days listening to UK Hip Hop (the likes of Skinnyman & Doc Brown). Even the beat was not shit… They’d gone for a sort of hybrid between UK Hip Hop & Dubstep.
Underground vs commercial. This argument often needs putting into perspective and I thought I should add some of my opinions on it.
She was right, something was missing and I believe it was something I notice a lot about collaborative underground music which is vocal-driven.
The group obviously had intention of appealing to a mass audience. I’m placing this judgement on the basis that I can imagine the two MC’s either producing or asking their producer to make something like UK Hip Hop from the 2003-07 era but give it a modern twist people listening to urban music now would appreciate, i.e. Dubstep. They then would have approached their very talented vocalist and explained the situation and she would have been very excited with the concept of this new hybrid idea.
Here’s where some of my theories on commercial manufactured music & the conflicting underground music scene come into play.
There’s two ways of approaching music as an artist. You can either manufacture it to appeal to the masses by being very focused on the current trends and musical fashions and adapting your art to that, or (as is the case with the majority of the music I love) you can make it to appeal to niche audiences or sometimes nobody at all & work your damned arse off trying to build a big enough scene around this music for it to break into the mainstream (this is how all EDM music in the UK has come to be popular).
Notice that I’m not slating either of these choices, good music can come out of both methods - problems only start arising when there is no soul in the music and it’s only made for the sake of business.
Back to the point at hand. Commercial music has to be a particular clean sound following the musical trends of the current market, underground is more raw and experimental, taboo or unpopular. Both can contain emotion and soul but the clear differences are the intention to reach the mass market of pop trends or not.. Mix the two together and you either sound like a commercially directed artist who sounds slightly amateur or an underground artist trying to sell out.
Either be underground and learn how to make your own business from your niche market, or be commercial and do less ‘hands-on’ work whilst focusing more on being a star whilst the professionals handle your business for you.