Thereís a band I read about whoís gone through lineup changes over the years and whose criteria for picking its new members each time around is height, looks, and talent. And in that order of importance. If the prospective band member is too short or looks too, for lack of a better word, ordinary, he or she doesnít make the cut. Never mind that he or she can write songs, play an instrument well, and maybe even have a degree in music. Come to think of it, practically all of the pop acts we have today are anything but songwriters, instrumentalists, or educated. As an observation, pop divas today seem likely to know more about arranging their wardrobe than their music. But we all know that already.
For a band to choose height and looks over talent may seem amusing but is it at all surprising? Although it is not too common a practice among local bands, that says a lot about how the many new media forms has affected the way musicians have to promote themselves. Itís not just your music now. Itís your make-up and costume, your gear, your press photos, your website, your interactive CDís, your videos, even merchandise. So why should musicians need to package themselves? Is it not enough that he or she just make good music and let the songs promote themselves? For a time, and to an extent, Iíd say it was. But not today.
When MTV was launched in 1981, the very first music video it featured was ďVideo killed the radio starĒ by The Buggles. It was probably just a coincidence but I canít help suspect it was a deliberate choice. For in any case, MTV went on to change the music industry and how we Ďviewí our music. Music now is a complete experience, and as visual as it is aural. And if youíre a groupie, the experience can even be more interactive, but thatís another story.
The point in all this is that we can never go back to the time when it was enough that you had a good song and can play it with your guitar to an audience. To sell more, you have to please more so to make it in the big leagues, the music has to be fronted by a salable image. Remember Milli Vanilli? Music now is a commodity for sale to the masses. Naturally, all the elements of marketing come into play. Branding, image and advertising. Music must be packaged, promoted, and sold on racks much like shampoo on grocery shelves. As a musician, is this deplorable? Of course it is. But this is how the game is played now and the rules donít quite change as fast as pop trends. So rather than change the rules, try playing in a different court.
This is where the independent music scene comes in: bands that throw the dirty finger at record labels and run their own thing. No massive label promotions or media blitzes, mainly just wild gigs in small clubs. No expensive and elaborately choreographed music videos, but creative low fi and low budget productions usually done by indie filmmaker friends.
Itís a totally different world and a departure from the stereotype of a spoiled pop or rockstar. And the fans stay fans longer. Many bands that started out as indie and later broke into the mainstream still pack concert halls and large venues. Pop stars on the other hand, have fans that last only as long as their pimples.
Indie bands are getting more and more attention as of late probably owing to a maturing audience or probably simply because pop has become stale for many because of too much hype and emphasis on style rather than substance. And besides, bias aside, indie bands now sound better, technically and musically.
So is indie the salvation of contemporary music sadly ruled by bubblegum pop and overproduced rap/rock? Could be. A caveat, though remember the 90ís? Alternative music offered the same ray of hope to the masses tired of bland radio programming only to implode when alternative itself became mainstream. The same thing happened with grunge. So itís a cycle then. Vicious but all too real. Still, indie offers the only real alternative today. To survive then as a musician, one must transcend pop trends, go the indie way and stay true to oneís music. Maybe only then can you ride the cycle of waves and last longer than Vanilla Ice.
No fancy looks and painfully choreographed moves, only unfeigned and soulful performance. No glamour and hype, only hard work and substance. No image. Only identity.