The Mainstream Stretch

Posted on August 26, 2010


I was surfing the net yesterday and I saw that someone posted a title on their Facebook page that read: “I hate when bands go mainstream and everyone suddenly likes them.”

Did he really say that? Artists shouldn’t go mainstream?

I can’t stop laughing. I would like someone to draw the definitive line on mainstream for me, because I was under the impression that by getting out there with your talent, writing music that appealed to the masses and creating artistry worthy of global marketing was the purpose of making a career out of music. Still, I could be wrong. Lets review the obverse element here for a paragraph.

Lets go into the basement and write music, most likely old school punk, and make it so there are no radio stations that will ever want to hear it. Lets be sure that the cover art is printed on a dot-matrix printer and that the cassette we distribute it on is a true TDK 90 minute, one side recording. This is surely going to get us out of Mom’s basement someday, so long as no one but the 17 slam dancers at the Legion Hall we play Thursday night keep coming to our show.

Mainstream is a term I take lightly. In 1989, at WDJM, 91.3 FM, college radio in Framingham, MA I got together with a guy named Brad Pollack and promoted a completely underground act that no one had heard of yet. It was an alternative radio station and I was proud to be the first guy outside of New York to spin the “Louder Than Love” disc by Soundgarden on FM radio. September 1989 and I’m crankin’ “Get on the Snake” to maybe 200 listeners. The FM giants 30 miles away in Boston were spinning New Kids on the Block, and Soundgarden was considered alternative. All that meant was it was an alternative to what the labels were pushing in heavy rotation on the pop channels.

Now, you most likely weren’t banging your baby heads in 1989, but by today’s standards I ask, is Soundgarden considered mainstream? Are they alternative? Doesn’t that depend on what station you normally listen to?

The market is big. You’ve got a long list of alternatives. In Los Angeles, if it isn’t ranchero music, it’s alternative. Why? Because 8 out of ten stations are playing ranchero music! Rock is the alternative … but in Providence, RI when Paul and Al go off the air on WHJY mornings, you’re going to hear Soundgarden, and ranchero becomes the alternative.

As a Boston native and former East Coast performer, I can tell you, the guy who wrote that statement was probably from Charlestown or Somerville. Boston is one of those towns where the music scene is horribly wrong. They’re hipsters, who like things to stay virtually unknown. They love a band until they get airplay and fame, then the area music fans deny ever having listened to that band. No, really … it’s not that far off. My example of proof would be the band Extreme. When Gary Cherone, Nuno Bettencourt and the guys in the band were throwing around 2 hours of funky metal at the Livingroom club, everyone had to be there – Extreme were local heroes! Suddenly, when the video for Kid Ego hit the TV screens – Boston dropped those guys like a hot potato into a cold bowl of soup. Some of the most talented rock musicians to come from little old Hudson, MA, but the local music scene swept them under the rug. Why?

I DON’T KNOW! Ask the guy on Facebook who made that statement I typed at the beginning of the article. Maybe he knows.

The big point to observe is, don’t try to classify every move you make. Just do what you enjoy – if it catches on, you might get rich. Maybe that’s your goal, but think about this before I shut my trap. Extreme leaves the states and sells out every show they play around the world. Van Halen, the biggest band in the universe asked Gary to sing on an album … (no comments), and their dedicated fan base outside of Boston buys everything they put out.

Is Extreme alternative or mainstream? Does it matter? They’re living the Dream. (insiders joke there).

Go be in whatever stream you want to be in, just do it with passion and it’ll be right.

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