It’s All Arbitrary After All

Matt Bacon August 19, 2016 0
It’s All Arbitrary After All
It's All Arbitrary After All

So maybe I’m just having a long day and feeling nihilistic – but I think there is an important realization to have about this industry and the long term success of your band that you need to have before you get too bitter and jaded. This entire thing is completely arbitrary. There are factors beyond your control that can change whether or not you end up being successful. I’m sure you’ve noticed that there objectively terrible bands who are huge and objectively amazing bands who have literally zero recognition. There are weird patterns that no one can truly predict that shift things – and even if you try to predict them well then you’re part of the problem, taking away from the natural beauty of music. I want to talk a little bit more about those weird patterns and the things that can randomly launch your band to massive success – things that are beyond any one persons control and instead reflect the weirdness of the human condition in general.

One of my favorite examples to analyze is Pallbearer. They put out their first record in 2012 – and yes they are a truly fantastic band, but they largely profited off of the doom bubble. More power to them – again, they are a great band – they deserve it. However they didn’t go into writing their debut Sorrow And Extinction thinking “Oh yeah – there is about to be a doom bubble and we should profit off it” They just wrote a doom record because they happened to like bands like Yob. In fact – Yob is proof that hard work, heavy touring and all that isn’t going to pay off until a bubble comes up for your particular genre. Sure they have been around a decade longer than Pallbearer – but they only blew up around the same time for the same reason – for whatever reason the market decided that doom metal should be the new ‘it’ thing. That’s not a knock on Mike Scheidt – Lord knows I’m desperately in love with him. Rather it is just an observation that getting lucky is a huge part of this whole thing.

In a similar way you can see careers randomly explode in very specific parts of the world. That’s why IMP client Chris Sluka was huge in Eastern Europe, Italy and Japan but never got major coverage in the US. It’s a bizarre thing to look at someone like Sluka and be like “Why the hell…” The dudes music is top notch (IMP CEO James Moore wouldn’t work with him otherwise!) but it just never took off in the US for some reason. Of course – in Japan he was billed as “The new face of rock and roll.” Now there are some very specific cultural things you could attribute to Sluka’s success in specific markets, but it’s weird to see and it suggests some larger truths about the industry that I don’t think any of us are totally comfortable with. The slow realization that maybe we don’t have a huge choice about who loves our music or why they do (If they do!) is a little bit scary.

The simple fact of the matter is if your music doesn’t arbitrarily get in front of the right person, or group of people (And these people need to be appropriately primed mind you!) you can be putting out some truly killer music and never get any recognition. I’m not saying that “Oh you would be huge in Japan if only you got over there” Because the odds are if people don’t love you in the US they aren’t going to randomly love you in Japan. Don’t let this thinking let you become delusional. Still – it’s a terrifying thought that if you put out the wrong type of record on the right year you might never find success. I know that’s a weird thing to wrap your head around. You can take some of the objective best records of all time and imagine them in a different year and be forced to realize that they would never have been successful, and thus you never would have heard them if they weren’t in the right time period. These people usually weren’t trying to create the music for that time or place either – the fact that it just kind of happened helps to make it more genuine.

At the same time, this should be encouraging. Sure you might not have any fans in your local circle of bands but you might have some dude in the Czech Republic who thinks you are the best band ever. I mean the odds are against you but the chance is there. That’s why I like to emphasize fan connections. If you can somehow find a thousand people like that, people who are into everything you do then you can successfully fund a lot of your band. Again – I know it’s depressingly arbitrary and I know that as with anything in the music industry the chances are that you’re not going to find any success at all – much less hyper localized success the chances are slim. To some extent localized success is fading away as global culture gets more homogenous, but for now at least, there still remains a chance to randomly blow up in one glorious foreign market or another. Imperialism hasn’t ruined ABSOLUTELY everything.

So what does this mean for you? Well odds are you don’t have the budget for global marketing campaigns and odds are that global marketing probably wouldn’t be worth it in the first place. However it also means that you shouldn’t necessarily give up hope even when things suck. There are still bands who get a big break just by being in the right place at the right time with no actual planning – it’s just the way things work out. Hell – if Crobot could blow up because Clutch’s producer showed up to their showcase at the wrong time and accidentally caught them live, then you can blow up for some half assed reason too. Again – not an attack on Crobot – just the way things are. Long story short – I hope you’re ready for some of the weirdness that is sure to come.

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It's All Arbitrary After All

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