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What I Would Change About the Music Industry: Bands Who Resist Labeling Their Sound

No one likes being labeled. Being pigeon-holed into a certain category of anything can be frustrating. Here’s the thing though, from a radio personality, concert photographer, promoter, music reviewer, and live show booking agent standpoint, labels are needed. I’m not talking about record labels, but rather, providing the people with some sort of description or label of your sound.

Imagine this. You’re a concert promoter. Or you’re a street team member. And you have no idea what kind of band (insert super generic-sounding band name here) is, so you go to the totally wrong coffee shop and hang up their poster promoting their upcoming concert. Turns out, your groovy, laid back singer-songwriter vibe coffee shop is now promoting a head-banging, mosh pit thrash metal concert. While variety is great, and there’s diversity is celebrated, perhaps that’s the wrong market.

Maybe the problem, though isn’t that. Maybe that coffee shop is around the corner from the venue and many concert-goers frequent it for a quick java before the gig. Maybe, even after a quick Google search, you still couldn’t figure out what kind of band that was, and didn’t want to assume based off of the poster art. Maybe the problem is the fact that band did not want to label their sound for fans and industry professionals, alike. And here’s where that problem gets frustrating.

Ever been to a show where it sounds like the first opening act showed up to the wrong concert, given the sound of the headliner? You think to yourself, even if they’re not bad, that best case scenario, they’re actually supposed to be performing next Tuesday, or maybe missed last night’s gig. You think — who booked these people? Did they know the sounds of both bands, because this was not a match.

Again, I get not wanting to be immediately and seemingly forever stuck in a certain category of music, especially when styles come and go, and sounds can vary and change over time. However, by not trying to fully describe your sound, genre, style, influences, similar bands, etc., you’re not really getting that mystique you think you are. In reality, you’re making it harder for music publicists, concert promoters,  booking agencies, album reviewers and radio hosts.

When bands describe themselves as “nothing like you’ve ever heard,” or “a blend of styles,” chances are we have heard a band similar in some sense, and that unique blend can be described more. With words. I’m not trying to say that there is a shortage of unique bands, it’s far from the case. I just wish bands weren’t opposed to trying to pinpoint what it is their current sound is. Narrowing it down to a genre, or suggesting sections on their bio with a category like “for fans of” helps music lovers associate/anticipate if they’ll enjoy the sound, based off their other likes/dislikes. This label can be super helpful to rising artists, to give a better platform for their sound and add fans you might not otherwise reach.

You might think your short, nondescript, mysterious two word Facebook page bio will come across as super authentic and quirky   … but putting “the best” in the genre section doesn’t help fans, or professionals. When you have deadlines to review albums, write features on up-and-coming artists, it’s difficult and time-consuming to sit down and listen from scratch, with no guidance as to what it is you’re delving into. It’s a mystery many of us don’t have the time to figure out. And like everything, music is subjective. What one person hears as an influence might be totally different from the next. Sometimes, its best if the ones creating the music tell us what it is that inspired their sound, or how they want to be viewed.

Don’t get me wrong — silly bios always make me giggle. But often times, they’re just not helpful. And ultimately, press, marketing, promotions, publicity rely on them as a starting point to do their jobs.

From someone who has booked artists, written bios, interviewed musicians, reviewed singles and albums, covered concerts and festivals, take it from me. It won’t hurt anyone to describe your sound with a few sentences. Chances are, the extra effort won’t go unnoticed.


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Sarah Spohn

Sarah's a little bit of a rock 'n' roll rebel, almost always at a concert. She loves to soak up the scene, immersed in the music journalism world, still buys CDs and rents music documentaries from the library. Just don't call her a hipster. She's never been that stylish.

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