Mainstream - how I see it

Written by: Ivor
Published: 20.10.2007
After a couple of beers and way down the night I got into a discussion with friends. It started out as a general topic about music and why no one ventures to bring Prog bands to Estonia. Eventually one of my friends opted that in a two years time a decent Prog band will be brought here because Prog is going mainstream. Say what?

In a short while we sorted out that not only we perceive differently what can be called mainstream but we couldn't even agree on what mainstream means at all. A simple word, a bunch of sounds suddenly turned out to be semantically a hard term to pin down and agree upon.

So, mainstream - my personal view. It seems to me that one can call mainstream something that is listened by majority or is simply popular. Fair enough. Something that is perceived shallow can also be thus classified. So far, so good. Say you have some exact method or criteria by which you measure if something is or is not mainstream. To what would you apply it?

Pick a genre. Any genre will do. Take the band that has pioneered it, that has created descriptive sound and key elements of the given genre. Say, a decade later, suddenly a boom of interest comes about and everyone happens to know the genre, happens to know the new emerging bands and music and they all talk about it. Furthermore, everyone suddenly knows this band and their early music from ten years ago. Is the band mainstream? Or is the type of music mainstream? Is their early music mainstream or not?

The point I'm aiming at is that I think that something can be called mainstream only in some given period of time. Mainstream is something that describes the tastes of some epoch but the term applies not to the tastes but to something created only in that time window. In any given time you cannot call mainstream something that has been created outside that time.

Any band that have pioneered a genre have a wave of followers who try to apply the newly found formula and coin some music to reach people. That following wave can be called mainstream but you cannot call mainstream something that brought that changing wave about. If the wave catches up with the pioneers then that's a different matter. Then they become part of the wave and their music can be called mainstream. You can say that the band went mainstream. However, you would still not apply the term to the change-bringing part of their career.

Hence, I think something can be called mainstream only if it was created in the wave of mainstream hype of some particular genre. You can say that something would have been mainstream in some period of time when such music was extremely popular but it wouldn't make it mainstream in the time it was created. Furthermore, I think that in the end mainstream may have little to do with how sophisticated and deep something is. If something is good, it will stand the test of time and will be later referred to by the gurus as the real diamond of that epoch even if majority remember only the hits by any other artist and this diamond doesn't ring a bell at all.

Let me just note in the end, that I have not searched for a definition of the word anywhere. Yet. Only now that I have more or less made up my mind about my own meaning of the word, may be a good time to see what other people think, or what the encyclopaedias say about it.

Over and out,
I.

PS. I refrained from bringing in any particular names on purpose.


 



Written on 20.10.2007 by
Ivor
I shoot people.

Sometimes, I also write about it.
More articles by Ivor ››




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jupitreas - 20.10.2007 at 19:40  
Very interesting topic. I think you are quite right about what bands can be considered mainstream, insomuch as we accept that mainstream is a synonym of "popular". I'd just like to offer a different interpretation, based on what is called the reflection theory in film studies.

Dominant culture (ie. "mainstream" films, music, other art forms) is connected to what we can call dominant ideology and both fuel each other in a reciprocal fashion. Ideology, in this context, can be referred to as one's way of thinking, their perception of reality and corresponding system of values. Dominant culture is such that reinforces the dominant ideology of a society (some would argue that it forces it unto the society by abusing film or music language; however, this Marxist/Frankfurt school point of view can be discussed at another time), while at the same time dominant ideology is what inspires dominant culture to take the form that it takes. This way of looking at the 'mainstream' helps us see past genres since what makes a band 'independent' or 'non-mainstream/non-dominant' has to do with whether they reinforce dominant ideology with their music or not. Naturally, many mainstream bands also have subversive elements; however, there is usually an overwhelming 'dominant' element in what they do, whether it is the mode of production, distribution, musical formula or lyrical stance.

So what this leaves us with is the need to identify what society we are referring to when we want to label a band as mainstream or independent. Although most of us could probably fit more or less into the so called metal sub-culture; I think this distinction is a little arbitrary and we should instead simply see ourselves as belonging to a consumerism-based, western-ethics, democratic society. Any band that challenges the 'status quo' in any way is therefore non-mainstream.

Of course, the view outlined above is highly debatable and has indeed been debated by many people. What do you think?
Doc Godin - 26.10.2007 at 08:59  
Interesting. I just think mainstream is simple as saying what is popular. Thank you for keeping it brief though.
Pinusar - 14.11.2007 at 19:32  
It seems to me that the usage of the term "mainstream" also depends on the context. For example, if you look at some more specific music scenes, some performers that might not be classified as mainstream in general context, seem to be mainstream in that particular scene. Because majority of people who belong to that scene or subculture listen to it a lot. But this is just an idea I got.
I think what I mentioned previously might also be connected to ideologies. Although I'm not sure whether I agree or disagree with the theory about ideologies yet. Because for example in some narrower circle, with a different ideology than the majority, bands that would be considered not mainstream by followers of so called dominant ideology are mainstream if you look specifically at that particular scene/movement(because the bands have the same ideology which is dominant in that subculture). But this is just a thought that came to my head and I might be wrong.
I have a feeling it is an unclear post and I even tried to reword a few things to make it shorter but I'm not very good at it.
Warman - 15.11.2007 at 13:57  
Interesting thoughts and I agree with a lot you wrote.
selken - 16.11.2007 at 05:03  
Well, for me the "mainstream music" is like the music accesible to mediocre tastes yes, I'm being rude here, I'm actually saying that my mom, my dad, my friends and maybe yours have mediocre tastes of music (not my sisters, I'm getting them into metal!!!) why? just look at mainstream media and listeners I'll make a list:
- You have to be 15 - 25 to be successful
- Your appeareance is before your artistic skills
- If noted your only skill noticed is the voice
- People listen to music just as "ear ornament"
- The music and the media covering/covered is highly superficial
Look at these people, they play the new track of X artist over and over till they got bored, they just put attention to the choruses and get bored very quickly, no tracks longer than 4:00 also they never put attention in the musicalization and technical skills.
One doesn't need to be metalhead to have a different approach, there are fans of other genres, rock, folk, classical and even pop that really get into their music and valorate it by the effort put on it, i.e. I like some pop and rock.
As there are mainstream Sciences, there is mainstream music, for the less specialists for the general public.
By being in this site I suposse that you understand this, I'm 99.999% sure that all of we are really into metal and we know exactly how does it feel that your music is not undertood, why? cause the "rest" of the people is not aware of the actual facts that music involves, but this help us a lot, cause we can proudly say: I'm a metalhead, I'm not like the rest!
Anyway, respect them.
Long live to Metal!!!
dismaleuphony - 16.11.2007 at 11:34  
Really interesting topic, and the way you present it, Ivor. I have been having endless debates with coworkers about a very similar topic - what do you call music that is was mainstream back in the 1980s, but no one listens to it now, or only older fans enjoy it? Is it still mainstream? Can something be mainstream at one point in time, but years later not be mainstream if a majoriity of music fans and industry executives shun or forget about the band? I'd be interested to see how your logic with mainstream works with older bands - or even older music from say 100 years ago...

But yes, I do agree that the originator of a certain new sound of music cannot be called mainstream at the given point of creation. It seems that mainstream, in a way, has to have some level of derivative quality to it - whether it be production, melody, or style.
ThunderAxe1989 - 17.11.2007 at 01:22  
Firstly, I disagree that Prog is going mainstream......

but about the word mainstream itself, it doesn't necessarily only have to mean popular but can mean 'reliant on fads/trends' also.
Talvi - 26.01.2008 at 03:57  
I'd love to read some examples in there, and that.

Even though, there is also that mainstream changes on each place, or more specifically, the media that it's there. For example, I live in Spain. And the town where I live isn't very big, like 25k habitants. Let's say I don't have internet and I watch 'normal' Tv, no cable, no TDT, the regular channels. Other music I hear it's when I go out at night.

So what do I hear? Rumba, 'international pop' (Rihanna and other bitches for example), nacional pop (Bisbal, guess some other people have heard of that dude. Just retarded), some disco/techno/something shit, mostly with a hot girl that tries to sing but fails horribly. Oh, and if there is some music on news, it's just some flamenco/jazz fusion, rap/flamenco or the concert of some 'huge mainstream' band like Spice Girls, U2 or the Rolling. Yeah, of course, it doesn't matter if like 10k people seen Iron Maiden when they came, better see some s***.

What I'm trying to tell with this? That here, as metalheads, the first thing we think when we hear 'mainstream' is SOAD, Slipknot, etc. All those Alternative/Nu-Metal/Metalcore bands that are so popular (and un-metal for many). But here I never heard of them, just because of the Internet. So mainstream also changes from place to place. That is also the reason why there is more 'variety' of people when going into a big city, because there are more social movements there. You see many more metalheads, punks and well, what people would call 'weird' people. Because they are not the mainstream.
+{Jonas}+ - 04.03.2008 at 17:30  
Written by Doc Godin on 26.10.2007 at 08:59

Interesting. I just think mainstream is simple as saying what is popular. Thank you for keeping it brief though.


I second this. Mainstream = popular...
Number Juan - 05.03.2008 at 23:33  
The way I see it, there are 2 levels of what mainstream means: mainstream within a scene and mainstream within popular culture. For example, though Megadeth is a mainstream band within the metal community, I would not consider them mainstream by any stretch of the imagination in this day and age when it pertains to the popular charts. I find it surprising that metal fans shit on a band like Mayhem or Opeth for example, for being too popular, while 90% of the people who enjoy Billboard charts music don't even know they exist.
Warman - 08.03.2008 at 01:28  
Written by Number Juan on 05.03.2008 at 23:33

I find it surprising that metal fans shit on a band like Mayhem or Opeth for example, for being too popular, while 90% of the people who enjoy Billboard charts music don't even know they exist.

True.
DayFly - 21.03.2009 at 16:11  
Written by Number Juan on 05.03.2008 at 23:33

The way I see it, there are 2 levels of what mainstream means: mainstream within a scene and mainstream within popular culture. For example, though Megadeth is a mainstream band within the metal community, I would not consider them mainstream by any stretch of the imagination in this day and age when it pertains to the popular charts. I find it surprising that metal fans shit on a band like Mayhem or Opeth for example, for being too popular, while 90% of the people who enjoy Billboard charts music don't even know they exist.



I think their popularity is perhaps the reason that all kinds of people check them out. In that case, no band can really hope to fulfill all expectations and as a consequence, people who happen to dislike the band get very vocal about it. No one likes to admit he doesn't get the music and so misguided insults regarding popularity are thrown towards the band instead. That being said, I never actually understood what people get from Opeth's music and I always thought the most notable aspect of Mayhem was the mystic surrounding them.
Number Juan - 21.03.2009 at 23:08  
Written by DayFly on 21.03.2009 at 16:11

Written by Number Juan on 05.03.2008 at 23:33

The way I see it, there are 2 levels of what mainstream means: mainstream within a scene and mainstream within popular culture. For example, though Megadeth is a mainstream band within the metal community, I would not consider them mainstream by any stretch of the imagination in this day and age when it pertains to the popular charts. I find it surprising that metal fans shit on a band like Mayhem or Opeth for example, for being too popular, while 90% of the people who enjoy Billboard charts music don't even know they exist.



I think their popularity is perhaps the reason that all kinds of people check them out. In that case, no band can really hope to fulfill all expectations and as a consequence, people who happen to dislike the band get very vocal about it. No one likes to admit he doesn't get the music and so misguided insults regarding popularity are thrown towards the band instead. That being said, I never actually understood what people get from Opeth's music and I always thought the most notable aspect of Mayhem was the mystic surrounding them.


Well, every person has a right to express how they fill about a band and not enjoying a band's music is also a personal choice. I just object to the term "mainstream" being used to describe bands which are way off the radar of what casual music listeners enjoy. I prefer calling bands like Opeth and Mayhem "popular" or "popular within the metal scene", as it is more accurate than "mainstream", which to me describes a certain level of widespread acclaim beyond metal.

As far as Opeth goes, I've only listened to their 1st record and thought it was not bad but I need to listen to it a few more times to make an educated response. I can understand why people hate them though since the most common criticisms they get are that their songs do not flow well and that their fanboys are the most annoying in metal.

Mayhem is very much about the mystic if you are thinking about the original line-up but the two guys who helped create that mystic the most (unwillingly or not ) are dead. I must admit I have not listened to Mayhem all that much but I must admit the current Mayhem has gone beyond the mystic and has established themselves as a legitimate band.
BloodTears - 20.07.2009 at 10:39  
Written by Warman on 08.03.2008 at 01:28

Written by Number Juan on 05.03.2008 at 23:33

I find it surprising that metal fans shit on a band like Mayhem or Opeth for example, for being too popular, while 90% of the people who enjoy Billboard charts music don't even know they exist.

True.


I'm with you on this one.
jollygreen - 10.12.2009 at 00:08  
Mainstream is a sticky topic personally I thinks its by popularity. Cross marketing has alot to do with it. Alot of billboard charts too. Which gives some reasons to dislike bands because they become advertisements for shoes or jeans or whatever that have nothing to do with their band. And then there are those annoying people who think they just know a band is a sell out because they became popular and dont give them a chance and talk smack to anyone who says they like them. Its all jumbled together (everyones opinion). But i guess some people feel more passionate about how something should be labeled. Another good debate for a label word would be "classic". Some say it means the band was influential (even if its a newer band like when people say "they're an instant classic") and then some believe that it means the band is just really old. Who knows!? To each his own

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