Every Time I Die’s eighth full-length, Low Teens, can be described as the perfect summation of their career. The Buffalo bad boys have been crushing the metalcore/hardcore/southern rock game for well over a decade now (even if they’re one of the only bands participating in this mashup of genres). What has kept ETID alive and thriving for so long has been their ability to consistently deliver meaningful and eclectic heavy music.
A very wise man once said, “I spent my high school career spit on and shoved to agree/so I could watch all my heroes sell a car on T.V.”
For almost 10 years these words sung by Gerard Way in My Chemical Romance‘s 2006 track “Disenchanted” have rung in my ears. At first I thought I was so attracted to these lyrics because they were the words of my hero telling me how life gets disappointing as you grow up. It’s emo, and a fact we hear constantly as we get older, but I took it to be more of a thematic message, rather than a literal one. Who knew that by 2013 I’d watch my hero allow my favorite band to break up in order to actually sell his own botched image of David Bowie-meets-David Byrne not only on T.V., but on billboards and bus stop benches like some forgettable basketball player on a box of Wheaties. To me, Gerard Way, like so many artists before and after him, had sold out. And now, in a post-My Chem world, I am forced to sit back and watch the rest of my musical heroes follow suit.
When it comes to selling out one must ask two things: First, what exactly is selling out? And second, who actually does sell out?
Selling out is a common idiomatic pejorative expression for the compromising of a person’s integrity, morality, authenticity, or principles in exchange for personal gain, such as money. —Wikipedia
Selling Out: To compromise one’s values and/or aristic [sic] vision in order to gain fame and/or monetary profit. Commonplace in today’s musical society. It is rare to find a successful musical artist who has not “sold out”, however, this is not to say that they do not exist. —-Urban Dictionary
Sell Out: To betray one’s cause or associates especially for personal gain—Merriam-Webster
As many of you may have heard, it was recently announced that the deathcore-turned-alternative-rock band, Bring Me The Horizon has left the independent punk label Epitaph and signed to Columbia Records, a major corporation of a music label. By the definitions above–having altered their sound to reach a wider audience and appeal more to the levels of rock being released today while leaving their small time, more avant garde sound in order to do so– BMTH have seemingly sold out.
With the release of their upcoming record’s first single “Happy Song,” fans can see that the transition from deathcore found on staples such as Suicide Season and There Is A Hell… is no longer rooted in the same artful direction as their clean vocal heavy Sempiternal. It is now almost exclusively pop rock with an accented aggression on several musical notes. Gone are the days of frontman Oli Sykes screaming “Crucify me!” and in place are those of him melodically encouraging us to “sing a happy song,” because sometimes rainbows and butterflies make your day much better than well thought out religious imagery used ironically in songwriting.
Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased. However, the proof is in the pudding. With the release of (what is technically considered) the first purchasable single off of the upcoming record, old school fans were even more blasted by the change of BMTH’s direction with”Throne.” Though it upholds strong connotations image-wise to their deathcore days, it is almost a direct rip off of mid-2000s Linkin Park. With accented screams, electronica highlights, and catchy, melodic vocals, metalcore fans were left in the dark and feeling almost betrayed by BMTH.
Sure, many bands “evolve” or “mature” and change up their sound, but it seems as if the introduction of keyboardist Jordan Fish is what really did BMTH in. Though his efforts greatly helped bring BMTH out of their shell on 2013’s Sempiternal, his continued presence in the press when concerning this record is rather alarming. Rolling Stone labels him as the “keyboardist and primary songwriter” in their latest and only article ever concerned with BMTH, ineptly (yet maybe appropriately) titled “Ditching Metalcore.” As Fish upholds himself as the voice of BMTH after his work with the band for only one released full-length, it becomes worrisome. Oli Sykes has not been present for the majority of interviews since the release of “Happy Song.” So, is Jordan Fish taking over the band and corrupting it into a commercialized redundancy of old school alternative rock or is this actually Sykes agreeing to sell out and abandon all that he stood for previously?
But it’s not necessarily fair to blame Bring Me The Horizon for selling out. We cannot blame a band for going against all that they were when we, the public and music consumers, are the ones who potentially could have forced them into the environment that led them down this path. With a decline in record sales and the need for radio-publicity to spark interest in artists, major labels can expand the horizons (no pun intended) for a band confined to the minute exposure and monetary limitations of an independent label. This generation’s need to consume music for as cheap (or sometimes as free of cost) as possible is what is deteriorating musicians’ abilities to live through their work on smaller labels. But is it worth an artist’s musical integrity? Let’s look at some examples.
Exhibit A: Fall Out Boy.
For many, Fall Out Boy is the poster child of modern day “punk” or “alternative” selling out. But when exactly did they get flack? Somewhere in between the release of their chart topping full-length From Under The Cork Tree and the release of “Take Over, The Break’s Over,” a fun single off of their follow up Infinity On High where they call out all of their haters. People were angry at the guys in FOB for at the time signing to a label like Island Records (a sub-label of Universal Music Group). Though in retrospect, it is safe to say that while fans may have been disappointed with their signing to a major label and slight departure from their original underground sound, they still remained in the vein of the sonic aesthetic presented on the lesser known Take This To Your Grave. Even while boosting their careers on major labels, it wasn’t until their latest record American Beauty/American Psycho came out that they truly departed from all forms of rock or punk in favor of commercial pop. As of right now, it took them their entire musical career (and a four year hiatus) to actually sell out artistically.
Exhibit B: Breathe Carolina
Not really punk or hardcore, but still relevant. Breathe Carolina left their minor label in order to sign to *DING DING DING* Columbia Records, just like Bring Me did. Now, how did that work out? After one album, Hell Is What You Make It, the electro-duo had a top radio hit with “Blackout” and a self-proclaimed total loss of creative freedom. Eventually they would depart early from the label to return to a minor league with Fearless Records and even lose founding member Kyle Even. The sole remaining member, David Schmitt, luckily just decided to grab a backing band and continue on his own with the release of the highly successful record, in both the alternative and EDM scenes, Savages.
So what is it about Columbia Records that was so daunting? Why haven’t bands like PVRIS or A Day To Remember chosen to find major labels when their sounds are actually marketable to the mainstream? PVRIS purposely chose to sign to the metalcore label Rise Records, even though they are a pop-synth trio. A Day To Remember opted to self-release their latest record Common Courtesy rather than be tied to or bought out by any label, even though half of their careers they have gotten flack for “selling out” despite remaining decently in the underground. Why can All Time Low‘s hit singles and chart-topping records go platinum while they perpetually remain on Hopeless Records? There is an element to selling out rooted in the very base definitions above, but there is also a more personal element of selling out that rests on whether you compromise the artistic integrity of your music in order to gain a profit. Whether Bring Me The Horizon will entirely sell out is still yet to be determined, though unfortunately it seems that with “Throne” and “Happy Song” the band that I loved for being so harsh and out of the box will now be known to the general public alongside old Muse tracks and new Arctic Monkeys on top rock radio. But only time will tell.
If you want something done right, do it yourself; unless, of course, you can’t afford it.
The majority of hardcore and punk was founded on a DIY ethos, something that HXC has taken to heart and pursued itself. However, in a world filled with YouTube stars and not-so-independent indie labels, it’s kind of hard to remain loyally underground when you can Google a band’s Facebook page and follow them on Twitter. Everyone has an agenda, everyone has a way to be heard. That’s why people make music. That’s why people write. That’s why we put it on the internet, so people will find it. The most DIY thing you can do nowadays would ironically be to keep everything you do to yourself because otherwise you’re helping fund major industry ploys like various social media outlets as the internet continues its shameless take over.
Let’s look at DIY as the mindset of finding funding, promotions, gigs and profits all on your own in an attempt to 1.) avoid the corruption of your art by industry heads or 2.) because you simply don’t have the proper financial backing to pay for the industry established services you need. In the end, DIY keeps things local and directly in and of the scene they spawn from.
“My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.”
This line is sung by Tyler Joseph of twenty one pilots on their latest single “Stressed Out.” While twenty one pilots is far from hardcore, from punk, and from being a band I’d ever admit to listening to regularly, this song has some serious significance in the modern music scene and beyond.
Beginning with the tell-tale tragedy of being incapable of making something original in modern music because every chord progression, lyrical concept, rhyme, and reason has been exhausted time and time again, Joseph extends his song’s meaning to life in general. We all begin as innocent, imaginative kids chasing our dreams only to get suffocated by the millennial dilemma of needing to make money just to survive. Can you really compromise your art for cash? Do you have to? The idea of “originality” is now determined simply by who can do what’s been done before better because we are no longer in an age of “do it yourself” but of “do it better.” And in the end, once we all get wrapped up in that school of thought, are we even the artists we started out as to begin with? “My name’s Blurryface and I care what you think.”
Perhaps “do it better,” or DIB, really is the future of music. DIY is now just a part of the major production of it all. We have seen multiple times how a DIY aesthetic can make or break a movement, early punk and hardcore being the most prominent flag ship examples. However, there are numerous other music realms that have greatly benefitted from the DIY momentum. EDM, dubstep, house, and basically the entirety of contemporary electronica is rooted in self-serving, SoundCloud blaring, warehouse playing DIY promotions. Who needs a label and a studio when you have a laptop, social media and a solid wifi connection? The same can be said of the major indie revival that has been taking over the airwaves these last five years. Many cool cats and Brooklynites have been able to get their sound out simply through connections and home studios, thus growing into their own, as we saw with Bon Iver and Grizzly Bear, among many, many others.
And of course, in the hardcore, metalcore and punk scenes of today, DIY is blazing through at rapid rates. Beartooth and Vanna are playing house shows. Terror is refusing to use a producer on their latest album, The 25th Hour. FrnkIero andthe Cellebration‘s debut record, Stomachaches, was recorded in a basement in full before a label ever saw it. The Ongoing Concept are hand making all of their instruments for their upcoming record aptly titled Handmade.
So is this the future of the music industry? Finding ways to bypass the enormous fees people lose from having to pay venues to play or sell merch? Finding ways to bypass the ridiculous costs of working in a studio? Finding ways to bypass the very nature of affording instruments (why not make ’em yourself)? Perhaps. And truly, I find this to be a rather endearing sentiment. But, naturally, there’s a catch. Major labels are picking up EDM artists. Grizzly Bear will remain decidedly broke if they simply bank off of their own touring and record sales for income. Vanna is playing house shows between dates of large venue tours. FrnkIero andthe Cellebration have the clout created by Frank Iero’s time in My Chemical Romance to get them noticed more. And in the end, these great sentiments and artistic routes are merely artists finding ways to do things better than the ways of the set systems, better in favor of the artist, not the labels or iTunes or Spotify, etc. Unfortunately, YouTube, Facebook, Instagram and other promotional platforms are benefiting and–in the vein of Facebook–profiting off of these promotions seemingly done on the artists’ own.
“When I grow up I’m going to be an artist and not a cover girl.”
–“Cover Girl” by The Ongoing Concept
“Out of student loans and tree house homes we all would take the latter.”
–“Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots
The major problem with going DIY in today’s world is expressed perfectly in these paralleled lyrics. The mentality and sentiment to be a true artist is stronger than ever, but so are financial pressures. Living in NYC, one of the major cultural hubs of the world is hella expensive. For $1,500 a month you can find yourself in an apartment the size of a closet with a job that allots only $30,000 a year before taxes. That math doesn’t quite add up. Student loans are increasingly sought after leaving art kids who have spent their whole lives being told to go to college in immense debt with nothing but low income, entry level jobs to look forward to in order to offset it. These financial realities are forcing the movements of various musical scenes out of major modern cultural hubs because no one can afford to actually be located in these places like they were back in 1979. The Bowery is now a hip and almost bourgeois section of Manhattan, no longer the artist slums of the city. Brooklyn is the most expensive neighborhood in America. To be DIY nowadays, you have to have a trust fund or those crappy minimum wage gigs in which you can actually fund all of the stuff your labelless music can’t and pay for people to see your band’s Facebook posts. You really have to suffer for your art or move somewhere cheaper yet less opportune.
Jay-Z’s catastrophic self-supporting streaming service, Tidal, is simply the latest example of a DIY facade in the industry. Instead of marketing Tidal to the artists who desperately needed that kind of self-serving support and funding, however, it immediately became an elitist platform. Madonna, Jack White and Beyonce were all names included on the promotional roster, however, bands like Vanna, The Ongoing Concept and FrnkIero andthe Cellebration were not. In fact, it would make more sense to see Gerard Way’s solo project appear on this streaming service’s campaign rather than Frank Iero’s simply because Way is backed by a bigger label and therefore is a bigger name in the modern media’s eye. (Staple Records vs. Warner Bros. Records; Warner Bros. will always win.) By carving out a niche hole, the entire notion that musicians can survive off of their work is still being dominated by the “giants” in the industry who feel they have some semblance of a say on who should and should not be promoted. Jay-Z is helping to create a hierarchy that will rule out any artist in need of a more profitable outlet than Spotify or Pandora.
So where do we go from here? Yes, in many instances, bands like twenty one pilots can be hated for their quick ascension and immediate backing by “scene-driven” powerhouses like Alternative Press and Fueled by Ramen, but at the same time, we are still watching people like Pete Wentz extend the grappling hook to struggling artists to make it big, to bring them up to a mainstream level instead of reaching out to names already on par with the pop culture greats of today, unlike Jay-Z’s actions. Without Wentz, the world wouldn’t have Panic! At The Disco the way they are known. There potentially wouldn’t be a surge in pop punk or as significant an emo revival. While this is still in a sense “selling out,” it is the lesser of two evils.
“Wake up you need to make money.”
–“Stressed Out” by twenty one pilots
“Don’t be the print of someone else’s painting.”
–“Cover Girl” by The Ongoing Concept
Is there a way to stay original and make money without selling out? Can you truly do it on your own in today’s world? While twenty one pilots may have been picked up by Fueled By Ramen, at least they were not completely overtaken by FBR’s parent label Atlantic Records. There still is a sense of obscurity around them, obscurity, however, in a way that is still boosting them to the tops of festival line-ups and tour bills. The Ongoing Concept, however, will go down in a history recorded by low budget bloggers and retrospective hardcore fanatics for making all of their instruments by hand, yet chances are they will not make it to radio play or ever grace magazine covers.
But then again, maybe there is hope. Kory Grow and Grayson Haver Currin over at Rolling Stone seem to like Beartooth and Marmozets, respectively, enough to have given them print coverage–even if it was in the form of a blurb. So where is the line drawn for acceptably selling out? Fall Out Boy was right when they said, “This ain’t a scene/It’s a goddamn arms race.” It all depends on what bands find the right weapons and how/if they choose to use them to get places. Until then, I’ll stay happy in my DIY realm with a bartending gig to fund my writing. The Ongoing Concept will continue to shine in their niche scene with their skills in both instrumentals and woodshop. FrnkIero andthe Cellebration will still have way more communal gigs in dingy basements than Gerard Way could ever hope to accomplish playing his large venue shows. twenty one pilots can continue to ride their wave and Jay-Z can make attempts to support his elite and shut himself off from the rest of the industry all together.
So I ask you, where did the DIY party truly go? I think I would like to be a member of that secret Facebook group.