Music Business

Underground Artist Guide: What Is An Underground Artist?

Photograph of the blog post author, Carla Johnson

Carla Johnson

4.8.2021

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There have been many articles and publications which have referred to underground music and underground artists. Although many might be aware of the term “underground” not all are as familiar with what it means.

The terms “underground” and “alternative” are ever more used for the categorisation of music releases whether that’s online, in record shops, in music magazines, awards, or even fan conversations.

The terms are used with other genres to describe a specific music style e.g. alternative rock and underground dance music. 

Nevertheless, the simplicity of its comprehensive definition underground music still remains a queried category.

So, what is an underground artist and what requirements do you need to fulfill to qualify for underground music? In this article, we are going to delve into everything you need to know about underground music.

Be sure to stick around until the very end so you don’t miss out on any key information!

What Is An Underground Artist?

underground music

The definition of “underground” has been a way of describing artists for many years. Regardless of whether you are a writer, painter, or musician you might be defined as “underground artist”.

There are some slight differences between an underground music artist in comparison to an artist who is considered to be struggling. 

For example, underground rap artists might be someone who has been in the game for some time. Someone that has their own individual style, great rhymes and ultimately knows what they are doing. 

They are also likely to have a strong local fan base who follows their music. In comparison, a struggling or new rapper/hip-hop artist, is more likely to be coming into their own.

Perhaps they are still perfecting their craft and are just beginning to put music together or start performing.

The clear distinction between an underground versus being a new artist is usually their level of skills. But the comparison between an underground artist and being mainstream is more important.

What Qualifies As Underground Music?

The term “underground music” has been associated with a variety of artistic movements. For example the psychedelic music movement of the mid-1960s.

However, the term has come to be described by musicians who want to avoid the trappings of the mainstream commercial music industry. 

In today’s popular music, “underground” relates to a variety of musicians. Ranging from artists that do DIY guerrilla concerts and self-recorded shows to those that are signed to small independent labels.

Working beyond the margins of the ordinary has become progressively popular in numerous aspects of society. Underground music comprises musical styles over and above core culture.

Any music which is not being justifiably commercialised is known as underground. 

This type of music is typically considered to communicate thoughts. For example, a high concern for intimacy and sincerity. As well as an understanding of artistic identity in contrast to conformity to present core styles of commercial music. 

This sort of approach and way of thinking enables for an honest and raw expression by artists, musicians, writers, and other creative minds. 

Basically, underground music comprises any song which is not legally commercialised and distributed on mainstream platforms.

These unique artists present themselves in a way outside of the conventional ideal. Underground music is a pure form of musical art. 

Credibility 

underground music band gear

Bands and artists who produce underground music obtain credibility. In comparison to music which fulfills the bottom-line principles that come from most major labels.

Underground music is available in all genres. However, the focus is on the quality of the music and the honesty of the artist’s message. 

Big record labels and the artists who represent them have millions of dollars to their disposal. They secure exposure to convince audiences their music is actually good. 

With marketing, you are able to sell anything. However without you having to rely on the quality of your music to survive. Underground artists must create great music in order to prove themselves. Nothing is handed to them.

Mainstream Music

underground music scene

Mainstream music focuses on trends and popularity. Even though it is considered “real” music, it has been changed by a third-party to make it more agreeable to a mass audience.

For mainstream, the top songs are regarded as the best and the hottest tracks.  

Radio/ Billboard charts, the trending section of YouTube or curated Spotify ‘hit’ playlists tend to play a specific role; to enhance the popularity of chosen musical styles as well as their recognised representatives. 

These channels are recognised for being mainstream distributors therefore it is fair to say that underground music has less obvious media presence.

Underground music is in more ambiguous areas of the internet such as personal blogs, forums or smaller personal playlists.

In contrast, the creative and production process of underground music is entirely in control of the independent artist, allowing the art to be authentic and unique. 

In underground music, the listener, and not the majority of the population, controls the music they wish to listen to. Underground music creates a strong connection between its artists and the listeners. 

Artists can create a connection with their fans through smaller venues which allow for an authentic experience.

Artists in the underground scene are more open and eager to share their life stories; giving another layer of understanding to the art. 

The underground is easy to associate on an emotional, and spiritual level. It extends further than societal boundaries and fosters genuine human connection as well as being an immersive experience.

How Do You Know If An Artist Is Underground?

underground music

There are plenty of underground rappers and underground R&B artists whose specific aim is to become a mainstream success. However, this is not always the case. 

Although to some, the term underground basically refers to not yet achieving mainstream success, there are plenty of artists who are happy to stay underground for the entirety of their careers.

It can be rather difficult to understand which musicians are choosing to stay underground. Compared to those who are merely unable to produce a hit huge enough to become commercial successes. 

In many cases, though, it is safe to say that most artists want to become as financially stable and successful as they possibly can.

Although, there are some occasions when a musician will choose creative independence over greater financial success.

Notoriety 

There comes a number of responsibilities when you have mainstream notoriety, this includes flashy interviews, a public persona, having to go on tour throughout the country or possibly the world. 

To plenty of musicians, this is the ultimate way of living the dream, however, there are some artists who prefer to simply stay small and focus solely on the music.

This isn’t to say that mainstream artists don’t care about the craft and actually for many they do.

But fame by nature can be a distraction and it does become harder for musicians to remain productive and creative when they have a queue of people ready to beat down the door to get to them.

Furthermore, another thing that sets underground artists apart is their actual sound. Some types of music, although remarkable and highly creative may just lack mainstream appeal.

Again, this is not to say that all of these styles lack mainstream appeal but sometimes genres can be misunderstood. 

Equally not all are good and there is plenty of bad music out there. In many cases, the main reason musicians are unable to get a record deal is likely to be that their music just isn’t good enough. But there are exceptions to this rule.

There are instances where artists are exceptional but they create music that is so unique and different, there is just no mainstream appeal to it. 

In a case like these artists who create sounds that we think of as underground music are those who are very talented, but tend to focus on a type of music that does not have mainstream appeal.

How To Find Underground Artists

bandcamp

This is a great amount of talent which can be searched for on the internet however you won’t necessarily be able to find it on iTunes, Apple Music, or Spotify.

This is due to the talent originating from underground artists. They are likely to be independent, unsigned musicians who are putting their work out there with a limited scope.

Not the only way but certainly the best way is to find artists who are independent via SoundCloud.

SoundCloud tends to be the go to for creatives to upload their own creative sounds and songs and is the perfect place to discover underground music. 

As you sign up for SoundCloud you will begin to play and like particular songs, the Discover tab will intelligently start to recommend other songs which you should check out. 

You are also able to follow artists you enjoy so you can be kept up to date with new content. This will come up in your feed and you can save songs as well as create playlists.

Bandcamp

Bandcamp is also useful as it takes a love of indie artists to the next level. Artists are able to upload their tracks and also full albums

Fans all over the world are able to directly support artists by paying for the music through Bandcamp, just like they would if they were to buy an album put out by a record label. 

You can find artists through Bandcamp by checking out the new and notable section, browse genres or follow the artists you wish to be updated on.

You can get a customisable page which showcases your collection of music as if it builds up over time. 

The best way to find the greatest underground music by staying active and keeping yourself involved. Regularly browse, like, and download music so you gain recommendations for music you like. 

It is also important to get friends interested in indie music by joining these services so you can share recommendations with each other and become more eclectic with your tastes.

5 Top Underground Artists

Now that we have established what underground artists are, let’s go over 5 of the best.

Paint Fumes

paint fumes underground music

Whether you realise it or not, a distorted garage with raspy rock ‘n’ roll vocals is something you need in your life.

Paint Fumes, Fresh Graves LP (winter) creates epic garage rock which defines the genre with its hard-hitting melodies.

JoJo Hundred

jojo hundred

Jojo Hundred is a popular British artist best known for the songs: “Better Days”, “Telly”, “Public”. He produces drill, however, he is also very adaptable with his style.

Lordkez

lordkez underground music

It’s impossible to summarise the music produced by Lordkez in a couple of words.

In order to explain it to anyone who hasn’t heard music from this South African star, we would describe it as experimental and moody neo-soul coupled with a splash of hip-hop for good measure. 

Moving promptly from her soft-spoken word and gentle vocals, which she shows exquisitely on her single “Disgusting”. She also creates an eerie atmosphere through her sounds.

Lordkez accomplishes to cover a wide spectrum of genres whilst delivering smart lyrics to keep you captivated.

Bananagun

bananagun underground music

For something more eccentric there is Bananagun. The band’s Kinks-like energy and globetrotting psychedelia are a much-needed throwback.

“The True Story of Bananagun” is the band’s latest album for 2020, creating a distinctive spin in the realm of funk. 

The album also comes armed with lots of tracks which are influenced by an Afrobeat that is sure to keep you dancing.

Jafaris

jafaris underground music

The Dublin-based hip-hop artist is one of the most thrilling new prospects from Irish rap’s recent rising wave.

So different and very musical!

Our Final Thoughts

You should now have all the information you need to know about underground artists.

With the variety of possible categorisations amongst the underground and the mainstream, labeling a band underground or alternative is a concept carrying a lot to be unpacked. 

All things considered, how artists choose to describe their music between underground and mainstream might tell you more about their particular musical priorities than their music taste.  

Now that you know what does underground artist mean and what makes an underground artist, you can listen to underground music and discover some exciting sounds near where you live.

Who knows, you may even discover something amazing which you wouldn’t have heard before.

Who’s your favourite underground artist? Let us know in the comment section below. If you enjoyed this article, why not share it on your socials. Be sure to tag us @musicgateway in your post!

If you found this article useful then why not check out another on our blog? Here are our articles on how to create a Spotify Artist Playlist, our Opening Act Guide, and Music Industry Networking Tips to get you started!

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