The heat between underground and mainstream music will never end, the people who love their mainstream music find underground music too weird and obscure, and those that love their underground music find mainstream too contrite and formula led. That is a massive oversimplification, and there is definitely a spectrum between the two, more of a grey area instead of such a black and white divide. However this blog isn’t here to debate which of the two is better, or more important, because it’s unanswerable.
We are here to talk about ways to open up an underground track to the mainstream. Not necessarily sell out, but maybe extend your reach, and get more people listening to it without changing your vibe or sound.
We can’t get anywhere without talking about vocals, so let’s start with that. Vocals are often the focus of a mix in a lot of mainstream music, because it’s designed for radio, and because the vocal hook is the thing that catches your ear and keeps the song in your head for weeks on end. Conversely an underground vocal can often be filtered, or sent to the back of the mix, or drenched in reverb and effects. Not to say one is better or worse, merely pointing out the differences in the way vocals are used. With this said, if you are an underground artist, and you love making your underground tunes, but you want to push your songs more into the public eye, and have more people perk up and take notice, being aware of how vocals are treated in mainstream music is important.
This isn’t to say you have to do it exactly like they do. Be creative with it, maybe switch between deeply effected and processed vocals and more clean up front vox. Don’t forget your harmonies, they are a powerful tool to thicken up a vocal, and are essential in mainstream music. But again, you can be creative with it, maybe have your crazy experimental effects sitting behind the lead vocal, and bouncing around on delays, and you can switch the focus depending on the genre and style and the effect you are trying to achieve.
The second main point I want to cover is arrangement. If your songs are 7 minutes long, and repeat the same phrases over and over like most electronic tracks do, that’s great, nothing wrong with that. But if you are looking to get more plays, and have a wider range of people listening to your stuff then Radio Edits are a great way to go about it. Radio edits are simply arrangements that are roughly 3 minutes long (give or take 30secs), that move through the parts relatively quickly so as to keep the musical ideas flowing and captivate a listeners ear. You don’t need to change the sound, or loose any of your favourite parts, well maybe one or two. But if you’re creative you can find interesting ways to keep them in whilst shortening the track so that not only your die hard fans will keep interested until the end. Besides that, it’s a great way to get out of your comfort zone and to learn what you are capable of when pushed.
If you’re having some difficulty, go listen to some radio edits on youtube, or just whack on the old wireless. Arrangements are not something in music that a lot of listeners will say “Wow, he’s stolen the arrangement from that other tune” it just doesn’t really happen.
So if you’re pushing your loved, but misunderstood tracks out into the big wide world, and you want more out of the exposure you’re getting, there are two great ways to do just that. There are loads of ways you can accomplish this, and never be afraid to take a mainstream formula and change it. Be creative!