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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Who do you think you are?

Progulus listener Zaii recently commented in the forum:

Does anyone else get bored of new Prog Bands saying things like "for fans of Dream Theater, Porcupine Tree and Opeth"? It's always the same few massive Prog bands and most of the time they actually don't sound anything alike. It would be nice if they named a band they actually do sound like. I have become so disillusioned by people saying such things that when a band claims to sound like DT, yes and PT for example I immediately become very skeptical and assume they are a not particularly talented group who are just trying to draw in as many listeners as possible by claiming to sound like the biggest band they can think of. When was the last time someone said "sounds like Karmakanic" for example???
This got me thinking again about the difficulty of finding your own sound and also finding a way to tell people what you sound like. You want to be accurate, but you don't want to confuse people. Zaii also made reference to a band that's been spamming the Progulus tag board. Spamming will make people mad to begin with, but they also claim to sound like Dream Theater, Rush, and Genesis. They aren't even close. I think it's bad form to try to ride someone's coattails in a deceptive way. If you say you sound like Rush and you don't, I probably won't take the time to find out what you so sound like. I'll probably forget all about you.

Sometimes descriptions of bands are written by their label or promoter. In this case you'll probably hear an accurate comparison, but it will also be of the biggest bands. This is pure marketing, meant to catch the most ears. This isn't necessarily wrong either. I think you do need to speak your audience's language. Once after a Strange Land show one guy in another band (a well known guy in this area) said "Man, you guys have that Kansas thing down!" I know it was meant as a compliment, and I took it as such. But I also said to myself "Huh?!" I'm the only member of Strange Land that listens to a lot of Kansas, and they really are a generation before us anyway. But the guy who gave us the compliment was a little older and probably stopped listening to anything remotely prog in 1980. When people hear something unfamiliar the brain needs to find a place to put it. Sometimes the closest match isn't that close at all. Do we sound like Kansas? Well, more than we sound like Barry White. When I have to describe Strange Land to non-prog fans I'll say Queensryche, Rush, King's X, maybe Living Colour, maybe Dream Theater (if they're metal fans). Listeners of commercial hard rock radio will know some of those bands, and the comparison isn't inaccurate. If I start talking about Pain Of Salvation and Fates Warning I usually get blank stares.

Another problem in describing my band is whether or not to talk about influence vs. inspiration vs. emulation. We are influenced by Devin Townsend, Echolyn, Dead Soul Tribe, and Nevermore but I don't think we really sound much like those bands. Sometimes I want to make the comparison though because I've been inspired in some way by such a band even though I'm not copying their sound.

So, back to Zaii's point, and knowing your audience. If I know I'm talking to the prog crowd I can mention all of the above bands and more obscure ones. It's hard to make the comparison to the lesser known bands, there are so many and such variety. Strange Land is influenced by Fates Warning, but its later material. We are influenced by Queesnryche, but mostly Rage For Order through Promised Land.

It is a mistake to compare yourself to someone you don't sound like. I think it's also a mistake for younger bands to say "for fans of" when they aren't ready or are not up to snuff quality-wise. If I say "Strange Land sounds like Symphony X" and we don't, you'll be annoyed. If I say "we're influenced or inspired by" then we still might grab your attention. There is too much emphasis on being the next [fill in famous name here] that bands are unwilling to let time and word of mouth work. I find it better to sound like me than to not sound like someone else but say I do. Unfortunately, in the marketing world, "I sound like me" doesn't cut it. So many bands try to say they sound like whatever you like.


Zaii said...

As I was writing the original comment over at Progulus, I was appreciating that alot of bands probably do this kind of thing because they feel it is the only way they can think of to attract as many new listeners as possible. I guess the fundamental issue here is "how does a band get its name out there?"

Goodness knows - the musical universe is saturated with mediocre bands of all genres, so sifting through it all to pick out the few bands that you consider to be truly good, no matter what your tastes are, is a real effort.

Ironically, it might actually be easier to get your name known to the prog community than it is for an aspiring hip-hop artist to become well known in that circle of music. I say that because Prog is such a small close knit bunch of people that if you can get your name into a few places - delicious agony radio, progulus, morrow, the prog archives, mentioned in the progpower forums etc. then you will capture a good proportion of us. Many of the rest can be gathered by word of mouth.

Saying you sound like x, y and z band when you clearly don't is something that will always irritate me. I think a band must choose its words carefully. Take Indukti for example, on their myspace they say “sounds like Indukti” because in truth their sound is utterly unique. After almost 6 years of continuous listening to Progulus I have never come across a similar band. But they do list some very familiar influences - "kobong, king crimson, tool, radiohead, iron maiden, mussorgsky, pink floyd, marillion, szostakowicz, all music that breaks your heart and move your soul.."

They list classical composers (szostakowicz is the russian spelling of Shostakovich) because Progressive music has adopted so much of the complexity of classical music. So yes, they have been influenced by szostakowicz but you could never say Indukti sounded like szostakowicz, and I certainly won't be recommending Indukti to my Grandfather simply because he likes szostakowicz.

So saying you are influenced by a band and saying you sound like a band are two very different things. As is saying "this band is influenced by" and "this band will be loved by fans off..." after all, most of my music has been heavily influenced by the early Progressive masters such as Genesis, Yes, Rush, Gentle Giant, Pink Floyd and so on. I couldn't claim to like all those bands though.

BG said...

I sort of agree with both of you.

Statements such as "Recommended if you like x, y, z" are mostly irrelevant to me. I like Dream Theater, but I would never buy a band's CD just because they sound like DT, I already "have" DT. It would be more interesting if they had their own sound.

Nevertheless I do agree with Sean that the "Sound like" labels are good for getting the attention of the main stream audience, which I think is something we should give some value.