An alternative to what? The use of the word Alternative in music. | Articles

Bands, I have to get something off my chest. It’s about a word. Yeah, I know you’re probably shocked that a writer has a beef with a word. Predictable maybe, but what can you do? Writers get hung up on words. You might be wondering what word could have me so wound up that I need to blog about it. Well I’ll tell you. I have a beef with the term alternative – particularly as it applies to music.

I know that alternative is mostly a radio designation. Once upon a time, it might have had a little (and I stress little) more meaning. My question whenever I see a band that is categorized as “alternative” is “An alternative to what exactly?” I know. It means an alternative to pop.

Trust me, I am all for alternatives to pop music that is made with machines and sung by computers. But think about this. Norteno music (you know, the music that sounds like a Mexican polka) is also an alternative to pop. Black metal is an alternative to pop. But you know something? People have at least a vague idea of what norteno music and black metal sound like. Alternative is a generic term that doesn’t really give any description of the music. It doesn’t do anything to make a band stand out.

Think of it this way. If you send me your press kit, and you categorize yourself as an alternative-rock band, what are you really telling me? That you sound like every rock band that had one hit in the 90s (and a lot of others that weren’t even one-hit wonders)? Now ask yourself this. Why would you choose to give yourself a label that provides nothing distinctive about your band? I get it. Radio would identify you as alternative, and it helps you target the radio shows that might give you airplay. Airplay is always a good thing for a band – even if it’s on a station that can only be heard in a small town in Wyoming. But you should be able to distinguish yourself from other bands that are also looking for airplay at those same stations.

The term alternative is etched deeply enough into the music business that it’s likely not getting phased out anytime soon. In that regard, it makes sense to leave the term alternative in your press kit. Here’s my challenge to you though. Keep alternative in your press kit, but also try to come up with a term that is more unique to your band. (I can tell you from all the press kits that I see that many bands list themselves in multiple categories.) I’ll give you an example.

The Zambonis is a band that lists itself as hockey rock because all the band members like hockey, and they do a lot of songs about hockey. How many bands do you think fall into the hockey-rock category? Exactly. The Zambonis stand alone in that category. Plus, I didn’t have to look up The Zambonis. I was once contacted about the band, and I remember it because I’ve never heard of another band that plays hockey rock. If you do come up with a category which is unique to your band, then guess what. You’ve automatically given prospective interviewers something to ask you about when you do an interview. You’re not making music to lump yourself in with a million other artists. You’re doing it to stand out. So stand out already and at least try to come up with some enhancement to the overused and generic term alternative.

Here’s a link to a Los Tigres del Norte video if you want to link it to the term Norteno music. 

And a link to a Goatwhore video if you want to link it to black metal. 

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