I have been thinking lately on why I am annoyed when a band or group that I like gets big. Here are a couple reasons why I think the whole experience changes. This is regarding the listener/fan experience after the band is signed to a major label, gets played on the radio, etc.
Yes, they are still the same band–in a way. When a band gets signed to a big label, they are required to do things that even they may object to. For instance, they may be required to allow their song to be featured on a blockbuster movie, or even write a song specifically for it (see Jack’s Mannequin, Dashboard Confessional, Taking Back Sunday). Such a song will usually include lame lyrics contrived to somehow vaguely mention the plot or theme of the movie. When you hear the voice of your memories advertising the latest blockbuster, you can’t help but feel like the memories you created while listening to that music are cheapened a little.
When given more cash, the bands change their act. This may include adding more unofficial members to play live (see Green Day), or large theatrical presentations during live shows. Adam Young, who is mainly a drummer, now holds a guitar (despite most of his songs being synth-based) during live shows now because it is more marketable and exciting than him standing (dancing) behind a keyboard like he used to do.
These amplified presentations are not the band, they are the people the band’s label hired to make a stage show. As much as I would like to imagine The Killers sitting down and talking about how the lighting will change during their hit song–it isn’t happening. It did at one time though, and that is why a show of theirs in the early days would’ve been so much neater than now. While their music is great, at a live show now you are seeing 5% Killers and 95% label fluff that has nothing to do with those 4 guys. They are just the monkeys, told to dance by their label.
Their music may change as well. The label will ask for hits, and so the artist (to survive) will write songs which feature pumping beats, repetitive chorus lines, and likely be compressed to high hell to play well on the radio (apparently some people still use this archaic device). Even the Beatles were subjected to performing on command, writing “I Want to Hold your Hand” at the command of their manager because it would appeal to American girls. It was no coincidence that they played this on the Ed Sullivan show in NY. They were even forced to record it in German! The Beatles still rock. But if I saw them in a tavern as the Quarrymen it would be sad to see them doing tricks for their label like singing “Komm, gib mir deine Hand.“
But don’t they still make awesome music?
Likely, but there are other problems. I don’t know about you, but when I listen to an album, I latch on to it for about a month. During that time, my memories are fused to that time period. I can listen to any song and tell you exactly what month and year I digested the album. So when I hear a song which is linked with some time period being looped over a UPS commercial (Such Great Heights, Postal Service), I feel like part of my past is being cheapened. With that particular example, yes, I listened to them long before they hit it big. So you imagine my surprise when they exploded in 2004, taking all of those good times with them. It isn’t that it erased my memories, it is that instead of hearing “Such Great Heights” and thinking about driving to band practice at Tanner’s house during the winter, I think about a bloody UPS commercial and a guy drawing with dry erase markers.
It isn’t about “coolness”
Any band you listen to has many other listeners. Unless your favorite band is a personal artist who comes over to your house and plays music on your couch, you aren’t the only one. It isn’t the amount of listeners but the kind of listeners. If you developed a kinship with a song, album or artist when they were small, you have a special place for them. You went to their shows when they needed your support. You bought a T-shirt at their merch booth because you knew they needed to eat. If you hear about a band after they’ve hit it big, you don’t give duck’s beak about them because they drive around in a giant luxury tour bus, never talking to their fans because they are just faceless money dispensers to them. They become jaded, it isn’t their fault. Their listeners don’t care either. By this point their music is likely written for popular appeal anyways, so it is unlikely that you would latch on to them personally at this point.
These are my reasons for being so protective of artists I love. I’m not trying to be cool. I don’t think I’m the only one listening to them. I am just remembering when I was close enough to the stage to be given the mic by the lead singer to sing a part of the song (with my $8 ticket), or the many times I have talked to bands after their show to tell them how their music has changed my life. If you disagree, I would imagine that it is likely that you have never had an experience like this.