What Is Commercial Music?

My views and opinions about the "real" story behind commercial music.

Ultimate Guitar

The dictionary describes the word as (5 entries found for "Commercial"): 01. A. Of or relating to commerce: a commercial loan; a commercial attache / B. Engaged in commerce: a commercial trucker. / C. Involved in work that is intended for the mass market: a commercial artist. 02. Of, relating to, or being goods, often unrefined, produced and distributed in large quantities for use by industry. 03. Having profit as a chief aim: a commercial book, not a scholarly tome. 04. Sponsored by an advertiser or supported by advertising: commercial television. 05. A paid advertisement on television or radio

Now, lets look at '1A'. Commercialism in the music industry couldn't have this possible meaning because it does not have much of a relation to commerce (that being the commerce that derives from buying and selling goods). The second 'part' of this meaning also cannot be counted towards the music industry for obvious reasons (I don't know any musical artists that make a 'side living' from trucking). So we look at definition c: 'Involved in work that is intended for the mass market: a commercial artist' and there it is.

The main justification of a commercial artist is one that is on the scene to make money, to make music for the 'mass market', the main population, the most popular music, or 'pop' music. Now, that seems fair that these commercial bands in the music scene are there to make money. If they weren't they why else would they want to be in a band? A band needs money to thrive and become famous, which is every young guitarists dream. So a certain element of music is based on the income that they are recieving and to have any chance of becoming 'known' as a band, they are going to have to make money somewhere along the line.

The second definition of the word 'commercial' that relates to music is number 3 in the list, which is the main reason for a number of people to not like the way 'commercial' bands are set up. People see that some bands are created, completely for the intent to make money. Whether this is right or wrong is not the issue here, to most music is a business and to bring home a huge pay cheque is the most important thing because that is what is going to pay the bills in the household.

So, just like you or I would go to an Office (or any place of 'normal' work) to earn a living to pay for houses/cars/anything in our lives, these people make music, or just look good in an effort to make as much money as they can. From this deduction you will often find that the 'alternative' musical genre do not look highly on that, basically because the most music that fgits into this category is pop and punk because they are easy to manufacture and everyone listens to them (or at least, a huge majority of the population), which is where all the money is.

However, the argument of this column is whether or not the correct term for 'commercial' music is ever used. I've spoken to so many people about the difference between non-commercial and commercial music, as many of you will know from the 'Commercial or Non-commercial' thread in the music forum. Everyone thinks they have the same ideas about what commercial really means, but in reality those ideas are extremely far from the truth.

Looking at those two definitions above it is easy to see which a lot of people feel is more linked to what they deem to be 'commercial' bands. The second definition I have described above "Having profit as a chief aim: a commercial book, not a scholarly tome" is what most people would class a commercial band as. However, a lot of the bands out there that are thought to be commercial by the 'alternative' scene do not actually fit into this category.

Simply because of their fame and fortune many 'alternative' bands are deemed a commercial band when actually, most of those that think of them as such do not have the faintest idea what the true meaning of commercialism is. How can Linkin Park be commercial when they were not a set up band, but just like Incubus, Hoobastank and so many 'rock' bands out there they were a band in College and were looking for that 'big break' many years ago, only finding it with the aid of Napster and the fact that they toured the underground every night promoting and gigging. So they were not set up to make money, but rather to make the music and simply rake in the profits, as any band would, when they became famous. Therefore, judging by this background they are not a commercial band at all.

The main problem is that nobody really knows the real identity of what a comercial band really is. There are so many bands labelled commercial but for the wrong reasons in most cases. I'm sure that a lot of the pop bands that have been set up over the years are truly commercial because they have been created for the sole purpose of making managers and record labels (when they choose the rights band, naughty naughty Mr Cowell!) loads of money. Take That, Boyzone, The Backstreet Boys and N'Sync among many, many others, were set up to make themselves, their managers and labels lots of money. If you actually listen to most of them, they can't sing, let alone write songs to sing in the first place. Everything is done for them and their voices are often studio edited to at least give them a sound that might make them money.

But, bands such as Linkin Park were not 'set up' like these guys and began their musical career in the same way as Metallica and Incubus, by making some music, getting some gigs and making their slow rise to fame. As soon as they became popular and the 'commercial industry' (that is TOTP and Radio One) snapped them up they are seen as commercial when actually this is a great way to help promote a song and up-and-coming band, but the main musical element, the main reason they are there is still the same. But popular is seen as commercial these days and it's a bad rep that too many bands are getting.

I'm beginning to think that this has something to do with the fact that, slowly but surely genres in music are changing. Lately there have been so many 'alternative' types of music hitting the charts, which makes me wonder whether these bands that hit the charts at the time when that genre was never heard, was actually the turning point in the music that the majority of the population would turn to listen to. So now you will find that so many bands will be labelled as commercial because of the fact they are in the charts, but it's very difficult to find a band that won't appear on TOTP because although it was a strictly pop programme times have changed and so has the genre that the general population listens to.

These bands that are becoming so famous were originally in the music industry for the love of music, but as they get famous and people buy their albums more of the media will take them on as ratings would soar with the correct music. Bands like the Lost Prophets that were once rarely heard anywhere are now being played daily on Radio 1 (as I have to listen to it over and over again in the Office), but they aren't comercial they just make good music that the 'new breed' of music listeners wants to hear.

'Commercial' music is a vague term and too many people use it out of context these days. Because nobody can really say what the real term means anymore then comments based on this argument are extremely invalid. I don't feel that much commercial music remains in the popular charts anymore because the genre that is being played is not completely pop culture anymore but more heavy/guitary music. Yes, there are many guitarists that have been manufactured, but you cannot tell a really good band to learn the guitar to become popular. That is choice most people make on their own, which is why I feel that much of the bands that 'really' play guitar with some skill cannot be manufactured and therefore cannot be commercial. It's a difficult era because of this and the arguments will reign for a long time until a 'proper' term is derived for what a 'commercial' band really is. Until then, people will make the mistake of judging too quickly and with false reasoning.

10 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Some things of this columns are true. But, linkin park of course they are commercial. They only play 2 chords and a crapping drum rythm. Please. I would give you five stars, but you loose 3, because of that commentary. Thinks the things that you're going to saw before you write this fuuking article
    Just because they play two chords doesn't mean they're commercial. There's a difference between selling out and just plain old sucking.
    Great article. I totally agree with the artist making money. If i could make hundreds of thousands of dollars playing guitar, i would do it, but with my music though. Everything is made commercial once it gets popular. The beatles were one of the greatest bands of all time, but without commercialism and merchandising, they wouldn't have been as popular. They would have been stuck in England. Now the Monkee's were made to counter the Beatles, totally made to make money. Sure they could play their instruments, but the record company wanted them to play a certain type of music.
    Comercial music is music that sells. That doesn't make it any better or any worse than the stuff that doesn't sell, in terms of quality anyway, because everyone has different subjective tastes. The problem that I feel most comercial music has is that it's watered down for mass appeal, boring, and utterly non-descript. That's exactly how I'd describe Linkin Park and I'd probably throw the term "generically dark" in there somewhere too.
    Listen to Linkin Park's old Hybrid Theory material (before the breakthrough debut) and compare it to their well produced and well written though utterly boring and devoid of depth album Meteora. Graph of musical talent demonstrated clearly shows a linear decline...
    Thanks Partyboy, I agree with you and I'm glad you noticed that I didn't write this ABOUT Linkin Park, they are just my example and the guys above you proved what I'm saying to an extent. Yes, commercialised music is boring but that doesn't mean that it didn't take some talent to write it.
    Some things of this columns are true. But, linkin park of course they are commercial. They only play 2 chords and a crapping drum rythm. Please. I would give you five stars, but you loose 3, because of that commentary. Thinks the things that you're going to saw before you write this fuuking article
    just cuz they dont play the greatestt stuff it doesnt mean htat they are commercial
    low end mad man
    You say that you can't make somebody learn to play simply for the possibility of making money. You forget that they can pick players that are already good and build a band of good players and tell them what to play. Don't kid yourself it happens