My first ever paid job in the music industry was as a College Music Representative working for Sony Music. At the ripe old age of 18/19, I was given the responsibility of writing and implementing marketing plans for new and emerging artists on the Sony roster. It was a great time to have this job, as the ‘baby bands,’ as we used to call a newly signed artist who did not yet have a massive following, included groups like Pearl Jam and Rage Against the Machine. These two particular bands I always found to be so interesting as case studies on a major label.
Pearl Jam and Rage were both highly politically charged groups. Many of Pearl Jam’s songs dealt with alienation, mental health and were a reaction in many ways against the overly made-up, overly dramatic, lacking in any sort of authenticity of their glam metal predecessors (insert Motley Crue, Twisted Sister, Bon Jovi). Eddie Vedder and his group of flannel shirted, long haired band mates were the first band to break out of the Seattle scene, bringing with them not only an accessible look to mainstream radio and tv, but the lyrics and themes across their songs that the youth culture of the moment could identify with.
Everything about Rage Against the Machine were that- angry, rebellious and in your face. From the band’s name, to their overt song titles (Bullet in the Head, Killing in the Name), to their self-titled debut album art showing Thích Quảng Đức, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, burning himself to death in Saigon in 1963, were clearly meant to stir not just controversy and conversation, but action.
The fact that both of these bands at the time were on one of the biggest music conglomerates, Sony Music, seemed simultaneously incredibly amazing and hypocritical. Amazing that artists who had such clearly anti-establishment values, who wrote and performed songs that made their listeners question and engage the topics of their tracks instead of just passively listening- that these guys had the chance and opportunity to spread their ideas throughout the wide and vast framework that the Sony empire offered -was mind blowing. At the same time, how could bands that seem to stand against everything that corporate America embodies sign with the one of the ultimate examples of such consumer driven entities?
This tension between getting your message and ideas out to the largest possible pool of listeners has been going on for decades. Having Julie Weir of Music for Nations on the podcast is a current example of this: how a massive conglomerate can play host to the music and art that are way outside the parameters of Top 40 confection, while artists can use the power that such behemoths offer to, as Rage Against the Machine once said, ‘Take the Power Back’.
Listen to the full podcast episode with Julie Weir from Music For Nations Here.