What Makes Rock Stars Popular?

Sex, drugs, and rock and roll—these are just three of the many words always associated with a rock star. While it may be stereotypical, these phrases stand witness to the rise and fall of rock stars. Depending on the sound that a group would like to be identified with, identifiers of cool factor and talent is also highly variable. Oftentimes, what is cool is dictated by the image portrayed by the group. On some instances, what is cool for the group may not be the same with the audience.

In terms of talent, a group may feel that they have the power to carry out either an all new sound, or one that is imitated or inspired from another group. The audiences, however, has determinants which sounds become famous, and if renditions should be welcomed or not. Thus, it is not safe to identify which between the rock stars or the audiences have the final say as to who and what becomes famous. However, there is still a way to measure what makes it big in the rock arena.

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What makes rock stars famous? attempts to zero in on the probable reasons behind the success and failure of rock stars. Throughout the paper, different rock stars and rock bands will be studied. Their backgrounds will be analyzed and, where applicable, highlights on their lives and careers will be discussed in an attempt to create a picture of the successful rock star, and the not. In the process, the paper aims to identify the key elements of becoming a famous rock star. More than becoming famous, it will also be important to point out why some rock stars become icons and stay idolized, while others proceed to the back door unnoticed. In the end, the paper hopes to conclude if the fame factors increase or decrease the chance of a rock star to become an icon.

Reality Bits

The world stood witness to the rise of many rock stars. With varying sounds, looks, and styles, it will be entirely difficult to compare rock bands side by side. While comparisons will be good to identify key points and similarities, it will only be beneficial when involving rock bands with striking similarities. It will be good to look at each band to identify both the good and the bad points of their careers.

Black Sabbath. Kurt Cobain confessed that the hippest rock band ever would be Black Sabbath. (Hochman and Hilburn, 1992) Led by the legendary Ozzy Osbourne, the group has inspired many later rock bands whose love for playing rock music was infectious. The group played rock at a time when punk was in vogue and love for new wave was rising. Yet when they reunited to play in the 80’s, a new generation of fans began clamoring and singing Black Sabbath.

Guns and Roses. The group behind the powerful emotional line Sweet Child O’ Mine, Guns and Roses was voted 13th on the Greatest Bands of All Time list. (Greatest Rock Band of All Time, 2007) Reinventing themselves into emotional rock, heavy metal, punk, and back again, GnR created a solid fan base whose loyalty remained sweet all through the years.

Kiss. Apart from their intriguing face paints, Kiss is well loved because they can arouse their fans to have fun in their performances. The incredible merchandising that followed the fame of this rock band is also unfathomable. (Matheson, 2005) If anything, Kiss was a good mixture of showmanship, sound, and creativity put into play for an awesome rock band.

Led Zeppelin.             Jimmy Page is praised and adored by fans, his rhythms remembered and played repeatedly everywhere. The group which some aptly calls simply Led Zep has every right to be treated so. The powerful sound that the group creates has been dubbed incomparable. Fan Evster2012 (2008) claim that Led Zeppelin also play in such a way to please the audience, a plus factor. Soulful musicality wins Led Zeppelin a prime spot in rockers’ hearts.

Metallica. Ranked first by the online community in the Greatest Bands of All Time list (Greatest Rock Band of All Time, 2007), Metallica enjoys a following from different generations of music patrons. Showmanship is one determinant on how Metallica survived the highly competitive rock band industry. They epitomized the look and the act of a real rock band.

Nirvana. The sudden death of the vocalist Kurt Cobain may have put the success of Nirvana to a halt, but it did not deter loyal fans from continuing the legacy of the band. Up until now, Nirvana songs are being played, sang, and revived. Merchandise bearing album covers, Cobain’s portraits, and the band as well keeps selling until today. Bereaved fans remain reminiscent of Cobain, even including him in stories and bragging works signed by him. (RH, 2008)

Pantera. Pantera was on their lean years when their lead guitar man Darrell Abbott, or Dimebag, has been shot and killed. However, the legacy of Pantera raged on. Records kept selling and the songs are still being covered by new rock players. (Lyman, 2004) Merchandise also keep bringin in revenue, and collectors stay loyal to the Pantera generation that they have come to know and love.

Pearl Jam. Matheson (2005) hosted a survey which revealed that Pearl Jam is considered as the greatest American rock band of all time. There are many reasons for Pearl Jam to be chosen. The voting community pointed out that Pearl Jam had the sincere love for what they are doing, the creativity to shift between sounds while still maintaining their identity, their power to keep selling albums and keep getting new following and so on. Put simply, Pearl Jam is the number one for many.

Slipknot. If there is anything striking about the slipknot, it is their unrestricted costumes. Adding up to their showmanship and the unique sound that the group creates, Slipknot is always remembered by fans and non-fans alike as the band in masks. Masks have been a striking identifier to the band that I even became an album cover. (D’Angelo, 2004)

 

The Rolling Stones. First was the band, then a mean series of rocking years, then a magazine. Until now, Mick Jagger and the rest of the Rolling Stones never fail to delight. They are even in the concert film by Martin Scorsese. (Ansen, 2008)

Fame Factor

Looking at how these rock bands and rock stars caught the spotlight, several common denominators may be seen. From these factors, it will be easy to see which ones are needed by an aspirant to become known in the field.

Looks. For rock bands, the look does not necessarily mean good looks. The rock band look pertains to the style that the group decides to adapt. Many rock bands plunged into using weird-looking costumes. Kiss, which used face paints, paired with heavy hairstyles and often leather getups got the right look to match their sound. Slipknot’s use of different masks added up to the mystery of the band, and the dark and scary yet fun and fearless image that they are trying to portray. Ozzy Osbourne’s trademark long hairdo and sunglasses also helped identify him and his band whenever they perform.

A trademark look also gives a band the chance to shine through the highly saturated music industry. Rock bands often had the grunge look expected of them. By creating a new look different from the others; even if it is still grunge, the group is still remembered. Sometimes, it may reach a point when the looks are remembered even if the names are not. In any case, creating a unique and striking look which fits the group and the audience is beneficial for a rock band.

Sound. More than the looks, the sound is also a determinant of success among rock bands. At first, it might seem easy to sing rock. To begin with, there is none of the strict tone and voice measures present in other musical genre. Especially when the band is creating their own line and brand of music, they then become boundless by musical measures—they can cross the line between noise and music and nobody will care.

Yet there are things that need to be noted to ensure that the sound of a rock band is appealing to the audience. Pearl Jam’s constant reshaping of their music is a reason why they stayed on the top. (Matheson, 2005) Creating a sound inspired by another band, especially one that is iconic, also has its good and bad sides. When a band decides to create a sound similar to another, it is easy for the band to be remembered and to get into the ranks. However, comparisons can never be avoided. This puts the starting band into more pressure to sound as good as the one they are imitating. On top of it, if the new band is not able to stand true to the expectations of the old band’s standards, it can have a negative impact on the starting band.

Gadgets and Effects. Something that rock bands can never live without are gadgets and effects, as these help them create new sounds that improve their performance. Often, fans enjoy hearing new sounds that other rock bands have never showcased before. Fans who have the inclination to play musical instruments also get excited to hear and try to imitate new sound effects. Without gadgets and effects, it is difficult for bands to create distinct sounds from their instruments.

Showmanship. Apart from what the band produces on stage, it is equally important to know what the band does and how they do it. This is called showmanship, and this is yet another important factor for rock bands to become popular. Kiss, Pantera, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath fans swear on how good these bands were at performing. Much of this performance entertainment can be credited to the quality of the band’s showmanship. Thus, to be a good rock band, one should also have the moves.

Loyal fan base. Loyal fans help the band stay alive for eternity. This is exactly what happened to many old bands whose fame and popularity was replenished when new generations of fans started giving tributes to them. As Everson and Shay (nd) puts it, in internet marketing a fan base produces a steady stream of traffic and gives a sense of authority and prestige to the owner of the site. The same thing happens to rock bands. A fan base offers and solicits support for the band, even way after the band has stopped playing.

Attitude and the love for music. The online community who voted for Pearl Jam as the best rock band ever stated that the top reason is that they concentrated on the craft rather than the fame. This shows that it is important for fans that the band loves their music and stays like that even despite of being popular. (Matheson, 2005) Led Zeppelin had the same attitude. Having started the band in a sudden interest and sense of urgency to put one up, the members played and worked with the joy of playing in their mind, a revelation that members now recall and smile about. (Fricke, 2007)

True Test of Fame

Becoming a famous rock band is more like passing through a series of sifters.  In the beginning, there is a crowd of new rock bands trying to get their five minutes of fame. The audience listens to each and pick out the good ones. These are the ones who get through the fame test level one. At this point, the chosen ones are yet to enjoy the mainstream. They often only have a small fan base. The second selection happens when the bands try to exceed their territories. When bands get more fans and are listened to by more people outside their own zones, they go up one level in the fame meter. Those who do not make the cut will either have to wait for some other time, or rest. Then, everything follows. The really good bands get to sign contracts and produce albums. The others who have the funding may decide to produce their own albums, even if they are not too good. Some will venture into music television. Some will become producers themselves.

This has been the story of Jonathan Coulton, also known as JoCo. He may not be the big thing—yet—but his music prowess is currently the talk of the town. Like any other rock stars, Coulton was a dreamer. Being a rock star is just another dream for him. Yet, he did not allow this dream to go unnoticed. Following his bliss, he resigned from his job in a software firm and concentrated on writing music. Today, his loyal fan base gives him many things to be thankful about, except the money. Coulton’s songs can be downloaded in exchange of donations. (Sites, 2008)

Coulton’s story goes to show that being a rock star is not about the money. He is popular, but not rich because of it. He is popular because he loves his music, he loves his fans, and he aims to inspire. There is no assurance that Coulton, despite his positive music, will be offered million-dollar contracts, but the spot that he claimed in the otherwise crowded music industry is a mean feat to be happy about. (Sites, 2008)

Yet the ultimate test of fame lies after the spotlight has died down. When the lights are out and only the memories of the band are left, the really good bands get to be remembered. This has been one among the many measures of fans to Pearl Jam’s success. (Matheson, 2005) Years after the band has stopped playing, their records are still echoing the lives of people who play their songs. This says a lot about the rock band becoming an icon. However, as James Dio of Black Sabbath puts it, inspiring new players should not be so much of an issue. Icons should stay humble and concentrate on the music. As for the new players, more than being inspired by the music, they should also be inspired with what beautiful things a rock star can do—more than the sex, drugs, and rock and roll. (Hochman and Hilburn, 1992)

Conclusions

It is cool, yet difficult, to be famous. This is why those who are trying to get in the fame wagon are trying everything good, new, and eclectic to get a piece of the pie. The rock band arena is not an exception. Everyday, new groups form, play, and try to get famous. Yet, only the really good ones remain. Many rock bands have tried to claim a spot and won. In analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, it became apparent that these bands have common denominators. These same points are useful for rock bands who are trying to get famous.

A unique and interesting style is important as much as sound. These two allows the audience to identify the band. Gadgets and effects help a band improve their sound. Showmanship gives the band a chance to prove that they are good and serious at what they are supposed to do, which is entertaining the viewers. Attitude is also a key consideration. A good manager is also tantamount to a band’s success, because they control the activities of the band. Overall, a loyal fan base is equally important because without fans rock bands will also have no careers to begin with.

Recommendations

Despite the stereotype that cannot be taken away from the image of a rock star, it is never bad for a group to aspire to be a rock band. However, it requires discipline and perseverance for a rock band to become and stay famous. Because the music industry is always on the look for new talents, rock bands should always stay abreast on the developments of their craft. This does not mean that they need to purchase new gadgets all the time. However, it is necessary for bands to reinvent themselves according to their environment and the interest of their fans.

Much of the credit should also go to the fans. This requires the right attitude. Bands should remember that the fans keep them alive. Thus, they should keep proper distance but still be warm to the fans at all times. At one end, it should also be noted that even if rock bands are identified with sex, drugs, and rock and roll, it is not a factor to become famous. One can get the image, without really taking on the risks.