MAL DICEN: The challenges of being underground

Posted on 28 November 2013 by Caballo


It is been a while since I (Caballo) have written an editorial.

There are several reasons on why I’d like to discuss some of my personal views on why being underground is a blessing and a curse at the same time.

So, if you have some time; I would like to invite you to join me, for a small trip in the urban underground musical scene.

And before I even start talking about deeper and broader topics I would like to create a context on why I believe underground music is the real cradle, the source, and the only way to go if you want to be ‘an artist’ and not a product.

This will have more cons than pros, tho.


I have been honored, to write, collaborate and help in research for many “key players” websites in the planet.
Thanks to this, at some point I was reached by one of the ‘big search engines’ asking if I wanted to write about ‘EDM’ & the so-called “world music” for them.

My initial thought was: Absolutely!
But later in the process I learned I had to write about stuff that had been selected to be featured, which immediately took the whole fun of discovering new acts and scenes.

Let’s say that I would have to write positive stuff about some dudes I’ve never heard before, like Guetta, or Afrojack, but It went further, to write about Paris Hilton, Pitbull, J-Lo, Gaga and so on.

The task was not even that hard, I could perfectly lie or even take the painful way of actually listen to Paris Hilton new album and get the best of it, put it in a nice way, so people actually would see that this or that was worth at least of checking out. I could do that with no problem.

The sour part is they did want my name (real name) to be in the site, as the main reason they contacted me is because ‘street credibility’. (whatever that means) and a bunch of confidentiality agreements.

So I am keeping my word of not talking about more details.

But I can say, most of the ‘conspiracy theorists’ about some people dictating what people should listen to, are not THAT CRAZY.

But it is NOT dictated by any means or anyone. Music is unpredictable.

It can be marketed, aimed, and designed to be purchased by certain target consumers.

But even if it is not made by corporations, same purpose applies: We all want our music to be heard by millions.

So to actually play with their rules, and canalizing the profits to the actual multi-corporations who own part (or the total) of the labels in where the featured artists have contract was not a moral issue.

I still had no problem in doing that.
But the main reason for me to actually say no, to ‘an amazing chance’ is the main reason I created Latino Resiste, and later on its sub label Mal Dicen:

TO CREATE AWARENESS of acts and scenes that are struggling not only economically but also artistically to get heard by first world communities.

I realized even as a blogger, I faced same challenges 99% of underground musicians/producer face.

The Challenges of Underground Music:

1- Relevance: Many artists/bloggers (specially young ones) believe in renovating their style in order to keep alive their numbers. There is nothing wrong with that.

The problem with trying to be relevant at whatever cost is that music changes so fast, and hype genres get so over exposed that it creates polarization and actually sends people in many directions:

A) Those who were doing X or Z style which now is ‘declared dead’ by the guys who have a hidden agenda (OR never made it on that specific style) will suffer a HUGE shift. Some will move to the new hype, some will become bitter and grumpier.

B) Many hype genres are [at first] just recycled genres that now get relevance, thanks mainly for those who are in the spotlight, but in most cases never gets the real highlight in the actual originators; who eventually get forgotten.

C) Ghostproduction: If one artist cannot do that style, but the public who go to their shows is blind & deaf to something that is NOT relevant, a logical step would be to ‘collaborate’ or in many cases, go all the way down by hiring someone who can actually do the track one wants.

On the contrary side, there are hundreds of thousands of great examples of people who keep themselves relevant, by just sticking to their guns, and once in a while, doing a current collaboration.

It also is an educational process, that artists are guilty of. There is nothing wrong with keep playing your genre forever. There are hundreds of ways of reinventing yourself and keeping the original style.

2- Capitalize: Most of us, contrary of what is published on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, have a really hard time in making an stable income of music.

Some months may be good, but we never know how the next one is going to be.

I know many djs who play Tuesday-Saturday and make a ‘decent living’ of it. (some actually play Mon-Sun)

The problem of doing that, is you need to a) ask an absurd amount of money for show and then you go back to producing or B) to do it for an absurd amount of months/years which will affect your “RELEVANCE” if you play Hype music.

Plus there is no secret being on the road for too long, takes a gargantuan toll on your personal life and sometimes your health.

So ‘unknown’-independent musicians/djs/producers are always trying to figure out how to make money.
Call it youtube monetization, spotify royalties, kickstarter campaing, bandcamp sales, merch, limited edition vinyl, deluxe edition CD, etc etc. We try EVERYTHING. Some work, most dont.

Why? Over-saturation of that specific genre, OR, that genre ‘has been declared dead’. Not enough PR campaign. Perhaps the actual content of the music is not solid enough, there are countless reasons.

So, what to do if you are NOT making enough money? reinvent yourself, either visually, connect with an agent if you are interested in gigs, be part or create a network inside a label, but mostly, keep positive and proactive.

If you have a family ‘to feed’ and/or ‘legal obligations’ with your children, and you are NOT a famous producer who gets well paid for performing, I personally recommend to focus on what is important, and from there, to reach an equilibrium. when there is a will, there is a way.

3- Numbers One of the biggest problems any underground label, blog, or musician faces is the social prejudice and definition of success.

There are several bloggers who keep trying to sell the idea of THIS IS THE NEW SH*T, or even WE RUN THIS SH*T NOW!
There is an impressive amount of producers who drop their albums in exchange of Facebook LIKES or Twitter Followers.
There are quite a few ‘shady companies’ who use bots and random people, to boots your plays on SC, youtube, spotify.

Why? because most of the people define something is good even before clicking if it has lots of comments, likes, shares, or whoever makes the song is ‘relevant’.

But those numbers do not mean anything, they can be reset to zero by a human mistake, by a hacker, by an algorithm mistake, and then what? I DO believe it is really exciting to see all those comments, shares & likes in one’s work.

But if you do your music, your posts, your craft, your art, with the ambition of getting comments, traffic, likes, shares; then your are in the music for the wrong reasons.

well. not ‘wrong’ in the strict sense, let’s say for your own reasons, not for the ‘love’ of doing music.


When I saw I could not make it, Even if I was on Mad Decent, it would be a really tough task. We already have Diplo, Dillon, Riff Raff, and I personally have a different personality towards fame and not even mention my music.

I decided to go on my own quest.

I would help to get a highlight, to each one of the talented people/scenes I saw ‘struggling’ and/or to create a platform for people to get access to great music, with an actual background.

A sense. Either champeta, tuki, zouk bass, moombahton, 3ball, cumbia, or twerk, but everything had to have a purpose.

I created Mal Dicen: as a sublabel of my own label LATINO RESISTE, and either with LR or with Mal Dicen I have been able to ‘surf’ some of those challenges:

We made a great connection with Beat Making Lab, PBS, and eventually Major Lazer’s Walshy Fire was also involved, JUST to connect people from Ghana, Panama, Ethiopia, Fiji, and Congo WITH producers from all over the world who perhaps did not know about those rhythms or places.

We connected with Generation Bass, Zouk Bass TV to drop the original compilation ZOUK BASS Vol 1.
in which we gathered Kizomba pioneers and new acts all in an impressive co-existence that kept both, the roots and the new vibe of zoukbass.

Mal Dicen also did something I personally think was very relevant, that most of the people do not give us enough credit, is we released a “prank-EP” called Molly Grit, which was basically the first TWERK album, we just did not call it TWERK.. but WE DID have a song in the EP called twerk.

In a way, we could have made some rant, trying to be defined as the starting point of the new hype.
But I think neither the artists nor the label is actually interested in that. Totally Irrelevant. Like the genre will be in 7-10 years.

Keeping the positive side, we were honored to get Happy Colors, JSTJR, Banginclude, Beauty Brain, Mediopicky, Los Timbres, as the new additions to our catalog.

We dropped our second Cumbia Bass Beats compilation.

As much as keep working with our mates Chong X, Carnnibal, Kinky Electric Noise & Ruta Panamericana del Sonido.

So, to celebrate this.. we will be releasing FOR FREE on DEC 6th


As a way to: 1- be thankful with the people who have joined us in this journey.
2- A way, to lead by example.