There are a lot of bands from California, but none quite like HEALTH. HEALTH is a three person outfit consisting of John Famiglietti, Benjamin Miller, and Jake Duzsik (also, formerly, Jupiter Keyes) which came into existence in the mid-2000s. They are often described as a “noise rock” band, a fitting classification given the loud, distorted, and sometimes even scary sounds which can be found within their songs. However, HEALTH’s contributions to the music world go far beyond just making music in an arguably small subgenre of rock. Alongside their unique sound, they are absolute masters of public image, collaboration, and promotion. The members of HEALTH collaborate often with artists from all over the spectrum of musical genres and HEALTH songs have appeared in a variety of media, yet they always manage to keep a recognizable image regardless of where they or their songs appear. Simply put, the members of HEALTH are able to promote their music through numerous routes as they always make sure to be recognizable.
However, before diving into the marketing expertise of HEALTH, it’s important to talk about the band’s musical style. “Noise” music can be traced back a long time, with the Italian artist Luigi Russolo being credited as one of the first people to make noise songs all the way back in 1913. As author John Melillio describes in his book The Poetics of Noise from Dada to Punk, noise music is focused on “exposing and resisting mediation”, while also modeling “a gap between sound’s production and its transmission”. Simply put, it’s something that is supposed to sound vastly different than traditional sounds one would expect in a song (a good example is probably the use of static by noise artists). It’s no surprise that over the years the rough sounds often associated with “noise” styles of music have been adopted by many rock bands. This is especially true for rock bands in subgenres like punk and grunge, as it fits with the anti-pop aura which these bands try to create. HEALTH also implements “noise” in their songs. Often they do so by heavily distorting instruments. Some examples of where this can be easily found are in the songs “STONEFIST” and “FEEL NOTHING”, as both songs start off with heavily distorted, quickly repeated guitar riffs. Sometimes the distortion actually appears to be creating a type of sonic symbolism, wherein the distorted sound appears to reference something else. One common “symbol” which is created this way in HEALTH songs is noises which sound like emergency alarms, which is fitting for the “danger-close” sound which a number of their songs tend to have.
Surprisingly though, the lyrics of HEALTH’s songs are often in sharp contrast to the otherwise brain-shaking sound they have. Duzsik, who sings lead in most of their songs (excluding some with features from other artists) has a quiet, somewhat higher-pitched singing style which one may not expect to be alongside the hardcore instrumentals surrounding him. His voice is also always recorded with little distortion, again, in contrast to the sounds of the instruments. The lyrics of their songs, although sparse, tend to deal with topics like loss, separation, and regret. This adds another layer into HEALTH’s songs: they aren’t just loud, ear-destroying rock songs, as there is such a contrast between the instruments and the vocals. It catches one off guard when a HEALTH song starts like it may be leading to a metal screamo shout, but instead they hear the quiet and tempered voice of Duzsik. This is emphasized even more in some of their collaborations with other artists who have “lighter” voices, such as “STONEFIST RMX” (which features Empress Of, who has a similar singing style to Duzsik) and “POWER FANTASY” (which features 100gecs, who tend to distort their vocals to be high pitched). Simply put, HEALTH’s songs catch one’s attention and also have a lot of interesting smaller details in them like the contrasting sounds and lyrics, or symbolic distortion.
As for HEALTH’s brand image, they generally tend to associate strikingly intense (and sometimes even unsettling) imagery with their songs, which is fitting given the sonic intensity which they also have. Music videos have been vital to musical success ever since the establishment of MTV in the 80s, and HEALTH is well aware of this. Over the decades music videos have come in all forms, from simple recordings of artists performing at concerts to abstract visuals which have almost nothing to do with the song being sung. The music videos of HEALTH, much like the striking sound of their songs, tend to capture one’s attention with their intensity. The music video for the song “SLAVES OF FEAR” is one of the best examples of this. Foremost, the video features people in SWAT-like uniforms with assault rifles running through dark corridors and, later, beating people with batons. There also are a lot of flashing lights in the video, including flashlights on the SWAT-ish people’s guns and quick cuts repeatedly back and forth between different clips. The video is also clever in that, as the title track of the album VOL4: SLAVES OF FEAR, the titles of the rest of the songs on the album periodically pop up in the video, acting as advertising for the whole album. Overall, HEALTH’s videos tend to fit very well with the type of music they make, as the videos are as visually striking as the songs are acoustically striking.
Alongside their solo music releases, HEALTH frequently collaborates with other artists, which has actually been one of the main ways in which their music is promoted. HEALTH originally rose to prominence through one such collaboration, the song “Crimewave” with the band Crystal Castles. Over the years they have also collaborated with numerous other artists, sometimes including artists in genres far different from their own. Collaborations like the recent “FULL OF HEALTH” with metal band Full of Hell may not seem too strange since both bands work in subgenres of rock, however, one may be more surprised with songs like “HATE YOU” (with rapper JPEGMAFIA), “MASS GRAVE” (with indie-pop artist Soccer Mommy), or “BODY/PRISON” (with electronic music producer Pertubator). HEALTH has actually worked with other artists so often that they recently released an album titled DISCO4:: PART 1 which consists entirely (besides one song) of songs featuring other artists. The wide reach of HEALTH is extremely smart because, along with making more music for their already existing fans to purchase/stream, these songs bring in new fans who listen to the artists they work with. Since HEALTH has such a distinct sound, and they are the ones providing the instrumentals on these songs, they are never overpowered by a feature and make their presence known to the listener, even if the listener originally came to listen for the featured artist. By featuring artists from so many different areas of the musical spectrum, HEALTH has the possibility to bring in new fans who may never have found them or listened to them otherwise.
Collaborations with other artists is far from the only way in which HEALTH cleverly markets their music though. Other forms of media can provide huge boosts in the popularity of a song, something evidenced even in the early days of rock by things like the success of Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock Around the Clock” in the 50s due to its appearance in the movie Blackboard Jungle. Movies and television were where a number of early rock musicians started their rise to popularity, and today video games have become an evolution of that. HEALTH is a band which has wholeheartedly embraced this medium, and it has been massively successful for them. Arguably the most clear example of this is their work on the soundtrack of Rockstar Games’ Max Payne 3. HEALTH didn’t simply contribute a few songs to the soundtrack of this game, but rather, they are credited with the entire soundtrack. This means that almost any time music plays in Max Payne 3, the player is hearing a song by HEALTH. Something especially important to consider about this is that Max Payne 3 reportedly sold 4.5 million copies (as of December 2020), which means that, unless a few people bought an absurd number of copies of the game, millions of people have heard the music of HEALTH through this game. Also, as mentioned throughout this essay thus far, HEALTH tends to keep their image consistent regardless of what medium their music is appearing in, and this is no exception. Just as a number of their music videos are intense and even frightening, Max Payne 3 as a game is intense, violent, and looks almost like it could be a HEALTH video turned into a game.
However, an even more statistically impressive appearance of HEALTH in a video game is in Rockstar’s even more well-known series Grand Theft Auto. The most recent entry in the series, Grand Theft Auto V, features one HEALTH song in the base game and a whole soundtrack from HEALTH for a DLC (downloadable content) expansion. However, something important to note is that the DLC HEALTH did the soundtrack for (Arena War) is required to play the game online currently, so anyone who has played the game online since that DLC was released has downloaded it. Compared to Max Payne 3, Grand Theft Auto V has been an ungodly behemoth of success. As of December 2020 it sold over 135 million copies, which makes it the second best selling video game of all time. Once again, assuming that most people didn’t buy an absurd number of copies of the game, HEALTH’s music has been heard by tens of millions of people just through its appearance in this game. This means that, statistically, HEALTH songs are included in a media product which has more than two times the sales of the highest selling album ever (Michael Jackson’s Thriller). Plus, this isn’t even the end of HEALTH’s appearances in major selling video games, as they also have had songs in the popular racing game Gran Turismo Sport and recently-released futuristic RPG Cyberpunk 2077. HEALTH even has gone “meta” with their video game work by theming their Patreon page with a “season pass” and other video game related terminology.
Even when HEALTH has appeared in more classic mediums, such as TV shows, they still often manage to stand out. A well-known example of this is their “appearance” on Adult Swim’s The Eric Andre Show. When it comes to musical appearances on TV, The Ed Sullivan Show set the standard decades ago with things like creating sets just for performances, and booking performers who were on the rise. The practices of this show have become the regular setup for any talk show. Yet, The Eric Andre Show is far from “any talk show”. Without delving completely into the madness of this show, the easiest explanation is that it is an extreme parody of late night talk shows. The set looks like something one would see on a public access show, hosts Eric Andre and Hannibal Buress act strange, and random things constantly happen to freak out guests (such as Eric destroying parts of the set or odd “characters” suddenly coming onto the set with no context). The entirety of the “HEALTH Guest Band” gag was well thought-out to promote both HEALTH and The Eric Andre Show. A commercial was created that looked like a normal commercial one would expect to see advertising a band’s appearance on a TV show, with the song “STONEFIST” playing in it. However, the band’s appearance on the show was far from normal, with them destroying instruments and “HEALTH food”, but not actually playing any music. Subsequently, the promotion worked two ways: the original commercial with HEALTH would get fans of HEALTH interested in The Eric Andre Show, and their non-musical appearance on the show would make viewers who didn’t know HEALTH curious to see what they actually sound like. Although a very strange promotion, it was nonetheless a smart one, and yet another thing which fits with HEALTH’s image.
As can be seen, HEALTH is a unique band in more ways than one. Like any band, they strive to have a distinct sound, which they achieve through their distorted instruments and ethereal (or, perhaps from some perspectives, eerie) vocals. But HEALTH’s success goes much further than just having a distinct sound, as the marketing which they’ve done over the years has been incredibly intelligent and successful. By collaborating with a variety of artists they have pulled in fans of many genres. By working on soundtracks for video games they have exposed their music to millions of people. And lastly, by more “traditionally” clever marketing like the promotion for their appearance on The Eric Andre Show, they have managed to grab the attention of still more people. HEALTH shows that if musical artists want to be successful, they need more than just a good sound: they need to make noteworthy marketing moves.
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