“Indie” Music: Is it really all that “Indie”?

The Shins play SNL

I don’t claim to be an elitist, but I do like the thought I happen to experience things now and then that not everyone is privy to.  Craft beers and indie music are great examples of this.  Yes people can find them readily available if they are looking, but most people really don’t go out there and look for themselves.  This weekend we saw one of the least stuck up holidays of the year in beer celebrated.  Any holiday that gets you to drink even more garbage beer by placing green dye in it really can’t be considered in any way stuck up or elitist.  Perhaps that is why I am not a fan of the holiday.  I know I just couldn’t have headed out and asked anyone to put some food coloring in a beer that I already dislike because it is cool that day.  Music is a similar way.  People like to grab what is readily available.  Of course there are those people out there that are trying to get new music on the radio and make it readily available to everyone else, but the majority of people don’t go out and search for something they have to work for.  They like things to come easy.

Now a days I think the line between these “indie” bands and your typical bands have started to blur.  There was a point in time, before the internet and even the big T.V. boom, where people needed to get out to shows to figure out who the new bands were.  People weren’t able to quickly figure out who was going to be an up and coming band via Facebook, MySpace, twitter, or Spotify.  They literally had to find their way to concerts, exchange tapes, or do some sort of physically involved search to find it.  Now you can type in a band, quickly find samples or complete songs from them, and even find bands that are associated or sound like them.  The search isn’t quite so hard anymore.  The internet has completely changed the way we get our music.  I’m not even all that old, and I can remember sending out order forms to different record labels when I was in middle and early high school.  I would pick up a music sampler from a company, figure out what I liked, order the albums, and I would wait 6-8 weeks for my music in the mail.  It’s like we went from hunting with rocks and spears to machine guns all of a sudden.

tUnE-yArDs on Jimmy Kimmel

T.V is also playing a huge role in the big boom in to the indie world of music as well.  If you are a sucker for a few different rather popular T.V. shows, you’ll end up watching an episode and realize you know the song playing in the background.  A lot of popular dramas are pulling in popular indie artists to highlight different moments of their shows.  Heck, half of She & Him is the lead in one of the more popular new comedies of this year.  Of course she started her career as an actor, but you can associate her with M.Ward who is far more “indie” overall.  Then it seems like half of the bands performing on late night television and SNL are bands I happen to love as well.  There were three weeks straight where I actually tapped SNL solely to see the musical guests.  I was actually won over on both tUnE – yArDs and Gotye by watching their performances on late night television.

This whole thought process for this post erupted from watching the half hour Woodie Awards presentation on MTV this weekend.  A couple of years in a row now I have happened to catch this particular award show.  Last year I was kind of psyched for it.   Both Matt & Kim and Das Racist were supposed to be performing on it.  Only one did, but I was interested to see what they did.  This year only further proved to me that the line between the underground scene and mainstream is blurring quickly.

This year they announced early on they were coming from South by Southwest festival.  A festival most would still associate

Is that Taylor Swift with the Civil Wars?

primarily with the underground music scene.  Then half of the host team was Pauly D from the Jersey Shore.  Perhaps the least underground individual person possible.  The big contrast between these two items immediately sent up red flags.  The awards they handed out were just as strange.  Best Coast won an award right along side Machine Gun Kelly and Mac Miller.  Meanwhile artists like M83, Gotye, The Black Keys, and Battles were all up for awards which they ended up losing.  Mac Miller, Santigold, and Steve Aoki (with Lil Jon) all performed at the event.  Ultimately it seemed like this year’s event was a lackluster presentation of somewhat little known performances.  I guess you can boil it down to really sad.  It seemed like MTV wanted everyone to remember that they still kind of know what music is hip.

As I get older I’m not really all that worried about losing the ability to know about bands that no one knows.  If you talked to me in high school and college I would have been screaming sell out all day.  Times are changing though. Bon Iver and Arcade Fire are big time award winners, the Civil Wars are performing songs with Taylor Swift, and Vampire Weekend have sold just about every one of their songs to one commercial or another.  I appreciate where my love for music has come from, but I can’t help but wonder if this new way of discovering music will ultimately change the perception and love for it as well.  I guess time will tell!

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2 Comments

  1. Indie for me is not about being unknown or selling fewer records. Indie artists make their own decisions and never defer to the suits (except when avoiding lawsuits). So, an indie band can be on a major label or TV show or whatever. It all lies in the spirit of their craft.

    Indie bands are getting more attention because they’re making money while mainstream acts prove to either lose money or provide an unsustainable business model. Also, mainstream acts, TV shows, and corporations turn to indie bands in order to improve their street cred or edginess. Indie bands continue to make more money, often allowing them to quit their day jobs. I’m cool with that.

    • I had a feeling you might have an opinion on this. You make some good points about indie music. I think it’s just that growing up in this scene the exposure wasn’t there, so it seemed like you were experiencing something secretive or something. Now the exposure is getting there, so it seems like indie isn’t too indie anymore. I do like that they can focus on their music for sure!


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