Words and terms change meanings over time. Indie music, for instance, became part of the hipster culture and from the trends in Austin have changed the way people understand it in, say Abilene, Tx. I hear people tell me that I’d love a band because they’re “Indie.” Usually what they really mean is, they’re folk, or sometimes they’re referring to the band being off the radar of mainstream music. In a way, both descriptions could apply to what Indie Music is. But the reality is that Indie doesn’t mean the same thing now as it did 2 years ago, or even ten years ago.
The music industry has been driven over the past near century by a small handful of artists being promoted on large-scale publications and exposure channels. Many decades ago, this was the birth of music on the radio. Suddenly, instead of having to work to get a big gig in New York or in front of a gigantic audience, you could get your record played on a carrier current that was picked up by anyone with a radio device.
Fast forward to the ‘50s and ‘60s. How many gigantic bands are still remembered from that time period? Not many, at least compared to the number of musicians who were making music. This was the era that birthed the big record labels. They had the connections with the media outlets and therefore, who they signed to promote (and control, but that’s another subject) gave them the power in the marketing and success game.
Fast forward to the 80s, when music television (MTV and VH1) showcased emerging music from the “cutting edge” bands. Here, more new bands had the chance to be discovered by the greater populace. Bands that continued to perform, record, and market themselves independent of a major label (ie Grammy winners) did so as Indie bands. That’s where the term came from. Major labels include Atlantic, Universal, Warner Bros, Sony, Columbia, and so on. The icons in music, for the most part, have been associated with one of these groups (with a few exceptions, Bruce Springsteen among them).
Fast forward to present day, where both radio and TV are not just competing against themselves, they’re competing with everyone. Literally EVERYONE. Blogs, podcasts, youtube and a variety of other outlets give the media power to anyone creative enough to make great content and attract an audience. Indie artists in music, film, publication, and elsewhere now have all kinds of freedom to create independent of having to have a big publisher, distributor, label, etc to gain the attention and market share to make a living.
Most indie artists aren’t looking to make it big, meaning most of them don’t want to be Justin Bieber, Maroon 5, Jay Z, Miley Cyrus or any other big name act. They want to make music and be able to live on that work. What you might not know about the cost of fame and millions of dollars: your artistic creation doesn’t belong to you nor do you have much say in what it looks or sounds like or how it’s presented. Labels provide the money and the distribution, but they also control the end product. So, when you hear of a band or artist splitting from a label, usually it’s over control of the end product (i.e. the sound of the music or the presentation of the songs).
Indie music isn’t a style, it’s a signifier of who controls what in the creative process of the artist. There are smaller labels that so-called Indie bands are on that are still not completely independent. When I talked with a self-promoting artist recently and mentioned an indie label, or what I referred to as an indie label, they were taken aback. “They’re on a label, they’re not indie,” she said. I suppose that’s still something up for interpretation by music as a whole, but I took that to mean that artists who are truly doing all aspects of their music on their own want to own the term Indie.
Do you like folk music? What about alternative or rock? Are your favorite bands heard regularly on the commercial radio station you listen to? If so, you probably listen to a lot of labeled music. If not, you probably like some great Indie artists. But if a band or artist is not either working with a small label that isn’t recognizable on a grand scheme, or if the artist/band is promoting, marketing, and performing on their own, they’re probably not Indie.
Indie is independent in the truest form. And if you really want to hear Indie music on the radio, there’s only one place. It’s The Appetizer Radio Show. Listen Now at http://bit.ly/KLCLmF.